Riverside Park is one of Wichita’s oldest and most unique parks. It’s actually made up of three smaller sections: North, Central and South Riverside Park. Together, the three small parks form one large Riverside Park. While this park offers a lot of the same amenities as traditional parks, it also has a few things that might surprise you. Check out these unique park features!
A Free, Outdoor Zoo
Riverside Park has offered some form of an on-site zoo since 1901. The park’s current zoo, called The Kansas Wildlife Exhibit, opened in 1988. Highlighting more than 25 species, the Kansas Wildlife Exhibit allows park visitors to see and learn about native Kansas wildlife completely free of charge. Over the years, the exhibit has been known to feature animals like beavers, mink, hawks, owls, turtles, a red fox, a porcupine, and even a bobcat! The animals in the exhibit are subject to change, and may rotate based on seasonal and weather changes. Because the facility is free, it has allowed thousands of children and families the opportunity to see these animals up close.
Large, Interactive Fountain
On hot summer days, Riverside Park’s Celebration Plaza is the place to be. The Plaza, added in the center of the park in 2004, features an interactive fountain. Children and adults are welcome to splash around the fountain, but pets are to remain outside the plaza. The area is surrounded by benches, picnic tables and trees, so pets and family members who wish to remain dry can still be part of the fun.
A Stone and Mosaic Solar Calendar
On the park’s northwest edge, visitors will find a beautiful solar calendar. Composed of a series or strategically placed upright stones, the structure is slightly reminiscent of Stonehenge. The stones are arranged in such a way that they offer a technologically accurate solar calendar, tracking the sun’s location by aligning the stones at sunset, sunrise, and at local noon on the first day of each season. Beautiful painted tiled depict constellations, astrological signs and more. A nearby inscription gives a detailed description of how the calendar works.
“...The small ground stones and their medallions mark the sun’s shadow, falling from the southernmost standing stone, and a beam of light upon the center of the medallions form an eye atop the stone when the sun is at its apex, local noon, on the first day of each season. The medallions note the specific date to be observed at local noon. If you sit on the benches and follow the line of flagstones to the west in the evening, you may watch the sunset directly over the other standing stones- setting to the south on the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) and furthest in the north on the summer solstice (the longest day of the year). Conversely, the sun rises between the two bench stones from summer through winter...”
A Little Bit of Nostalgia
With each visit to Riverside Park, older guests are reminded of the times they spent there as a child playing on ever-popular the rocket slide. Though access to the ladder has since been blocked, and the slide itself has been removed, the rocket still stands, forever a testament to the Riverside Park of a simpler time. Parents can share their own childhood memories of the park when their children when they ask the inevitable question: “What’s that rocket is for?” Though it’s sad to see our slide out-of-commission, it’s fun to remember the good times.
A Lesson on Park History
The main path through the park is marked with stones bearing inscription that provide visitors with a timeline of major park milestones dating all the way back to the late 1800's. This unique feature allows guests at the park to learn about how the park grew to be what it is today. Check out some of the milestones below.
Traditional Park Features
Of course, Riverside Park also offers all of the amenities of a traditional city park, including multiple play areas for children, a gazebo overlooking a pond, beautiful shaded walkways, picnic tables and benches, and more.