Free admission to the Flint Hills Discovery Center this Sunday!

It’s the annual family day at the Flint Hills Discovery Center this Sunday, 9/13/15.

Flint Hills Discovery Center

Flint Hills Discovery Center

From their newsletter: Free admission all day on Sunday, September 13 to the Flint Hills Discovery Center! It’s the last chance to view the In the Dark exhibition. Check out the children’s area and Horizon Ranch Flint Hills Immersive Experience Theater Experience. Several local businesses will be in attendance with fun activities for the kids, too!

If you haven’t ever been, you should definitely make the trip. They have all kinds of interactive exhibits that do well at blending entertainment and education for just about all ages that show off the wonders of the tallgrass prairie and the Flint Hills.

Eat, Play, Stay: Shawnee

As the metropolitan mecca of a mostly rural state, Kansas City has a cosmopolitan vibe and attractions aplenty.  But if you’re planning a trip to the area, don’t overlook one of the best reasons to visit the big city – to connect with the wilderness.

While seeking nature in the midst of the largest metro area in the region may not seem the most obvious venture, the Kansas City area boasts some of the best maintained and most loved parks and trails in the state.

One of our Top 10 picks are the hiking and mountain-biking trails at Shawnee Mission Park.  You can spend all morning riding hard through miles of woodland trails in the 1,600 acre park, and also enjoy a 120-acre lake with fishing, a swimming beach, and canoes / paddle boats for rent at the marina.  The trails are exceeding popular (and rightfully so), so it’s worth trying to visit outside of peak weekends.  Reserve a shelter and bring a picnic lunch, or even better get cleaned up and head to the nearby Hereford House in Shawnee for one of the best steaks in the city.  IMG_2014

While you can go just about anywhere in Kansas City for good BBQ, if you are craving a top-end steak the Hereford House (17244 Midland Dr) is our undisputed choice.

After a full day on the trails, there’s nothing better to sate your hunger than the K.C. strip or massive ribeye.  This venerable establishment pays close attention to detail; the steaks are Sterling Silver grade, hand-cut in house and grilled to tender perfection over live coals.

There’s plenty to see and do throughout the area, so if you’re making an overnight trip, why spend your valuable time traversing the extensive highways of K.C. when you can stay right in Shawnee?

IMG_2012One of the closest (and best) hotels just north of the park is the Courtyard by Marriott (17250 Midland Dr, rooms from $119).

The setting doesn’t feel like you are in the middle of the city, and the rooms are spacious, well-appointed, and quite clean.  There’s a small pool if you feel like a swim, and one of our favorite features was the outdoor seating area and fire-pit.

Shawnee is a great place to enjoy the amenities and dining of the city, and also log some miles on a top-quality trail network. Let us know what you think and check out more of our “Eat, Stay, Play” series for tips on the best places to enjoy top trails, outstanding local cuisine, and overnight accommodations throughout the state.

What’s so special about Kansas: Interview with Dawn Buehler, Kansas Riverkeeper

The biggest misconception about the Kansas River is that it is a dumping ground – a big ditch. People think that it’s too dirty to be on and that it’s not a floatable waterway. …

As a Kansas native, I love this state for many of the reasons other may not. I love that the land can be flat, then rise to the small peaks of the Flint Hills. I love that you can literally see the horizon, therefore see the most beautiful sunsets ever painted by nature’s brush.

As a part of our What’s So Special about Kansas interviews, we reached out to Dawn Buehler, who’s currently the Kansas Riverkeeper for the Friends of the Kaw.

Friends of the Kaw serve the Kansas River, which is the largest prairie watershed in the world, and the organization’s mission is to:

  • Advocate the rehabilitation of the Kaw and its environs – water quality and wildlife habitat
  • Promote compatible public recreational use of the river
  • Encourage the development of adequate public access
  • Cooperate with other individuals, organizations and agencies as appropriate to meet these goals

Kansas Trail Guide: One of your titles at the moment is “Kansas Riverkeeper” for FOK – what goes into being the Kansas Riverkeeper?

friends of the kawDB: The Kansas Riverkeeper is a non-governmental public advocate who serves as the eyes, ears and voice of the Kansas River. The Riverkeeper advocates for the river by acting as leader, scientist, educator, spokesperson and investigator.

