ICT parks

Make eating outdoors a real picnic

Written by Karen Long | Photography by Michael Carroll Jr.

Throw out a blanket and fire up the grill. It"s July, which means the finest seasoning for summer dining is fresh air. With 5,007 acres of parkland in the city system there's a perfect picnic spot for everyone. Whether it's a quick lunch downtown, a romantic outdoorsy date for two, a family lunch apres swimming or a multi-generational family reunion, the parks shade trees have got you covered.

"I can think back to when we first moved to Wichita and our kids were younger," says Brent Thomas, chairman of the Wichita Parks Foundation. "We moved to Riverside Park so we could walk over there, and you have the playground, you have the river, you have the wildlife exhibit."

In fact, Riverside Park is at the top of Thomas's list. Another one is O.J. Watson Park on south McLean Blvd. with 119 majestic acres studded with a 40-acre lake, fishing, a miniature train, pedal boats, campfire circle and more all scattered with picnic tables, both covered and uncovered. "The city's been making a lot of investment in that park," says Thomas.

Other prime picnic grounds on his list include Sedgwick County Park, which boasts stands of mature cottonwoods, a fishing lake on the north end and the Taj Mahal of play areas, the Sunrise Boundless Playscape, on the south. Proximity to the Sedgwick County Zoo makes it the perfect place for refueling after a day of animal watching.

A favorite east-side spot on Thomas"s list is Linwood Park near Harry and I-35. Set on older grounds with a bounty of towering shade trees he calls it "a beautiful park, and a great setting for a picnic." Another one is College Hill Park, an ideal spot to roll out a blanket, unpack a picnic basket, and enjoy a view unusual in Wichita: green rolling hills. Also included: a swimming pool and playground.

On the west side, Buffalo Park at Maize and Maple offers a walking trail, fishing pond and the new Splash Pad an interactive water play area which shoots jets of water up from the ground.

When asked about his favorite picnic fare, Thomas said, "If there's a grill nearby, we're probably going to grill hot dogs and hamburgers." The larger parks offer charcoal grills perfectly complemented by the smell of cut grass. To find amenities for specific parks, check out wichita.gov/parkandrec. There you'll discover detailed descriptions and photos of parks as well as instructions for reserving space in an outdoor open shelter or gazebo.

In addition to traditional park settings, there are many opportunities for spontaneous al fresco meals downtown in the ICT Pop-Up Urban Park on Douglas between Main and Market, where you can graze the selection of food trucks or pack in your own lunch. And the beautifully landscaped and maintained Riverbank area in front of the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview is the perfect spread of flowing water, manicured lawn, meandering paths and sculptural accents.

Or go all-natural in one of the 15 Wichita Wild Habitat Areas, where wetlands and streams crisscross native prairie and woodland environments. Chisholm Creek Park, south of K-96, offers nature trails and bicycle paths winding alongside picnic tables, grills, restroom facilities and the Great Plains Nature Center. Mead Island, five acres in the Little Arkansas River near Bitting, is acces sible only by boat. The city's website describes it as an "oasis of naturalness."

East or west, urban or woodland, lawn or picnic table whether you're a party of one or 100, a family looking for sun, fun and splashing or a couple in search of a quiet romantic setting, there's an ICT picnic spot waiting just for you.

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