The park system of Joplin began in 1897, when T.W. Cunningham, Mayor of Joplin, gave to the City, Cunningham Grove. This beautiful grove was used by the citizens for picnics and celebrations and it was Mayor Cunningham's idea to preserve the grove so that the people of the City might have a place in the city limits for gatherings.
At the time, Joplin did not have funds available to improve Cunningham Park. In 1930, the City Attorney secure the passage of a bill through the legislature authorizing the City to levy a tax for park purposes by a vote of the people. The matter was submitted to the people at the general election of 1934 and passed.
Mayor Cunningham was re-elected in 1903 and appointed to a nine-member Board of Parks Directors. In 1954, as a result of the adoption of the Home Rule Charter of the City of Joplin, the nine-member board became the seven-member Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. At the same time, the Parks System was placed within the Public Works Division as the Parks and Recreation Division. In the 1983 general election, voters approved the recommendation of removing the Parks and Recreation Department from the Public Works Division and making it a separate Division answering directly to the City Manager.
Today, Joplin Parks and Recreation is responsible for over a thousand acres of parkland and offers an array of recreational, cultural, and sporting programs and activities for the entire four-state area.