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Apr 01

New John Barkley Plaza area will welcome visitors, serve as meeting place in the park

Posted on April 1, 2021 at 11:12 AM by Becky Burnside

A late April ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned to dedicate a newly-refurbished eastern park entrance and memorial plaza at Shawnee Mission Park to honor the Johnson County Park and Recreation District’s first superintendent.

“The John Barkley Plaza serves as an impressive welcome to the over two million visitors who enjoy Shawnee Mission Park each year,” said JCPRD Executive Director Jeff Stewart. “Nestled between a bed of native plantings and mature shade trees is a beautiful pavilion that is perfect for small gatherings and provides a meeting point from which to explore all the wonderful things that Shawnee Mission Park has to offer.  The space will soon include interpretive panels that tell the story about how JCPRD evolved and JCPRD’s first park superintendent, John Lewis Barkley.“

The ceremony at the John Barkley Plaza in Shawnee Mission Park, 7900 Renner Road Shawnee and Lenexa, will take place beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 24.
Physical distancing and face masks will be required at the ceremony, which is scheduled to last about 45 minutes and will include comments from public officials including JCPRD Executive Director Jeff Stewart, Deputy Director Travis Buell, Johnson County Board of Commissioners Chair Ed Eilert, JCPRD Parks Board Chair Leslee Rivarola, and Dr. Matt Naylor of the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.

“John Barkley’s love for nature combined with his vision and dedication to provide public park space for the community to enjoy outdoor recreation and nature made him the perfect fit to become the district’s first leader,” Stewart said. “These efforts continue today with JCPRD now caring for and providing over 10,000 acres of public park space to the citizens of Johnson County.”     
Barkley, a Medal of Honor recipient from World War I, acquired 1,300 acres for development of the first two parks in the Shawnee Mission Park District, now called the Johnson County Park and Recreation District (JCPRD). Barkley also spearheaded efforts, along with the Shawnee Mission Sertoma Club and its female counterpart, La Sertoma Club, in the early 1950s to ask the Kansas Legislature to create the first and still only special park district in the state. The League of Women Voters also supported the initiative. Barkley retired as superintendent of the park district in 1963. He died three years later at age 70.  

John L Barkley Portrait

The overall concept for John Barkley Plaza is a more inviting, more open area, which will serve as an informal meeting place, and let visitors get an initial glimpse of the park. The plaza includes two interpretive panels, including one about Barkley covering his farm upbringing, service in World War I for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor, and his later service to the community. The other plaque describes the history of the park district, including a timeline of JCPRD’s major developments and achievements.

Parking for the plaza area has been moved to a new satellite parking area to the northeast, with some additional parking to the south, as part of efforts to make the area more welcoming. Informational kiosks, including a park map for reference, will be located near the north and south parking areas.

Other features of the plaza include seat walls, a 24’ by 60’ shade pavilion, a drinking fountain, a RideKC bike share rack and a bike-fix-it station along with an existing flagpole near the park entrance. Users of the plaza will have access to existing restrooms inside the vestibule of the nearby JCPRD Administration Building, which are available whenever the park is open.

The plaza also features a plantscape involving native grasses and forbs with ribbons of native plants that range from low, to medium, to high and go through the plaza area and continue towards Renner Road.