Best of KC: Swope Park

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been stuck in town a lot this summer. Like, a lot. You probably know every single crack on the sidewalk on your block, every blade of grass in your backyard, and even the squirrels that play on the trees in your neighborhood. But how well do you know Swope Park? It’s more than the zoo and Starlight Theater! In fact, it’s the largest park in Kansas City and the 51st-largest municipal park in the US. Here are some more facts about Swope Park. I don’t know how much of this is open right now, but it’s worth a Google.

Colonel Thomas H. Swope

In 1857, Thomas H. Swope, who was not an actual colonel—the title was honorary—arrived in Kansas City and immediately began acquiring land. Thou he intended the 1,334 acres for Swope to be a farm; in 1896 he was successful enough to have the means to donate it to the city for a park. Kansas Citians were so excited about the prospect of a park, that they declared a citywide holiday, and after more land acquisitions, the park grew to a whopping 1,805 acres.

Mysterious death of Thomas Swope

Swope’s death may have been the result of foul play. At the time, he lived in a 26-room mansion in Independence with a slew of relatives. Dr. Hyde, a physician who was married to Swope’s niece, was alleged to have killed him, apparently in a plot to ensure that he and his wife would be awarded a substantial inheritance. In fact, one by one, relatives of Swope’s family died, mostly of typhoid, but all in the care of Dr. Hyde. Swope himself died after going into convulsions upon consuming capsules that Hyde had given him. After nurses grew suspicious and bodies were exhumed, Hyde was convicted of murder, but the case was appealed. Another case resulted in a mistrial and yet another in a hung jury.  

Kansas City Zoo

But back to the innocent tranquility of parks, the Kansas City Zoo is home to over 1,000 animals from around the world, including penguins, gorillas, lions, tigers, bears, orangutans, snakes, and kangaroos, which can easily be spotted from the train ride that loops the 200+ acres. The Sky Safari takes visitors across the African savannah, allowing visitors to spot zebras, rhinos, and giraffes. And a brand new elephant exhibit makes you feel like you’re up close and personal with the giant pachyderms. Reserve your ticket ahead of time for a timed entry.

Lakeside Nature Center

One of the largest wildlife rehabilitation centers in Missouri, Lakeside Nature Center is usually home to about 75 animals, including bald eagles, turkey vultures, barred owls, hawks, reptiles, and small mammals. Check out a variety of educational and recreational activities, like a guided hike or live talks.

Southeast Community Center

Located on East 63rd Street in Swope Park, Southeast Community Center strives to bring friends and families together through fitness and recreation. Featuring Wi-fi, a full-sized basketball court, a game room, childcare, a craft room, meeting rooms, a track, a pool, and a fitness area with weights and cardio equipment, the fitness center also offers aerobic classes. At the moment, members can only enter with a reservation. Ugh, covid.

The links

The oldest gold course in KC, Swope Memorial Golf Course features zoysia fairways, breathtaking, undulating greens and sand and grass bunkers. Meanwhile, Heart of America has a par 35 River Course, a par 3 Rock Course, and a 3-hole course, The First Tee, designed to teach young people to play golf. And perhaps best of all, a 18 hole FootGolf course perfect for all ages. Currently, masks must be work by all employees and golfers upon entering the clubhouse. Groups are limited to four players and two gold carts.

Starlight Theatre

Though there’s seating for more than 8,000 people, pretty much all of those seats at Starlight will be empty in the near future. Featuring Broadway shows, performances for all ages, and big, entertaining names like Alicia Keys, Matchbox Twenty, and Barenaked Ladies, 2021 is turning into a better year for everyone.

Battle of Westport Museum

If you’re more into American history than arts and culture, then head to the Battle of Westport Museum & Visitor Center. This Civil War battle, the largest battle west of the Mississippi River, took place across 25 square miles over three days in October 1864. Featuring war relics, a 32-mile self-guided tour of the battle, and a view of Byram’s Ford crossing, and the Brush Creek battlefield.  

Kansas City Community Gardens

A non-profit organization, Kansas City Community Gardens aims to improve the lives of low-income households by helping them grow fruits and vegetables. Kids can learn about the beauty of growing food and its impact on nutrition and the environment.

Go Ape Zipline & Adventure Park

If you’re afraid of heights or under the age of 10, stay away from Go Ape. In fact, kids under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult. And there is a fee for both the ziplining and the axe throwing, but if you’re craving adventure this Swope Park gem is for you. You can find your inner Tarzan on the canopy tour, above the treetops on an aerial adventure.

Extra excitement

In addition to all the exciting amenities above, Swope also features two tennis courts, four playgrounds, ten shelter homes, six baseball diamonds, a swimming pool, nine soccer fields, a foot golf course, and a two-mile Fox Hollow exercise trail. And if you like cycling, you’re in luck! There’s five miles of street bikeways and eleven miles of mountain bike trails.

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Blog written by Erin Greenhalgh