Columbia Association

The Columbia Association has unveiling new pathway signage along a 1.5 mile stretch spanning Wilde Lake and Town Center. The signage is one of the initiatives to emerge from Connecting Columbia, a comprehensive report put together in 2011 that evaluated Columbia's pathway system (Courtesy of Columbia Association / October 2, 2013)

If you take a walk on some of the pathways around Wilde Lake or Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia, you might notice a change in scenery.

Amid the changing colors of autumn are 15 wooden posts displaying multiple blue directional signs.

The signage, installed on a 1.5-mile stretch near downtown and completed last week, is part of a new Columbia Association initiative to improve navigation on Columbia's 93.5-mile pathway system.

"These signs will encourage people to walk a little farther and to walk more often, all while having comfort in knowing exactly where they are and how to get where they want to go," said Jan Clark, landscape architect and project manager with CA's Bureau of Community Building and Sustainability.

The new signage runs from the western edge of the Wilde Lake community and across Little Patuxent Parkway to the downtown lakefront, according to Clark. Each sign displays the name of a destination and, in some instances, the distance to that location. The pilot program cost $7,400 for the signs and materials and $4,600 for design work, according to CA.

Wilde Lake Village Association Manager Kristin Shulder said the area around Wilde Lake is heavily used and that the signage will come in handy.

"I think most everyone in Columbia has had that experience [of getting lost] while using the paths," Shulder said.

The new signage and Wilde Lake location were recommended after a yearlong study called Connecting Columbia.

The study, which was conducted by a CA task force made up of residents and reviewed by the CA board of directors last October, said directional signage would be helpful for those using the pathways.

"Path users often have the disconcerting experience of getting lost when exploring new pathways, or when using the paths to get to a new destination (this was mentioned numerous times during the public outreach for this project)," said the report.

While Clark and other CA officials are calling it a pilot program, CA is already evaluating a second location in East Columbia. Signage in the second location, which is a 1.8 mile stretch that runs from Stevens Forest Elementary School through the Owen Brown village center and to Lake Elkhorn, is expected to be installed in the coming months.

Jane Dembner, CA's director of building and community sustainability, said the project in Owen Brown could take longer than in Wilde Lake because CA does not own all of the pathways in the area and would have to coordinate with private land owners and the county government.

Dembner said CA is also looking into putting more signage on the pathway that encircles Wilde Lake, which would take two months once CA decides to move forward.

"We are planning on moving ahead as quickly as we can to implement more signage," Dembner said.

Dembner added that CA hopes to install the new signage on Columbia's "primary" pathways, which were identified in the study as "major cross-community connections or connections among key destinations." According to Dembner, approximate 20 to 25 miles of Columbia's pathways qualify as primary paths.

An app for that

The unveiling of the new directional signage coincided with the launch of a new CA smartphone application. The app, CA Pathways, displays an interactive map of Columbia's pathway system and allows users to chart custom routes along the paths. It also has a legend for pathways, sidewalks, tunnels and places of interest like tot lots, CA facilities, playing fields, golf courses and open space.

The app, which can be downloaded for free by iPhone and Android users, cost $35,000 to produce.

"Columbia was designed to be a walkable community, to have people walk from homes to village centers and pools. This is a way that we hope will get the community out there and more active," said Valerie Barnard, CA's director of sales and marketing.

The app also has brief synopses of CA's buildings, including addresses and contact numbers. CA hopes the app, which will be updated quarterly, will minimize the need for hard copies of maps.

To give feedback on the smartphone application, users should go to Solutions.ColumbiaAssociation.org.

For comments on the pathway signage, CA is asking residents to email Clark at Jan.Clark@ColumbiaAssociation.org.