|Chris Cady is an Environmental Specialist with the Department of Natural Resources and assisted with the oversight of the environmental cleanup of Flat Branch Park Phase II. In 2006 Chris Cady put together a slide presentation of the history of Flat Branch, researching historical documents from the Boone County Historical Society, the State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia newspapers, as well as other resources. The presentation provides a wonderful history of Flat Branch with historical photos, maps, newspaper articles, and such. Links to the slide presentation and its narrative are available to the right.||
by Chris Cady, Ph. D.
Flat Branch Park is located at the original site of Columbia's Market Square, which since its establishment in the 1820's has been a favorite spot for community gatherings and a hub for commerce.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a railway depot known as Katy Station was built in the Flat Branch area and it became a focal point of industry and transportation, with trains chugging in and out of the station along the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad. When the railroad right-of-way was abandoned in the late 1970's, the City decided to convert the abandoned right-of-way to a multi-use hiking, biking, and fitness trail. This trail is now the 8.3 mile city/county MKT Trail that begins at 4th and Cherry and extends to the state-wide KATY Trail, south of Columbia. The development of the Flat Branch Park is one of the many steps being taken in the revitalization of this area of the community.
In 1997, the planning for the development of the park began when the City received a $40,000 Recreational Trails Program Grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for the construction of the park. In October of 1997, a deteriorated warehouse located on the site was torn down and soil contamination was found. Construction was put on hold until cleanup of the site and stream were completed. (See Phase I - Before and After Photos.) On June 11, 1998, a groundbreaking was held in conjunction with the Market Square Historic Site Dedication when the site was designated a Boone County Historic Site.
Completion of the extensive cleanup made way for park construction. On May 16, 2000, a second groundbreaking was held in conjunction with the American Discovery Trail Opening Ceremony which designated the Katy Trail as an American Discovery Trail and the MKT Trail as a National Millennium Trail.
The park is bordered by the Flat Branch Creek on the west and features a gazebo, benches, tables, sidewalks, landscaping, historic markers, and green space. Total budget for the development of the project was $511,744. Funding sources include: Recreational Trails Grant ($40,000), Stormwater Grant ($90,000), donations and contributions ($161,595), and City Capital Improvement Sales Tax ($220,149). The architect firm was Chinn & Associates, the creek restoration contractor was Remsel Corp., and the park was constructed by the Parks & Recreation Department. The park was dedicated on November 15, 2001. (Click here for dedication information and photos.)
Since its development, Flat Branch Park has been the venue for many downtown festivals and events, including the Twilight Festival, The Mayor's Bike, Walk, and Wheel Week kickoff, the Roots N' Blues N' BBQ Festival, Outdoor Cinema Series, and the Stream Extravaganza to name a few.
Due to the success of Phase I, the community rallied in support of Phase II - the restoration and development of the land on the next city block between Locust and Elm Street. (See park map showing both park phases.)
A 45-car parking was removed to make way for the park. Similar to Phase I, the soil underneath the old parking lot was contaminated with petroleum leakage from gas and oil tanks that had occupied the site. The Parks and Recreation Department secured a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the site cleanup work began in 2003. Over 8,300 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed and clean fill dirt was hauled in. The stream was polluted from concrete build up along the banks from years of concrete dumping. Debris was cleaned out of Flat Branch Creek, and the eroded streambed was stabilized with native limestone boulders and tree plantings. The environmental cleanup work was completed in 2006. The project was recognized by the Department of Natural Resources for being the 300th successful Brownfield cleanup project in Missouri. (See Phase II before and after photos.)
The brownfield cleanup incurred substantial expense, over $500,000. Park planners were able to make adjustments to save costs in the park development budget by replacing the previously planned retaining wall construction with less expensive boulder work. Some of the other challenges that faced the park development included the loss of overflow parking used by the Chamber of Commerce from the demolition of the 45-car parking lot that had occupied the land. However, after accessing the real parking needs of the Chamber of Commerce, a smaller 19-car parking lot was incorporated in to the park plans, along with a pedestrian bridge connecting the park to the Chamber of Commerce on the other side of the creek. Another major challenge of this project was the re-routing of the MKT Trail through four box culverts (box culverts under Stewart and Providence Roads were funded separately from the Flat Branch project) to avoid trail users having to cross busy streets. Agreements had to be reached with the University of Missouri and the Missouri Department of Transportation to construct, operate, and maintain a pedestrian/bicycle trail on properties under their jurisdictions.
Park development proceeded in 2006 after the site cleanup and stream restoration were completed. In addition to the brownfield cleanup expense, over $600,000 was spent in the park development. A citizens committee assisted with the design review and solicitation of donations. Local businesses and individuals provided over $300,000 in donations for the park development.
The main elements of the park development were substantially completed in time for the first Roots N' Blues N' BBQ Festival held in downtown Columbia on September 7 and 8, 2007. Park development included a playground, spraygrounds, stone amphitheater, benches, drinking fountain, lamp posts, an art sculpture, pedestrian bridge, bike racks, 19-car parking lot, rain garden, and a concrete portion of the MKT Trail that runs through the park.
A volunteer group sponsored by the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, C.A.R.P. (Columbia Aquatic Restoration Project), assisted in the stream cleanup, invasive species removal, planted 620 native perennials in the rain garden, installed erosion barrier, planted 125 shrubs and grasses, and installed 400 soil bags with aquatic irises along the creek bed.
In 2008, the pedestrian bridge and connecting sidewalks were completed, a UV system was installed at the spraygrounds, the park sign and plaques were installed, and a educational rain garden sign was installed. The park was dedicated on May 3, 2008.
The project's success is due to the assistance and collaboration with many agencies and citizens. The City of Columbia partnered with the Flat Branch Trailhead Committee, Columbia Special Business District, Chamber of Commerce, University of Missouri, Missouri Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Land and Water Conservation Fund, Recreational Trails Program, local business, and volunteer groups to bring Flat Branch Park - Phase II and the MKT underpass connection projects to a successful conclusion.
The project goal for both phases of park development was to revitalize the Flat Branch District in downtown Columbia by eliminating blighted areas and creating a destination place for pedestrians, bicyclists, and downtown visitors. Equally important were the restoration of the creek, clean up of the contaminated soil, addition of urban green space, and a pedestrian connection with other areas of the city via the MKT Trail. This trailhead park has fulfilled its goal by generating commerce, recreation, and social interaction in downtown Columbia, while significantly improving the urban ecological environment. The town's original settlement area serves once again as a vibrant community gathering place.
(For more information and photos on this project, see Flat Branch Park - Phase II Capital Improvement Project)
Flat Branch Park has received the following awards:
Steve Saitta with Award from DNR for 300th Brownfield Cleanup Project
Daniel Gibbins and Brett O'Brien with 2008 Gold Leaf Award from ISA
The committee also played an extraordinary role in fund raising, securing $191,677 in private donations for Phase I of the park project. Among the many contributors include the Heinkel Charitable Foundation which donated $25,000, the South and Downtown Rotary Clubs of Columbia, which donated the money for the estimated $25,000 gazebo, The Missouri Balloon Corporation, whose $20,000 donation purchased cafe tables and chairs, and the Boone County Community Trust which donated $15,000.
The committee also assisted with plan review and fund raising for Phase II of Flat Branch Park. Over $300,00 was contributed by local businesses and individuals in support of Phase II of the park development, including donation of the designing, engineering, labor and materials to construct the pedestrian bridge. Major donors for Flat Branch Park Phase II are listed below.