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In the early 1950s, Johnson County’s population of approximately 65,000 was concentrated in the small suburban cities in its northeast section, adjacent to metropolitan Kansas City. Farsighted community leaders correctly identified the County, with the room to grow south and west, as the area of principal future growth in the expanding metro. Led by members of the Shawnee Mission Sertoma Club, and its women’s auxiliary, the LaSertoma Club, this group of civic-minded individuals fulfilled the need for forward-looking planning in Johnson County.

John Barkley painting image
John Barkley, Johnson County Park
and Recreation District's 1st superintendent.

A community leader's vision.

One of the most important community leaders in the development of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District was John Barkley. Barkley was the first superintendent of the Shawnee Mission Park District, later named the Johnson County Park and Recreation District. He served the district from its inception in 1956 until his retirement in 1963.

Barkley received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his services during the World War I. Following his military duty, he was a farmer and landowner living in Mission, KS. Due to his love for nature and his desire to preserve a part of Johnson County's open area, he toured the undeveloped countryside and personally negotiated an aquistion of the 1,250 acres for the Shawnee Mission Park at a very reasonable price.

Because of his vision and dedication, the citizens of Johnson County have Shawnee Mission Park for their outdoor recreation enjoyment. The Barkley family and The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County continued his legacy by constructing the John Barkley Visitor Center in 1993 along with the Shawnee Mission Park entrance.

    The early years: planning ahead for space for play.

    The pressing civic projects were establishing sewer and road systems, central county services, and the planning for a park district and the creation of a recreation association (later known as the Northeast Johnson County Recreation Association). The Kansas Legislature assisted and enabled legislation for the formation of a Park District.

    In 1955, acting within the legislative authority and on a petition from citizens, the Board of County Commissioners appointed the first Park Board for the new Shawnee Mission Park District.

  • 1953 Kansas Legislature approves enabling statutes for a special park district.
  • 1954 Citizens petition Board of County Commissioners for appointment of a Park Commission.
  • 1955 Shawnee Mission Park District established.

Moving forward: the park commissioners act quickly

In 1956 the park board put a successful bond issue on the ballot for purchase and initial development of land for three park properties within the new Park District. The properties were named Antioch Park, Shawnee Mission Park, and Bluejacket Park (now known as Herman E. Laird Park).

Also, in 1956, the Shawnee Mission Park District Board met with members of the Northeast Johnson County Recreation Association and the two groups commissioned a Master Plan Study for Parks and Recreation for the Shawnee Mission Park District.

Antioch park early 1960's image
Antioch Park entrance in the early 1960's

The two groups continued to work closely and complement each other and, in 1967, the park district's original governing statutes were amended to include the provision of any type of indoor and outdoor recreational and cultural programs, and to deliver services to the entire County. The District’s name was officially changed in 1969 to the “Johnson County Park and Recreation District”.

  • 1956 Bonds passed for initial development and purchase of land for Antioch and Shawnee Mission Parks.
  • 1958 Antioch Park dedicated and site purchased for Shawnee Mission Park.
  • 1964 Shawnee Mission Park dedicated.
  • 1969 Name changed to Johnson County Park and Recreation District.
1970 Shawnee Mission park Flagpole installation image
1963 Shawnee Mission Park
Flagpole Installation

The growing years: adding parkland and increasing programs

Throughout the 1970s, the District developed Shawnee Mission Park and was able to acquire other properties including the 80-acre site for Thomas S. Stoll Park and the 250-acre Tomahawk Hills Golf Club. In 1979, the voters of Johnson County approved the purchase of 1,160 acres for Heritage Park, with additional funds for initial development of Heritage Park and Stoll Park. Lacking indoor facilities, the focus to offer recreational programs continued to be in space leased from area cities and businesses.

  • 1970 Theatre in the Park established in Antioch Park.
  • 1971 Stoll Park site purchased.
  • 1973 Tomahawk Rec. Complex purchased with revenue bonds.
  • 1973 Ernie Miller Park purchased.
  • 1975 Theatre in the Park moved to Shawnee Mission Park.
  • 1979 Bond issue passed for purchase of Heritage Park.
  • 1980 Theatre in the Park moved to present Shawnee Mission Park.

By 1980 the County’s population was 270,269. The need for outdoor recreational facilities dominated the master planning for Heritage Park beyond the initial development approved in the 1979 bond issue. The District developed Heritage Park Sports Complex in a partnership with the Football and Cheerleading Club of Johnson County and the Heritage Park Soccer Park in a similar agreement with the Heartland Soccer Club.

  • 1981 Thomas S. Stoll Park dedicated on May 30 and Heritage Park dedicated on July 4.
  • 1984 Sunflower Nature Park dedicated September 22.
  • 1984 Heritage Park Sports Complex opened.

The District received capital funding in 1984 for the construction of the first phase of the only nature center in Johnson County, the Ernie Miller Nature Center. The indoor space enabled the District to expand interpretive programming and outreach programs for schools.

  • 1985 Ernie Miller Nature Center dedicated July 20.
  • 1985 Tomahawk Dome opened.

