The story of Kaw River State Park, the latest addition to the Kansas park system, begins with the Menninger family. Dr. Charles Frederick Menninger was a physician who had long hoped to set up practice with his sons. When the Menningers opened a clinic together in Topeka, it was Charles’s son Karl, a psychiatrist, who set the agenda—creating a group psychiatry practice.
Over time, the Menningers expanded, adding a school of psychiatry and a school for mentally handicapped children. By the 1960s the Menninger Foundation occupied 500 acres on SW 6th Avenue. This was prime property on the Kansas River, a sort of natural oasis in the city.
By the late 1990s, however, the Menninger Foundation found itself in hot water financially. In 2000, the foundation announced that its only hope of survival was to move to Houston in order to partner with Baylor College of Medicine. For the city of Topeka, the next question was one of using the property.
Initial discussions centered around retail, office, and residential development, but word soon came that a park might be in the works. The Menningers had long been proud of their scenic grounds, and worked with an investor group to make sure that at least some of the natural beauty would be preserved. State Park 24 became official in May 2004, and 76 acres were donated to the state in 2005.
Debates over a good name for the new park occupied several years, but in 2007 Kaw River State Park became the official designation. Development began in January 2008, including creating new roads, trails, and boat ramps where necessary. On September 4, 2010, the park was opened to the public.
- On Interstate 70 heading through Topeka, take Exit 357A to Fairlawn Road.
- Drive south on Fairlawn road to the first intersection.
- Turn right on SW 6th Avenue and continue for about half a mile.
- Watch for the state park sign and parking lot on the right.
Kaw River State Park is currently the only urban state park in Kansas. However, there is still plenty of natural scenery to enjoy. Located in the Glaciated Region, this park mostly features riparian hardwood forest, although some grassland is present.
Along the Kansas River, keep your eyes open for waterfowl, sandpipers, and eagles during the appropriate seasons. In the forest, watch for deer, turkey, and other woodland creatures.
Hunting is not allowed at Kaw River State Park.
Kaw River State Park offers access to the Kansas River, where fishing is both challenging and rewarding. Experts say to use live bait and fish in the deeper parts of the water. While a variety of fish can be caught, the Kansas River is best known for catfish, especially flathead catfish. However, successful fishermen are advised not to eat any bottom-feeding fish that they catch, and to limit the amount of other types of fish that they eat due to contaminants in the water.
- Kaw River Park Trails: Kaw River State Park has a complex hiking and biking trail system that meanders throughout the park. The terrain makes for a good challenge. Watch for ticks and mosquitoes!
- Kansas River Trail: All 173 miles of the Kansas River have been designated as the Kansas River Trail, open to canoes, kayaks, and other small watercraft. Kaw River State Park is one of the access points.
The park is open for day use only, and has not been extensively developed.
Kansas River Trail
Official website of the Kansas River Trail. Find printable maps, tips on river safety and etiquette, and other attractions along the river.