By Executive Director Jeff Stewart
Throughout the past year, the Johnson County Park and Recreation District (JCPRD) focused on its mission to enrich the Johnson County community through excellence in parks, recreation, culture, education, and public service. We were very pleased with the most recent community survey results which told us that 90% of Johnson County residents feel JCPRD is successful in this mission. In 2022, JCPRD welcomed over 10 million visitors and participations in its 10,000+ acres of park property, 25 recreation and culture facilities, and over 4,000 programs and events offered.
Of all county services, JCPRD services ranked #1 in citizen satisfaction. JCPRD’s dedicated team of professionals and volunteers proudly work to provide the very best park and recreation services, and continues to appreciate the tremendous support and engagement provided by our citizens.
JCPRD had much success achieving the established goals and objectives for 2022. JCPRD’s strategic plan (Legacy Plan) is the framework that was developed by our stakeholders and citizens that continues to guide us in maintaining, protecting, enhancing, and expanding our beloved parks, facilities, and services.
A few of the major projects we made progress on during 2022 include: completion of Phase 2 and progress with the third and final phase improvements to Mid-America Sports Complex; completion of Meadowbrook Park Phase 2 addition, which included JCPRD’s third inclusive playground; development of a Wee Links golf facility at Heritage Park Golf Course in collaboration with the Thomas S. Watson Supporting Foundation and the Watson Youth Golf Foundation; working with Urban Trail Co. to complete Phase 2 development of the Cedar Niles Park single-track trail; the success of the Johnson County Museum’s temporary exhibit “REDLINED: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation” and the continued success of the museum’s award-winning “Sensory Friendly Mondays” program; and continuing efforts to implement JCPRD’s Natural Resources Plan.
In addition to the progress and successful completion of park and recreation capital projects and initiatives, JCPRD celebrated many milestones in 2022.
JCPRD was recognized on the national stage at the National Recreation and Park Association Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., as a finalist for the prestigious National Gold Medal Award recognizing excellence in park and recreation services. Only four Class I agencies in the country (those with populations greater than 400,000) are recognized as finalists for the award each year.
The Johnson County Museum, a department of JCPRD, received the highest national recognition by being awarded Accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.
Other awards and recognitions received by JCPRD in 2022 included: the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials Removing Barriers Initiative Award for the museum’s Sensory Friendly Mondays at KidScape program; the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Award for the Big Bull Creek Park Phase 1 project and the Prairie Gateway Chapter ASLA Award for JCPRD’s inclusive playgrounds; the Kansas Recreation and Park Association New and Innovative Recreation Program for the museum’s Sensory Friendly Mondays program and for the Kansas City Corporate Challenge’s Mini Fall Series; being Platinum Level Healthy KC Certified by the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; the Shawnee Economic Development Council Good Business Award for the Mid-America Sports Complex; the Greater Kansas City Attractions Association Special Achievement Award for the Redlined exhibit; The Climate KC/Mid-America Regional Council Resilient Success Story Award for JCPRD’s Forest Restoration efforts; and Best of Johnson County Awards including Live Entertainment for Theatre in the Park, the Johnson County Museum for Best Museum, Shawnee Mission Park for Best Park, and the Shawnee Mission Off-Leash Park for Best Dog Park.
Public art programs and installations where another emphasis of 2022, as JCPRD completed the first year of its new public art program. We are proud of the momentum and community impact in just one year from installations of “Rebirth” by ITRAicons muralists Isaac Tapia and Rodrigo Alvarez at Okun FIeldhouse; “Gateway” by Amie Jacobsen in Meadowbrook Park; the temporary art installment, “A Seat at the Table” by Artist in Residency Kirsten Taylor along the Orange Trail in Shawnee Mission Park; and the temporary installation “Symbiosis,” by Matthew Dehaemer at Theatre in the Park. At the heart of the public art program is community engagement, placemaking, and helping patrons feel a greater connection to nature within JCPRD parks, trails, and facilities.
