Consultant to develop plan for woods WEST COLUMBIA


3/8 TC Symphony Woods, Columbia's urban park, will be crowded with people sipping wine, munching gourmet food, listening to music and browsing for crafts this weekend at the county's first Wine in the Woods event.

The event, sponsored by the county Department of Recreation and Parks, meshes with the Columbia Forum's goal for downtown -- to create a "vibrant, exciting, urban center that welcomes people." The forum is a nonprofit organization studying Columbia's future.

Inevitably, with people come environmental effects, which concerns Fred Pryor, Columbia Association vice president for open-space management.

And, as plans for high-density housing and office development come to fruition in Town Center bordering Symphony Woods, foot traffic will increase in the 40-acre park, affecting its "fragile environment," Mr. Pryor said.

"A lot of people on a daily basis will be using that piece of property," he said. "We want to make certain it's a benefit to the community and that we don't destroy it by using it."

The Columbia Council approved $22,000 in CA's fiscal 1994 capital budget to hire a consultant to develop a master plan for Symphony Woods to promote its most beneficial public uses while preserving its natural characteristics.

"I look at Symphony Woods as a little resource, a real gem," Mr. Pryor said. "I thank goodness someone had the resourcefulness to see it as just as important a part of a city plan as high-rise office buildings and a commercial center."

Contained within Symphony Woods is the 12-acre Merriweather Post Pavilion. The park has scattered picnic tables, paths and a few buildings associated with Merriweather, but no other structures. Wedding receptions frequently are held in the park.

Symphony Woods is maintained as an urban park -- grass is planted, landscaping is performed, leaves are removed and turf is kept under trees, Mr. Pryor said.

In a more natural setting, leaves would remain on the ground, nourishing the soil and supporting natural regeneration of the forest. One section of the park boasts a stately stand of birch trees, but if the soil around the trees is compacted by visitors, they could die, Mr. Pryor said.

One purpose of the study will be to evaluate changing the way the association maintains the park to promote natural growth of the woods, he said. The consultant also will study what areas of the park should be designated for "high use," what type of activities would be appropriate, and what environmentally sensitive areas should be protected.

Dick Lewis, chairman of the Columbia Forum's Downtown Work Group, said Symphony Woods could be a "central focus of downtown." The group never reached a consensus about what type of activities should be offered, other than performances at Merriweather, he said.

"We're not sure if we'd like to have more programming, like the wine festival, or just have picnicking

and other drop-by activities," he said.

The park is underused now, Mr. Lewis said. "It's one of the few places I can take the leash off my dog because there's nobody there," he said.

"It should be a resource people in Columbia enjoy."

The public will have an opportunity to comment during the consultant's evaluation process, and the association plans to seek bids from landscape architecture firms with expertise in land-use and community planning, Mr. Pryor said.

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