Park Special Use and Other Park Permits

Contact Information:

Parks & Recreation Dept.
1 S 7th Street 
Columbia, MO 65201
Fax #: 573-874-7640

For gatherings of more than 20 people, a plan with the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health must be approved. Please submit at least two weeks in advance of your event: LINK TO HEALTH APPROVAL FORM Bounce House Hot Air Balloon


Applications must be submitted at least 4 weeks in advance of your event for consideration. Do not advertise your event until your application has been approved.

Applicants desiring to hold major events, especially those that are publicly advertised, should submit their application at least 90 days in advance, as a pre-event meeting with City staff will be required.


Park Special Use Application Questions

Questions Regarding Selling Items at a Park Event

What type of events requires a Park Special Use Permit?

A Park Special Use Permit is needed when one or more of the following criteria apply to your event or activity:

  • 200 or more people expected at a park shelter
  • 100 or more people expected at the Tapp-Elbert Amphitheater
  • 50 or more people expected other than at a park shelter or amphitheater
  • live musical entertainment
  • fee collection on City property (donations, admissions, concession, or merchandise sales)
  • use of temporary structures or facilities, such as tents, shade structures, stages, booths, amusement devices (such as, bounce house), etc.
  • the closing of interior park roads and/or other city streets
  • the general public is invited or notified by the media
  • animals on display, for show, or for rides
  • hot air balloons or any apparatus for aviation ascent or descent into a park
  • any wedding held at a park location other than at a reservable shelter
  • use of the shelter or park is in a manner other than their specified recreational use

How much does it cost to hold a special event at a park or facility?

The cost of holding a special event at a park or shelter depends on several factors. Below is a list of the various fees and deposits that may be charged depending on the event type. The minimum fee for approved use of a park or trail is the $40 Special Park Use Fee.

When facilities are used semi-exclusively by the renter and the renter charges participation fees, the renter will be charged per participant as outlined in the chart below. A $75 per day reservation fee is due at the time of the reservation. The balance of the fees (over $75) based upon actual usage is due 10 days after the event.

Cosmo Park or Stephens Lake Park Medium Shelters

1/2 Day $45

Full Day $60

Performance, cleanup, and damage bond $200
Cosmo Park or Stephens Lake Park Large Shelters

1/2 Day $55

Full Day $70

Gate key $20

All Other Medium Shelters Reservation

$45 Water spigot key $50
All Other Large Shelters Reservation $55 Other applicable deposits TBD
Early Bird Shelter Rental: 6am-8am $10 per hour  
Tent Fee $40
Wedding Fee $45
Water Fee $10
Concession Permit Fee $60 Booths 1-3
Concession Permit Fee $105 Booths 4-6
Concession Permit Fee $15 each booth 7 and above
Special Park Use Fee $45
Participant Fee and/or Trail Use See “Participant Fees” below
Ticketed Special Event Fees $100 per acre fee, plus 
$1 per ticket sold for tickets ranging between $1 – $20
$2 per ticket sold for tickets ranging between $21 – $50
$3 per ticket sold for tickets $51 and higher
Other TBD

Participant Fees

The City of Columbia has experienced a growing demand for the use of parks & trails by a variety of  commercial and non-profit  entities,  including health and fitness providers, dog trainers, yoga instructors, and other outdoor professional service promoters.  In order to effectively manage the commercial and non-profit use of parkland and trails, the Parks and Recreation Department established a participant fee for fee-based races/events in the parks and trails. 

In order to host a fee-based race or event at a park or trail, event coordinators need to fill out a Park Special Use Permit Application. The permitting goal is to promote successful partnerships between commercial and non-profit entities and public park users while ensuring the safety of park patrons.

What type of races or events will be charged a participant fee?
This fee only applies to events that charge a registration or other established fee.   

Will non-profits have to pay this fee?
Yes, but exemptions may be granted in some cases depending on the type of event and who manages it.   For example, if a non-profit agency is hosting an event where the participant solicits pledges, they may not be charged this fee.  If a non-profit hires a for-profit agency to run and manage a race and a portion of the participant fees are given to the non-profit, they will be charged a fee.  Since there are potentially many scenarios that can be encountered regarding non-profit agencies, any exemptions to the fee will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Is this a new fee? 
No.  As documented in the Code of Ordinances for the City of Columbia, there has been a fee for the use of park facilities for many years.   

