Government & Politics

Big improvements coming to Johnson County parks

A new Dodge Town awaits spring visitors

Workers are putting the finishing touches on renovations to the Dodge Town play area at Antioch Park, scheduled to be open this spring. It is the first of a long list of park and trail improvements opening this year in Johnson County.
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Workers are putting the finishing touches on renovations to the Dodge Town play area at Antioch Park, scheduled to be open this spring. It is the first of a long list of park and trail improvements opening this year in Johnson County.

On a blustery February day, a few children looked longingly through the fence at the Dodge Town construction project underway in Antioch Park.

They couldn’t yet play in the buildings that simulate a child-sized Main Street reminiscent of the Wild West. It’s all blocked off for construction crews right now at the park in Merriam. But by April, Johnson County parks officials hope there will be kids playing again all throughout the attraction, which is getting its first full overhaul since 1961.

“We’re excited,” said Jeff Stewart, deputy director of Johnson County Parks and Recreation. “It’s a complete rebuild.”

Dodge Town is one of the several park features getting upgrades this year, in part thanks to a property tax increase approved a few years ago. The tax has generating more than $7.3 million this year for park maintenance, improvements and new development.

Among this year’s big park projects:

1. Overland Park’s Arboretum. This summer, the arboretum at 8909 W. 179th St. will complete the final phase of its train garden improvements, at a cost of about $200,000 from Friends of the Arboretum. The existing garden, which opens March 15, features model trains winding through bluffs, streams, waterfalls and a model of Old Overland Park. The Arbortum also unveils a kinetic sculpture exhibit this spring at a cost of about $150,000. The 18-month display opens April 21.

2. Meadowbrook Park. Eighty acres from Prairie Village’s former 135-acre Meadowbrook Country Club at 91st Street and Nall Avenue are being converted into a park. Amenities, costing about $12 million, include a new 10,000-square-foot clubhouse (replacing the old golf clubhouse), new shelters, pickleball courts, a lawn game area, trails and a destination playground with climbing net and sandbox. It opens this summer.

3. Shawnee Mission Park Beach House. The old beach house in Shawnee Mission Park, 7900 Renner Road, in Shawnee, was demolished in September 2016 because of age and structural problems.It’s been rebuilt at a cost of $925,000 and will include an outdoor shower with foot and body sprayers, plus an accessible pathway to the beach. It reopens Memorial Day weekend.

4. Dodge Town. The much-loved children’s play area in Antioch Park, 6501 Antioch Road in Merriam, had deteriorated to the point where it needed to be replaced, Stewart said. The parks department is spending $525,000 on new buildings, including a general store, bank, schoolhouse and train depot, plus a new train. The area, with a rubberized play area, will be accessible to children with disabilities. Weather permitting, it reopens in April.

5. Inclusive playgrounds. Johnson County Parks and Recreation is creating two new playgrounds, at a cost of about $2 million, designed for all children, including those with physical challenges. After discussions with parents, advocacy groups and other stakeholders, it is building new facilities with adaptive swings, toddler multi-play areas, safe playground surfaces and water misters for hot weather. They open this summer in Stillwell Community Park, 6402 W. 207th St., and in September in Shawnee Mission Park.

5. Big Bull Creek Park. Johnson County’s fourth large regional park, located between Gardner and Edgerton, is opening this spring. Features costing about $6 million include paved trails and a playground near Sunflower Road north of 207th Street; a combined park police and maintenance compound at 199th and Four Corners Road; and a group camp area and shelters at 213th Street east of Spoon Creek Road.

6. Kill Creek Park. A trail will be extended more than a mile, from 135th Street to 143rd Street along Kill Creek in Olathe, at a cost about $1.1 million. It opens later this year. In addition, construction begins this summer on a new 45-foot observation tower near the park entrance, 11670 Homestead Lane, to provide panoramic views of the park, prairie areas and the lake. The cost is $1.9 million, including a $1 million private donation. It opens in spring 2019.

7. Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park. In March, Lenexa unveils $2 million worth of improvements to the park at 87th Street Parkway and Lackman Road. The centerpiece is a new pavilion seating up to 200 people at the park’s highest point. The project also includes a restroom and shelter replacement plus new parking and trails.

8. Renner Trail. Lenexa is also building a 10-foot-wide trail on the west side of Renner Road between 91st and 93rd streets. It will be bid this spring and should take three to four months to complete, at a cost of about $436,000, including a Mid-America Regional Council grant. Once completed, the community will have a continuous trail between Shawnee Mission Park and the Johnson County Mill Creek Trail.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley