One of Columbia County's best parks isn't really a park at all. The field behind Kroger in Evans is the blissfully undeveloped part of a 21-acre parcel owned by Doctors Hospital, and used freely by anyone who wants an open field to play in.
Over the years the owners have been extraordinarily generous, allowing community events to freely use the field. The Family Y regularly sets up soccer fields and teaches lacrosse on the grass, which is kept cut by John Deere workers testing their equipment.
The field also is popular with individuals, from golfers shagging balls to kite-flyers catching a breeze. And like anything else, there are always a few people who go too far and threaten to ruin a good thing.
To keep that from happening, Doctors Hospital officials are stepping in to curb dangerous activities on the field.
hief Operating Officer Shayne George says the hospital will erect signs prohibiting motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and gas-powered recreational vehicles from the field.
"The signs are addressing a growing problem," George says. "We want to continue to allow public access to the land, but we do want to limit the types of activity due to safety."
This is a great move. This newspaper has long called for such restrictions, wondering aloud how the company could let itself continue to be exposed to the liability of hot-dogging off-roaders.
The problem recently worsened not just because of lawsuit worries, but because of damage to the grassy field. Rip Jones of Evans noticed the toll when aerial photos of the Evans town center appeared in the paper; the change in just five years has been drastic, as cyclists have cut deep tracks into the field.
"Doctors Hospital should no longer allow any 'negative impact' activities on this property," Jones said in a letter to The News-Times.
George and other officials have taken such suggestions to heart, and say the signs will be placed around the property within a week or so.
This action comes just a few months after Columbia County officials outlawed the practice of riding off-road vehicles on county rights-of-way - and for similar reasons. Not only were officials worried about the danger of off-road riders - especially kids - speeding alongside county roads, they also noticed that the makeshift but well-worn tracks created erosion problems.
So, what's an off-roader to do - especially when Christmas is approaching, and parents may be considering getting their kid a first motorcycle or four-wheeler?
Those moms and dads should first find a safe, legal place to ride. It isn't up to the county to provide dirt racetracks on public roadsides, and it isn't up to Doctors Hospital to provide a off-road speedway on its private property.
Perhaps this would be a good opportunity for an entrepreneur - with plenty of liability insurance - to set up an off-road riding park. Until that happens, motorcyclists and four-wheel riders will have to find their own land.
Thanks to county officials, it won't be public land. And thanks to Doctor's Hospital, it won't be in the county's favorite "park," either.
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