Using the Public Art Master Plan as the guide, JCPRD has an exciting lineup of projects for 2023 including: the JCPRD Poster Project, a new effort to commission local artists to create collectable posters using retro and contemporary styles that celebrate getting out into nature; a farm-themed mural at Arthur and Betty Verhaeghe Park, an Artist in Residence at Kill Creek Park focused on prairie restoration; and more temporary art at Theatre in the Park. Private-funding support will continue to be important to make more projects like this possible. Many thanks to the following major funders who have already provided leadership gifts to support this effort to embed art in JCPRD parks, trails, and facilities: Carol and Fred Logan, AT&T Foundation, The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County, Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, and several other individuals. The success of this program is possible because of the rich community engagement and volunteerism to provide funding, art selection support, and input on planning efforts. For more information on these projects and how to get involved, go to JCPRD.com/1308/Public-Art-Program.
Adopted in late 2015, JCPRD’s long-range comprehensive plan, the Legacy Plan, serves as a roadmap through 2030 to disciplined planning and financial stewardship. The Legacy Plan serves as a prioritized strategy for merging existing resources with the long list of needed projects and enhancements. Focusing on “taking care of what we have” along with needs for new parks, trails, facilities, and services is imperative to balancing equity throughout Johnson County.
Since 2016 JCPRD has activated over 3,000 acres of parkland throughout all of Johnson County with the opening of four regional parks and one streamway park (Lexington Lake Park, Big Bull Creek Park, Meadowbrook Park, Cedar Niles Park, Coffee Creek Steamway Park). Hundreds of acres of prairie have been restored and extensive invasive plant control practices have occurred. JCPRD has also increased efforts in caring for existing assets and providing better access to parks, facilities, and services. Community partnerships have been enhanced or developed to allow us to work together to maximize resources and delivery to the Johnson County community.
JCPRD has been very successful in accomplishing initiatives identified in the Legacy Plan. As we approach the mid-point to this plan, we recognize the world has changed significantly in the last two years. We are in the process of updating our plan to ensure the community’s priorities are current and to identify additional partnerships to maximize our resources. Community feedback through surveys, public meetings, and social media will provide an essential assessment and direction.
It’s anticipated that many of the priorities framework of the existing plan will remain the same. The update will confirm and/or reset community priorities, and identify new opportunities through 2038.
In response to the many challenges our community and JCPRD faced over the past three years, we are grateful that our operations and services look and feel more familiar today. JCPRD is very proud of its efforts to meet the community where they needed us as we experienced so much disruption, uncertainty, concern, and fear. Because of the support of the community, our resiliency, exceptional staff talents, and the leadership provided by the JCPRD Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, JCPRD services are as strong as ever and we look forward to building on them as we move forward.
I continue to be most proud of our board, amazing staff, and the many volunteers that, despite the concerns and everchanging environment, were able to continue to provide the thousands of parks, facilities, and services that JCPRD offers the community.
The JCPRD Board has established Goals and Objectives for 2023. With focus on our community developed strategic plan, we are looking forward to some exciting developments, improvements, and additions.
Among projects planned for 2023 are: Heritage Park Lake Water Quality Improvements; development of Shawnee Mission Park South Loop Trail, Big Bull Creek Park Sunflower Trail, Kill Creek Trail Connection (depending on the successful transfer of a portion of Sunflower Ammunition Plant property); completion of improvements at the Helen S. Cuddy Memorial Rose Garden in Antioch Park; completion of improvements at the Shawnee Mission Park Marina; completion of Phase 3 improvements at Mid-America Sports Complex; beginning development of accessible dock facilities at Kill Creek and Lexington Lake parks, and at the TimberRidge Adventure Center; single-track trail developments in multiple parks; completion of a new disc golf course at Lexington Lake Park and initiating improvements at the Shawnee Mission Park Disc Golf Course; development of a makerspace at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, and implementation of new Maker/S.T.E.A.M. programming; beginning the process of applying to become nationally accredited for a fifth time by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies; updating the JCPRD Safety Plan; and master planning for Kill Creek Park, Sunflower Park, and the future transfer of property from the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant to JCPRD.
To stay up to date on the projects listed here and more, visit JCPRD.com/254/Current-Projects.