Forest Park Conference and Retreat Center is distinctly unique among other parks in Topeka, not only for the fact that it promises visitors access to both WiFi and wildlife. It’s the quintessential outdoor get-away hidden in the middle of a bustling city. With multiple cabins, event halls, multiple recreational courts, prominent wildlife and acres and acres of woods, Forest Park provides a retreat among the trees that will have you reliving your wistful days of summers long past.
Forest Park was formed in 1922 by a group of Evangelical United Brethren pastors. The Summer Assembly, as they called themselves, held seasonal retreats in the park to rejuvenate their spirits. Their annual attendance soon swelled to the thousands. The Assembly still meets every July to this day in Forest Park. In the 1968, EUB Church became the United Methodist Church and continued to utilize the forest as a campground. In 2014, the church gave the deed to the current board of directors, allowing the park to operate as an independent organization.
Community Outreach and Topeka Haunted Woods
In recent years the park’s focus has shifted to how it can best aid the Topeka community. Mark Arganbright, Forest Park’s director of development, recalled it began with their Summer Feeding Program, organized in collaboration with AmeriCorps NCCC program. “While it was wildly successful feeding youth, it took everything in our coffers to make it happen. So we said we needed a massive fundraiser, and we put together Topeka Haunted Woods.” This annual event, created by Forest Park, the Jayhawk Council, Boy Scouts of America, and several other community partners, includes a haunted half-mile hike through the woods, a pallet maze through a toxic waste dump, zombie laser tag and more. Don’t let you’re guard down – ghoulish nightmares await you at every turn. And be sure to keep your eyes peeled for werewolves, zombies and plant creatures! Topeka Haunted Woods occurs every Friday and Saturday in the month of October, 8 to 11 p.m.
This year, as part of Topeka Haunted Woods, Forest Park will hold its inaugural Midwest Zombie Fest on Saturday, October 20. During this day-long event, you’ll be able to build your movie making skills with the pros! Forest Park has recruited actors from The Walking Dead, Vampire Diaries and Marvel movies to teach workshops on Heavy Make-Up, Day in the Life of a Zombie, scriptwriting and more! Tickets for this event will be on sale in August.
All things sinister and spooky aside, Forest Park also partners with a number of local organizations for various fun recreational activities and community outreach programs. Specialty programming and partnerships include: Catering by the Chef, culinary and hospitality classes as well as nutrition classes in partnership with Harvesters; the Haunted Woods and scout badge training opportunities in collaboration with the Jayhawk Area Council, Boy Scouts of America; STEAMtroop and hosting Science is a Blast, providing access to critical thinking skills and science training, in partnership with Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri; Toys for Tots: Mile of Toys in collaboration with the Marines, KSNT and Cashmere Popcorn.
Forest Park also holds a variety of monthly activities open to the public: Third Sunday Fellowship Dinners, First Sunday Matinee, Super Nerd Nights (Third Thursdays at Norsemen Brewing Company in NOTO), Flicks with Friends (Second Saturdays at Forest Park) and Volunteer Work Days (Third Saturdays at Forest Park).
Venue and Event Space
Forest Park is perfect for both large and small events, whether it be board meetings, business retreats, camps, family reunions or weddings. The park features numerous cabins of varying sizes; two meeting halls with central air and kitchen access; the charming Departmental Building (featured below), an open-air meeting area built in 1928; and the grand Tabernacle (featured above), which can accommodate up to 600 people. Fun fact: The Tabernacle was built from World War II airplane hangar parts. Click here for more information on Forest Park facilities and lodging opportunities.
While the park is primarily used as an event space, multiple hiking trails are available to the public. But, for safety purposes, Mark would ask that guests check in on Facebook to let staff know of your presence. Emails or phone messages are also acceptable. For up to the moment information about park events and activities, be sure to follow Forest Park on Facebook!