Note: This is the latest in an occasional series of stories highlighting JCPRD parks and facilities.
By David Markham
While there’s still plenty of green space and areas to get immersed in nature, Heritage Park has a noticeably different mix of amenities than JCPRD’s other large parks.
“Heritage Park is very different than most of our other regional parks,” said Southeast Region Park Manager Eddie Coffey. “It’s a great park with so much to offer; it has something for everyone. We are a recreational park because we offer a lot of things the other large parks don’t. We have a golf course, a disc golf course, softball, football, soccer, cricket, and lacrosse. We also have numerous trails including the primary trailhead for the Coffee Creek Streamway Park Trail.“
Located at 159th and Pflumm Road, and first opened in 1981, this 1,234-acre park is the third largest of the district’s parks (behind Big Bull Creek Park with 2,027 acres, and Shawnee Mission Park with 1,674 acres). Facilities and features of the park include: a 40 acre lake, a 30-acre dog off-leash area, 10 shelter houses; three playgrounds; six restroom facilities; several small fishing ponds; 3.5 miles of walking and biking trails; a 4.3-mile equestrian cross-country course; four lighted softball fields with concession building and play area; football and soccer complexes, the 18 hole Heritage Park Golf Course and driving range; an 18-hole, par 54 disc golf course; and JCPRD’s first outdoor fitness park. Heritage Park also includes park and golf course maintenance facilities. JCPRD’s White Fox Manor horse boarding and arena facility is located adjacent to the park.
Among Heritage Park’s most popular features are the dog off-leash area, disc golf, and trails.
“It can be raining, snowing, or just plain bad weather, and the users will still come out and enjoy those features,” Coffey said. “The 18-hole disc golf course has also grown in popularity and is used year-round.”
The 30-acre off-leash area includes a fenced open area, a small pond, and a looped trail. The off-leash area is a maintained grass field with varied levels of terrain. There are also tall shade trees and a grassy play area. The looped trails system is a combination of both paved and hiking trails, with a portion of the trail being accessible.
Over the past two years, COVID-19 has also played a role in increasing the popularity of the park’s trails.
“Since the pandemic, I think our trails are being used by a lot of new patrons,” Coffey said. “If I had to guess I would think that the visitation has seen a 40-50% increase. I am seeing a lot of people that are now regular users of this trail.”
While the main lake at Heritage Park is not stocked on a regular basis, it still attracts successful anglers.
“I have seen many large bass pulled out by fishermen from the trail that is on the dam,” Coffey said. “It has some good catfish in it, and I have seen some nice crappie caught out of the lake.”
The previously-mentioned Coffee Creek Streamway Park, which first opened in October 2017, has its main trailhead near Heritage Park’s shelters 9 and 10. The trail currently stretches 3.4 miles to the east and ends at Switzer Road. In October 2020, the 42-acre Arthur and Betty Verhaeghe Park opened at 11401 W 167th St. and serves as an additional access point to the Coffee Creek streamway trail. This small park, which was made possible through donations from the Verhaeghe family, honor’s the county’s farming heritage and features a farm-themed playground, which was expanded in late 2021.
Heritage Park is also a popular venue for a wide variety of special events, both those presented by JCPRD and others hosted at the park through shelter rentals. District events include the HP 5K 10K & 15K early each May, and on Oct. 28, it will host the JamBOOree event and will include a trick-or-treat trail and a showing of “Monsters, Inc.’
For eight to nine weeks each summer, JCPRD youth day camps utilize the southeast portions of the park.
Coffey also talked about some of the events which happen through rentals.
“From the last of April through the first of June we have a lot of graduation parties, sprinkled in between those are a lot of birthday parties,” he said. “We also host walkathons, some running events, and some charity events. Two weeks before school lets out, we usually get busloads of kids that schools bring here for a day out.”
The park also hosts seven to eight equestrian training events each year including a large event in October.
“This event is something to see with very beautiful horses that are sent through various jumping stations with different types of jumps that have been erected by the MAEA (Mid-America Eventing Association),” Coffey explained. “It can have up to 100 horses and they will have portable stables that are erected to accommodate the horses because they will spend most of the weekend at Heritage. Since the early 80s, MAEA has hosted cross-country schooling opportunities, clinics, and schooling shows, as well as a United States Eventing Association horse trial at Heritage Park.”
Despite all the various human activities in the park, it is still home to a lot of wildlife.
“There are some animals that you only see in the late evening or early morning,’ Coffey said. “There is a gorgeous owl that hangs out on the dam before the sun comes up. The turkeys that run around are fun to see. Occasionally you can see a covey of quail. I guess I am very lucky to be able see all the wildlife here at Heritage.”
Other articles in this series: