Harris Park is an oasis built in the midst of a once-decaying Ivanhoe Neighborhood in Kansas City. Bought, built, and operated by neighborhood resident Chris Harris, the park is changing the community and its residents.
He cuts the park’s grass at 5 a.m. to start his day, trims it, picks up trash, and makes business calls. He then supervises his recreational center in the evening.
Christopher Harris, 53-year-old executive director of Harris Park, knew during his younger days that something was wrong with the Ivanhoe Neighborhood where he lived. The once-nice neighborhood had experienced a notable decline. He knew it needed a change.
When he was growing up, his father began buying up dilapidated homes and vacant lots on the block where they lived, Wayne Ave. between 40th and 41st streets in Kansas City, MO. After college, Chris followed his father’s lead, purchasing even more lots on the block.
Once he had enough land, Harris began implementing his vision, turning the land into a park he could use to teach the basics of life through sports. That was 1998, and Harris began his improvements on the west side of Wayne Ave. with the installation of a basketball court. A playground, miniature golf course and a volleyball court followed.
Pitch and Putt Course
It took Harris another 20 years to compile the land on the east side of Wayne Ave, but in 2018 he began the installation of a six-hole pitch-and-putt golf course. Constructed in phases, the park now includes a nine-hole pitch-and-putt golf course plus a nine-hole putting green.
Pitch and Putt is a sport similar to golf. The holes have much shorter distances, varying between 25 and 80 yards, and the greens are smaller than in golf. Players typically play with two to three clubs, one of which is a putter.
Harris, who wasn’t a golfer and knew nothing about building and maintaining a golf course, took a part-time weekend job at Mission Hills Country Club in Johnson County. More than learning about course maintenance, the job helped connect him with resources and supporters who helped him move his project forward.
Harris Park is open to the public seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The golf course closes at dark.
Harris plans and maintains a schedule of classes and special events. Through Sept. 28, the park is offering youth golf classes on Wednesday evenings from 6 – 7:15 p.m. At the same time, parents have the opportunity to join a yoga class, walk along the trail or workout in the facility.
Regularly, there are a variety of activities planned at the park. Recently there was a concert featuring Hip Hop artist AY Young. Scheduled upcoming events include a benefit 5K run and two upcoming golf tournaments.
In addition, the park is available for rentals. Rentals can be for the park, the clubhouse, both the park and the clubhouse, or an all-access rental that includes the golf course.
Heading into the park, you can’t help but notice a change in the surrounding community. New houses have been built and more blighted houses have come down, indicating the potential for more new housing to come. Older houses are being renovated and the values of houses are rising in the neighborhood.
Harris hopes more people will come to the community, build more houses, pay more taxes, and pour into schools that need funding.
He considers Harris Park 95% education and 5% athletics.
Even steps as simple as enforcing park rules are helping to change members of the community.
“We implement our rules in a very nice way because we want to get kids in the community prepared to go out in the real world and know that there are rules that we have to follow,” he said.
Harris knows many visitors leave with a different impression than what they expected.
“They leave and they tell somebody how beautiful things are and that’s educational in itself,” he said.