Lenexa, ‘City of Festivals,’ goes virtual with many summer activities

Teens pose for a photobomb with a sculpture of Grampa, a grandfather making old-fashioned ice cream at Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park. Photobombing with the city's public art is one of the newly introduced city activities. Photo courtesy city of Lenexa.

After three months of postponing or canceling city events during the pandemic, Lenexa has gone virtual with several of its summer activities.

Colloquially nicknamed the “City of Festivals,” Lenexa typically hosts more than a dozen annual festivals and gatherings throughout the community, from the Community Days Parade and Lenexa Freedom Run to food-oriented events like the Lenexa Spinach Festival, Lenexa Chili Challenge and the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle.

The city last month decided to cancel the BBQ battle that was slated to take place in a few weeks. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, parks and recreation staff began plans to convert its fitness programs, outreach activities and summer plans into virtual formats that allow residents to participate on their own schedule.

Logan Wagler, deputy director of parks and recreation, said their goal was to keep the community engaged and active while adhering to state and Johnson County restrictions to keep people safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We just didn’t want to give up,” Wagler said, noting staff’s decision to limit mass gatherings and follow social distancing guidelines. “We want to keep our community strong. We want to provide those recreational opportunities, so hey, let’s not give up on this.”

Mass gatherings are still limited through the state’s Ad Astra phased reopening plan — though Johnson County commissioners debated last week on enforceability.

Wagler said staff “reverse-engineered” the Community Days Parade by converting it into a Community Days Porch Parade. The city encourages residents and businesses to decorate exteriors of their homes and shops so that parade goers can take a self-guided tour through the city July 1-4.

Many events encourage residents to get outdoors, like a virtual 5K or 10K with the Lenexa Freedom Run, photobombing with the city’s public art (newly introduced) and family-friendly activities in the parks.

Other events will still take place in person, although with social distancing. For instance, the city’s Movie in the Park events have turned into drive-in movies so that people will stay in their vehicles.

Wagler said while the jury is still out on whether city events this fall will be virtual, the virtual format will remain a part of the city’s parks and recreation programming indefinitely. Going virtual provides accessibility for residents who would be unable to attend in person, and residents who often gather online, like the gaming community.

“It’s really just rethinking a lot of stuff we do and how we do it differently,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot through this. What I believe we found is a new way to offer our services and do business, in a lot of cases. There’s some real positives that have come out of this transition and thought process that we’ve gone through.”