Chpt 17, Section K, Item 3.  Park Facilities – The schedule of fees for use of park facilities (disc golf course, MKT Trail, mountain bike course, radio control areas, roller hockey, skateboard park, etc.) will apply when the facilities are used semi-exclusively or exclusively by the renter and the renter charges participation fees:

Adult Participation Fee per game/event per day: 
Activity Fee $1.80
User Fee      $0.60

Youth Participation Fee per game/event per day:
Activity Fee $1.80
User Fee     $0.45

Although the authorization to charge participant fees has been in the P&R Fee Ordinance for many years, it has not been assessed to organized races/events until now.

What is the fee and how will it be used?
As noted above, the participant fee is actually two fees:  Activity and User Fee.  The Activity Fee is used to offset the operational costs associated with the facility, park, course, field, etc.   The Activity Fee for youth and adults is $1.80 per game/activity.  The User Fee is a designated fee that funds capital projects or major improvements to existing facilities.  The User Fee for Youth is $0.45 per game/activity and is $0.60 for Adults.  The User Fee helps fund capital projects, such as lighting a baseball field, purchasing disc golf baskets, new concessions/restrooms, or improvements to pools or picnic shelters.   

Isn’t there a park sales tax that provides funding for the trails?
Yes. There is a permanent and temporary park sales tax that is used for all parks and recreation facilities, including trails.  The permanent park sales tax is proportionally used for operating expenses for parks, shelters, trails, athletic fields, pools, etc.   Unfortunately, the tax is close to reaching its maximum, and unless there’s another partial funding source for trails, it will be difficult to keep expanding the trail system.   The temporary park sales tax is used exclusively for specific Parks and Recreation capital improvement projects that are identified by Council.  Any capital improvement project (new project or major renovation /repair) that is not specified on this list needs a funding source in order to move forward.  

Are other groups paying the Activity/User Fee?  
Yes. The department has always charged this fee for department sponsored and co-sponsored programs, including those at the Activity and Recreation Center, golf courses, pools, shelter rentals, sports, races, etc.   This fee is also charged to all of our youth sports organizations (Diamond Council, Columbia Soccer Club, Columbia Youth Basketball Association, Columbia Youth Football League, etc.) and is based on an average roster size and number of games.  

Patrons at the Activity and Recreation Center (ARC) and the golf courses pay the Activity/User Fee plus an additional ARC and golf course user fee.  Those specific user fees can only be used at the golf courses and the ARC. 

In addition to previously mentioned programs and organizations, the department charges the participant fee for special events that use the Rhett’s Run Mountain Bike Trail, Disc Golf Courses, and other fee-based events that use open spaces in the parks (fitness/aerobics classes, personal trainers, etc.).  In these situations, the parks are kept open to the public, except if there’s an area that might cause safety issues, i.e., a blind curve at Rhett’s Run.   

The only groups that were not charged this fee prior to 2013 were race event promoters that conduct fee-based races/events on the parks and trails.  This has been an issue for several years, as a common complaint the Parks and Recreation Department hears from other park users is that it’s not fair that trail event promoters have been exempt from paying the participant fee, while all other types of event promoters have paid these fees.  Therefore, it was explained to trail event coordinators that starting on October 1, 2013, the participant fee would be effective.  

Will there be a discount based on the number of participants in our races?
Yes.  There is a sliding scale that will allow for discounts as the number of participants increase. See chart below.

Participation Fee for Fee-Based Races/Events
Number of Participants
Fee Per Participant in Each Range

Note: The Participant Fee is assessed for fee-based races/events. The full fee is assessed for the first 100 participants. The fee is discounted for each range of 100 participants thereafter. For example, if you have 346 participants, the fee assessed is (100 x $2.40) + (100 x $2.04) + (100 x $1.80) + (46 x $1.56) = $695.76. (See fee examples below.)

Fee Examples
Number of Participants
Event Fee
Ave Cost Per Participant

When do I need to submit my Park Special Use Application?

It is recommended that applications be submitted at least four (4) weeks prior to your event. Applicants desiring to hold major events, especially those that are publicly advertised, should submit their application at least 90 days in advance, as a pre-event meeting with City staff may be required and a City Special Event Application may be required in addition to the Park Special Use Application. Applications submitted less than 4 weeks in advance will be considered on a case-by-case basis. All fees associated with the event are required to be paid at least 2 weeks prior to the event.

What if my event is an annual event? Will I get the same date and location every year?

