No one can accuse Columbia’s leaders of ignoring residents’ need and desire for more parks.
Fresh off the successful acquisition and development of the 111-acre Stephens Park, the City Council and administrators have turned their attention toward a regional park on the southeast edge of the city. By combining the 320-acre Crane property, which will cost a little more than $8 million, with the acreage on the Philips tract of land surrounding Bristol Lake, the city will have enough land to develop a nearly 500-acre park on the scale of Cosmo Recreation Area on the city’s north side.
The new park will connect to Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and with Nifong Park, helping create what city leaders have called an “emerald necklace” around the city.
Columbia’s efforts won’t stop there. It continues its aggressive pursuit of a comprehensive trail network. It’s marching toward its goal of creating a neighborhood park within walking distance of every home. Fueled by state and federal grants, and by a citywide sales tax for parks, there’s no sign Columbia is going to ease up soon.
That seems fine with residents who talked to the Missourian. By and large, they’re happy with the city’s efforts to promote parks and recreation, but they have suggestions for more improvements.
Dennis Hairlson frequently visits Douglass Park just across Fifth Street from his home. He likes his neighborhood park and other parks around town, and he has some ideas regarding the future of parks.
First, he said, Douglass Park is big enough. He and his wife, Carol, oppose a planned expansion of the park that would be achieved by acquiring and tearing down a few homes along Fifth Street. That, he said, would have a detrimental effect on the neighborhood.
Then there are the little things. Hairlson longs to return to the time when benches at Douglass could be moved around the park so that visitors could create their own little enclaves. Now, they’re chained down to avoid theft or vandalism. He also said the park could use more moveable equipment for children. The monkey bars and the shovel apparatus are nearly worthless, he said.
In general, Hairlson said, the city does a good job with parks, but he suggested they could be made even more accessible to certain segments of the population.
“They might have enough parks,” he said, “but there are only three in the black neighborhood.”
Brett Barnes has lived in Columbia for 14 years and routinely takes his son to Cosmo Park. He also the trails occasionally, though not as much as he did before he became a parent.
“I’m really pleased with all the parks here, as long as they keep up the maintenance,” he said.
One thing Barnes would like to see is a regional park closer to his home in the Scott Boulevard area of southwest Columbia. The drive to Cosmo is a long one, he said, and the southeast regional park won’t be any closer.
“It’d be nice to have a bigger park down in (the Scott Boulevard) area,” he said, suggesting either a brand new park or a significant addition to Twin Lakes Recreation Area.
Still, Barnes understands the city has other priorities. He’d rather see the street problems in his neighborhood fixed before worrying about a larger park.
Kelley Chacon, a Columbia resident for three years, said she often goes to Cosmo and Stephens Lake parks, sometimes with her children, who are 3 and 2 months. She’s happy with the city’s parks and trails but said she would always support more.
“I make use of (the trails),” she said. “I think a lot of people do. I think it’s good for the community.”
Chacon said Columbia does far better with parks than other cities where she’s lived, but she does see a few problems. There are too many restrictions on the use of fields at Cosmo Park, she said, noting that they’re unused most of the time and inaccessible to parents and children who can’t afford to join recreational leagues.
Chacon suggested more accessible public leagues for kids and adults who want to play soccer or other sports. She also noted that those who can’t afford to join the Activities and Recreation Center can find it difficult to exercise in winter.
“It would be nice to have one more accessible place in the winter,” Chacon said.
Clarisse Minner supports the goal of more regional parks. Jeremy Bacon likes parks, too, but he’d like to see more emphasis on nature areas that create havens for wildlife.
“I’m more of a nature person,” Bacon said. “I’m from a small town. I’m not used to all this traffic and so many people around.”
MU business student Whitney McKinney, 20, came to town from Waynesville. She has one request.
“I want a zoo,” McKinney said. She believes the attraction would appeal to kids of all ages, including those she worked with last year at Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Then there’s the matter of an ice rink. City residents for years have debated whether an ice rink is desirable and could sustain itself. Voters in November 2005 rejected a tax that would have paid for an ice rink and permanent farmers market on property near the Activity and Recreation Center, but the desire for a rink remains among many residents.
Meredith Miles, a 17-year-old student at Rock Bridge High School, said an ice rink might be most successful downtown, where it could draw from and boost surrounding businesses. Barnes said it might be difficult to justify a rink solely at taxpayer expense, but a partnership with MU and the school district might make it more palatable.
The desire for more parks and recreation opportunities isn’t unanimous.
Senior Center patron Margo Kincart, 76, said the money could be better spent elsewhere.
“If you ask me, parks are overloaded,” Kincart said. “Every time we have a little piece of land left over, they turn it into a park. Enough is enough.”
Frank Oneken, 76, who has lived in Columbia for 44 years and works at the Senior Center a few days a week, said a lot of older residents don’t use the parks.
“I feel like the city is spending an awful lot on parks and that is taken out of tax money,” Oneken said. “All of us who have paid taxes all our lives, at this time we don’t benefit from parks, I can’t use them, and there are many who can’t.”
“They should try to spend more money on seniors, offering more assisted-living facilities and things that are for the elderly,” Oneken said. “I know they have a few of those places, but they are always too full, and the private alternative is too expensive.”
Barbara Marston, 66, has lived in Columbia for 40 years. She said she appreciates all the recreational opportunities in the city.
“I like the trail and the parks,” she said. “I spend a lot of time outdoors with my dogs. Of course it can always be more and better tied together, but I think the city is doing a good job.”