Walking or running on Indian Creek Trail in Overland Park will become just a bit more educational in a few months.
Johnson County and Overland Park history lovers this fall will put up large interpretive signs along the trail with stories about the history of parts of the trail.
The signs, which are a combined effort of public and private groups, are intended to transform a walk along the trail into a “hike through history,” said Henry Fortunato, who led the effort to get them installed.
Fortunato and representatives of Overland Park and county government and private donors previewed the new panels Saturday for a small gathering at Roe Park.
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“My mantra these days is hiking plus history equals health and wellness,” said Fortunato, the founder of Sunflower Republic LLC.
The colorful panels, illustrated with pictures of historical artifacts, will go up at places where the trail intersects with major streets. The plan is for 16 to 20 to be installed along the 10.1-mile trail segment from Pflumm to Mission roads.
These will not be like the standard historical markers along highways, Fortunato said. For one thing, the trail signs will be big — 3- by 5-foot panels with pictures and several stories each.
The stories will include information on how the streets got their names, as well as related stories about the area. The Antioch Road crossing, for example, tells of a church built there after the Civil War. It also tells the story of a school desegregation case that pre-dated Brown v. Topeka Board of Education by five years, he said.
The idea is to make the trail experience different from a traditional museum exhibit, Fortunato said.
Fortunato, a history buff known for taking long walks throughout the area, said the idea came about in part because of his walking.
“When I walk, I think, what happened here?” he said. “So over time it just came to me that it would be a really interesting way to explore the history of Overland Park and Johnson County by taking this trail. It turns out the derivation of street names is a really compact way to pack in a lot of history.”
A number of public and private groups underwrote the project. Donors included the Regnier Family Foundation, the Sunflower Foundation, the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust, the Greater Kansas City Health Care Foundation and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
The city of Overland Park will install the panels. Johnson County Community College provided research help and the Johnson County Museum did the financial paperwork, helped with materials and provided photos for the panels.
County museum Director Mindi Love said the trail panels are a good opportunity to bring history to people as they exercise along the trails. “It’s great to be able to bring history to people where they are,” she said. The panels will “create a sense of place in their normal routines and activities as they’re walking along the trail. It is really a fantastic opportunity for us.”
Overland Park City Council President Rick Collins also praised the project while incorporating a comment about the doings of the Kansas Legislature this spring. The county and city have thrived because of the efforts of earlier generations living here, Collins said.
“We know how to grow, we know how to organize ourselves, we know how to create revenue to help our city grow,” he said. “I guess the message that I would give to those folks — I think you know whom I’m referring to — is just leave us alone. … We would encourage you folks there in Topeka, once you have straightened out your house then maybe we will listen to you, but until then let us continue to grow, let us continue to thrive, let us continue to be the community we have become because of our predecessors.”
Fortunato hopes the signs going up on Indian Creek Trail are only the beginning. Eventually, he said he’d like to see the history project expanded to the many other miles of trail in the county and the metro area.
“I’d love to do the entire trail,” he said. My long term vision is to transform every trail into a hike through history.”
Roxie Hammill: firstname.lastname@example.org