Since 1958, this small park has been a magnet for people who want to play and relax

By David Markham

Note: This is the first in an occasional series of stories highlighting the parks and facilities of the JCPRD.

People love Antioch Park for many reasons.

There are these famous stepping stones across the eastern end of South Lake, the popular Dodge Town playground, four picnic shelters that are often reserved during the summer months, shaded walking trails and the beautiful Helen S. Cuddy Rose Garden where thousands of weddings have taken place over the years.

First opened in 1958, Antioch Park is the oldest park in Johnson County’s park system.

“Antioch Park is unique because of its age and popularity,” said Craig Shafar, deputy park director for the Northeast region. “This is one of the few parks that generations of children have enjoyed and continue to enjoy. Parents and grandparents bring their children back to live and relive part of their youth.

For more than 60 years, the 44-acre Antioch Park was the smallest park in the JCPRD. But it lost that distinction in October 2020 when Arthur and Betty Verhaeghe Park opened with just 41.4 acres. But what is not insignificant is the public’s love for Antioch Park.

“Locally, the Park Hill School District transports children here in the summer,” Shafar said. “I see many Missouri and Kansas license plates in our parking lots, as well as plates from all over the country visiting.”

In 2020, the park received over 737,300 visits, making it the most popular park in the JCPRD per acre.

The iconic stepping stones are another favorite part of this popular park.

This park is especially used for picnics, walking dogs on a leash, and as a place where people regularly stop to eat their lunch. Although the festivities have been canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, the park is typically the site of the Turkey Creek Festival in the town of Merriam on the third Saturday in May. In recent years, it has hosted several special JCPRD events related to geocaching.

The paths in the park are very popular with walkers.

“Antioch Park offers many hiking trails that enter and exit shaded areas providing the walker with beautiful views of nature,” Shafar said. “It includes plants, flowers, wildlife, trees. “

The small park surprisingly sees a great diversity of wildlife, and bird watchers know this is a site along migration routes where relatively rare species are sometimes seen.

“Turtles, frogs, ducks and geese are a daily occurrence,” Shafar said. “We see deer coming and going throughout the year, and I saw a mink and a coyote once. “

The changing colors of the wide variety of trees in Antioch Park are a major fall draw for the park. While the park has a prominent and uniformly colored sugar maple just inside the front door which is frequently used as a backdrop for portrait photography, the park also has ash, hickory, oak. and ginkos which contribute to the fall display.

Lesser-used facilities include the pétanque court and horseshoe pits on the south side of the park.

Newly redesigned in 2018, the western-themed Dodge Town playground has entertained generations of Antioch Park visitors.

Probably worth mentioning that other features of the park include: the JCPRD registration and recreation offices, two playgrounds in addition to the Dodge Town playground, a landscaped arboretum adjacent to the rose garden, two lakes where catch and release fishing is permitted and hills near shelter # 2 which is sometimes used for sledding during the winter months.

Antioch may be an older park, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s neglected or poorly maintained. The park has received a number of improvements and upgrades in recent years.

“The tennis courts have recently received new lights, and they are expected to receive a new fence and a new surface next year,” Shafar said. “Shelter # 3 is currently under construction and Shelter # 1 will be replaced in 2023. The Helen S. Cuddy Rose Garden will be getting a facelift next year. The basketball court was repainted this spring and the Vietnam Memorial was renovated by Leon Lickteig in the summer of 2019. ”

In addition, Shelter # 2 was replaced earlier this year, and Dodge Town was completely renovated in 2018.

“You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy Antioch Park; we have something for everyone, ”Shafar said. “Whether you want to take a long, beautiful walk and commune with nature, or find a place to relax yourself and your children, Antioch Park is your place.”

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