In the next couple of weeks, the city expects to learn whether it will land a conservation grant that would trigger development of what will soon become the largest public body of water in Columbia open to anglers.
The Parks and Recreation Department is waiting on a $157,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation to help finance amenities for the Philips Lake site and hopes to open the 40 acres of water for fishing by August. The project list calls for a fishing dock, boat dock, boat ramp, fish cleaning station, bathrooms, lighting, shelter, playground, paved parking lot and an access road.
Craig Gemming, a fisheries biologist for the state Department of Conservation, said Philips Lake holds promise for those waiting to wet a line. The most recent survey found largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish living in the lake. Grass carp have been added to help manage vegetation.
“The fishery is in pretty good condition, with a better bass population than the other city lakes in Columbia,” Gemming said. “Fishermen out there will be catching lots of fish under 12 inches and a good number over 15 inches.”
The lake was partially drained last summer, dredged and recontoured. Abundant winter precipitation has refilled the lake.
Last year, the Parks Department was unsuccessful in its application for the same grant. This year, “we have been encouraged that there is a good chance that we will get the grant,” Park Services Manager Mike Griggs said.
The city has a $250,000 budget for the lake area, including $54,453 from the city sales tax for parks that is earmarked to become matching funds for the conservation grant. “Any money we spend before notification will not count as matching funds,” Griggs said.
If the grant comes through, the Parks Department will send architects and engineers to determine the best location for the road, parking lot, boat ramp and docks, Griggs said.
“The lake is a great amenity, and we are anxious to make it available to the public,” he said.
The Conservation Department plans to sample the fisheries each year and adjust creel limits accordingly as part of the park management through the agency’s Community Assistance Program. A reciprocal agreement between the Department of Conservation and the city allows fishing with a state license.
Anglers have had to view the lake, visible from U.S. 63, at a distance for years. The lake, previously owned by A. Perry Philips, came under city control in December 2005 when it was donated by local developer Elvin Sapp as part of a deal that allowed him to proceed with a mixed-used development around the lake that caused contention because of the potential impact on the Little Bonne Femme watershed. The city also owns 77 acres adjacent to the lake that it purchased in 2002.
Development of the lake property is dependent on the completion of Bristol Lake Parkway, the main access road to the Bristol Lake subdivision off of East Gans Creek Road. Bristol Lake Parkway must be approved by the Public Works Department as a city street before the Parks Department can proceed with construction.
“The final construction is nearly done. The road is open to traffic, but there are still minor punch-list items like seeding and final sidewalk construction that need to be completed before it will be approved by the city,” said Pat Fitzgerald at the Public Works office.
Until the road is open to the public, the Parks Department is keeping the lake closed.
“We feel at this time we do not want to encourage people to park on the road when it is still under construction, because vehicles may be damaged or hinder construction,” Griggs said.
If the state grant falls through, there are plans for constructing a gravel access road and parking lot from parks sales tax revenues to open the lake to public access in time for late summer fishing.