Riverside Park and Ralph Mitchell Zoo

Our Mission:

It is the mission of the Independence Park Department to enhance the quality of life in our community by providing quality open spaces, facilities, and programs that promote citizen involvement and a strong sense of community.


Riverside Park was founded in 1914 when 50 acres of land along the Verdigris River was donated to the city. Renowned landscape architect, George Kessler designed the park to work in harmony with the natural surroundings while anticipating future needs of the community. In following years the park grew to include a large playground, baseball stadium, band stand, tennis courts, and buildings used for gatherings. Later additions to the park include a carousel in 1950, a miniature train in 1953, a 1050 steam locomotive in 1955, and around 1965, a Corythosaurus from the Sinclair Dinoland display at the 1964 World's Fair. 
Ralph Mitchell Zoo was added to the park in 1925. Lions, tigers, and bears (Oh, my!) were early attractions for zoo visitors until the debut of Monkey Island in 1932. The Island continues to draw visitors from all over due to its distinction as being the birthplace of Miss Able, a rhesus monkey made famous by her successful trip to space aboard a Jupiter Rocket in 1959. Monkey Island shares historical significance with other structures in the park and zoo in that it was one of the many construction projects built during the Great Depression. Between 1930 and 1940 the Island, Swan Pool, and stone steps in the zoo as well as 3 park buildings, the stadium wall, and the wall surrounding our 86 acre cemetery were constructed through the efforts of the local townspeople.

Since its inception, Riverside Park has grown in importance for families in Independence and the surrounding areas. Countless weddings, reunions, and social gatherings have been held here.  

The Park and Zoo Today:

The staff of Riverside Park and Ralph Mitchell Zoo are proud of the history that surrounds us and we take our stewardship seriously. We are aware that progress marches steadily forward and work hard to maintain the balance between new and old. We believe we can offer new attractions while preserving and sharing those things that make us truly unique. 

Park and Zoo personnel have been working hard the last few years to revitalize our facilities and exhibits along with performing much needed renovations to our vintage amusement rides and overseeing the addition of new play equipment. A major focus in 2015 was Monkey Island which received some much needed upgrades to its infrastructure. Thanks to the generosity of our FORPAZ  friends and guidance from the Park Board, the addition of play equipment for the animals and aesthetic improvements are scheduled for this beloved feature in 2016. The coming years will see a continuation of our revitalization plans with more buildings, zoo exhibits, and other features receiving the care they deserve. We do this while caring for our animals, performing maintenance of park and zoo grounds, rental facilities, 5 neighborhood parks, and trees in the downtown. 

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