Shelter reservations can be made up to 364 days in advance and are on a first-come, first-serve basis. For other park or trail locations, event planners may request the same date for the following year if they turn in a completed Park Special Use Application and pay any necessary fees within 30 days after the current year’s event. If we do not receive the completed application by then, the date is open to the public.

Multiple events will not be allowed to be hosted on trails during the same day.

If my event involves a shelter rental, when should I reserve the shelter?

You should reserve the shelter right away, even before submitting your Park Special Use Application. Otherwise, by the time your permit is approved, the shelter may no longer be available. If your permit is denied, the shelter reservation fee is refundable. To reserve a shelter, see Picnic Shelter Reservations.

Where can I get a Park Special Use Application?

Applications are to be submitted online via the permit system portal.

When will I find out if my application is approved?

For most applications, within 2 weeks once all information, supporting documentation and payment is received from the applicant. For major events, especially those that are publicly advertised, it may take up to 3-4 weeks and may require a pre-event meeting with City staff.

Can I have amplified sound at my event?

Amplified music is permitted, but must be kept to a reasonable level so as not to disturb the peace, quiet or comfort of the neighboring inhabitants.  Amplified sound shall not exceed the distance of 100 feet from the building, structure or outdoor area in which the device is located.

Absolutely no profanity or profane lyrics are allowed in the selection of music that is played for the event.  If such music is heard by park staff or if complaints are received from other park users, it will be grounds for shutting down the event and a prohibition on any future events by the sponsor.

What type of events will require a Certificate of Insurance?

In addition to a Special Use Permit, events that include any of the following items will also require proof of public liability insurance coverage and a certificate of insurance naming the City of Columbia as an additional insured. (See also official Codes and Ordinances – Chapter 17, Section 17-134.)

$2 million public liability insurance requirements (per occurrence)
Events involving moderate risk such as festivals, concerts, contests, athletic camps and events, exhibitions and celebrations that are open to the general public and
expected attendance of 1,500 or less and
do not include the use of any high-risk device or the participation in any high-risk activity.
The landing or take-off of individual hot air balloons (excluding commercial rides).
Any other event or activity that, in the judgment of the director, involves a moderate risk of injury.
Alcohol being provided to the public.
$3 million public liability insurance requirements (per occurrence)
Events that involve a high risk such as festivals, concerts, contests, athletic camps and events, exhibitions and celebrations that are open to the general public and
expected attendance of 1,500 or more or that involve a high risk of injury.
Hot air balloon festivals or competitions.
Events involving animals for show, display or rides.
Events involving devices that entail the risk of injury including, but not limited to, inflatables (such as bounce houses), amusement or carnival rides, mock weapons, or battery or gas powered devices/toys.
Any other event or activity that, in the judgment of the director involves a high risk of injury.

The following involve excessive risk and shall not be allowed in City parks:

  • Tethered hot air balloon rides.
  • Climbing walls.
  • Fireworks, pyrotechnic displays, and torpedo/rockets.
  • Helicopters, airplanes, powered parachutes, hang gliders and other aerial or aviation devices other than hot air balloons.
  • Motorized vehicle races or contests and precision driving contests and stunts.
  • Remote control airplanes.
  • Dunk tanks

What other items will I need to hold a special event at a park or facility?

In addition to the Park Special Use Application, the following items may be required depending on your event.

  1. Copy of Certificate of Insurance for your event – Applicants must obtain Comprehensive General Liability Insurance protecting the City of Columbia.
  2. City Health Department permit for a public catered event – Please call City Health Department, 573 874-7345. (responsibility of caterer to have this on hand)
  3. Business License for the sale of food or merchandise. These forms are available at the Business License Office, please call 573-874-7378.
  4. City Building Development Permit for tents and staging – All tents larger than 10′ x 10′ and staging structures require a building permit, please call 573-874-7474.
  5. List of food vendors and /or event related items which will be sold at your event subject to Parks and Recreation Department approval.
  6. List of event sponsors and promotional banners for your event.
  7. Press package or promotional material for your event.
  8. Copy of Street Closure Form. Contact City Manager’s office at 573-874-6338. Include a map of road closure & directional signs and/or barricades.
  9. Documentation of tax-exempt status (for religious organizations and educational institutions not registered with the State of Missouri as a non-profit agency).
  10. Detailed site map and/or route map.
  11. A detailed schedule of event activities.
  12. Payment of Park Permit fees.

What criteria are used to evaluate an event for approval?

