There is an opening in the trees at the corner of Providence and Stewart roads with a small sign designating the entrance to the MKT Nature/Fitness Trail. Down the trail, amid the trees, the sound of the cars traveling by is drowned out by the leaves blowing in the wind and birds chirping. It’s hard to believe that you are in the middle of Columbia.
The MKT Trail is just one of the many recreation opportunities in Columbia. The city park system consists of 2,300 acres, more than 20 miles of trails and an Activity and Recreation Center that opened in December 2002.
MU senior Nathan Wood said he runs on the MKT Trail at least three times a week. Wood prefers running on the trail rather than the sidewalks or streets and likes being able to keep track of how far he has run with the markers that are placed every half mile on the trail.
“It’s nice to run through the woods and across the streams,” Wood said.
Many MU students use the MKT Trail because of its proximity to campus, and some students also use the trail as a way to get to and from school, said Mike Griggs, the city’s park service manager.
The MKT Trail also links up at McBaine south of Columbia with the cross-state Katy Trail State Park that courses through the Missouri River bottoms.
The ARC, at 1701 W. Ash Street, caters to both the community and college students.
One advantage to the ARC for college students is a month-by-month membership that is offered, ARC Director Erika Coffman said. When school ends in May, she sees some who cancel their memberships then sign up again in August when school resumes.
Cosmo Park offers everything from a skate park to a mountain bike trail known as Rhett’s Run. The park also includes a softball complex as well as soccer and football fields.
One of the things that Wood likes most about Columbia is the wide range of recreation options.
“They always seem to be increasing taxes for parks and buying more parks,” Wood said. “I think it’s a huge benefit to the city.”
In November 2000, Columbia taxpayers approved a quarter-cent sales tax to help fund parks. The revenue from that tax increase allowed the city to buy Stephens Lake Park from Stephens College for about $8 million. The city is in the final stages of the first phase of improvements to the 111-acre park and lake.
Steve Finch, who has lived in Columbia on and off for the last eight years, believes that the quality of the parks in Columbia is because of the willingness of city leadership to put resources into developing basic parks.
There is a close link between the community and the parks and trails in Columbia. Public involvement is important in the early planning stages of a new park, Finch said.
“The city in the whole as an entity has taken the time to get community feedback and involvement, taking time and effort to see what people’s feelings are and taking them into consideration when developing future plans,” Coffman said.
Community involvement is important in every step of the planning process, Griggs said. After a park is completed, the involvement leads to citizens feeling like they have ownership of the park, which helps with maintenance and care.
Griggs said that as people move into high-density housing developments, the amount of green space they have to enjoy shrinks; they need to have places to go for recreation. In that sense, he said, parks are a key element to quality of life.