Inside JCPRD: Parks are great for social distancing and outdoor therapy

By David Markham

Life suddenly got unimaginably strange and uncertain in a very short period of time!

Just two weeks ago, who could have guessed the mass closing of schools, the consumer locustization of local grocery stores, and the near-total desolation of outside entertainment and social options could happen here in such a rapid fashion? And all before the swirling hurricane of the public health crisis known as COVID-19 that, until not long ago, was just something facing folks overseas. Now it’s our shared reality.

Like most other agencies, the Johnson County Park and Recreation District has pretty much halted programming and closed indoor facilities to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But as bleak and scary as all that is, JCPRD still has something important to offer – as of this writing, our parks and golf courses remain open for public use. Several of our departments and divisions are also making and sharing videos of projects to do at home and other fun stuff that can be watched via social media.

I personally believe that being in the outdoors can help us get through times of uncertainty, and that just being outside reduces anger, anxiety, and stress. This is not to suggest that being outdoors always means safety when a highly-contagious pandemic is around, but with about 10,000 acres encompassing 16 parks, and 87 miles of trails, we have plenty of open spaces where individuals and small family groups can still exercise, explore, and observe nature while still practicing the recommended social distancing.

Please wash your hands often, avoid large groups of people, and follow all of the other safety precautions recommended by the CDC and local health agencies. But if it feels safe and you are able, consider a walk on one of our streamway or other trails; a bike ride in a park; take your dog to one of our off-leash areas; try using outdoor exercise equipment in Meadowbrook or Heritage parks; take a photo safari to document the return of spring; play disc golf on the courses in at Shawnee Mission, Heritage or Big Bull Creek parks; work on your archery skills at the range in Shawnee Mission Park (with the required permit) or even go fishing (with the proper permits) at Lexington Lake, Shawnee Mission, or Kill Creek parks (those last two have been stocked with trout twice in the last month).

The Tomahawk Hills and Heritage Park golf courses are also both open for play. As a precaution, cart use is being restricted to just one player per cart.

For review, here’s a complete list of JCPRD parks which are currently open: Antioch, Shawnee Mission, Heritage, Lexington Lake, Meadowbrook, Sunflower, Kill Creek, Thomas S. Stoll, Ernie Miller, Camp Branch Glade, Stilwell Community, Big Bull Creek, plus four streamway parks: Mill Creek, Coffee Creek, Kill Creek, and Blue River.

In recent days, the Ernie Miller Nature Center staff presented a video about how to make a  leprechaun trap and staff at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center are making multiple plans for videos, both instructional and fun, so be sure to like JCPRD’s Facebook page.

In this unprecedented and unsettling time, please take every step you can to stay calm, safe, and healthy!