Two main criteria affecting the evaluation of the event are:

  1. Compatibility with the Department’s Mission
  2. Suitability of the chosen site to accommodate the event

Compatibility With the Department Mission

The mission of the Columbia Parks & Recreation is stated as follows:

“The Department of Parks and Recreation is committed to improving our community’s health, stability, beauty, and quality of life by providing outstanding parks, trails, recreational facilities, and leisure opportunities for all Columbia citizens.”

As previously mentioned, the Department works in partnership with event organizers and sponsors in order to provide an event that will provide recreational value to the participants, and at the same time, preserve the natural resource. Thus, the Department gives priority in the allocation of park space to those special events which are compatible with the Department’s mission.

For the purposes of special event approval, compatible events can be defined as those which focus on recreational activities which are physical, social, cultural, artistic and/or environmental in nature. Events whose primary purpose is not compatible with the Department’s mission are generally not approved although they may be considered on a case-by-case basis. On occasion, the Department does approve events which are not compatible with its mission but have a significant interest to the city. Examples include events of economic or tourism interest and/or civic, provincial, national or international events. It should be noted that these events may have additional special conditions of use placed on them.

Site Suitability

It is important to recognize that sites which accommodate special events are for public recreational use first, thus the regular use of a park must be respected. Most of Columbia’s parks accommodate a variety of uses including both active and passive recreational opportunities which may occur on a casual and/or organized level. The majority of parks have not been designed to accommodate large scale-events, as many lack the necessary amenities, such as, washrooms, parking, and/or access to water or power to support major special events. In addition, most parks have differing features and requirements; thus, what is appropriate in one park may not be appropriate in another. With this in mind, the objective for the Department is to match events to an appropriate park site. This is accomplished by evaluating the event and the site using the following criteria:

Site Suitability Criteria
Site Suitability Criteria Evaluation Description
Compatibility of the event with existing uses/users of the park including public safety Compatibility refers to regular park use in the general sense – passive, active or natural as well as the impact the event on other’s enjoyment of the park, etc. The evaluation will be based on: whether the area is appropriate for the event; whether other uses of the park can continue during the event; whether the event impacts more the immediate site (e.g., noise, trash, traffic); and whether there are any safety concerns regarding the scheduling of the event in the area.
Intensity and frequency of
other park users/users
Intensity and frequency refers to the level of both scheduled and casual park use. It is recognized that parks do have limits on the frequency and number of events. Thus, efforts are made to distribute events across the park system as well as regulate the frequency on a specific site.
Park condition – protection and preservation The scheduling of an event cannot be at the expense of the park’s regular use, especially with regard to environmental sensitive areas. It should be noted that parks differ in the level of programming that they can accommodate. Thus, the intensity of programming may differ from park to park. The evaluation will focus on whether the area’s current condition can withstand the activity, as well as whether the scheduling of an event could possibly damage the park beyond immediate repair. The event will be evaluated based on the impact on the natural environment, including natural and cultural resources, riparian areas, wetlands, and sensitive species. The season, time, intensity, duration of the event will also be evaluated.
Availability of amenities on site To lessen their impact on the immediate surroundings, large events are scheduled at parks with the necessary support amenities, such as washrooms, parking, access to alternate transportation, waste receptacles, etc.

What are some examples of events that require a Park Special Use Permit?

Type of Event Description
Activities at a park shelter consisting of 200 or more people Private functions with or without food services, generally restricted to larger picnic shelters.
Runs, Walks, Bike Events or Races Participation open to the public, may focus on fundraising and/or “cause” awareness. Donations or pledges possibly collected on site. Includes races where participants pay an entry fee and follow designated courses. Events may involve the use of amplified sound, staging, tents, temporary road or trail closings, and/or the sale of event-related items.
Sporting Events

Tournaments are restricted to designated athletic facilities.

Note: All softball, baseball, soccer, football and lacrosse tournaments and games are to be scheduled through the Department’s Sports Programmer. Special Event Permits may be needed for supplemental items such as the erection of tents, sales of tournament-related items or food and beverages. The first contact is with the Sports Programmer Supervisor (573-874-7466) to determine field availability.

Weddings Any wedding held at a park location other than at a reservable shelter.
Concerts & Theatrical Plays Musical or theater events, consisting of live performers. Participation is open the general public. May be restricted to designated areas.