In 1986, voters again backed the District on a land issue, approving a one-half mill levy for establishing a Streamway Park System, the basis today for the countywide program to connect municipal parks and trails. The District also entered into a lease-purchase agreement with The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County for the pristine Oakridge Farm adjoining the northern boundary of Shawnee Mission Park.

1980 Heritage Park Ground Breaking image
1980 Heritage Park Ground Breaking
  • 1986 Streamway Park System mill levy passed.
  • 1987 Beach opened at Shawnee Mission Park.
  • 1987 Soccer Park complex opened in Heritage Park.
  • 1987 Acquisition of 480-acre Oakridge Farm by The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County.
  • 1988 Issued $4,280,000 in District Revenue Bonds for construction of Heritage Park Golf Course and Clubhouse.
  • 1988 Completed first two-mile segment of the Mill Creek Streamway Park.
  • 1988 Oakridge Farm Stable operation initiated.
  • 1989 Completed additional four-mile segment of the Mill Creek Streamway Park.
  • 1989 Original purchase of 640 acres for future Kill Creek Park, the District's third regional park.
  • 1990 Heritage Park Golf Course opened for public play. Roeland Park Dome opened.
  • 1991 Ernie Miller Nature Center Phase II expansion completed.
  • 1991  Fourth two-mile segment of the Mill Creek Streamway Park completed.
  • 1992 Purchase of an additional 175 acres for the Kill Creek Park and Streamway Park System.
  • 1993 John Barkley Visitor Center opened at Shawnee Mission Park.
  • 1994 Issued $3.3 million in District Revenue Bonds for acquisition of Mid-America Sports Complex.
  • 1994 Completed construction of Park Ranger Headquarters at Shawnee Mission Park.
1980 Theatre in the Park Dedication image

1980 Theatre in the Park Dedication

By the mid-1990s the utilization of revenue bonds, the support of citizens for land acquisition and development, partnerships with youth and adult sports groups, and working with the private sector to offer public recreational programs in leased space during a time of rapid population growth in the County and an economic slowdown in government overall, gained the District the recognition of park and recreation bodies. Nationally, other park and recreation agencies began to benchmark by the District's standards for community achievement, and the District established itself as one of the premier park and recreation agencies in the country.

  • 1995 National Gold Medal Award presented to JCPRD for Best Park and Recreation Agency in the Country Award.
  • 1995 Kill Creek development plans expanded with potential acquisition of land from the Department of Defense.
  • 1996 Roeland Park voters approve a payback for District revenue bonds.
  • 1996 Roeland Park voters approve the District to manage a new pool for the City's and County's residents.
  • 1997 The Roeland Park Aquatic Center is dedicated and opened.
  • 1998 County citizens approved $6 million in General Obligation Bonds to acquire land for a fourth regional park.
  • 1999 Work on Kill Creek Park development is initiated.
  • 1999 The District works with the City of Olathe to construct trail on Indian Creek in Overland Park.

An emphasis on the future: preserving space while still available

As the District enters its second half-century, nine regional and community parks, and four future park sites comprise over 8,000 acres. Each year there are several million visitations to District parks and facilities and more than one million participations in District programs. The District Board and the Johnson County Commission know planning for parks and recreational services must remain versatile and proactive to be a vital quality which makes Johnson County a great place to live and work.

In 1999, the District Board contracted with nationally recognized consultants which resulted in a 20-year Master Action Plan, MAP 2020. The Plan projects acreage acquisition standards and a schedule for operational funding for the park and recreation district to stay abreast of growth.

1981 Antioch Park Dodge Town renovation photo
1981 Antioch Park,
Dodge Town renovation
  • 2000 The District enters the 21st century facing many properties and facilities challenges.
  • 2001 MAP 2020 strategic plan adopted by the District Board.
  • 2001 Kill Creek Regional Park opens and is dedicated for public use.
  • 2002 TimberRidge Adventure Center at Kill Creek Park opens.
  • 2002 Gary L. Haller Trail in the Mill Creek Streamway Park dedicated.
  • 2002  Kill Creek Park beach and marina open for public use.
  • 2002 The District assumes management of the Johnson County Girls Athletic Complex and Okun Fieldhouse.
  • 2003 Completed new master plans for Antioch Park, Shawnee Mission Park, Heritage Park, and Ernie Miller Park.
  • 2003 Arranged  for the permanent acquisition of the Johnson County Girls Athletic Complex and Okun Fieldhouse.
  • 2003 Purchased White Fox Manor adjacent to Heritage Park.
  • 2003 Received funds to debt-finance $26 million in land acquisition over three years.
  • 2003 Dedicated a new segment of the Kill Creek Streamway Park in De Soto.
  • 2004 The Johnson County Girls Athletic Complex was renamed Mid-America West Sports Complex.
  • 2004 Mid-America West and Mid-America Sports Complexes under JCPRD management and maintenance system.

The current Board and staff of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District recognize it was involvement of the community in 1955 which initiated the organization of the District. MAP 2020, the development of a Friends for Parks and Recreation organization in 2005, and future funding initiatives are further instances where public support and involvement will be needed to preserve open space, create parks and playgrounds, and professionally staff recreational offerings for the next 50 years.

  • 2005 The District celebrates its Fiftieth Anniversary with a year-long series of special events and promotions.
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