Conservation Education and Recreational Opportunities in Lenexa, Kansas

July 6, 2018, Department, by Jenny Doty and Allysha Walmann

2018 July Conservation 410

From the Rain to Recreation program, to the development of the I Like Lenexa app, the city of Lenexa, Kansas, has capitalized on an interdepartmental approach to provide recreational opportunities, while also connecting its residents to conservation education.

Lenexa’s Rain to Recreation program was developed in 2000 and is a nationally recognized infrastructure and community education initiative. The program calls for building stormwater management systems that incorporate high-quality natural habitats and recreational water features within city parks. These projects also present many opportunities to educate residents about conservation and water quality, while providing valuable recreational amenities.

Lake Lenexa

One such project, a community favorite, is Lake Lenexa at Black Hoof Park, which officially opened in 2009. The initiative required the close work of many departments, such as municipal services and parks and recreation, to make the public’s experience with the program informative and seamless.

A 35-acre lake, dam and spillway control flooding around Coon Creek by temporarily holding back rainwater and slowly releasing it after a storm. Visitors flock to the lake for fishing and boating, and the unique architecture of the dam and spillway provides a stunning backdrop for family gatherings and photos.

About 3 miles of trails for hiking and biking wind through the 160-acre park surrounding the lake, immersing visitors in a woodland habitat and offering the occasional glimpse of deer, red foxes and birds. Interpretive signage throughout the park educates visitors about native plants and wildlife, as well as the park’s innovative stormwater treatment and water-quality functions.

Shortly after the construction of Lake Lenexa, voters passed a local sales tax in 2008 to be used for park and recreation infrastructure, including the replacement of many playground structures. By the end of this year, 24 out of 27 playgrounds across the city will either be installed or replaced. City leaders knew that throughout this process showing residents the value of their tax dollars was important.

‘I Like Lenexa’ App

In 2013, the city’s park and recreation department developed an innovative program, called Playground Passport, which encourages residents to visit as many of the city parks as possible and enjoy the new structures and features. Soon after this program was introduced, parks staff had a new idea: What if Playground Passport went digital?

A collaboration between Lenexa Parks and Recreation, Enterprise System Technology and the city’s communications department to create a mobile-app version of the Playground Passport evolved into an even more robust and inventive I Like Lenexa app. It integrates a digital Playground Passport, community news, information about parks and pools, and community games and challenges all in one dynamic, exciting program.

The digital version of Playground Passport uses an in-app QR code reader to scan signs at each location and users receive credit for visiting the park. Since the app links to maps and directions, each park is easy to find, and descriptions and photos accompanying each passport destination help parkgoers plan their visit by highlighting notable park features and amenities.

The I Like Lenexa app allows residents to further connect not only to their playgrounds, but also to special events, parks, pools and trails, while competing against their friends and neighbors to win prizes. The “Achievements” feature allows app users to complete challenges to win points, which they can redeem for prizes at Lenexa Parks & Recreation facilities.

Some challenges encourage residents to regularly use the parks, trails and playgrounds. Visiting 15 different trails in a year will earn users 15 points through the “I Love Trails” achievement. Those points can then be redeemed for an “I Like Lenexa” sticker or a Frisbee, or saved up for high-point items, such as a piggy bank or a fleece blanket.

Other achievements help visitors get ideas for outdoor plans, explore park features they did not know existed or learn about nature conservation. The “Trail Ranger” achievement encourages participants to explore a trail looking for specific items in nature, pick up litter along the way and learn more about local wildlife.

The app has been a big hit with residents, with more than 3,700 active accounts as of June 2018. Staff from across the Lenexa organization are preparing to launch a new version of the Lenexa app that will provide even more opportunities for Lenexans to connect with their parks, including countless opportunities for community engagement and education.

Using data compiled by municipal services, parks and GIS staff, detailed, user-friendly park maps will help visitors quickly find the location of amenities at each Lenexa park once the new version launches in late July. One of the most exciting features is the ability to do walking tours, like a stormwater education walk that’s scheduled to launch in late August. The app will use GPS technology to tell when users have reached a certain spot on the walk, like a rain garden or riparian corridor. Once the user has reached these locations, the app can launch a slideshow of native plants or a video of water flowing through the streamway, along with text or audio that educates the user about key water-quality topics.

Integrating existing functionality from smartphone health apps will allow residents to achieve fitness goals in our parks system through walking challenges on our trails and specialized workouts that utilize park amenities.

Augmented reality offers exciting opportunities for wildlife conservation education. Using this technology (remember the popular Pokemon Go app?), a family can gather around a smartphone to see a digitally created red fox strolling along the empty trail. Clicking on the animal will tell the visitor more about this interesting creature and its habitat.

As with most municipal governments, projects such as these are typically “owned” by one department. But when all departments recognize the value of collaboration, and the benefit to the residents, only positive things will happen.

Jenny Doty is a Recreation Supervisor for the City of Lenexa.

Allysha Walmann is a Communication Specialist for the City of Lenexa.