The idea to create Yanney Heritage Park in Kearney was hatched 25 years ago during a meeting between city park officials and local philanthropist Michael B. Yanney. Since then, generous donors have supported the transformation of an 80-acre cornfield into a beautiful city park that’s freely accessible to families.
Over the years, the Yanney Heritage Park Foundation and its supporters have energetically added attractions to the park, enhancing its appeal to residents and drawing visitors to Kearney. The park now includes a man-made lake, an 80-foot-tall observation tower, amphitheater, splash pads, playgrounds, walking path, marina and flower gardens.
In 2019, the Foundation launched its latest initiative—the Gardens at Yanney Park—in partnership with the City of Kearney. The bold vision is to create seven botanical gardens, including a dozen sculptures, a pavilion for events and classes, and green space for performances and other amenities.
Shortly after the project began in 2019, summer flooding shifted the community’s fundraising focus. There was urgency to meet “immediate needs with food, shelter, and getting people back to work,” said Judi Sickler, president and CEO of the Kearney Area Community Foundation. “[The floods] really devastated our hospitality district near the Interstate … so we met immediate needs as a community first. We were just ramping back up in 2020 and the pandemic happened in March. So we’ve had some stops and starts because of those two major events.”
With the costs of The Gardens expected to exceed $10 million, the community of Kearney has once again displayed its spirit of generosity to move the project forward. Three gardens have already been completed. Four more are underway, scheduled for completion in May 2024. A pavilion and parking area are also under construction to provide space for wedding receptions and community gatherings.
In addition to private donations, the Gardens at Yanney Park received $4,287,500 from the State of Nebraska’s Shovel-Ready Capital Recovery and Investment Act program (2022), administered by the Department of Economic Development. That program was funded by $100 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and $15 million from the state’s general fund.
“People attraction is a top priority for Nebraska’s communities,” said DED Director K.C. Belitz. “The Gardens at Yanney Park are an incredible quality-of-life addition to Kearney. Their completion, the expansion of the Museum of Nebraska Art, and construction of the SportsPlex along I-80 will give Kearney three tremendous new selling points. DED is grateful to support Kearney’s impressive initiative to draw in new residents.”
The gardens, designed by Steinbrinks Landscaping, and pavilion, designed by Wilkins Architecture Design Planning, will enhance an already popular venue that draws people from throughout the region, Sickler said. The additions are expected to have an economic impact of more than $1.36 million a year. Sickler said that the state’s financial assistance has been critical to avoid long project delays. “The costs have already gone up from when we originally looked at them. I think the project would be even more expensive, and maybe would not be able to be accomplished, without [the State’s] timely and generous grant. This grant will make a huge impact.”