Part of the Riverkeeper’s responsibilities includes holding the community responsible for the health of its river. The dumping of any type of waste in our river or streams is illegal. Unfortunately, this activity often goes unreported.

KTG: Our book with University Press of Kansas is all about trails in Kansas for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Many of the trails are in state and county parks. Do you have a favorite park or favorite trail in Kansas? If so, what is it that makes it special for you?

DB: The Kansas River is a National Water Trail – designated in 2012. So my favorite trail is the Kansas River on my kayak.

My second favorite trail to hike is the Konza 7 mile outer loop on the Konza Prairie. Absolutely stunning views of the Flint Hills! I love that when you hike to the top of the hill it feels like you can see to Colorado…most people don’t think of Kansas like that, but it is really quite stunning.

KTG: Do you have a favorite Kansas river or lake?

DB: My favorite Kansas river is THE Kansas River, or the Kaw as known locally. It is a very peaceful and scenic river, and if you ever have the opportunity to camp on the sandbars, you will get a real treat with another of Kansas’ beautiful sunsets!

My favorite lake to go to is Milford Lake, again for the amazing sunsets, but also for the great wildlife, fishing, camping and hiking.

KTG: Why do you feel it’s important that people have access to rivers, in particular the Kaw?

DB: It is very important that Kansans have access to their state. Specifically, the places that are owned by the public should be made accessible to the public, and the Kansas River is one of those places.

All streams in Kansas should be public waterways, but right now only the Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas are public waterways. It is important for people to be able to enjoy their own home state and the beauty of the Kansas River is one that should be shared with all.

KTG: Do you have a favorite stretch of the Kansas River?

DB: My personal favorite stretch is the area between Eudora and DeSoto; however, my reasoning may be different from anyone else.

I grew up on the banks of the Kansas River in the DeSoto river bottoms and this is my home. We regularly were on the river between these two towns fishing, camping on sandbars, riding in our old john boat or riding in a canoe.

I have some of my best memories on this stretch of the river…and it is very scenic as well! One of the most picturesque sections of the river is through the Flint Hills, around Wamego. Stunning really!

KTG: What would you recommend for those who’ve never paddled in Kansas before and would like to try it out?

DB: I recommend that anyone join us on one of our guided float trips. This type of float is designed for the novice boater. We bring the life jacket, boat and paddle and we show you how to use it and how to float the river. It’s the perfect opportunity for someone to learn and be with experienced paddlers.

We do many cleanup floats throughout the season that are free to the public on a first come, first serve basis. On these floats, we clean up trash in the Kansas River as we float and we have a hotdog and marshmallow roast as well. It’s a great time…cleaning up the river and enjoying a beautiful trip down the Kansas River!

KTG: What barriers do you feel need to be overcome to get people out on the trails, whether it’s water or land, in Kansas?

DB: In Kansas, the barriers that we need to overcome are that we need to change the law and allow all people access to all rivers and streams – not just the big three. We need laws that allow all people access to their state.

Other barriers are fear of the unknown and we help with this by offering our guided floats that get folks out on the river in a more secure environment with people that are experienced.

I think the barriers for hiking on trails would be to educate the public about what is available to them.

KTG: What are some of the biggest Kansas misconceptions you think people have?

DB: The biggest misconception about the Kansas River is that it is a dumping ground – a big ditch. People think that it’s too dirty to be on and that it’s not a floatable waterway.

We are working to help the public understand that so much has changed with our river and that it is cleaner than years ago. We still have a lot to do as a state, but we are improving the river. The river is much more than a glance as you drive over the bridge!

KTG: What makes Kansas special for you?

DB: As a Kansas native, I love this state for many of the reasons other may not. I love that the land can be flat, then rise to the small peaks of the Flint Hills. I love that you can literally see the horizon, therefore see the most beautiful sunsets ever painted by nature’s brush.

I love that the people of Kansas are hard working, family based and work hard for their communities. I love that we are fly-over state…and I feel sad for those that have missed its beauty.

