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Penguin Park – Kansas City, MO – December 24, 2018

Penguin Park is so called because of the huge fiberglass penguin that is featured prominently in the park.  Local Kansas City radio station KCUR has posted an article with a wonderful history of the penguin, elephant, kangaroo, and other animals at the park, as well as the area itself.

I grew up in Kansas City, MO.  I still have family there, so we took a trip over the Christmas weekend to visit.  While there, we paid a visit to Penguin Park, which is actually part of “Lakewood Greenway,” but… you won’t find anyone in the Kansas City North area who calls it that.

As far back as I can remember, Penguin Park has been decorated for the holiday season, and at certain scheduled times, you can even visit with Santa Claus at the park.  We didn’t do any of that, and it was warm enough out that we could get by with hoodies and gloves, but it was still a Christmas treat for the family.
I even had my own adventure – they’ve totally revamped those spinny-go-round things – instead of metal death traps, they’re amazingly awesome plastic things, and I had a go on one. I didn’t even barf!  Nor did I wobble much when I got off the thing. 
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Watkins Mill State Park and Historic Site, June 15-17, 2018

The Campground

We visited Watkins Mill this weekend more for the purposes of saving money, rather than for camping.  We were in the KC area to visit family and we were running low on funds, so we decided to camp out instead of getting a motel room.  It was also my 25th class reunion, but I decided to skip it because it was mostly outside and I didn’t feel like melting.

We reserved site #11, which is handicap accessible (this means the entire pad is paved, while other sites are gravel).  It features a 16′ wide concrete pad, which we used for parking, but our tents were placed on the grass nearby.  Here’s a map of the campground, as published by the state of Missouri.  I have some issues with this map, which I will explain below.

As I said, we were in site 11, which while on the main drag through the campground, appears on the map to be a fair distance from the next two sites.  However, site number 10 is so close that I could’ve probably swung my arms and hit the neighbor.  If you look closely at the small picture of the campsite, you can see what I mean.

Also, originally we didn’t even realize there was a site between us and the campground host site (13).  There just didn’t seem to be much room there, but it worked out.  The resident of that site was very quiet.
Speaking of quiet… this campground is NOT.  The campground has a gate that closes between 10PM and 8AM, however, campers are given a gate code so they can come and go.  This seems to provide access for campers to leave, get drunk, and come back in at all hours.  Given our location, we got to hear them ALL as they came and went.  The camp host also seems to drive around in a golf cart a lot, and that was noisy.
If you’re interested in this location, be aware that there is also a train that goes by several times per night, and it happily blows its whistle.  There was some sort of domestic disturbance occurring at the shower house one night, and the other night there were children playing on the (dark) playground at 2:00 AM.  They had flashlights and there was a little bit of light available from the shower house, but it doesn’t seem intelligent to me to allow children to play on the playground equipment at that time of night.  I blame some of this on the heat – it makes people crazy.  It was still 89 degrees at midnight.

Bugs.  It’s to be expected that there will be bugs at any campsite, but the number of margined leatherwing beetles at this site was beyond ridiculous.  They even got into our car.  When we got up in the mornings there were at least 50 of them on the outside of teach tent, and more between the rain fly and the actual tent itself.  They are harmless, but they are gross.  On the other hand, there were a lot of lightning bugs in the trees, it was quite lovely, and the crickets and other woodsy critters made a pleasant sound.

Something we have definitely learned now after this trip is that camping in 90 degree plus temperatures sucks, and we are never doing it again without electricity.  My mother gave us an extra-tall inflatable queen-size mattress, but without electricity, it was a major hassle to inflate – we had to go to a nearby Walmart and buy a manual pump.  With it, the mattress still wouldn’t inflate all the way, so that was miserable.  Also, I must also have a fan, or I will die.  So from now on, it’s electric sites for us.
The State Park

The Watkins Mill state park has dozens of picnic areas, a nice swimming beach along the lake, and several trails to hike.  It has fishing and boating available, and equestrian trails, as well.

Watkins Woolen Mill Historic Site
There is a very nice visitor’s center at the historic site.  It is handicap accessible via a ramp outside, and inside, the exhibits are all easy to access.  There is a small theater with a 26-minute movie about the history of the site and the woolen mill.
We chose not to visit the Watkins home or the mill, but had I wanted to, they are not ADA accessible, but that’s to be expected because these buildings were at their heyday in the 1870’s, when there really was no such thing as the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Because I grew up in Kansas City north, I have actually been through the mill in the past (pretty sure it’s a school field trip rite of passage) and it is really very interesting, so if you don’t have limitations, I highly suggest it!  The home is lovely, as well.
During our visit they had people in period costumes outside for reenacting 1870’s daily life, and the site also has a nice heirloom garden to look at, and they had chickens and such outside for the kids to play with.
The Area
Around the state park, there are a few other interesting things to see and do. I’ve noticed that as someone who grew up in the area, I actually never really paid attention to what is available there. Because my kids consider themselves to be from St. Louis (though they were both born in KC), visits to Kansas City are like mini-vacations, and it’s fun to try to find things to do.
There are several interesting places to visit, including the Jesse James Farm and Museum, which is just down the road from the state park outside of Kearney.  You can also find the Liberty Jail Historic Site in downtown Liberty, MO.  This is an important site in the history of the LDS church.  The site has been rebuilt to replicate the original.  I have not personally visited this site, but I have heard both good and bad things about it.  I suggest reading reviews online if it’s something you’re interested in, particularly if you’re not of the LDS religion, since it won’t have the same significance to you.
The Hall of Waters in Excelsior Springs is interesting, and so is the Elms Resort and Spa if you’re into that sort of thing!
Here’s a general map of the area, you’ll need to get your own Google thing going, though, since I can’t embed a live map here.