By ABBY SOUZA
From overhead, pilots can see changes under way at Columbia and Pine Mountain Lake airports.
By next summer, small-craft pilots and passengers will look down to a lush green meadow at Columbia Airport, rather than the brownish-yellow, star thistle-filled area they now see.
"We're going to have a grass runway that looks like a golf course," said Daniel Richardson, Tuolumne County senior administrative analyst and the county interim airports director.
Reseeding and a new sprinkler system for runway 11-29 now closed for work are only two of the many improvements planned for the county's two airports.
Work at Columbia Airport began July 7. Plans include reconstructing the concrete terminal apron, overlaying and repainting the tie-down areas where many pilots park their airplanes, drainage improvements, replacing the beacon light and adding an asphalt run-up area for the grass runway. A run-up area gives pilots a place to get their planes ready for take off.
"It will probably be the biggest cosmetic improvement the airport has had in 10 years," Richardson said.
There will be times that the runways must be closed and the airplane tie-down or "parking" area will need to be emptied while work is under way, Richardson said.
"Probably the biggest impact from this project is the grass runway reconstruction," Richardson said.
The grass runway will be closed through spring 2004 to make sure the grass grows in properly.
"We want to make sure come next summer it will be ready," Richardson said.
Richardson said the grass runway is closed during the winter anyway, so the extended closure only equals a couple of extra months.
To keep airport users updated on the project, Richardson has red billboards placed them at both airports. Richardson said he has posted a construction schedule there and writes weekly updates on what has been done at the airport so far and what is coming up.
Richardson said he heard many airport users missed his weekly update while he was on vacation last week.
"So it is being read," he added.