Watch fireworks for the 4th of July at a Kansas state park

We’re coming up on a holiday weekend, and while there’s plenty of ways to get out and have fun around Kansas for the 4th, here are some of the state park celebrations with fireworks displays you can attend. *Keep in mind that you generally can’t set off your own fireworks at state parks. So sit back and enjoy the displays the parks put on for you!33-1196545384

Thursday, July 2

Crawford State Park Cookout at 5pm then live music and fireworks over the lake at dusk.

Friday, July 3

Wilson State Park Fireworks display at dusk.

Saturday, July 4

Glen Elder State Park – Fireworks display at dusk. Rain date will be July 5. Glen Elder AmeriCorps staff will be accepting donations of canned food items for the local food pantry.

Prairie Dog State Park – Get up early (7 am) for a 5k run. BBQ from 5 to 7pm, Watermelon feed at 8pm and fireworks display at dusk.

Kanopolis State Park – Fireworks display at 10 p.m. Best seats in the house for the fireworks are from your boat out on the lake. (Rain dates July 5 or July 11)

Sunday, July 5

Cross Timbers State Park – Fireworks at Toronto Point at dusk.

Rare tropical bird spotted near Lake Scott

Audubon drawing of the piratic flycatcher

The piratic flycatcher, more frequently seen in Central and South America, was spotted on May 8 in Scott State Park by Chris Lituma. It’s the northernmost spotting of the bird, and you can read more about the impressive and unexpected discovery here and here.

Word spread amongst the birder community, and birders from around the country have flocked (pardon the pun) to the park, hoping to catch a glimpse the small brown and yellow bird.

Hundreds of bird species have been spotted at Scott State Park, and it’s home to one of our top 10 trails.

Bluffs at Lake Scott State Park

Bluffs at Lake Scott State Park

How to Celebrate Earth Day 2015 in Kansas

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, it went global in 1990and the now annual event is one of the world’s largest civic events. On April 22, people around the world come together to raise awareness, show support for environmental issues, and to help make our planet cleaner and healthier.

From tree planting to clean ups to family fun, here are some ways you can get out and celebrate the 2015 Earth Day in Kansas (and one in Missouri).

April 18 at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan

Richard Renner & his Recycle Cycle will be there (you may have seen him at the Kansas State Fair) roaming the zoo. Plus there will be kid-friendly activities inside the Nature Exploration Center and story time with staff from the Manhattan Public Library, animal encounter tours led by the zoo’s animal ambassadors, and a zoo-wide scavenger hunt with prizes.

If you go:
Zoo open from 9:30am to 5pm; Earth Day activities from Noon to 4:30pm.
$5 adults, $3 children ages 3-12, 2 & under and FOSZ members free.
2333 Oak Street, Manhattan, KS

April 18 at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park

This turn of the century style family farm has plenty of animals along with flower and vegetable gardens, a fishing pond, and a one-room schoolhouse.

And for Earth Day, they’ll be hosting educational and entertaining programs about recycling, gardening, composting, and Kansas wildlife. There will be crafts, activities and events for the whole family.

If you go:
10am to 2pm
13800 Switzer Road, Overland Park
Free Mon.-Thurs.; $2/person Fri.-Sun. & Holidays/under 2 free

April 18 at Dillon Nature Center in Hutchinson

Snap up some good deals on perennial plants from 7:30 to 11:30am. Bird Watching 101 for families is from 8:30 to 9:30am, and you can learn about what birds to look out for on the trails around the nature center.

From 1-2 pm, The Hutchinson Public Library is hosting a “Wiggly Worms for Bookworms” – a story hour and project for kids 3-10.

If you go:
To register for the bird watching and the story telling (both free, but with limited availability), call 620-663-7411.
3002 E. 30th Avenue, Hutchinson, KS

April 22 at Powell Gardens in Kansas City

Free admission to Powell Gardens and free seedlings, while supplies last, to the early arrivals. They’ll also have a rain barrel raffle, guided tours, storytelling for the kiddos, and a display on up cycling.

If you go:
9am to 5pm
1609 N.W. U.S. Highway 50, Kingsville, MO

April 22 at Overland Park Arboretum in Overland Park

While not technically for Earth Day, it is held on Earth Day. You can become empowered to be a citizen scientist observer. The National Phenology Network will be holding a workshop to give attendees information on plant life cycles using the Arboretum’s trails and plants.

