Officials on Saturday christened a new municipal park, the first for the southeast portion of the city, occupying land where Kansas City International Raceway once stood.
They marked the event with a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony and a leisurely trek on a 21/2-mile trail at the new Little Blue Valley Park.
Four years ago Kansas City purchased, for $1.55 million, the former racetrack that for decades was a favorite of local race fans but an annoyance to many nearby residents.
In place of the racetrack, the city is converting its 93 acres at East 75th Street and Noland Road into a regional park with softball fields accessible to the disabled, a water spray park, playground equipment, picnic shelters, a 3-acre pond and possibly a community center.
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“Once this park really starts to get developed, it is going to be an amazing piece of nature and recreation,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo. “It’s an exciting day, and this is just the beginning.”
Parks officials will work with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to help pay for construction of the ball fields, said parks director Mark McHenry. Additional funds will be needed for the other amenities.
The raceway opened in 1967 and over the decades became a regional draw. However, residents living near the track complained for years about noise and urged the city to move the track to a better location. It closed in 2011 after the city bought the land.
At the time, raceway supporters expressed frustration that the sale was completed without public input and wondered if the track owners were pressured to sell.
Several men who said they raced and attended events at the racetrack showed up Saturday as the brief ribbon-cutting ceremony ended.
“It’s a funeral,” said Steve Irvin of Sugar Creek, who recalled the raceway in its glory days. “Back then, you thought this place would be here forever.”
Circo said the property was privately owned and the city had been looking for a park location in the area.
“It was a deal that worked out for both ends,” she said. “Not everybody is always happy about everything, but I think, for the larger community, more people can access this piece of property.”
Park officials used public improvement funds to construct the walking trail. Crews recycled 17 acres of asphalt from the former racetrack for the trail. Remnants of the former racetrack, such as the starting line and the numbered parking lot slots, can be seen along the winding trail.
For walking enthusiasts such as Henry Fortunato, the Little Blue Valley trail has many offerings.
“Here you are 20 minutes from downtown and you can walk in the woods and you can see a variety of ecosystems,” said Fortunato, the Kansas City Public Library’s director of public affairs, who spent six weeks walking across parts of Kansas. “It is terrific, and it is 21/2 miles, so anybody can do that in less than an hour.”