Northeast Columbia to welcome new park

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Parks and Recreation Commission wants to partner with a developer to build a new park between Vandiver Drive and Pioneer Drive.

Columbia’s park development superintendent, Mike Snyder, said the department plans to acquire one acre of land for the project, while the developer will donate nine acres next to the site of a future apartment complex. 

At the department’s meeting June 15, the commissioners said the one acre will cost about $200,000, which is roughly $50,000 more than what they usually allocate for acquisition projects. Snyder said the department still thinks it is an important project, because the city has been looking to bring a park to the area for years.

“Probably 15 to 20 years, there’s been a need for a park,” Snyder said. “There’s no park that serves the existing homes or the future apartments that are being proposed. So we talked with the engineers and said that we would be interested in working with them to see if we could carve out a piece of land that could serve their development, but also serve all the other people that live in that area.”

Snyder said, including the 10-acre future park, the entire 36-acre empty lot that’s been sitting there for decades will soon turn into something else.

“When it’s all fully developed, you’ll have an apartment complex, a couple lots that might either be commercial or office,” Snyder said. “And you’ll have the park land.”  

Snyder said there are a lot of apartments and single family residences in the area.

“They’re kind of landlocked by Highway 63 and Paris Road," Snyder said. "So the kids and the residents that live in that area don’t have access to any park land.”

Columbia resident Walter Schroeder moved to the area with his wife in 1965. He said, over the 52 years living at the same address, he has witnessed some major changes.

“In the 60s, this was a quiet neighborhood of single families and some rental, usually, only duplexes for the rentals, nothing larger than duplexes,” Schroeder said.

He said there are more rental properties and multi-family homes now, and the larger population has made things different. He said for a long time, his family didn’t even need a park.

“Personally, we raised a son and a daughter here,” Schroeder said. “There was no park around here, but there was plenty of open spaces.”

Schroeder said the 36-acre vacant lot left his family with some very special memories and was a big part of his children’s childhood.

“Well, it didn’t have equipment in it, but it was a wild area that they could roam in,” Schroeder said. “And we would collect gallons of blackberries there in July, in the hottest time.”

Schroeder said the wildlife and plants made the land attractive, and there was a big tree that used to be his daughter’s favorite.

“My daughter called that her thinking tree, because she would crawl up in it and sit in the crotch of one of its great, big branches and read or think or write,” Schroeder said.

Despite all the fun times Schroeder’s family enjoyed, he said he agrees there’s a definite need for the area to have some park space today. He said some of the nearest parks, such as C. M. Albert Memorial Park and Brown Station Park, are miles away.

“If you get that many people over there in that development, some of them have children, they’re going to have to have some kind of place, I mean, kids have to get outside,” Schroeder said. “They can’t stay inside an apartment.”

Snyder said none of the nearby city parks can serve as a neighborhood park for people in this area.

“They are very difficult to get to, especially as a kid walking or biking, cause you have to cross major roads,” Snyder said.

Snyder said the project would fit into the department’s 2013 Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan as a priority area.

“We try to put a park within a half mile walking distance of all of the residents in Columbia,” Snyder said. “There are over 20 locations that we’re showing that we have a need for park land.”

Snyder said the department fears this may be the last chance for the area to get a park.

“This happens to be a part of town that is mostly developed already, and that’s why, if we don’t acquire park land soon, there won’t be any land available,” Snyder said.

He pointed out the land costs a lot there.

“A lot of it is commercially zoned, as opposed to a normal park that would be usually a residential zoning. So that’s why this land is very expensive in this part of town," he said. "And that’s why we are, we are fortunate to be able to partner with this developer to have them contribute other things, you know, donating portions of this site and also doing some of the building of the trail and other things like that as part of the agreement.”

Schroeder said, while he welcomes a new park, he would still want it to preserve some of the area’s natural features, such as the bushes and different kinds of berries that birds like.

“I see kinglets over there, a bird, the smallest bird you can reasonably find around here,” Schroeder said. “There’re redheaded woodpeckers over there on dead trees. And we need to keep a park for wildlife as well as for humans.” 

Snyder said the city hasn’t set aside any money for development yet.

“This is very typical for how we operate,” Snyder said. “A future parks sales tax will ask the voters of Columbia if they want this to be a project included on that future park sales tax ballot issue. If the voters agree to that, then funding will be made available sometime after 2021.”

The Parks and Recreation Commission will introduce the acquisition plan to the city council July 17.