Renovations at Owens Field Park are underway, but what comes first and who will or will not be happy with the results? Finding a balance for all the users of one of Columbia’s largest and busiest parks is a crucial part of the project.
By Kyle Vuille
March 23, 2016
It will take a deft hand and some diplomacy to make the $2.7 million makeover of Owens Field Park, one of Columbia’s largest parks, go smoothly.
On any day you’re likely to see skateboarders pumping the concrete ramps at one end of the 50-acre park that sits across from Hamilton-Owens Airport and extends from there to South Ott Road. You’re also likely to see disc golfers shooting their way around the elongated park’s perimeter or people just out for a stroll, many with their dogs.
“It’s just wonderful being here at 7 in the morning,” Jennifer Hunt, who lives nearby in Shandon, said one recent morning as she walked with her 2-year-old red Doberman pinscher, Luke.
But she and other dog owners are concerned the renovations include plans for a dog park.
“I’m afraid the park will start to crack down on dogs that aren’t on leash or in the dog park,” she said.
Hunt said many dog owners she knows like that their animals have an open area to play, especially if their dogs don’t play well with others. Luke has been attacked before, once in a dog park when he was a puppy and once in an open area while leashed, she said.
“This is really the only place in Columbia that dogs get to run freely,” Hunt said.
And that’s just one issue.
Dozens of teams use the park’s baseball and soccer fields. There’s Pop Warner football, and cross country teams run meets there. There are plans for a Miracle League baseball field for those with disabilities, made possible by USC athletics director Ray Tanner’s foundation.
The Gills Creek Watershed Association was contacted to help with improvements to handle stormwater runoff, especially since the watershed was one of the hardest hit areas during October’s flood. Reducing soil compaction might mean taking out a road that gives easy access the soccer fields, the association’s executive director, Eric Miarka, said. Some of those who use the fields have objected.
Even the park’s ownership is complicated. The airport owns the property and leases it to the Richland District 1 schools, and they in turn lease it to the city. The track as well as the two baseball fields behind the trees in the northwestern section of the park belong to the school district.
The man at the center of this balancing act is Todd Martin, Columbia’s parks planner who has dealt with about 15 parks in his year and a half with the city.
During the planning, those living nearby said they were concerned about stormwater drainage, Martin said. “We’re going to be sure we respect that natural vernacular the park has,” he said.
Martin has had three large meetings with residents and City Council members and several smaller community meetings about the project’s $875,000 first phase.
“We want to work with the community, make sure we give them something that will benefit them,” he said.
But the soccer field’s intersecting gravel road highlights the touch-and-go nature of getting it all right. Martin said that in exchange for taking the road, the improvements could include berms, trees and boulders “to keep people off the dusty, gravel roads to make them safe.”
“It might be trial and error,” he said.
For now, small cedar trees have been planted around the gravel roads to prevent potential speeders.
“There is an odd sense of community in the park; everyone gets along, the city workers to the disc golfers,” Hunt said while walking her dog.
Construction on the dog park she’s concerned about is scheduled to start in May as part of the first phase. City Council has approved doing the renovation in two phases but has not fully funded them.