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Central Standard

Johnson County Park Keeps Childhood Memories Of The Wild West Alive

Johnson County Parks and Recreation District
After new construction, the Dodge Town playground at Antioch Park will officially reopen Saturday.

This Saturday, Antioch Park in Johnson County, Kansas, will reopen its western-themed playground named "Dodge Town."

Complete with a general store, smithy and jail, the township looks less like a playground and more like a Hollywood film set, albeit in miniature.

Scott Wilson, a longtime Kansas City resident and writer, has just one word for how he remembers playing in Dodge Town: escape.

“I played there as a child with my little brother. Antioch Park was close to my house and close to my grandparents' house. It was an easy day out,” Wilson told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard.

His toy gunslinging and cowboy hat-toting days of pretend were sparked by the playground's environment.

“For us, we didn’t think about it in terms of safety or real history. It was just blowing off some steam,” said Wilson. “[Dodge Town] gave you a physical setting in which to make-believe and chase kids.”

Dodge Town closed for construction in September 2017. The playground has been rebuilt entirely with a new foundation, rain gutters and new additions, including a train station.

Credit Johnson County Parks and Recreation District
A photo of Dodge Town from the 1960s.

Jeff Stewart, the deputy director for the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District, says the remodel was in the interest of safety and preservation.

“It was beyond its years. There was some rehab work that needed to be done quite extensively. It just made sense to rebuild it,” Stewart said.

While building a Wild West-themed playground isn’t exactly a typical project, it was a fun assignment for the construction crew. 

Credit Johnson County Parks and Recreation District
A 1960s photo of a fort that used to be a feature of Dodge Town.

“I think our contractor really enjoyed this project. Something a little bit different than what they do on a regular basis,” Stewart said. “He enjoyed visiting with the kids as they were constructing and kids were looking through the fence asking what was going on.”

Although pour-in-place rubber surfacing has replaced mulch, the fact a version of Dodge Town still stands is a comfort to Wilson.

“I’m relieved that there is a version of it there,” said Wilson. “I have very happy memories of — to use a very non-childish word — socializing with other kids. I never had a bad time there.”

Listen to the full conversation with Scott Wilson here.

An official reopening of Dodge Town will take place on Saturday, April 21st at Antioch Park, 6501 Antioch Road, in Merriam, Kansas. For more information, visit JCPRD.com.

Coy Dugger is an assistant producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to him at coy@kcur.org.

Editor's note: After this story was published, Johnson County Parks and Recreation District rescheduled the official opening of Dodge Town to Saturday, April 21 due to inclement weather. The event information has since been updated.