Community Events
Cultural Events
Political Rallies 
Religious Events

Community, cultural, political, or religious events. Participation may be open to the general public or to a targeted group. May focus on fundraising and/or “cause” awareness. May involve entertainment, food and beverage service, staging, public address sound systems, the sale of event-related items, etc.
Festivals Multi-faceted events, participation open to the public. Usually involve booths, staging, tents, public address sound systems, the sale of event-related items, etc. May involve food and beverage services. Large festivals have an extensive setup and take down requirements.

Includes the burning of logs, charcoal or other fires outside of the designated picnic grills.

Note: Bonfires are allowed at the designated fire pit at Collins Shelter, Stephens Lake Park and do not require a Special Use Permit.

Pony Rides

Pony or horse rides either operated by a commercial vendor or by a private owner.

Note: only non-profit organizations may be authorized to collect funds.

Hot Air Balloons or Apparatus for Aviation

Includes hot air balloons that either want to land or lift off from a park. Note: All radio-controlled planes and self-propelled rockets are not permitted.

Hot Air Balloon Policy opens PDF file
Aerial Sports Identification Permitopens PDF file

What are the repercussions of misrepresenting an event on the application?

Any misrepresentation as to the nature of the event, the number of attendees expected, contact or payment information, or any other falsification of permit documents will result in the immediate cancellation of the event and forfeiture of fees paid and may also result in denial of future permit requests and/or legal action.

Why are Park Special Use Permits needed?

Special events are of great value to the City of Columbia as they contribute to the cultural and ethnicity of the City. A number of these events also have significant economic benefit through increased tourism, and many events also serve as major fundraisers for various non-profit organizations.

Special events are those activities which require the designation of exclusive use of an area and/or require the approval of conditions of use as outlined under the Park Special Use Permit guidelines. Many of the City’s special events are sponsored by non-profit organizations that organize and conduct these activities. Often, the City’s role with some special events is primarily limited to providing the facility or park. Since the City does not directly provide staffing or direction during these events, it requires a mechanism to delegate the control of a site to an event organizer/sponsor. This is accomplished through the Park Special Use Permit approval process.

City policies require that no person or organization shall advertise, organize, hold, or conduct any special event or activity in or on City park or recreation property without first having received a valid Park Special Use Permit.



Cotton Candy Booth


Can I sell items at a park event?

Only regular licensed concessionaires acting by and under the authority of the Parks and Recreation Director can sell items at a park or facility.* Permission may be granted ONLY to non-profit agencies, with a $60 Concession Permit Fee charged. If you are a non-profit agency, permission to sell items at your event may be obtained by filling out a Park Special Use Application.The concessionaire is responsible for obtaining any other licenses required for sales. Collection of monies is restricted to the approved event area ONLY. Absolutely no solicitation of funds from general park users allowed.

* See Columbia Code of Ordinance, Chapter 17, Division 7, Sec 17-122

What proof do I need to document my non-profit status?

Non-profit agencies must be registered with the State of Missouri and provide their State Charter number on the Park Special Use Application. (See MO Secretary of State website [search word: “non-profit”].) Religious organizations or educational institutions not required to register with the State must provide documentation of their tax-exempt status (IRS determination, articles of incorporation, or audited financial statement).

What type of agencies can qualify for non-profit status?

The following excerpt is from Chapter 355 – Nonprofit Corporation Law in the Missouri Corporation Statutes.

Section 355.025 – Purposes for which organized
Nonprofit corporations may be organized under this chapter for any one or more of the following or similar purposes: charitable; benevolent; eleemosynary; educational; civic; patriotic; political; religious; cultural; social welfare; health; cemetery; social; literary; athletic; scientific; research; agricultural; horticultural; soil, crop, livestock and poultry improvement; professional, commercial, industrial, or trade association; wildlife conservation; homeowner and community improvement association; recreational club or association; and for the ownership and operation of water supply facilities for drinking and general uses; and for the ownership of sanitary sewer collection systems and waste water treatment facilities; or for the purpose of executing any trust, or administering any community chest, fund or foundation, to further objects which are within the purview of this section. No group, association or organization created for or engaged in business or activity for profit, or on the cooperative plan, provision for the incorporation of which is made by any of the incorporation laws of this state, shall be organized or operate as a corporation under this chapter.

As a recipient of federal funds from the U.S. Department of Interior, the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department operates programs subject to the nondiscrimination requirements of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act Under Title VI; the U.S. Department of Interior strictly prohibits discrimination because of race, color, or national origin in its federally assisted programs. This Department is also committed in both policy and practice to enforce and implement all required provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.