History of northeast Johnson County will come to life with interpretive signs along Indian Creek Trail

Henry Fortunato doing what he does often - walking. Photo courtesy of Ann Dean Photo.
Henry Fortunato doing what he does often – walking. Photo courtesy of Ann Dean Photo.

Henry Fortunato walks.

He walks miles each day. He has walked across Kansas.

Now he wants to give others the chance not only to exercise their bodies while walking, but to exercise their minds as well, and get a sense of the history of Johnson County. On June 4, National Trails Day, Fortunato will unveil four sets of new outdoor exhibit panels featuring original historical narratives about the derivation of the names of the streets that cross or intersect with the Indian Creek Trail as it runs through Overland Park.

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Indian Creek Interpretive Signage Project

Unveiling 9 a.m. to noon June 4
Roe Park 10400 Roe Ave.[/pullquote]

Two of the first four panels feature stories that are specific to northeast Johnson County. One tells the history of the Roe family – a name embedded in NEJC – and another the history of the Shawnee Indian Mission.

The four panels, which will be shown at Roe Park, 10400 Roe Ave., are the first four of a contemplated 15 to 20 new exhibit panels. The project brings together history, hiking and health and wellness, Fortunato said. The panels are developed by Fortunato’s Sunflower Republic LLC working with the Johnson County Museum.

Many people will know Fortunato as the former public affairs director of the Kansas City Library who brought an intense and rich programming schedule to the library. Before his nine years at the library, he already had immersed himself in a major history project, developing the history of the University of Kansas – a project still accessible.

Fortunato grew up on New York’s Long Island, went to Georgetown University and worked as a magazine editor in Washington, D.C. before a corporate communications job brought him to Kansas. After leaving that job, he began walking every morning on the Indian Creek Trail near his home, thinking about what he would do next at age 42. “The light bulb went on,” Fortunato said, and he headed to KU for a master’s in American history. “I got hooked on Kansas as a really interesting place. I fell in love with Kansas.”

“I have this vision of Kansas being a place where people can go for great walks,” Fortunato said.

The June 4 event begins at 9 a.m. with refreshments and remarks at the park where the panels will be on display. Historian Bill Worley will portray the Rev. Thomas Johnson, the founder of the Shawnee Indian Mission and the namesake of Johnson County. The event includes two guided three-mile loop walks along the Indian Creek Trail starting at 10 a.m.

The Indian Creek Trail Interpretive Signage Project is intended to enhance the trail experience by providing engaging commentary illustrated with old photographs and other archival images to examine the history of Johnson County.

“The Indian Creek Trail,” Fortunato said, “is about to be transformed from a walk through Anywhere, USA into a hike through history.”

ROE
The panel on the Roes.
SHAWNEE MISSION
The Mission and Roe panels will be two of the four displayed on June 4.