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Improvements celebrated at McKee Street Park

The city of Columbia celebrated its improvements to McKee Street Park on Wednesday night.

The park underwent a $75,000 makeover last year and this year that includes a new shelter, improved pedestrian bridge and a new playground. Parks and Recreation staff also offered free bike and scooter repair, along with other activities.

The park is in the city’s east strategic neighborhood, identified in 2015 as an area for improved investment in city resources. A teen was murdered in the park in 2013.

The improvements also include more lights around the entire park. It previously had just one light, which Parks and Recreation said did not properly light the area.

Families there said the changes were much needed. Keshia Byndom lives near the park with her 5-year-old son, Damareay. She said the new shelter gives her and other parents some shade while watching their children play at the park.

“I have to find things constantly to do, so I’m happy they have all these trails and parks that I can take him to to get him tired,” Byndom said, as her son ran into her arms to show off his new face paint.

Parks and Rec Director Mike Griggs said the park’s improvements served as a needed update to the park’s equipment. Clearing brush by the pedestrian bridge would open up the space.

“We called it the ‘Plumbers Playground,'” Griggs said of the old equipment. “It was a bunch of steel pipes and stuff, it really wasn’t an attractive park.”

McKee Street Park is one of several “neighborhood parks” the city maintains. Unlike large parks like Stephens Lake or Cosmo, neighborhood parks don’t have parking lots or on-site bathrooms. Griggs said they are intended to serve people within a half-mile radius for quick stops or neighborhood parties.

The improvements for McKee Street Park will hopefully make it an attractive asset for the area.

“When positive activity occurs at a park, it drives off the negative activity,” Griggs said. “So the more people are out here doing fun things that are good for them and good for the community, the less likely bad things are to happen.”

Byndom said that while the park now has great amenities for young children and parents, there could be more for teenagers. The combination of the park improvements and the dedicated police Community Outreach Unit presence has her feeling safer.

“When I came to Columbia, this was a safe town,” Byndom said. “It’s changed, but they’re slowly getting it back together.”

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