Mar 27

Practice social distancing and get some outdoor therapy in JCPRD parks!

Posted on March 27, 2020 at 4:38 PM by Becky Burnside

Like most other government agencies, the Johnson County Park and Recreation District has halted all of its programs, classes, and events and closed all indoor facilities to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.  

But as bleak and scary as all that is, JCPRD still has something important to offer - as of this writing, our parks remain open for public use. In addition, JCPRD’s two public golf courses are set to reopen for play utilizing “a touchless golf experience” on Monday, March 23 (see related story), and several JCPRD departments and divisions are also making and sharing videos of things to do at home and other fun stuff that can be watched via social media.

Studies have shown that being in the outdoors can help us get through times of uncertainty, and that just being outside reduces anger, anxiety, and stress. This is not to suggest that being outdoors always means safety when a highly-contagious respiratory disease is around, but with about 10,000 acres encompassing 16 parks, and 87 miles of trails, we have plenty of open spaces where individuals and small family groups can exercise, explore, and observe nature while still practicing the recommended six feet of social distancing.  

Please wash your hands often, avoid large groups of people, and follow all of the other safety precautions recommended by the CDC and local health agencies. But if it feels safe and you are able, consider a walk on one of our streamway or other trails. Note that if you choose to walk on one of our single-track (dirt) trails, these amenities close under wet conditions to protect the trails, and those using the trails when they are closed are subject to tickets. In addition to signs at the trailheads, visit and search for Urban Trail Co. to find closure information.

Walking your dog at one of JCPRD’s four dog off-leash areas, is another option. Note that gates to these areas are being left open to eliminate the need for users to touch the gates during the coronavirus pandemic. Patrons should be aware of this change and leash and unleash their dogs further into the park than they normally would. With the exception of Ernie Miller Park, where pets are prohibited, dogs can also be walked on-leash in any JCPRD park, but be sure to clean up after your pet.

Other outdoor activities in JCPRD parks could include: a bike ride in a park; flying kites; a photo safari to document the return of spring; disc golf on the courses in Shawnee Mission, Heritage or Big Bull Creek parks; archery at the range in Shawnee Mission Park (permit required) or even fishing or boating (with the proper permits and / or license) at Lexington Lake, Shawnee Mission, or Kill Creek parks (those last two have been stocked with trout twice in the last month). 

The JCPRD Administration Building in Shawnee Mission Park and the Registration Office in Building D at Antioch Park are currently closed to the public, but JCPRD permits for fishing, archery, and boating can be purchased at the Olathe Bass Pro Shop at the customer service counter, at Johnson County Wal-Mart stores in the Sporting Goods Department, and at Scheels at the upstairs customer service counter. With conditions changing rapidly, it is advisable to call ahead to make sure these locations are open. To purchase a JCPRD permit over the phone with a credit card, call (913) 438-7275.  A receipt will be emailed to serve as a temporary permit and you will receive your physical permit by mail.

As of March 25, all 21 playgrounds and two fitness areas containing outdoor exercise equipment in JCPRD parks are closed to public use until at least April 23. Signs have been posted to notify the public of these closures.

JCPRD’s outdoor sports courts, including pickleball courts in Meadowbrook Park, and basketball and tennis courts on the south side of Antioch Park, have also been closed and signed to warn patrons.

For review, here’s a complete list of JCPRD parks which are currently open: Antioch, Shawnee Mission, Heritage, Lexington Lake, Meadowbrook, Sunflower, Kill Creek, Thomas S. Stoll, Ernie Miller, Camp Branch Glade, Stilwell Community, Big Bull Creek, plus four streamway parks: Mill Creek, Coffee Creek, Kill Creek, and Blue River.

Be sure to check out and “like” JCPRD-related Facebook pages for videos, posts, and other fun stuff. In recent days, staff at the Ernie Miller Nature Center have posted videos about the center’s soft shelled turtle laying eggs and about their resident barred owl; the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center has posted a coloring page and a cowboy music video; the Johnson County Museum has posted history blogs, and a weekly Thursday photo of what the JCAHC adorable orange dogs (statues) are up to; JCPRD 50 Plus is planning virtual programs in the near future; Meadowbrook Park has posted directions for an indoor scavenger hunt; and the Johnson County Park Police Department is regularly posting photos and videos from officers in the field. Other JCPRD pages to check out include the TimberRidge Adventure Center, Roeland Park Community Center, Mill Creek Activity Center, and JCPRD’s main Facebook page.   

In this unprecedented and unsettling time, please take every step you can to stay calm, safe, and healthy!

Mar 27

New and improved amphitheater, trails, and accessible parking coming for 2021

Posted on March 27, 2020 at 4:23 PM by Becky Burnside

Construction of Phase 1 of a 2018 master plan for Ernie Miller Park is expected to begin in late April, with completion by the end of the year. 

This project will involve replacing and improving the park’s outdoor amphitheater at its current location, adding an outdoor classroom on the pond just north of the amphitheater for nature programming, and adding a new accessible parking area and bus loop closer to the nature center.

