Some people love the appeal of organized sport — camaraderie, matching jerseys, that kind of thing. But some don’t. If you aren’t into showing up at the same place at the same time week after week, you will not join a bocce league — no matter how much you love the sport. But that’s OK — as long as you have a set of balls (there’s simply no other way to put that), you can play in any park. All you have to do is mark off the boundaries of the makeshift court by driving four sticks into the ground. If you aren’t doing your part to make bocce the next big thing, we must ask: What are you doing in the park?
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is undergoing major construction. But the terraced lawn to its south is still a great summer hangout, and the flat, well-maintained straightaways are ideal for ball-tossing fun. Plus, there are giant shuttlecocks and a sculpture park. The lawn is open to the public during daylight hours and whenever the museum is open. 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278.
This park isn’t the most extensively groomed in the world, but the relaxed feel is part of its charm. It’s a place where strangers stop and chat, kind of like the outdoor equivalent of a neighborhood coffeehouse. Rolling hills, swing sets, lots of dog-walking action and romantic, red-brick roads are among its major selling points. Organized sports make their presence known on Sundays, with dodgeball and kickball creating potential bocce distractions. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 36th Street and Roanoke Road, 816-784-5210.
The obvious choice, this park is huge and beautiful, boasting an elaborate, aromatic rose garden and a bucolic duck pond, complete with cute little bridges and alcoves. Offering rolling stretches of land and a few shady tree groves, Loose Park is located between the Plaza and Brookside. Hours: Dawn to 10 p.m. 51st Street and Wornall Road, 816-561-9710.
The allure of this 21-acre urban park in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood is becoming known to more Kansas Citians every year. The two poles of the park-activity-energy-level spectrum — jogging and lying on blankets — are enjoyed here equally. Vendors give the park an ever-so-slight hint of that New York, Central Park feel.
John F. Kennedy was a handsome man, so it’s only logical that a park with a statue in his honor would be an attractive nook. Concourse Park is majestic-looking, with fountains and boulevards adding to the historic, presidential ambience. It’s near the Kansas City Museum, in case you feel like doing some local sightseeing or even just stepping inside for a refreshing treat. (The museum houses an old-fashioned soda fountain.) Located at Benton and Gladstone boulevards.
This mother of all parks is home to ten shelter houses and numerous picnic areas. For sporty types, there’s also a softball field and a soccer field. For granola types, there are biking and hiking trails as well as a nature center. For everyone else, there’s fishing. Highly underappreciated as a park in its own right — and not just the home of the zoo and Starlight Theatre — this old city park deserves another visit. Swope Park is never closed (so use good judgment). Interstate 435 and Gregory Boulevard, 816-513-7500.
Watkins Mill State Park and Historic Site
In addition to being the site of a historic woolen mill (don’t get too excited, everyone), this park has awesome, tree-lined hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, a swimming beach and campgrounds. Park hours are 7 a.m. to sunset, unless you’re pitching a tent in the camping area, in which case you get to stay the night. 26600 Park Road North in Lawson (east of Kearney), 816-580-3387.
Burr Oak Woods Nature Conservation Center
This is a quiet, get-away-from-the-city park. And because it’s not only a park but also a conservation center, it’s an extra-natural-feeling place. Regularly scheduled events offer instruction in everything from finding edible plants in the wild to catching catfish. Bikes aren’t allowed, but we have yet to find a rule forbidding bocce. Hours for the general park area are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the building is open only until 5 p.m. 1401 N.W. Park Road in Blue Springs, 816-228-3766.
Shawnee Mission Park
Just as Loose Park is the obvious choice for the urbanite, Shawnee Mission Park is the obvious choice for the suburban park seeker — and for good reason. It boasts wide-open expanses of land, well-spaced shelters offering privacy as well as shade, swimming and boating beaches, an outdoor theater and even a dog park, so there is really no kind of parkgoer who shouldn’t be happy here. Park hours are 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. 7900 Renner Road in Lenexa, 913-888-4713.
Mill Creek Park
This is a good place to meet up if you’re hoping to grab lunch or a cocktail after playing bocce. Connecting the Plaza to Westport, Mill Creek Park is woven into the fabric of the city — urban dwellers out for weekend jogs scoot past one another on paved paths, and people with books sit on the benches, appreciating the outdoors as traffic whirs by. And if any contentious political situations arise, you may find yourself in the middle of a peaceful protest. The park is open sunrise to sunset. 47th Street and J.C. Nichols Parkway.
Don’t forget Lawrence. Some of Lawrence’s other parks, the ones right outside the college town, get more attention. They’re bigger and offer more recreational possibilities. But South Park is a great place to spend an afternoon enjoying the dual pleasures of being outdoors and being in Larrytown. Ornate gazebos dot the manicured lawn, and there are winding sidewalks and benches aplenty. On Wednesday nights in June and July, live bands play here starting at 8 p.m. 12th and Massachusetts streets, 785-832-7930.