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story.lead_photo.caption Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department Director Todd Spalding, left, points out areas on a map Tuesday to City Council member David Kemna as parks commissioners and City Council members take a tour of Ellis-Porter Riverside Park. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

The Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission loaded on a trolley Tuesday night after their meeting to take a tour of four Jefferson City parks to discuss upcoming and planned improvements.

The trolley, provided by The Trolley Company, took commissioners as well as some Jefferson City Council members to Community Park, McClung Park, Ellis-Porter Riverside Park and East Miller Park.

At each park, Todd Spalding, Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department director, and Assistant Parks Director JJ Gates discussed plans for improving the parks that are upcoming or already underway.

After the tour, commissioner Bill Plank said he's a frequent park-goer but liked seeing the spaces as a group with the rest of the commission.

"I think there's value in going out as a group and seeing everyone's perspective and their kind of awe, and just having that confirmation that, 'yes, what I thought is going to happen actually is what's going to happen,'" Plank said.

The proposed improvements to Community Park, McClung Park and Ellis-Porter Riverside Park will be funded in part by $7 million-$8 million in bonds.


Riverside Park

At the riverside park, located at 300 Ellis-Porter Drive, the biggest upcoming plans include the addition of a large amphitheater, which will include fixed seating for around 2,000, with additional seating behind that and hillside, grass seating farther back. The amphitheater, including the grassy space, could hold many more people if needed, Spalding said.

Nearby, a new bathroom facility will also be built.

Other improvements in the first stage include parking lot lights and upgraded ballfields. Some of the greenway trails in the park will also be rerouted to make room for the amphitheater.

Spalding said they hope to put bids out for the construction of the amphitheater after Jan. 1, 2020.

Plank said while he's excited about all of the park improvements, the amphitheater is one with a larger amount of impact on the community.

"I think the one with the greatest impact will be the amphitheater, just because of the amount of people that could hold, and really what that means to the city," Plank said.

In the future, other improvements at Ellis-Porter Riverside would include the addition of a botanical garden behind the existing caretaker's house. Spalding said the commission is in talks with the Central Missouri Master Gardeners to create the garden. Plans for the garden will hopefully be developed next year, he said.

The Master Gardeners' river city gardens and greenhouses were damaged by flooding this spring in the North Jefferson Recreation Area. After the damage, they discussed relocating.

An event space and deck could come along with that, in the future, to give a view of the Missouri River. It's a multistage process, Spalding said.

"It can start very small, but grow into something," he said. "A community of our size, I think we deserve a full-fledged botanical garden."

Estimated cost for the Ellis-Porter improvements is $3 million.


Community Park

Community Park, at 725 Marshall St., is the first priority in the parks master plan, a 20-year outline for improvements in the parks system which includes the improvements at Ellis-Porter and McClung.

Work on the project began with a groundbreaking in May. The formerly empty grass space is currently a construction site for an upcoming water play area, or sprayground. The park will also include playground equipment like ziplines and climbing towers, and a pavilion area, as well as a parking lot.

In May, Gates told the News Tribune about 11,000 people live within a 1-mile radius of the park.

Plank said he thinks the improvements at Community Park will be the most visible and is the "greatest win" for the community.

"I can't wait to see kids out there playing," Plank said. "The visibility from the highway is going to be awesome."

A total estimated cost for the project is $2.5 million-$3.5 million, officials said.

Gates said they hope to have the park completed and ready to open by the end of 2019.


McClung Park

McClung Park, at 930 McClung Park Drive, will see improvements to the indoor pavilion and outdoor patio area.

The indoor pavilion will be renovated, with more windows facing out onto the outdoor patio to add more natural light. Doors will also be added from the indoor pavilion to the outdoor deck. Some of the brush outside the pavilion will be cleared out, as well.

"This has some really wonderful views of our city, right here, you just haven't been able to see them a whole lot," Spalding said.

Gates said they plan to seek out bids for the project after the new year, and start renovation next spring. They anticipate the pavilion being closed for around six months for the improvements.

Other changes at McClung Park include parking lot improvements.

Parks staff is also interested in the possibility of building an observation tower at McClung Park sometime in the future, Spalding said, which would tie back to the site's history as the location of an observation post during the Civil War.


East Miller Park

East Miller Park, at 916 E. Miller St., was named as the No. 2 priority in the master plan in March 2018 when it was developed. No changes are currently being made.

A group of local and state officials spoke to the commission at the meeting before the tour about the possibility of moving East Miller Park across to the other side of U.S. 50, and using the park's current space to expand the Jefferson City National Cemetery to give more space to bury Jefferson City veterans.

The tour went to East Miller because of the presentation that was given to the commission.

The group, which was made up in part by Tom Rackers and Leon DeLong, told the commission they could possibly double the number of gravesites if they extended the cemetery.

Approval would be needed from the federal regulators of Jefferson City National Cemetery to expand the site, Rackers said, but the group wanted to bring it to the attention of the parks commission.

The commission did not take action on the proposal during Tuesday's meeting.

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