If you go:
Register online, $7 FOTA members, $10 non-members
8909 W 179th Street, Overland Park, KS

April 23 at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita

Party for the Planet – free admission all day and an environmental fair with hands-on activities and exhibits geared for 3rd to 5th graders.

If you go:
Environmental fair is from 9am to 2pm and zoo open from 8:30am to 5pm.
5555 W Zoo Blvd., Wichita, KS

April 25 in Gardner

Gardner Parks and Recreation is hosting an Arbor and Earth Day event with a group cleanup of the Gardner Greenway Corridor – a paved trail that connects Winwood Park and Brookside Park. Then there’s a free barbecue lunch in the park. You can get in on the drawing for trees, t-shirts, and prizes and watch a tree planting demonstration.

RSVP by April 20 – call 913-856-0936.

If you go:
11am to 1pm at Gardener Greenway Corridor

Museum of World Treasures in Old Town Wichita

Museum of World Treasures. Photo by Mark Conard

Museum of World Treasures. Photo by Mark Conard

Where is the one place in the world where you can go to find a shrunken head, a mummy, a T-Rex, a piece of the Berlin Wall, and a pitchfork used in The Wizard of Oz? It’s the Museum of World Treasures in Old Town Wichita.

Ivan

Photo from Museum of World Treasures

Founded in 2001, it moved into its current location in the Farm and Art Market in Old Town in 2003. The exhibits showcase an eclectic and impressive range from millions of years of history with the centerpiece on the first floor – Ivan the T-Rex, and one of the most complete T-Rex discoveries in the world.

You can also check out exhibits on the World Wars, European royalty, Kansas paleontology, the Wild West, and more. You’ll definitely leave feeling more cultured than when you went in.

It’s the perfect place to take your kids – it’s not overly large, so you can see the entire museum without getting overwhelmed, and there’s a kids room with dress-up areas and toys and games. Throughout the museum, there are interactive exhibits perfect for kids.

About half of the treasures on exhibit come from the collection of the founders, Dr. Jon and Lorna Kardatzke, and the mix of artifacts is unexpected and delightful.

We went as a family for a birthday party, and the kids got a brief 20-minute themed tour – they learned about Ivan the dinosaur and cave bears! We also managed to time it with one of their Discovery Days.

The last Saturday of the month from 11am to 3pm, there are activity stations with games, crafts, and artifact exploration. Each month is different, and coming up there’s the St. Patrick’s Day Hats event on March 28 and The Greek Olympics on April 25.

They’ve got events for adults too. The Murder at the Museum: Deadwood Saloon event starts at 7pm on April 25, and you can dress up and play a part in the interactive murder mystery entertainment while enjoying snacks and drinks and exploring the museum. Tickets are $30 per adult or $25 for Museum Members. For $10 per child, bring children over 3 years old for an alternative kids program while the adults solve the crime.

If you go:MOWT

Mon-Sat: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sun: Noon – 5 p.m.

Family Day Pass (2 adults/2 children): $28.50
Adult: $8.95
Senior: $7.95Youth: $6.95
Children 3 and under are FREE!

To add to your trail book collection – Dirt Work and Wild

Although winter may not be relenting enough to hike, the upside is that there’s no better time to put your feet up, sip some hot chocolate, and enjoy a good trail book.  Here are two of our top picks to add to your trail anthology:

Dirt Work by Christina Byl

While normal hikers appreciate big views, wildflowers in bloom, or clouds drifting overhead, I must admit to spending a slightly inordinate amount of hiking time checking out the trail under my feet.  A good trail can do much to enhance the hiking experience, but the worst are prone to erosion or just generally boring hiking.  Each step of a well-built trail is carefully planned and constructed with a great deal of muscle and sweat.

Dirt Work

Without being on a crew (and I highly recommend the experience), it’s hard to get a sense for the art, science and just plain dirty work that goes into building an excellent trail.  In “Dirt Work”, Christina Byl recounts her journey from a rookie crew member building alpine trails in Glacier National Park to a crew leader calling the shots in the wilderness of Alaska.

