Public shares thoughts on new regional park

Thursday, November 8, 2007 | 11:07 p.m. CST; updated 8:13 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Members of a small audience voiced their ideas about the future of Columbia’s second regional park Thursday night at a public meeting.

Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department is asking for the public’s input about what features and facilities the park should offer.

“We want everyone involved,” department director Mike Hood said. “We’d like to involve the community in this process just as completely as we can.”

Hood estimated that it will take about 18 months to complete the park’s master plan. Currently, the park is in the first of four planning phases.

The 460-acre park will sit on land from the Philip tract and the Crane property. Elvin Sapp, the developer of the Philip tract, donated a lake and roughly 70 acres to the city, which then purchased another 70 acres of the land. A $250,000 grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation will allow the lake to be developed for fishing.

The city purchased the 340-acre Crane property for just more than $8 million this September. Both properties were working farms until a few months ago. The Crane family is required by contract to relocate by September 2008, when the city takes possession of the property.

After Hood made a presentation about the project, the audience dispersed into three discussion groups. The goal of the smaller groups was “to generate ideas for the overall park development.” Participants were strongly encouraged to ignore development and maintenance costs in their brainstorming sessions, as they might hinder creativity and honesty.

After less than 20 minutes, the groups reconvened to share their thoughts and opinions. Some ideas — including playgrounds, preservation of existing structures, multipurpose trails, youth recreational fields, equestrian facilities and educational facilities — received attention in several groups.

Audience members also said that the department should think twice before hiring a consultant.

“I have complete confidence in our Parks and Recreation Department,” said Rick Shanker, 55, of Columbia. “I am completely against hiring a consultant for $100,000.”

Once all the ideas had been announced and explained, staff members posted them on the wall. Attendees were given six stickers and asked to place them next to what they thought should be the top priorities in the park’s development.

Less than 10 minutes later, two ideas had five votes each. The audience felt that Gans Creek and cave areas need to be kept in their natural state and be surrounded by protective buffers; and the park should be connected to the city through a system of trails and sidewalks.

Three stickers were placed next to the suggestion that a consultant doesn’t need to be hired, especially not for $100,000.

The Parks and Recreation Department is holding another public session, identical to last night’s meeting, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday in the commons area of Rock Bridge High School.

Hood emphasized that these meetings are open forums: All viewpoints and opinions will be recorded and taken into account as the park plans proceed.

“We’re not arguing positions right now,” he said. “But that will certainly come later.”

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