When people hear “Briarcliff,” the shopping area of Briarcliff Village often pops to mind, or maybe the newer homes in the the western neighborhood of Briarcliff.
And that worries Jenny Johnston and her father, Tim Johnston, both long-time residents of the eastern Briarcliff area.
“Unless you drive through and see if for yourself, you wouldn’t know about it,” Johnston said. “We saw an opportunity to create an organization that would be a voice for the neighborhood. We didn’t want people to forget about us just because we’re lumped under the name of Briarcliff.”
A big part of the conern was that their neighborhood wasn’t getting the city resources it needed. They thought the mindset that everything was new and didn’t need attention had trickled down to city officials, too, Johnston said.
“We have setbacks a lot of these newer areas don’t have,” she said. “We have a lot of infrastructure problems. We don’t have sidewalks or curbs. A lot of people are still on septic tanks.”
So Johnston and her dad set out to do something about it. They formed the non-profit Briarcliff Trails of Our Community in 2009 to focus on bringing resources to their area.
The organization started off by adoption highways — cleaning up trash and taking down illegal signs. Then they set their eyes on a bigger, more expensive goal. They wanted to build community connections — literally.
They decided to to bring people out of their homes and into the neighborhood by building a trail system starting at Briarcliff Elementary.
They don’t know how many people use the trail, but Briarcliff Principal Kate Place knows her students are among them.
“We had one bike rack and it became overloaded,” she said. “It indicated that we have a lot more bikers now than we did before (the trails),” Place said.
From her window, she can see people out taking strolls and walking their dogs.
“It’s nice to see that involvement and see people part in our area,” Place said. “People are watching out for us.”
The numbers of school-age walkers has spurred the elementary to participate in the Walking School Bus program and to celebrate International Walk To School Day, which Briarcliff Trails helps to organize and promote.
All of this is possible because of a yearly grant out of the Public Improvements Advisory Committee. So far, they’ve secured about $475,000 for their trail projects. Three of the four phases of the projected have been completed. The last phase, about 3,000 more feet of trail, is waiting on more funding.
Some of the money is also going toward installing a perimeter path at Waterworks Park, hopefully this summer, Johnston said.
Braircliff Trails also puts on activities to encourage neighborhood pride and foster community interaction.
On June 11, the organization will resurrect another one of its annual events, though a bit earlier than normal. This will be the The U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America Shades of Blue jazz ensemble’s fifth performance in six years. Typically, the band performs several concerts in the Kansas City area, all of them closer to the Fourth of July.
“They’ll still be doing patriotic songs and everything,” Johnston said. “We’re just happy to have them. Shoot, if they wanted to come in September, we’d be happy to have them!”
The 18-piece band did not perform last year because of the government sequester, and funds are still tight, making the performance in Briarcliff its only one for this year. The free, all-ages show starts at 7 p.m. and is expected to run about an hour and a half. People are invited to bring blankets and food to Mulberry Lake, across the street from Briarcliff Village.
The organization’s other main summer event kicks off this weekend. The free, Saturday night outdoor movie screenings start about 8:45 — or whenever it gets dark — on May 31 with family classic “E.T.”
The summer movies and the Air Force band concert are both funded from Kansas City’s Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund.
Briarcliff Trails picked up the movie screenings in 2011 after Briarcliff Village decided to stop hosting them.
“It’s our due diligence to keep this going for the Northland,” Johnston said. “Not everyone is going to attend, but it’s a feel-good thing that this is being offered just outside of your backyard.”