Get out your sleds: City park board hears public concerns, votes to lift ban on sledding at DeVol Field
(Talk of the Town photos by Jennifer Zartman Romano) Following the special meeting of the Columbia City Park Board to hear public concerns over a recent vote to close DeVol Field to sledding, many smiles can be seen as residents speak joyfully once the decision was overturned this evening. Below, the park board discusses options. Beneath, a hand-lettered sign shows public disagreement. At bottom, residents fill the available seating, eager to be heard.
By Jennifer Zartman Romano
On the eve of what is anticipated to be a measurable snowfall, the Columbia City Park Board's decision to meet tonight to discuss public concerns over their recent decision to end sledding at DeVol Field couldn't have come at a better time.
A sizeable crowd of citizens filled every available public seat in City Hall Thursday evening to share their perspectives on the board's 3 to 2 vote to end sledding at DeVol Field. The board voted recently on the matter, citing liability and safety concerns. Recently, a fenced softball field was constructed at the bottom of the hill, creating a danger for sledders.
Before accepting public comment, the board discussed the possibility of finding another workable solution that would address liability and safety. Specifically, they talked of opening a 50 foot space in the fence and placing bales of straw to prevent impact against fence posts cemented in place. Additionally, some sledding rules and regulations would be posted and kept at City Hall.
Then, the meeting was opened up to an audience eager to speak on the subject.
"You realize there is an outcry for sledding," said citizen Roger Lundblad. "I grew up on that hill and remember going every time there was snow...I have more fun going down the hill than my kids do."
Lundblad said he'd heard that in addition to talk of ending sledding at DeVol Field, there were also plans to tear down Kids Dreamland. "There's really nothing for kids to do," Lundblad said, but added that parental responsibility is the key to keeping wholesome activities like sledding. "Just remember there's a lot of families that go there and enjoy this," he said. "You take that sled hill away and where are kids gonna go?"
Donald Barton addressed the issue of the fence, asking the board, "Why does it need to be there in the first place? Can we just take it down and leave it down? A four foot fence is not going to stop anything."
"Every day there's snow, 300 to 400 are down there (sledding)," said Jeremiah Ballard, a local father who says he spends quite a bit of time on the sled hill, enjoying at least as much as his children do." Ballard said he saw no reason why a citizen coalition could not be organized to monitor sledding and safety at the hill. "I'll be the sled police if I need to be," he said, looking around the room and addressing fellow parents. "You're gonna have to step up as parents and citizens of the community to keep this alive."
Discussion was not just limited to adults, but children as well. Two children addressed the park board citing tradition, fun and the importance of providing outdoor, physical activities to keep youth engaged.
After hearing all discussion, the park board further addressed the matter and moved to make a decision. Park board members include Mark Ellis, Keith Nickolson, Maury Bordner, Dennis Warnick and Terry Baker.
"I really appreciate the thought everyone's put into this," said park board member Mark Ellis.
Park board member Terry Baker said he was particularly impressed with public dialog on the matter and the interest of children in attendance. "This is how groups that don't agree can get together in a government environment," he said, applauding the ability to seek a workable solution for all.
Board member Maury Border urged park director Mark Green to not only look into opening the fence, but potentially removing it permanently, saying, "Maybe there's another alternative."
In the end, the board voted 4 to 1 to allow sledding at DeVol Field, expanding a 20 foot opening in the fence to 50 foot, adding bales of straw for safety. Additionally, signage and regulations will be posted and kept at City Hall. Board members voting in favor of the change included Keith Nickolson, Mark Ellis, Maury Bordner and Terry Baker. Board member Dennis Warnick was absent, but it was noted in the meeting that his vote would be against sledding.