Byl has vast experience working on trail crews and she accurately portrays the “work hard, play hard” experience of the traildog life.  The book rolls the dirt and the glory of trail-building into a fascinating and insightful assessment into the proud blue-collar world behind your favorite trail and will leave you yearning to spend a summer cutting tread in the high country.

 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

With a life unraveling and out of control, Cheryl Strayed undertakes an ambitious hike to try to make sense of it all. wildAnd by rather ambitious I mean she merely sets out to hike the majority of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Solo.  Of course she has scant experience, a pack much too big, and boots painfully too small.  Despite this prescription for epic failure she perseveres and chronicles the drudgery, pain, and elation of life on the long trail in wonderful detail.

In my experience, time in the woods alone brings a sense of perspective and clarity to life, and after months on the trail Strayed works through the crucible and comes out on the other side a truly different person.

African-American History and its links to Kansas trails

February is Black History Month, and Kansas has connections to the Civil War and Civil Rights that also tie in with some of our state’s trails.

Bleeding Kansas

In the 1850s and early 1860s, Kansas Territory was in a series of skirmishes with neighboring Missouri. The battles were so intense, they earned the nickname Bleeding Kansas or Bloody Kansas. The focus of these fights was, primarily, slavery. A few months before the Civil War officially began (some say the first shots of the Civil War were at what is now Black Jack Battlefield), Kansas entered the Union as a free state. You can walk along trails through the historic Black Jack Battlefield – featured as a top history trail in our Kansas Trail Guide.

Nicodemus Visitor's Center. Photo by Mark Conard

Nicodemus Visitor’s Center. Photo by Mark Conard

Nicodemus

Kansas was the “promised land” for newly freed slaves, and the town of Nicodemus was created in 1877 as a refuge. It was the first black community west of the Mississippi. While the town’s population fell after the railroad didn’t make it a stop, the community still survives. You can take a self-guided tour of the National Historic Site where some of the original buildings still stand.  From the National Park Service:

The land on which Nicodemus and other black communities stood in Kansas was not the most advantageous for agriculture, and natural drought cycles frustrated efforts to raise crops. Even so, in the decades following the Civil War, this part of the West offered African Americans a chance at a life usually unobtainable in much of the South. The courage and spirit that motivated African Americans to leave their homes and move to the Midwest after the Civil War to places like Nicodemus also helped propel them toward equality of opportunity in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas roughly a century later.

The small town is less than a 15-minute drive from Webster State Park. The Coyote Trail in the park feature signs and interpretive information that can help you learn more about the flora and fauna of the area.

Brown v Board of Education

With Brown v Board of Education, racially segregated public schools became officially determined as unconstitutional. It was clearly a complicated time for race relations, as the Board of Education was pro-segregation, and a group of Topeka parents advocating for their children had to take the issue to the United States Supreme Court. You can visit the Brown v Board of Education site at 1515 SE Monroe Street, Topeka, KS, 66612. This national historic site is free to visit, and it is in the location of the former all black Monroe school. Inside is a series of exhibits on the history of racism, segregation, education, and justice in the state and the country. And it’s the start of the Landon Nature Trail, a 38-mile rail trail that will connect the Shunga Trail in Topeka to the 117-mile Flint Hills Nature Trail.

Kansas turns 154 this Thursday – here’s where to celebrate

Kansas Day is January 29, and this year, Kansas turns 154! In its 154th year, you’ll be able to explore via its miles upon miles of trails from prairies to woodlands with our trail guide.

More immediately, from the Kansas tourism site, here are some upcoming Kansas Day events for 2015.

To celebrate Kansas’ 154th birthday, the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka plans a full day of performances and activities to celebrate Kansas’ 154th birthday. Exhibit: The Great Soldier State: Kansas and the Civil War.

Paola’s Kansas Day & Business Expo will feature entertainment, children’s activities, local products, food vendors, and more than 75 business and organization exhibits.

On Sat., Jan. 31, 2015, Burlington’s Coffey County Historical Society & Museum will feature activities for kids, a chili feed, and live and silent auctions.

Kansas Day Celebration at Kauffman Museum in Newton on January 31 is a free event featuring wagon rides, popcorn popping over an open fire, make-it-take-it crafts and much more!

What will you be doing for Kansas Day?