JOHNSON COUNTY PARK AND RECREATION DISTRICT HISTORY
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, Johnson County
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 have continued his legacy through their financial support
of the renovation of the John Barkley Visitor Center and 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 entrance in the
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
- 1964 Shawnee Mission Park dedicated.
- 1969 Name changed to Johnson County Park and Recreation
1963 Shawnee Mission Park
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
- 1973 Ernie Miller Park purchased.
- 1975 Theatre in the Park moved to Shawnee Mission Park.
- 1979 Bond issue passed for purchase of
- 1980 Theatre in the Park moved to present Shawnee Mission
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 2002 TimberRidge Adventure Center at Kill Creek Park opens.
- 2002 Gary L. Haller Trail in the Mill Creek Streamway Park
- 2002 Kill Creek Park beach and marina open for public
- 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.