By Executive Director Jeff Stewart
The Johnson County Park and Recreation District had much success in achieving many of our established 2021 goals and objectives. Our strategic plan (Legacy Plan) continues to guide us in maintaining, protecting, enhancing, and expanding our beloved park and recreation system. Despite the challenging environment we continue to experience, major projects were started and/or completed as planned.
These included: completing Phase I and beginning Phase II improvements at the Mid-America Sports Complex; completing construction of the first phase of development of the new Cedar Niles Park; completing a new amphitheater, ADA parking, and other improvements at Ernie Miller Park; participating in ADA and parking improvements at the Roeland Park Community Center; and more. JCPRD also made a number of planning efforts which will set the stage for future developments and improvements, including: completion of a Theatre in the Park Concept Plan, a Public Art Master Plan, engineering studies for the Big Bull Creek Park Sunflower Trail, and the Kill Creek Streamway Park Trail north of Kill Creek Park, while also continuing to implement our Natural Resource and Safety plans.
In addition to our planned initiatives, JCPRD was successful in achieving many notable outcomes in 2021.
The Johnson County Museum received the National Award of Excellence from the American Association of State and Local Museums for its response to COVID-19. At the Kansas Recreation and Park Association’s annual conference, we celebrated with Children’s Services Assistant Manager Rob Knaussman for receiving the Outstanding Recreation Professional Award. The National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials honored former Johnson County Board of Commissioners Member and JCPRD Board Member Steve Klika with its Outstanding Public Official Award, and the Russell and Helen Means Observation Tower in Kill Creek Park with the Outstanding Contributor Award. JCPRD also endorsed the Mid-America Regional Council’s Climate Action Plan, adopted a Diversity and Inclusion Statement, and secured significant sustainability grants to support Children’s Services programming and the enterprise fund.
I couldn’t be more proud of how our entire JCPRD family worked together to be there for our community. In addition to achieving great success with our planned initiatives, our team looked for additional ways to serve in a time of need. An example of this is how the team reached out to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment to offer JCPRD facilities to be used as vaccination clinics. This allowed thousands of citizens to receive the vaccine in a short period of time. In addition to providing the facilities, we had employees and volunteers shift their schedules and regular duties to make themselves available to set up for, and even work at the clinics.
About half of JCPRD’s budget is not tax supported. These enterprise operations have been and continue to be threatened by the unstable (economic) environment. We have had great success in finding the necessary resources through partnerships and grants to ensure that all JCPRD services are sustainable in the short and long term.
I can’t say that I was surprised that we were still dealing with COVID as much as we were. We enjoyed a brief moment of “normalcy” before the Delta Variant surfaced, and now Omicron, heated things back up again. JCPRD has, and will continue to, work closely with the Johnson County Health and Environment Department to monitor concerns and to make adjustments in effort to continue to safely provide park and recreation services to the citizens and visitors of Johnson County. Everyone is sick of dealing with it, me included, but there is great comfort knowing that we have an incredible, dedicated, and creative team here to offer the programs, events, facilities, parks, and trails that help us all escape the challenges, and live the quality of life we seek.
I am most proud of our Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, amazing staff, and the many volunteers that, despite the concerns and ever-changing environment, continue to provide the outstanding parks, facilities, and services that JCPRD offers the community. There has likely never been a more important time for us to provide our essential services. In fact, the Johnson County citizens have told us (through a citizen survey) that of all the county services that are most important to them, JCPRD ties for second with public health services and just behind emergency response. I think that is very telling in how important park and recreation services are to our community.
The JCPRD Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners has established goals and objectives for 2022. We will continue to implement our Legacy Plan through the management of the 2022 approved JCPRD capital projects. Major projects include: completing Phase II and beginning Phase III improvements at the Mid-America Sports Complex, complete improvements to Antioch Park’s Helen S. Cuddy Rose Garden, completing construction of Meadowbook Park Phase II developments, beginning and substantially completing an update to JCPRD’s strategic plan, and much more.
We will also spend some time working with the Johnson County community to update the plan, which is about seven years old now. JCPRD has been aggressive in its efforts to implement it, but a lot has changed over the last couple of years, suggesting that it is appropriate for us to evaluate and reprioritize. JCPRD received a 0.75 mill increase to fund about half the plan, but additional resources will be necessary to complete other identified items.
All of us at JCPRD are so appreciative of the understanding, support, and encouragement the citizens of the Johnson County community have displayed towards JCPRD over the last couple of years. It is an honor for all of us at JCPRD to serve and we look forward to providing great things in 2022.
Stay up-to-date on the projects listed here and more.