While it has been fully open for use since the first week of 2022, an official ribbon cutting and dedication for JCPRD’s newest park took place on Saturday, April 9, at Cedar Niles Park in Olathe.
“Johnson County continues to experience terrific growth, and greenspace is very important to our growing community,” Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert said during his opening remarks at the ceremony. “When asked in the 2022 Johnson County Citizen’s Survey ‘what are the most important services for the county to provide,’ county residents continue to rank Johnson County Park and Recreation District services towards the very top. We hear you! Parks are important to the people who live in Johnson County. And a quality park system is a significant factor in attracting new residents to our county. And we know that parks improve our health and well-being, and our quality of life.”
JCPRD Executive Director Jeff Stewart noted that at just over 1,000 acres, the new park includes “some of the most beautiful property in all of Johnson County.”
“The park will also eventually connect to Lake Olathe, and in partnership with Olathe Parks and Recreation, JCPRD is participating in the development of a trail that will connect Lake Olathe to Cedar Lake,” he said. “Due to this partnership, the community will have an additional nine-plus miles of continuous trail that links all three parks.”
Several speakers at the ribbon cutting noted the park has been more than 30 years in the making, as the first of the 14 separate parcels acquired for Cedar Niles was purchased in 1989. Park construction began in February 2020.
Located west of downtown Olathe, the new park stretches nearly two miles north and south between 119th and 135th streets in Olathe. It is also adjacent to Lake Olathe and the Prairie Center. The park features 4-miles of paved trail, 4.4-miles of single-track hiking and mountain bike trail, three access points with water fountains, and a playground, medium shelter, and restrooms at the 135th Street access point. Other access points are located at 127th and Clare Road, and 119th Street west of Kansas 7 Highway.
JCPRD Northwest Region Park Manager Monte Fiegel compared the property now to the first time he visited it.
“I remember our first exploratory hike to start laying out the trail locations,” he said. “It was very hot out and the vegetation had a heavy layer of dew. We were instantly soaked, our boots included. We were literally grasping at tree roots and grass stems to get up the banks as we negotiated the four river crossings. For me personally, it’s much more pleasurable to transverse the park now using trails and bridges.”
Today, four bridges are part of the park’s paved trail, including a 200-foot single-span bridge over Cedar Creek, the longest bridge in JCPRD’s park inventory. The park’s other bridges measure 150, 140, and 90-feet each.
Public reaction to the new park has been overwhelmingly positive, JCPRD staff said.
“Everyone loves it,” said Cedar Niles Senior Park Worker Ginger Werp. “Our trail users are so happy to have Cedar Niles open. We have gotten to know so many patrons over the last couple of years. It is truly a pleasure to be part of this community.”
“People really enjoy the park,” added Project Manager Megan Garrett, who oversaw development of the park. “I’ve had lots of positive feedback especially in regards to the trails. Patrons love the meandering paved and unpaved bike/hike trails through the passive and minimally-developed parkland. It’s a great place to birdwatch. I’ve seen pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, bluebirds, warblers, tanagers, turkeys, turkey vultures, great blue herons, hummingbirds and more.”
The property includes rolling hills, steep slopes, and mature oak-hickory forests. Among the park’s natural areas are a 60-acre high-quality prairie remnant, several woodland flower areas, a glade containing prickly pear cactus, and an area with native ginger and jack-in-the-pulpit.
Two staff members shared their favorite parts of the new park.
“I love the area west of the access on 119th Street and before the powerline cut,” Fiegel said. “The topography and tree species has an Ozark feel to it. You have vertical outcrops of limestone and an unusual abundance of paw paw trees.”
“Not only do I have a favorite part of the park, it is probably one of my favorite places in the world,” Werp added. “It is off the trail in an old area of forest with some of the tallest and most magnificent trees. The spring ephemerals carpet the forest floor and the paw paws grow thick. Cedar Creek winds through, converging with several feeder creeks and a steep, rocky cliff towers over the other side. The sycamores along the creek house a large great blue heron rookery that is a site to behold and hear! It is a wonderful place to be in every season.”
While additional future development is anticipated at Cedar Niles, no funding has been earmarked and no timeframe for additional improvements has been set at this time.