Proposed Park Plan Could Bring New Amenities to Columbia

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COLUMBIA - The future of Columbia Parks and Recreation was up for a vote at the next city council meeting, and many new items were open to consideration.

After months of public input, the Columbia City Council planned to vote August 5 on whether to approve the 2013 Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan. The more than 450-page plan outlined accomplishments made since the last plan in 2010; recommended capital improvements, park and trail acquisitions and developments, national and local trends and public input.

Mike Griggs, director of Parks and Recreation, said the plan looked specifically at developing the trail system in Columbia.

Park user Elizabeth Wiles thinks focusing on trails is important.

"Having trails connecting parks, connecting neighborhoods, the downtown area, that's a huge priority. You know, that makes our life great," Wiles said. "We love getting out and enjoying the weather and exercising so to me, yeah, that's a big priority."

Columbia's facilities fell short of standards recommended by the Missouri Department of Natural Resource's Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. Columbia has a more than 117- mile deficit in trail miles.

Griggs said some Columbia residents want the miles of trails that Columbia does have to connect with one another and with other places they travel to most often.

"Our goal would be to connect these residents to where they go to school, to where they go to work, where they shop, and where they go for entertainment," Griggs said. "I think that's one of the things we heard that was really different than what we heard in the past."

The master plan also called for some less conventional park amenities requested in public hearings.

"We really don't have a campsite anymore. We don't have an ice rink. We don't have BMX tracks. We don't have lights on our skate park. So, those are the kinds of things that came out in the master plan, especially in the public comment," he said.

Wiles, who said she visits parks nearly everyday with her kids, said those extra amenities would be "icing on the cake", but she would like funding put towards existing outdoor areas and trails first.

According to Griggs, funding for park projects comes from grants, park user fees and a renewable park sales tax. The current park sales tax will expire in 2016.

In the past, the sales tax generated $12-15 million over a five-year period. The sales tax passed in 2010 is funding basic park maintenance, renovations to tennis courts and shelters, and renovations to Cosmo Park playground more accessible to the disabled.

Griggs said the 2016 ballot initiative would fund many of the ideas listed in the 2013 master plan.

Wiles said she thinks having a strong park system is worth the tax money.

"I know Columbia already has a pretty high sales tax, but I think that having great, usable parks that are safe and fun to use, I think that's a really big priority. It improves the quality of people's lives, so it's a great investment," she said.

The 2013 plan is available for public viewing on the city's website.