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A season for traveling and seeing other places leaves us wondering how our own region stacks up to passersby. A recent visitor left us with some rather negative first-time impressions that we were able to correct only somewhat after a whirlwind tour across the verdant rolling hills of Boone County. It’s a fact that on any given day, tens of thousands of travelers pass through Columbia on our two principal freeways, but many are left with little that’s memorable aside from the visual squalor associated with any divided highway. First impressions can be dismaying and often beyond correction. “Improvement needed” should be the challenge that we can do better.
Visitors universally note the forests of billboards, urban clutter and other visual distractions. They note that the county’s only truck stop looks rather rough and uninviting. They spot the beggars reliably posted at some of Columbia’s key intersections. There’s the absence of promotion about the region and its attractions that should encourage longer stays beyond stopping for gas or victualing at a local eatery. On a brighter note, when the city and its surroundings are penetrated, negative first impressions usually fade as the panoply of area attractions and events unfurls.
Welcome to Columbia?
Long-distance, over-the-road drivers may very well consider the truck stop on the city’s western edge to be their own personal paradise, so we won’t judge what we know little about to begin with and wish this enterprise continued success.
Mostly our wrath is reserved for the state of Missouri because its agencies have absented themselves over the years from doing the bang-up job of providing roadside hospitality. Let’s begin with “welcome centers,” noting the inadequacy of these tourism information outposts at the state’s key border entry points. Missouri’s feeble efforts in this realm is embarrassing compared to, for example, Michigan’s welcome center on Interstate 94 at New Buffalo just across the Indiana line. Is there no answer for Missouri’s penurious tendencies that leave this state and its residents so pathetically short when compared to neighboring states in putting out the welcome mat for visitors?
Our visitor-friend wondered about the ironic mislocation of Columbia’s visitor center on South Providence Road, more than a mile south of Interstate 70. This led to helpful observations about signage with suggestions offered for improving it. Advanced was a splendid idea to include electronic billboards among the sea of displays to highlight regional attractions; however, under the existing political climate, such signs will never, ever be allowed here.
We reminisced about the lost opportunities associated with the establishment of free interstate highways compared to toll turnpikes and their immediately adjacent fuel and restaurant facilities.
This led to recalling the old Rainbow Village Trailer Court, which the late Herb Jeans (1911-1975) built south of Interstate 70 between Range Line and North Providence Road. Jeans, Columbia’s mayor from 1969 to 1971, also built a drive-in theater (1949-1960) and the Parkade Plaza Shopping Center, which opened in 1965. The former trailer park is now just a grove of mature trees nestled against the Interstate, but it’s listed for sale. Maybe the highest and best use of this acreage could very well be a Columbia welcome center, a quiet grove that would include a visitor center and a place to stop and contemplate nature.
But it won’t ever happen because it’s just another silly little idea without any basis or merit.