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A diverse coalition of partners worked to create Gardner Junction Park, a major link in what will become a recreational trail built within the historic corridors of three National Historic Trails.

arrow This project was nominated for a Partnership Award as part of the 2008 National Trails Awards, announced at the 19th National Trails Symposium in Little Rock, Arkansas.

 

Gardner Junction Park partnership celebrates historic trail sites

 

Back in 2004, former Santa Fe Trail Association President Hal Jackson had the idea to build a significant trailhead park at what is commonly called Gardner Junction. The junction, located just west of Gardner, Kansas, was built at one of the most significant historic trail junctures anywhere in the United States. Built adjacent to the site where the Santa Fe National Historic Trail splits off from the Oregon and California National Historic Trails, this park commemorates the site where perhaps as many as 500,000 traders, trappers, missionaries, land seekers, gold rushers, and others passed through on their way to create what would become the American West during the 19th century. This is also near the site where the Westport and Independence Routes of the Santa Fe-Oregon-California National Historic Trails come together, making the Gardner Junction a very unique site in American history.

photo of signs and parking lot

Signs and parking for Gardner Junction Park

 

The park, which includes a loop trail, a parking area, numerous interpretive panels, and a shelter, will eventually become a trailhead for the 40-mile recreational trail that will eventually connect the remaining historic sites of three National Historic Trails in the Kansas City area. Gardner Junction Park was built through the efforts of a diverse coalition of partners which includes:

The two-acre park land was owned by the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), which donated the triangular-shaped piece of land to the City of Gardner and also provided $199,000 through Transportation Enhancement funds made available through the Federal Highway Administration. Kansas State Historical Society provided new historical signs with a plethora of new interpretation. To this end, they also provided a staff person to consult on the project. The National Park Service contributed a grant of $30,000 as well as the use of their staff for facilitation needs, architectural designs, and exhibit fabrication. These staffers came from Omaha, Nebraska, Vancouver, Washington, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Salt Lake City, Utah and were provided as consultants on the project at no cost to the project team.

photo of paved trails and trees

Gardner Junction Park

The Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) provided $6,000 in funding, while the Santa Fe Trail Association (SFTA) provided $4,000. SFTA’s local Missouri River Outfitters chapter contributed $1,000 to the project, while OCTA’s local Trails Head Chapter and the Kansas City Area Historic Trails Association contributed $500 each. All of the organizations provided volunteers and staff to consult on content and site design. The Gardner Museum and the Johnson County Museum both provided a staff person to consult on the exhibits and assist in the writing of exhibit panel text.

It was Gardner’s Assistant City Administrator, Melissa Mundt who really spear-headed the effort. She convinced the City Administrator, the City Council, and the Mayor to participate whole-heartedly in this project. With their approval, she was able to utilize her time and resources to move the project forward. First, the city accepted the parcel of land from the Kansas Department of Transportation, which Melissa ably handled on behalf of the city. She then finalized and submitted the $199,000 Transportation Enhancement grant that provided a huge portion of the $250,000 project budget (not counting the tens of thousands of dollars of in-kind services and contribution of time from volunteers). She participated fully in all of the planning meetings and worked as the liaison between the project partners and the city’s elected officials, even providing the city council’s chambers as a work-space for the assembled partners. Melissa also served as the intermediary between the project partners and the engineering firm hired to design the site. Most importantly, she convinced the city to create a new Festival on the Trails, which debuted on the weekend of September 14-15, 2007 and drew thousands of visitors to the community. The Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race, which started in Santa Fe, New Mexico and finished in Gardner, also coincided with the Festival on the Trails. Embarq, the corporate partner in this endeavor, provided hundreds of employees as volunteers to stage this event. U.S. Representative Dennis Moore spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony that same weekend, even bringing a British Member of Parliament with him.

The development of this park is proving to be a linchpin in a larger metro-wide initiative called Metro Green, an initiative of the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) of Kansas City. Metro Green has worked with the various city, county, and state governments that comprise the Kansas City metropolitan area to develop a cohesive recreational trail system. One component of this plan is to build a 40-mile recreational trail in the historic corridor of the Independence Route of the Santa Fe-Oregon-California National Historic Trails. The historic trailhead is located in Independence, Missouri, the easternmost suburb of Kansas City, and the three trails follow the same course for its first 40 miles southward through Independence and Raytown, turning southwest in Kansas City, Missouri, and continuing on a southwesterly trajectory through the Kansas suburbs of Leawood, Overland Park, Olathe, and finally Gardner, the most southwesterly of Kansas City’s suburbs.

Some of the same partners are helping with the Metro Green initiative, providing funding and expertise to expand recreational trails in the corridor of the National Historic Trails. Several sections of trail have already been built and others are under construction. A tunnel underneath Interstate 435 in south Kansas City was recently completed to facilitate a trail connection and a pedestrian and bicycle bridge is nearing completion over U.S. Highway 71, also in south Kansas City. Many historic sites and parks sprinkled throughout the Kansas City area now bear new interpretation and better visitor access awaiting the day that they are all hooked together with a comprehensive recreational trail.

It was the completion of the project at the Gardner Junction Park that accelerated the movement toward building the interconnected trail system throughout the region. Gardner’s master plan calls for building a larger three-trail themed 40 acre park just to the west of the new Gardner Junction Park, and the city is taking active steps toward acquiring the land under the leadership of Assistant City Administrator Melissa Mundt, with assistance and support from the partners. This project now stands as the shining example within the historic trails community on how to partner to make effective use of scarce resources. The Partnership for the National Trails System, a coalition comprised of the 26 National Scenic and Historic Trails as well as numerous federal agencies (including the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Federal Highway Administration), held its historic trails workshop in Kansas City two years ago to learn proper partnering techniques from this coalition of partners. When the historic trails workshop was held again in Phoenix, Arizona earlier in 2008, it was the Oregon-California Trails Association (one of the partners in this project) that took the lead in developing the workshop to highlight effective partnering methods.

As the shining partnership example within the National Historic Trails community, the Gardner Junction Park is most deserving of the National Trails Partnering Award. The National Park Service (NPS) plans to use this park as the model for similar projects in the future. In fact, the NPS already has planned three other similar parks near Independence, Missouri, McPherson, Kansas, and Dodge City, Kansas, along the Santa Fe National Historic Trail and another one just west of Marysville, Kansas along the Oregon and California National Historic Trails. In time, the NPS plans to build similar projects along other National Historic Trails, such as the Trail of Tears from Georgia to Oklahoma; the Pony Express Trail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento; the Mormon Pioneer Trail from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City; the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles; the El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro from Santa Fe to Mexico; and the El Camino Real de los Tejas from Natchitoches, Louisiana to Laredo, Texas. These parks will become unmanned trail visitor centers, informing visitors of things to see and do for 100 miles in each direction from the trailhead. As such, the Gardner Junction Park will now serve as the example for others to model. Both the National Park Service at a national level and Metro Green (via the Mid-America Regional Council) in the Kansas City metropolitan area plan to seize upon this idea, as do many other National Historic Trail groups not listed above.

Information on the park and community is at: www.gardnerkansas.gov/junction_park/

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