The new amphitheater will have 140 seats, which compares to about 90 at the current amphitheater. A fire pit near the stage, which is used for several programs, is also being replaced. 

“We are adding some seating to it, we are increasing the accessibility of both the seating area and the stage, and we are improving the function of the space for the nature programs that we offer there,” said Project Manager Mark Allen. “The theater stage itself is being replaced and will include improved lighting and storage for the nature programs.” 

In anticipation of this project, the nature center’s usual Friday Night Amphitheater Programs, which are scheduled to run from June 5 through July 24, will be moved into the nature center and are being called Friday Family Programs this year.

The new outdoor classroom will consist of a 20’ by 20’deck over the existing pond. 

“The intent is to provide a space where we can offer aquatic habitat and nature education programming,” Allen said. 

The new accessible parking area and bus loop will feature a gentler slop and shorten the walking distance from about 400 feet to roughly 150 feet for patrons with a disability. 

“We’ve learned that for patrons with mobility challenges, the length of the access road can really create barriers to access for them to use one of our facilities,” Allen said. “Part of every project we do now is working to not only correct the facility issues, but to go beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements to really maximize access for all of our patrons, no matter their mobility level.”

A separate project, which is not part of Phase 1 improvements, will involve the replacement of an 80-foot pedestrian bridge across the creek on the south trail. This is in an effort to protect the bridge from increasingly frequent high-water events through the creek. This work began in late March, will involve a crane, and expected to take about 60 days. 

All this construction work will definitely result in trail closures and redirections, and a portion of the parking lot south of the park entrance will probably be used as a staging area, although some parking there will still be available.  

“I want people to know that there will be growing pains with making these improvements that even touch natural amenities, but we do plan to protect things where we can and replace those that are affected,” Allen said. “We will have to take down some trees in order to build this, and we have landscaping planned to make more than whole the natural resources in the park, but that will take a little bit of patience.” 

Mar 27

Mary McMurray is Johnson County Museum’s new director

Posted on March 27, 2020 at 4:23 PM by Becky Burnside

A “contagious enthusiasm for the study of history and boundless optimism for our ability to forge a brighter future together” are qualities the Johnson County Museum’s new director brings to her new position.

Prairie Village resident Mary McMurray, a specialist in 20th-century U.S. history, will begin as the new director on April 6.

“My love of history drove me to pursue advanced degrees in the field,” she said. “My intense desire to make the world a better place drew me to work in museums. As I wrote in my cover letter for the position, ‘museums are magical.’ They inspire awe and spark curiosity. They educate and foster community. They provide a sense of understanding of ourselves and each other.”

Prior to coming to JCPRD, McMurray served as superintendent of historic sites and outdoor education for Jackson County, Mo. She is also a consultant for the Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute. She previously worked for the Truman Library Institute as director of learning and engagement and, before that, as director of the library’s White House Decision Center. She has taught courses in the History Departments at the University of Kansas and University of Missouri-Kansas City, and served as program manager for Children and Youth in History, an online educational resource provided by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

McMurray holds bachelor's and masters’ degrees in history from the University of Missouri - Columbia and University of Missouri - Kansas City, respectively, and a doctorate in history from the University of Kansas. 

She noted that for her dissertation, she used army wife guidebooks and other sources to explore the development of army family policy from World War II through 1983. 
“That means that I’ve read more military spouse guidebooks than probably anyone you’ve ever met,” she said. “If you ever need tips on how to pack your house for a move or the hierarchy of beverages served at an officers’ wives’ tea in the 1950s, just ask!”

McMurray and her husband, Sean Ewbank, are the parents of a two-year-old daughter, Mabel, whose favorite parts of the Johnson County Museum are KidScape and the ramp leading up to the All Electric House. Ewbank is a musician who sings and plays the banjo, mandolin, and guitar with bands The John Brown Boys and Boxcar Brethren, which play old-time folk and bluegrass music.

Prior to taking the director’s position, McMurray was very familiar with and a member of the Johnson County Museum. 

“It is so rare to get the opportunity to join an incredible team doing mission-focused work dedicated to improving the lives of their fellow citizens, let alone one with a compelling strategic plan and strong government and non-profit partners,” she said. “To get that opportunity right here in my backyard. I couldn’t believe it. I am so lucky.”
Even while the museum is closed for the coronavirus, McMurray’s thoughts turn to documenting this time in history.

“Museums are trusted with crafting and sharing the stories that define us, that give us a sense of existence in time, that embolden us to march bravely into the future, and to fulfill our potential,” she said. "For museums like the Johnson County Museum, it means questions not only of how we continue to share our county’s history in this strange time so that we can make a better future together, it also means questions of how we should document, collect, and curate our present story for the future. It means creating engaging, educational, and, yes, fun experiences that provide our community opportunities to learn, to reflect, to engage, and to be inspired. It means giving the community reasons to come back again and again (and again), to share experiences here with friends, because the Johnson County Museum feels like a welcoming, loving home. ”