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Public input sought on updated Parks and Rec master plan

The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department is asking for public input to update its neighborhood parks and trails plans, which signal progress in creating a 30-mile trail loop around the city and acquiring new park property.

The last time the department updated its master plan was 2013. Normally, Parks and Rec updates the plan in its entirety every 10 years, but the department is only updating its parks and trails plans at this time.

Mike Snyder is the department’s park planning and development superintendent. He said the passage of the 2021 Park Sales Tax — a quarter-cent tax that funds new ventures and maintenance — makes it unnecessary to update the whole plan since Parks and Rec already has its funding set for the next 10 years.

The trails map shows four proposed trails that are already funded by the Park Sales Tax, and the parks map marks 14 new properties the department has acquired since 2013. Other parks and trails are labeled on the map as proposals that indicate the department’s intent to develop parks and nature areas in various locations around the city.

The department is holding public input meetings in each ward so residents can learn more about the plan and give input. The department has already visited the first three wards, and it will visit the other three wards throughout the rest of September. Residents can give feedback and find the addresses of the remaining public input meetings at BeHeard.CoMo.gov.

The department will hold its next public input meeting Wednesday at the Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary shelter from 5 to 7 p.m.

Gabe Huffington, interim director of Parks and Rec, said the department is visiting every ward to make sure citizens in each part of the city have an opportunity to discuss the plans.

“We don’t want to just build parks or trails,” Huffington said. “We want to make sure that as we are planning and constructing these projects, we are meeting the needs of our citizens.”

Snyder said the 2021 Park Sales Tax was an important early step in gauging public input on the department’s plans.

“We like the process, we like going to the public and saying, ‘Here’s our proposed projects, if you support this ballot issue, this is what we’ll do,’” he said. “And then we have to keep our promise and do those things, and then the public will support us again.”

Along with directly representing the needs of the public, updating the parks and trails plans serves the dual purpose of sending a signal to possible developers of the department’s intentions with local land.

“When we have a new development that’s proposed in a part of town where one of these future trails exists, we can go ahead and get the trail right of way as part of the development agreement early on,” Snyder said. “It’s a lot easier to work with one developer to get an easement through a property than it is 40 homeowners at a later date.”

After this month’s public input meetings, the Parks and Recreation Commission will vote on whether to advance the plan to the Columbia City Council, Huffington said. He hopes the council will hear and approve the plan sometime early next year.

“And then this guides us for the next, what I usually will tell people is, five to seven years,” Huffington said. “This will guide us until we start to work on an all-new comprehensive plan for the Parks and Recreation Department.”

Parks and Rec signals 30-mile trail loop as top priority

Snyder said he is most excited about the Proposed Trails Plan. This plan lays out the department’s goals for the next 20 or 30 years, including completing a 30-mile trail loop around Columbia.

The plan labels the trails by color in order of priority. Existing trails are red, and trails that are fully funded but not yet constructed are red dashed lines. Proposed trails are split into three tiers: primary trails are purple, secondary trails are yellow and tertiary trails are orange.

Snyder said that the three tiers roughly mark 10-year intervals of when the department will be able to fund the proposals; for example, yellow trails will likely be purple when the department makes its next master plan, and purple trails will be funded and marked with red dashed lines. Snyder said it could even be possible that the department could “bite off” some of the purple trails if it receives outside funding.

The funded trail that is farthest along in development is the southern section of the proposed Perche Creek Trail. It would intersect the MKT Trail where the trail meets Perche Creek a little over a mile west of the Scott Boulevard trailhead. The rest of Perche Creek Trail is marked primary. The whole trail would serve as the northwest corner of the proposed 30-mile loop.

Snyder said the department has not started building the trail, but it is trying to secure a contract with an engineering firm to design a bridge over Perche Creek. The department has a federal grant to build this trail, Snyder said, and it must finish designing before it can actually build the trail per the grant’s stipulations.

“That’ll be really exciting because the Perche Creek Trail is about eight or nine miles along the western side of Columbia, and it will connect all the way from the MKT up to Cosmo Park,” Snyder said. “That’s going to be a really, really cool trail. Now, we don’t have funding for that entire stretch at this time, but that’s what the Perche Creek Trail will do eventually.”

Columbia residents Barbara and Jim Magill came to the input session at Albert-Oakland Park. Jim Magill said he and his wife are in the process of building a house on the west side of town near the funded part of the Perche Creek Trail.

Barbara Magill said that because she and her husband like riding bikes, they came to the meeting to see whether they would have access to the MKT and Katy trails from their new house.

“We own bikes, and we’d like to be able to go down the MKT and out to the Katy without having to put a hauler on the back of the car,” Magill said.

