Parks and Recreation Department History

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The tradition of parks and recreation has existed in Columbia for many years. By 1938 the City was sponsoring organized recreation activities for the community and had a volunteer recreation commission that received an annual budget of $8,830 from the City’s general revenue fund. In 1941, W. Clarence Harris became the first full-time recreation director for the City. An outstanding highlight during this period was the realization of an innovative plan to develop a teen center for area youth.  This pioneer effort, which became known as “Teen Town”, was made famous by Eleanor Roosevelt who spread the idea around the country supporting its merit as a service to the nation’s troubled youth.

A Department of Parks and Recreation was created as a part of the Home Rule Charter of the City of Columbia, passed in 1949. A single director was named to administrator the department and was responsible to the City Manager for an “adequate and progressive recreation program”. The Charter also provided for the creation of a “Parks and Recreation Commission” which was composed of seven members representative of Columbia citizens. The Commission continues to function in an advisory capacity in all matters pertaining to public recreation. In addition, the Charter provided for the designation of a “permanent park fund” consisting of moneys to be appropriated for parks and other recreational properties or facilities. Moneys entering this fund through appropriation are singularly used for parks.

Eventually the department expanded in response to growing demands for leisure services. An Assistant Recreation Director was added to the staff in 1962, and in 1967 the position of Assistant Park Director was established. As the department continued to grow, both positions eventually were designated superintendent.

In 1978, the Department of Parks and Recreation was reorganized to include on Director as administrative head and three superintendents who are responsible for the management of specific aspects of the department. The Superintendent of Park Management and Operations is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the parks, and his staff provides support services for recreation programming. The Superintendent of Planning and Development is concerned with the acquisition, improvement, planning and development of City park lands.  And additional responsibility involves the preparation of grant proposals which facilitate the purchasing and developing of lands for public use. On staff in this division is a “Park Planner” whose services have permitted the development of an innovative planning, landscape and structure designs. Finally, the Superintendent of Recreation is concerned with recreation programming.

The Department’s operating budget is a part of the City’s General Fund. Capital improvement projects are generally financed through the “public improvement fund” and federal grants. This fund, established by the passage of a one percent sales tax in 1971, has provided a source from which passage of grants, could be obtained. The existence of these moneys has been a factor in the tremendous effort which has been made over the last two decades in bringing Columbia’s parkland nearer national standards and making more open space available for public use.

Among Columbia’s parklands are several sites of important historical significance. The Maplewood Home located at Nifong Memorial Park was entered on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1979. The structure which was built in 1877, has been preserved as a museum and contains displays of many original family possessions of the period. The Grindstone Nature Area contains the “Gordon Tract Archaeological Site” which has also been included in the National Register of Historic Places. Though full investigations have not yet been concluded, the site is believed to contain both Archaic and Late Woodland Indian occupation sites of considerable scientific significance. These sites are protected by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 as a result of their acceptance on the National Register.

The following are events leading to the present Parks and Recreation system:

1939 –  Douglass Pool was built for about $10,000.

1950 – Dr. Frank E. Dexheimer Shelter in Cosmo Park was completed.

1954 – W. H. Gaitor donated a lot at the southeast corner of 2nd and Grand Ave.

1957 – Jaycees sponsored a Halloween parade and poetry contest.

1958 – Kiwanis Club donated 20 acres south of Russell School. A shelter followed in 1963 for $5,200.

1959 – Disposal of Christmas trees was started.

1960 – L. T. Proctor donated 5.2 acres now known as Proctor Park.

1960 – The City graded Parkade School playground.

1961 – E. F. Heidman “loaned” 10 acres for Khoary League ballfields.

1961 – Three ballfields were built near West Junior High.

1962 – W. Clarence Harris was director of Parks and Recreation from 1951 to 1962. He was Recreational Director from 1941 to 1944.

1962 – Voters again rejected purchase of Gordon Tract (Grindstone Park) by 3,236 against to 2,136 for.

1963 – Columbia had 50 acres of park and used another 100 acres through agreements with the owners.

1963 – A private group purchased the Gordon Tract for $114,500 to hold it for park use.

