OVERLAND PARK — As the longtime supervisor of the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Karen Kerkhoff takes great joy completing every project the facility undertakes.
That’s particularly true regarding the arboretum’s latest roll out — for more reasons than one.
“We’ve spent the last year building the Legacy Retreat in the Legacy Garden,” Kerkhoff said. “It’s an area that’s difficult to describe, and I’m glad the construction is finished because now I can just show people.”
The Legacy Retreat, which will be dedicated May 18 but is already fully accessible, is a series of ledges built using the rammed earth approach, an architecture technique popular in the Midwest. Described as “just a wonderful space” by Kerkhoff, the Legacy Retreat is actually just the beginning of a larger project called the Legacy Interpretive Trail, a planned area being specially designed for individuals with autism, blindness, hearing loss or other difficulties.
The project is only the latest highlight for the arboretum, located on 175th St. just a half-mile west of U.S. 69 in Overland Park. The facility has grown to encompass nearly 600 acres, with 200 of those in woodlands, and features manicured gardens, hiking trails, sculptures and prairie land.
Kerkhoff, who has been with the arboretum since 2004, has overseen a growth in the number of gardens from seven to 13, and added mile of trails and an expansion in prairie land from 70 acres to 180.
“We work with a pretty slim staff, like most government and nonprofit facilities,” Kerkhoff said. “We have just the most terrific group of people who are able to pivot and tackle almost any part of building and maintaining the arboretum that comes their way.”
The arboretum is open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 10 through Sept. 30 and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 1 to April 9. There's a $3 entry fee to visitors 13 and older, a $1 fee for kids aged six to 12 and free admission to children aged five and under, and admission is free for everyone on Tuesdays.
Kerkhoff said it's difficult to pinpoint her favorite feature of the arboretum, a distinction that seems ever-changing.
She’s always been fond of the prairie, which she considers an under-the-radar space. Visitors might also enjoy the facility’s new Train Garden, a project that reached its final phase last year and features as many as 10 tracks running at the same time. There’s also the 10 wind-driven pieces scattered throughout the gardens as part of a recently debuted “Exhibit of Kinetic Sculpture," a showing that runs through Sept. 30 and features “fascinating” pieces from artists from across the country.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the arboretum, though, is that a visit can represent a much-needed change of pace and break from today’s norms.
“I feel like there’s something for everybody,” Kerkhoff said. “I really encourage folks to come out, get unplugged and just explore.”