Snyder said the city has already constructed a small part of the Colt Railroad Trail just east of Columbia College, where Rangeline and Rogers streets meet. This trail is funded up to Brown Station Road in northeast Columbia. The city already owns this land, and when completed, it will serve as part of the 30-mile loop.

The two remaining funded trails are extensions of currently existing trails. The Hinkson Creek Trail addition would extend the trail from where it ends just southwest of East Business Loop 70. It would run along Hinkson Creek and end near where U.S. 63 and Vandiver Drive meet. The Bear Creek Trail addition would connect two primary proposed sections between Lange and North East Regional parks. Both will be part of the trail loop.

The proposed 30-mile trail loop is entirely made up of existing, funded and proposed primary trails, Snyder said. If the department receives congressional funding, he said the trail loop could be completed in 10 years, but if the department funds it entirely with the Parks Sales Tax, it could take up to 20.

Snyder said Columbia’s proposed loop would not incorporate roads, and he said he had never heard of a city with an entirely car-free trail loop.

“I don’t feel comfortable letting my small child bike on a road, but I feel comfortable letting them bike on a trail where there’s no automobile conflict, and so that’s what I think is unique about our [proposed] trail system,” Snyder said.

Two comments on the city’s BeHeard.CoMo.gov website asked how the city plans to maintain its current trails while building new ones. One commenter said they believed the MKT Trail had been neglected ever since flooding in June 2021 and felt resources should be directed toward maintaining rather than constructing new trails.

Snyder said that just like in the wider economy, the parks department is having trouble hiring new staff; however, he said the last year of hiring has been an anomaly, and he expects a return to normal. He also pointed out that half of the Park Sales Tax goes toward park and trail maintenance.

Tammy Miller, the department’s marketing specialist, answered the commenter’s question on the website. She replied that the department has a new position starting this winter “that will focus on trail maintenance exclusively.”

Parks map marks 14 new park property acquisitions since 2013

The Proposed Neighborhood Parks Plan is the second half of the department’s parks and trails update.

Like the trails plan, the parks plan labels existing and proposed parks with colors to signify their status from proposed to planned to funded to constructed. The plan denotes existing parks and their ½-mile radii with overlapping green circles. Each ½-mile radius, Snyder said, identifies the walkable “neighborhood” of the park the green circle is centered on.

Snyder said many other communities sink all of their parks and recreation funding into two or three big parks, but Columbia’s philosophy centers around combining a few big parks like Stephens Lake and Cosmo that serve the entire city with walkable neighborhood parks that serve a small area.

“We also decided to have a park within walking distance of every residential area of Columbia, and that’s pretty unique, you know,” Snyder said. “We’re not there yet, but you can see with the yellow circles that we’ve made a lot of progress, and we’re continuing to make a lot of progress towards that goal of making it where every home in Columbia is within an easy walk of a park.”

The 14 yellow circles on the map mark the properties the department has acquired since 2013, encompassing developed areas like North East Regional Park as well as undeveloped properties.

Like the trails plan, the parks plan splits its proposed property acquisitions into three tiers. Red circles are primary, purple are secondary and blue are tertiary.

Three of the four primary service areas are in northeast Columbia. The first priority is centered around Mexico Gravel Road near Bass Pro Shops, the second is at North Wyatt Lane and the third is just north of Route WW and west of American Legion Park. The fourth, in southwest Columbia, circles Mill Creek Elementary School.

Columbia resident Esther Ellis said she lives in the No. 1 priority area. She said having a park in the area would be useful because it would serve everyone who lives there.

“There’s families in our area, there’s a wide range of ages, really, and so having a space where kids can go to play, where families can go to walk their dogs … I think is really important,” Ellis said. “I’ve noticed a significant lack of that in my area, so seeing it as priority No. 1 is encouraging.”

Snyder said the department considered a number of factors when identifying the primary acquisition areas. He said Parks and Rec consulted with engineering firms to see which parts of Columbia are developing fastest. Other factors the department looks at include underserved areas, housing density and proximity to the center of town.

He added that direct public input has also influenced the department’s decisions.

“We’ve done our best to come up with what we think is a pretty good plan,” Snyder said, “but in addition to that, we’ve had people come in and say, ‘Hey, I live here, and there’s no neighborhood park in this area.’ … That’s the kind of input we’ve been getting from people that’s been very valuable.”

Harshawn Ratanpal is a senior at the University of Missouri studying journalism and economics. He is the current Print-Audio Convergence Editor, or PACE, for the Missouri News Network focusing on homelessness coverage.
The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.