One of the most unique aspects of this park is the Hoofed Animal Enclosure, which features herds of buffalo and elk in separate paddocks. You can walk up to the tall chain-linked fence and feed whatever animals will come to see what you’ve got for them. Carrots and apples are the preferred food, and park officials ask that you not feed the animals bread or any kind of grain. It’s free and it’s fun to be so close to these huge animals. Don’t worry, they’re not mean and just want some supplemental goodies, as they get fed by the parks department and aren’t really dependent on visitors to feed them. Leave your dog at home or in the car, and don’t underestimate how quickly a couple of buffalo can go through a bag of apples!
I’ve been coming here for more than 45 years, when my folks used to bring me here on Sunday afternoons to walk the trails. This park used to be called Lake Jacomo, but was later expanded to 7,800 acres, and now includes Blue Springs Lake, which I haven’t spent much time at. I used to think “Jacomo” was an old Indian word, but I learned later that it’s really just short for Jackson County Missouri.
At 970 acres, Lake Jacomo is a large lake with lots of coves and inlets, much bigger than that in Shawnee Mission Park with its 120 acre lake, or anywhere else on the Kansas side of the metro area. The adjacent Blue Springs Lake covers another 720 acres.
I find it interesting that the idea for a lake here began in 1932 when the Presiding Judge of Jackson County requested that a study be done for a potential park, which didn’t open until 1959. By the way, that judge was Harry S. Truman, who went on to become the 33rd President of the United States.
Jacomo’s boat rental marina toward the north end of the lake is the largest in the Kansas City metropolitan area, and has a convenience store and more than 80 boats of various types to rent. There’s also an extensive boat dock and covered picnic area at the south end of the lake.
Another unique aspect of this large park is Missouri Town 1855, which is a 30-acre outdoor living history museum which brings together more than 25 structures, dating from1820 to 1860 which were moved here from other locations in Missouri. There’s an admission charge for this attraction, and it’s probably best to visit during one of their events because there will be more activity and many more interpreters in costume.
Missouri Town and other sites in the park were locations for filming of a 1975 made-for-TV movie called Friendly Persuasion based on the novel Except for Me and Thee by Jessamyn West about a Quaker family in Civil War era America who help runaway slaves. This was when Little House on the Prairie was reaching its heights of popularity and was supposed to be a pilot for a new TV series, but it didn’t garner the anticipated audience, and has never been released on any video format. Other productions have been filmed here as well, including portions of the 1999 Ang Lee film starring Tobey McGuire, Ride with the Devil.
The Burroughs Audubon Nature Center and Bird Sanctuary is located on the Southwest Park Road not far from the marina parking lot, and is another fun place to visit. Open to the public, this building serves as the local Audubon Society’s headquarters and public outreach space, and houses an extensive natural history library. It’s a peaceful place to watch birds and wildlife.
I’ve rambled on and haven’t even mentioned the campgrounds, the winding and scenic road around the lake, the RC aircraft field, the Kemper Outdoor Education Center, or large patches of prickly pear cactus growing wild, and probably much more. Suffice it to say this is a great park to visit and explore!
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