Posted to Ernie Miller Nature Center: Tracks Newsletter by Bryan Thompson
Posted to Explore JCPRD by Becky Burnside
During his more than 34 years with JCPRD, Planning and Development Manager Cliff Middleton has been part of planning and opening a wide variety and surprising number of parks and facilities. Middleton will retire on Sept. 17.
“JCPRD and the entire Johnson County community has greatly benefited from Cliff’s contributions, service, and leadership for over three decades,” said JCPRD Executive Director Jeff Stewart. “Always with our constituents in mind and involved, JCPRD’s planning efforts led by Cliff and his team have shaped a park and recreation system that is nationally recognized and highly appreciated by Johnson County citizens. Cliff’s commitment to taking care of existing assets while developing new parks and facilities has allowed for sustainable growth. As we celebrate Cliff’s legendary career with JCPRD, we are committed to continuing his legacy.”
“As I drive from park to park and facility to facility, I am in awe at the legacy that Cliff is leaving across this entire county,” added Deputy Director Travis Buell. “His impact and contributions are visible everywhere you go. He is a true professional, and will leave huge shoes to fill here at JCPRD.”
Middleton has been planning and development manager since April 2008. Prior to that promotion, he had served as landscape architect since he was hired in February 1987. A graduate of Southwest High School in Kansas City, Middleton holds a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Kansas State University. Before coming to JCPRD, he worked as a landscape architect for the city of Olathe from 1985 to 1987, and as a planning technician for the city of Overland Park from 1983 to 1984.
As planning and development manager, Middleton is responsible for all aspects of implementing JCPRD’s capital improvement plan, from planning and design through bid documents, project management and construction administration. He oversees a staff of five project managers.
“JCPRD has been an agency that gets parks, trails, and playgrounds built,” he said. “So the most fun is seeing a project through to reality. The projects are rarely the same so there is always the opportunity to learn something new.”
Middleton’s many accomplishments with JCPRD include the recent openings of a number of new parks including Kill Creek Park, Big Bull Creek Park, Lexington Lake Park, Meadowbrook Park, and Cedar Niles Park which is currently partially open and expected to be completed by the end of the year. Other projects he was involved with have included the Shawnee Mission Park Beach House which opened in 2018, the Coffee Creek Streamway Trail which opened in 2017, the New Century Fieldhouse which opened in 2011, the Tomahawk Hills Golf Course Clubhouse Building which opened in 2010, two phases of improvements to Antioch Park which took place from 2003 to 2005, multiple improvements to the Theatre in the Park, development of Kill Creek Park which opened in 2001, development of the Roeland Park Aquatic center in association with the city of Roeland Park and which opened in 1998, and initial development of Heritage Park Golf Course which opened in 1989, and Heritage Soccer Park, which opened in 1988.
Of the many projects he has been involved with, Middleton said he is proudest of JCPRD’s two inclusive playgrounds which opened in 2018 at Stilwell Community Park and in 2019 at Shawnee Mission Park.
“The inclusive playgrounds involved such a good planning process with great input from the advisory group,” he said. “I learned a lot, and the public embraced those playgrounds in such a big way. There were great crowds at the ribbon cutting ceremonies, and the playgrounds are still getting well used.”
Asked why he has stayed at JCPRD as long as he has, Middleton credits his coworkers.
“The Planning and Development Department staff are such talented people that bring great ideas and insight to the work we do,” he said. “My success and many of the projects I am most proud of are a direct result of the hard work and creativity of PDD team. JCPRD’s leadership team has also been wonderful to work with. We have always had honest and open discussions even when we don’t all agree on a particular topic. The culture here is to always improve what we do as departments and as an agency. I have seen lots of changes at JCPRD in 34 years. Most has been good and has made us a better more professional organization. I will miss my many friends and coworkers here at JCPRD.”
He also commented on what he sees as JCPRD’s greatest strength and challenges.
“We care about the quality of our parks and facilities,” he said. “It shows in the projects we’ve built and it shows in how well the parks and facilities are maintained. The public knows they are going to have a good experience at our parks and at our programs. The challenge will be meeting the demand for new parks and trails while continuing to maintain, repair and replace our existing facilities, as the population in Johnson County will continue to grow and that will result in more stress and wear on our parks.”
Middleton said he is looking forward to some ambitious retirement plans.
“I am hoping to ride my bike more than 4,000 miles next year,” he said. “It has been many years since I rode more than 1,500 to 2,000 in a year, work does get in the way of fun. My wife Liz and I also want to travel more and hopefully we can do that starting next year. I want to do some backpacking trips and canoe trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I would also like to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, the Village Church Food Pantry, Urban Trail Co., and help with native prairie seed collection. There is also a long list of house projects, so my challenge may be if I can really get to all of this.”