By David Markham
JCPRD is thrilled and humbled to take home five awards in the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley Posts’ 2023 Best of Johnson County Awards, but we’re particularly pleased that one of the awards confirms something we’ve always known about the district.
In the main category of Professional Services Post readers voted JCPRD as Johnson County’s Best Large Employer.
“JCPRD is filled with incredibly caring and talented people that are committed to serving the citizens, businesses, and visitors in the Johnson County community,” said Executive Director Jeff Stewart. “The creativity and constant effort to improve has and continues to drive results that our citizens value. The work we do makes a tremendous difference in the lives of those that we serve, and it is a tremendous joy to work alongside such talented and caring people. Each day is filled with new challenges, opportunities, and excitement.”
Other awards recognize the Johnson County Museum as Best Museum, Shawnee Mission Park Dog Off-Leash Area as Best Dog Park, Shawnee Mission Park Disc Golf Course as Best Disc Golf Course, and Meadowbrook Park as Best Public Park.
Best Large Employer
For more than 65 years, JCPRD has been enhancing the lives of citizens through its parks, quality programs, professionalism, and response to developing trends. The district’s contributions to the personal lives of Johnson County’s citizens have earned local appreciation and national acclaim including receiving the National Gold Medal for Excellence Award in 1995 and 2017, being accredited four times since 1999 through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies, and a long and continuing list of accolades.
Each year, JCPRD offers more than 4,000 programs and events, and cares for over 10,000 acres of park property which attract and serve over 10 million visitors and participations annually. JCPRD’s wide range of services are provided through the organization’s five divisions which currently employ a diverse team of more than 300 full-time employees, as well as hundreds of part-time and seasonal employees each year.
“No organization is perfect, but what I can honestly say is JCPRD strives to do right by their staff every day,” said Superintendent of Recreation Shannon Sonnier. “It is important to JCPRD’s leadership that staff is heard and considered, and that has been my experience as a long-time employee. Working at JCPRD means working with a staff that is dedicated to improving their community, who are also driven by mission-based work.”
“In Johnson County, parks and recreation is everything,” added Southwest Region Park Manager Dan Haase. “We touch so many lives every day and allow people to explore their passions through nature, physical activities, and many fine arts. We bring beauty and diversity and opportunity for people and children to interact and make new friends.”
“I feel the benefits package JCPRD offers is amazing compared to some other businesses/organizations in the area,” said New Century Fieldhouse Coordinator Jamie Kempfe. “The hard work, dedication, and care for the employees from top to bottom is second to none. Knowing the leaders of the organization truly care about each individual employee is a wonderful feeling to have and motivates me to put forth my best effort every day.”
“JCPRD is an exceptional employer,” added Johnson County Museum Director Mary McMurray. “They hire great people, trust them to do their jobs, communicate expectations and goals clearly, and unite us all around serving our community. Although we all work in such different fields, there is a great sense of camaraderie and respect for one another. It is so fulfilling to be part of good public service.”
The Johnson County Museum is an award-winning and nationally-accredited history museum with a long tradition of service to the community. Its mission is to showcase Johnson County’s unique stories ranging from its early beginnings as Native American lands to today’s diverse suburban communities.
Innovative, engaging exhibitions and programs inspire learners of all ages to discover a sense of place and spark excitement about history at two sites: the Lanesfield Historic Site in Edgerton, Kan., and the main museum in the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center in Overland Park.
The museum offers long-term and changing exhibits; field trips, home school, youth, and scout programs; summer camps; lectures; special events; birthday party packages; event spaces; and a wide variety of online research tools. The museum’s historic collections include more than one million photographs, 20,000 3-D artifacts, and 300 cubic feet of archival material. The largest artifact in the museum is the 1950s All-Electric House – a model home exemplifying the American Dream many hoped to find in Johnson County.
Even the youngest among us will be excited about history as they play through time in KidScape.
KidScape is the museum’s fully immersive and interactive 3,500-square-foot experience highlighting the region’s past where kids can work on the farm, sell produce at the city market, teach in the school, drive the Strang Line trolley, care for patients at the hospital, or fry up some burgers at the diner.
Best Dog Park
Loved by dogs and their people as well, the Shawnee Mission Park Dog Off-Leash Area is located west of the park’s 87th and Ridgeview entrance on the south side of the park. The 44-acre area features a paved trail to the lake and dog beach area, as well as wood-chip and natural-surface trails through grassy and wooded areas. The off-leash area also includes restrooms and paved parking. The area is open year-round during regular park hours except during weekly routine maintenance closures, which takes place every Tuesday and Thursday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. These closures are conducted to provide maintenance to the area without compromising dog, patron, and staff safety. For the enjoyment of all patrons and pets, all JCPRD Dog Off-Leash Area Code of Conduct/Rules (PDF) apply. Other JCPRD off-leash areas are located in Heritage Park, Thomas S. Stoll Memorial Park, and Kill Creek Streamway Park.
Best Disc Golf Course
First established in 2007, the Shawnee Mission Park Disc Golf Course is an 18-hole, 54-par wooded and prairie grass course on mostly flat terrain with varying levels of obstacles to challenge both beginners and experienced players. In mid-2022, JCPRD officials announced a plan, developed with public input, to convert the Shawnee Mission Park disc course from one 18-hole course to an 18-hole course plus three sets of nine holes each. Tentatively planned for construction beginning in 2024, the plan will create two sets of nine-hole courses south of the loop created by West 79th Street and West 80th Terrace, and two sets to the north within the loop. Courses to the south would include “The Art Nine,” which will incorporate public art and feature shorter fairways, and “The Ridge 18” to the east with more typical longer fairways. Courses to the north within the loop will include “The Prairie Nine” to the east featuring wide-open spaces and views of the nearby prairie, and “The Grove Nine” to the west where there are more trees. Other JCPRD disc golf courses Include a new soon-to-open 9-hole course in Lexington Lake Park, as well as 18-hole courses in Heritage Park, and Big Bull Creek Park.
Since initially opening in mid-2019, Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village has quickly become a popular attraction in northeast Johnson County. The park affords 80 acres of green space and an impressive variety of programming opportunities for all ages. Features of the park include the Treeline Adventure destination playground, The Grove playground, an inclusive playground which opened in early 2023, the Grand Pavilion, four shelters, eight pickleball courts, Meadowbrook Hill, low-impact outdoor fitness equipment, over three miles of paved trails, and three lakes. In addition to the 80 acres of green space, the park features the 10,000 square-foot Meadowbrook Park Clubhouse located near the park’s northwest corner. The clubhouse offers programs and events utilizing both inside and outdoor space. In addition to hosting outdoor concerts, movie showings, and other special events, since 2022, the park has been the site of The Parks & Recreation Foundation of Johnson County’s annual family-friendly Meadowbrook Park Festival each June. In October 2022, the nearly 12-foot tall sunflower-themed sculpture “Gateway” by Local Artist Amy Jacobson was dedicated west of Meadowbrook Park’s Great Lawn, becoming JCPRD’s first large-scale permanent art installation.