1964 – The present Parks and Recreation Department was established on June 1 with the passage of the Home Rule Charter for Columbia.

1964 – The Athletic Club was constructed and the City purchased 3.2 acres north of Douglass Pool for $17,000.

1965 – The American Legion Post agreed to build a ballfield on their property and construction started on Hickman Pool.

1967 – The second (east) shelter was built in Kiwanis Park for $6,000.

The following parks were acquired from 1964 through 1969: Again Street Park (10 acres, use agreement), Albert Park (20 acres, donation), American Legion (20 acres, lease agreement), Cliff Drive (1 acre, donation), Municipal Golf Course (165 acres, bought), Douglass (5 acres, bought), Heideman (10 acres, use agreement), Kiwanis (20 acres, donation), Lions-Stephens (7 acres, use agreement), Shephard Boulevard (5 acres, use agreement), West Junior High (8 acres, use agreement), and Worley Street (3 acres).

1969 – Richard L. Green became director.

1969 – Nifong Park was acquired for a total of $104,500, of which $52,250 was Federal money. All improvements to this 58 acre facility were donated by the National Benevolent Association of Christian Churches.

1971 – 55 acre Albert-Oakland was acquired for $90,000, of which $45,000 was Federal money. Improvements to the area cost $870,000, of which $435,000 was Federal grant money.

1971 – 40 acre Bethel Park was acquired for $102,000, of which $45,000 was Federal money. The improvements to the area ran $55,000, of which the Federal  grant money accounted for $25,000.

1973 – 1 acre Optimist Park was donated with half of the $10,000 improvements also donated.

1974 – 27 acre Fairview Park was acquired for $102,500, with $51,250 being Federal grant money. Improvements were $10,000.

1974 – Grindstone Nature Area (201 acres) was finally acquired at a cost of $440,000, of which Federal money covered $200,000 and donations covered $40,000, while improvements cost the department $20,000.

1974 – Indian Hills (38 acres) was acquired for $52,500, of which $26,250 was Federal money. Improvements to the area were $20,000.

1974 – Paquin Towers Park (2 acres) was acquired at a cost of $94,000, of which Federal money accounted for $50,000. Improvements were finished in 1977 at a cost of $40,000.

1975 – Columbia Cosmo Recreation Area (325 acres) donated by the Council at the closing of the Airport. Improvements to the area ran $375,000, of which $162,000 was Federal money.

1976 – Kydd Park (4 acres) was donated to the City. No improvements.

1976 – Rockbridge Neighborhood Park (3 acres) was bought for $31,500, of which $10,000 was Federal money. Improvements cost $12,000.

1977 – Allen-Bryant Playground was obtained by a use agreement with the Housing Authority. Improvements cost an additional $10,000 through Community Development Block Grant.

1977 – Bear Creek Park (9 acres) was acquired for $18,000 with another Community Development Block Grant.

1977 – Lake of the Woods Recreation Area (144 acres) was obtained for $410,000, of which $110,000 was donated and Federal money covered $205,000.

1977 – Oakwood Hills (8 acres) was acquired for $83,000, of which $10,000 was Federal money.

1977 – Trinity Playground (1 acre) was acquired through a use agreement with the Housing Authority. Improvements of $10,000 were obtained through a Community Development Block Grant.

1977 – Valleyview Park (8 acres) was bought for $24,000, of which $10,000 was Federal money.

1977 – Woodridge Park (6 acres) was bought for $42,000, of which $10,000 was Federally funded. Improvements cost $20,000.

1978 – Capen Park (20 acres) was acquired for $200,000, of which $95,000 was Federal, and donated funds accounted for $60,000.

1978 – Lincoln-Unity (1 acre) was acquired by a use agreement with the Housing Authority. A Community Development Block Grant allowed $13,000 for improvements.

1978 – MKT Parkway (101 acres) was obtained for $275,000, of which Federal money accounted for $247,500.

1978 – Rock Hill Park (5 acres) was obtained by a Community Development Block Grant for $18,000, with another $10,000 for improvements.

1978 – Brown’s Station Park (6 acres) was bought for $20,000, of which $7,500 was Federally funded.