If you’re feeling stressed, turn to the trees. A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that those within walking distance of a park had the lowest depression rates. This shouldn’t be a surprise for Columbians familiar with the city’s 71 parks and about 58.1 miles of maintained trails, says Park Services Manager Gabe Huffington.
Read on to find out how Columbia maintains its parks and what you can do to help.
Who funds the parks?
Funding for Columbia’s parks and facilities comes from three main places: city sales tax, park sales tax, and fees, says Parks and Recreation Department Director Mike Griggs. The city sales tax funds public works and services, and the park sales tax money is used to improve the parks.
Since 2015, a tax of .25 percent per each purchase has gone to fund the parks. Half of this provides permanent funding for general maintenance and paying off debts. The other half goes to other park projects, such as building the agricultural park that will be started this summer, Griggs says.
How are they maintained?
There are six divisions within the park services department that cover over 3,000 acres of park land, Huffington says. Employees are organized into parks and grounds maintenance, natural resources, golf and athletic maintenance, planning, construction and park rangers divisions. Departments such as Parks and Grounds make sure the areas are clean and functioning properly while park rangers enforce the rules. Using Columbia’s own planning and construction employees allows the city to stretch its budget for these projects, Huffington says.
A lot of park maintenance has to do with planting more greenery, usually trees. Park Natural Resource Supervisor Brett O’Brien says the city tries to bring a diverse selection of trees.
The parks also try to be as sustainable as possible. Concession stands don’t use styrofoam coffee cups or disposable straws. At the Activity and Recreation Center, all incandescent light bulbs were replaced with LED ones, which Griggs says saves roughly $35,000 per year.
How can residents help?
To get involved, residents can adopt a trail, become a TreeKeeper, join the Park Patrol or volunteer for the Columbia Aquatic Restoration Project. The responsibility of trail adopters is clearing invasive species, such as honeysuckle, so local plants can grow. The TreeKeeper Academy is a day-long class where attendees are certified to help the city with tree projects in Columbia’s parks. Park Patrol helps keep the city’s parks safe, clean and maintained. CARP volunteers focus on bodies of water and tasks such as removing invasive species, Huffington says.
What can residents do to get involved?
Volunteers are frequently needed at park events, such as the Stephens Lake Amphitheater Concert Series.
According to Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department, over 90,000 people go to park events per year, and 92 percent of households in the city go to parks in general. “It starts with the citizens,” Griggs says. “We are a reflection of what they want. We love getting ideas from them.”
The simplest way to get involved is to go. Take a walk, lounge by a stream, go for a run, or just sit by a tree. ￼