Equestrian trails, nature playgrounds and glamping are just a few of many amenities being proposed for Big Bull Creek Park in the southwest corner of Johnson County.
On Monday evening, the county’s parks and recreation district held an open house to reveal a draft of its master plan for the proposed park, which sits on nearly 2,000 acres. The area is adjacent to Interstate 35, between Gardner and Edgerton.
The park department hired Des Moines-based RDG Planning & Design to come up with the master plan.
The main goal of the plan is to maintain most of the area’s stunning natural habitat, which includes forest, wetlands and grasslands, said Dolores Silkworth, a senior partner at RDG, who facilitated the open house.
“It’s not every day a landscape architect gets to work with such a gorgeous site,” she said. “This area has everything from wide open fields to quiet glens in the forest. You don’t have to drive to Flint Hills or Colorado to escape city life because it’s right here, 30 minutes away for most people in the county.”
After holding a few public meetings and seeking input from the public, RDG pieced together a plan for the park that incorporates some of the highest demands of Johnson County residents, such as trails and playgrounds.
The main entrance to the park will sit in the middle section, between 199th Street and I-35. It will feature parking, shelters, an indoor pavilion, a nature playground, restrooms, a looping trail, an access point to the creek and an information kiosk.
On the north part of the property, there will be a maintenance facility and police sub-station, an off-leash dog park, nature playground, disc golf course, fishing pond, indoor pavilion, a traditional campground, and also, a “glampground,” for “glamorous camping.”
According to the master plan, it is envisioned that the glamground would contain high-end camping facilities that are closer to a hotel stay than a traditional camping experience.
The tents for this experience could be anything from teepees to yurts, and they would be filled with beds and linen, pillows and electricity, with shared restrooms.
The third area of the park, south of I-35, would be reserved for restored prairie, savannah and forest. It would be the site for group camping, which could be used for Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. It would also feature scenic equestrian trails.
Many of the residents who attended the meeting were pleased by the master plan and they were eager for the property to open up to the public.
Right now, the massive piece of land, with its breathtaking views, is closed off.
The county has owned most of the land since 1999, after a bond issue was passed that devoted $6 million to buy 1,350 acres between Gardner and Edgerton. An additional 600 acres was purchased for $6 million in 2005.
One of the residents at the open house, Pat Peer of Spring Hill, has lived near the park for the past 42 years.
Seeing the draft of the master plan eased a lot of her fears.
“I feel better now, after this meeting, because I was a little worried about what they were going to do,” she said. “I’m relieved there won’t be soccer fields or baseball fields there. I think it’s neat there will be a horse trail and hiking trails.”
Her husband said his favorite part about the plan is the police sub-station.
“I just want that area to be safe,” Carl Peer said. “That’s very important for us.”
For Elizabeth Stoakes, a volunteer for the Burroughs Audubon Society, the best part of the plan was the ecological preservation.
“I’m glad they’re keeping nature in mind,” she said. “The prairie restoration will be very valuable for breeding birds. I know I’ll be having bird trips out there for sure.”
The plan is on the park district’s website at http://jcprd.com for the public to review and comment on until March 7.
If the Johnson County Park and Recreation District board approves the plan, construction on the park will begin in 2017. It is anticipated to open up to the public in 2018.
But not all of the amenities will be available at once.
Top priorities will include the park maintenance facility and police sub-station, land restoration, the main entrance, parking lots, restrooms, open shelters, a nature playground and the group camping area.
It is expected the first layer of amenities will cost around $5.7 million to implement.
Over the next several years, depending on funding, the rest of the amenities in the plan will be constructed.
“This is an ambitious plan,” Silkworth said. “It will take effort and energy over a long period of time to see it executed.”
After all, she said, the park is not just for people today, it’s also a work in progress for generations to come.
She hopes the park becomes an embraced treasure in the community.
“People need nature to be healthy, to clear their head and relieve stress,” she said. “It’s important to unplug and listen to the birds once in a while. And it’s also important to have places and activities nearby that don’t cost a lot of money.”
Jennifer Bhargava: firstname.lastname@example.org
The plan is on the park district’s home page: http://jcprd.com The public can comment until March 7.