KanStarter: Crowd-funding for Kansas towns

What do a putt-putt golf course, an opera house, a trail archway, and a grocery store have in common? They’re all pilot projects for KanStarter.

Crowd-funding on websites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter have become popular, and now you can help support a home-town project via KanStarter. Donate money, and occasionally supplies, to help make small town and rural destinations shine.

Marci Penner of the Kansas Sampler Foundation came up with the idea, inspired by the idea that many people in small towns didn’t think they had anything worth including in a guidebook, and tax credits helped get the site up and running.

The project launched as a part of the We Kan Network, a nonprofit that works with the Kansas Sampler Foundation to “preserve and sustain rural culture.”

The minimum donation is $1 and there are time limits to the project funding. There are four pilot projects currently up for funding, and projects can be submitted for consideration on the website.

The four pilot projects are the Opera House Revival: Let It Sing! in Wilson, the South Owl Lake Trail Archway in Yates Center (check out the video below), Rediscover Pluto Putt-Putt in Burdett, and Help Get Dirt for a grocery store in Plains.

The idea that Kansas, and particularly rural Kansas, doesn’t have much in the way of tourism or attractions is one that I’ve frequently come across in work on the trail guide and as I’ve traveled throughout the state and throughout the country. There may not be the State of Liberty or a soaring mountain range, but there is history, art, culture, and natural beauty that is worth getting to know.

And it was touching to see that two of the projects currently up for funding on KanStarter are in small towns that I know because I have family who lived there. They’re places I visited frequently as a child and still go to today. They are places worth being proud of and projects worth supporting.

2015 Symphony in the Flint Hills Location Announced

2014 Symphony in the Flint Hills

2014 Symphony in the Flint Hills

On June 13, 2015, the Symphony in the Flint Hills is coming home!

For the 10th anniversary of the event, it will be held at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

From the Symphony in the Flint Hills site:

We are thrilled to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Symphony in the Flint Hills Signature Event back where it all started at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve,” said Jim Hoy, Board Chair for Symphony in the Flint Hills, Inc. “Our milestone anniversary and this historic location lend themselves to help us further our mission of heightening appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie. We plan to take it a step further with the theme, ‘Grasslands of the World,’ and The Nature Conservancy as our partner for the education programs.”

What’s so special about Kansas: Interview with A Kansas Bestiary authors and artist

As a part of our what’s so special about Kansas series, we reached out to the authors and artist of A Kansas Bestiary. Read our review of the book here and read on for their thoughts about what makes Kansas so special.bestiary_cover_t180

A bit about them from their website: Jake Vail lives in the Wakarusa watershed and works as a librarian in Lawrence, Kansas. Doug Hitt holds an M.A. in Earth Literacy and has studied with eco-philosopher Joanna Macy. Lisa Grossman is a painter and printmaker in Lawrence, Kansas, whose work focuses on the wide skies, prairies, and river valleys of Kansas.

Kansas Trail Guide: 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?

JV: I’d pick the long loop at Konza Prairie (my first exposure to the Flint Hills), and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Doug and I went for a two-day meander on the trails there during the writing of A Kansas Bestiary. From free-ranging bison to box turtles to scissor-tailed flycatchers and the great surprise of prairie chickens booming in the evening, it turned out to be a Kansas highpoint.

But remember that almost all of the state is private land. I’ve been fortunate to get to know some farmers and ranchers and see sides of Kansas that many people haven’t. We need more parks! (And “we” includes the critters.)

DH: My favorite trails are in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City. The open vista of horizon and multi-hued flora, the breezy soundscape punctuated with insect hum and sparrow call unleash me from too-much-thought.

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

Black-footed ferret. One of the animals in A Kansas Bestiary. Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

LG: By far, the trails I frequent most in all seasons for biking, hiking and foraging are the Kansas River Trails along the Kansas River in Lawrence. These start at the 8th St. boat ramp and wind eastward through the woods for a total of 13 miles (- I think) Experiencing them on an almost every-other-day basis allows me to feel the subtle and sometimes dramatic shifts in weather and season.

But for sheer inspiration and grandeur I’ll choose the main trail into the back country of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. It only takes about a mile of hiking to get yourself into the most vast, quiet expanse of prairie with very few obstructions on the horizon, which is so rare. You can really lose yourself there with a few miles of easy walking. Plus there are bison and it’s open 24 hrs.

Kansas Trail Guide: What inspired the writing of A Kansas Bestiary?

JV: Indirectly, moving to Kansas and then realizing so many people fail to appreciate it – here and elsewhere. More directly, Barry Lopez’s essays and Rebecca Solnit and Mona Caron’s A California Bestiary.

DH: The impetus for writing the Bestiary actually came from Rebecca Solnit and Mona Caron’s book, A California Bestiary; but, the actual inspiration–the driving force–came from the deep pleasure of encountering the creatures that we had chosen to honor.

LG: This is Jake and Doug’s to answer!

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

JV: That the opening scene of the Wizard of Oz portrays Kansas accurately.

DH: Foremost, the Great Plains are “plain.”

LG: That it’s big and empty.

Kansas Trail Guide: Out of staters often think of Kansas as “flyover country” – what would you say to change their minds?

JV: It wouldn’t change minds, but the history of Euramerican travel here is instructive. After Coronado and Zebulon Pike, eyes on a particular prize, both got lost, Kansas became “walk-over country,” to get most directly to the markets of Santa Fe, the green fields of Oregon, and the gold fields of California and Colorado. Now we drive the interstates (which started near Topeka, thanks to a Kansan) or move from big airport to big airport. Really, what isn’t flyover country?

DH: All ecoregions have their unique language. Some, the front range of Colorado for instance, shout grandeur. Others are quieter, more courteous, subtle. Attuning ourselves to the latter is a deep pleasure akin to reading haiku.

LG: Spend a few nights in the Flint Hills. That should do it.

Kansas Trail Guide: For someone who’s never been to Kansas, do you have any recommendations for where to go or what to see?

JV: If you’re interested in the bestiary, you’d be interested in the fairly new Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan and the Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms. But mainly I’d recommend getting onto the back roads, and striking out on foot and taking time to explore.

DH: Tallgrass National Preserve, Cheyenne Bottoms, Quivira Refuge.

Sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Conard

Sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Conard

LG: I’d like to suggest different criteria for exploring Kansas. I’d ask you to seek out places rich in biodiversity, a natural silence, and the widest spans of unimpeded horizon you can find. If you find a place with all three it’s a treasure indeed.

Kansas Trail Guide: For someone who grew up in Kansas and feels like they’ve seen everything there, do you have any recommendations for where to go or what to see?

JV: Following Heraclitus, I believe you can’t step into the same Kansas twice. Visit a favorite place in all seasons, from different directions, in all kinds of weather, day and night, for a short time or a long time, and it will be different every time.

DH: I am one of these people! When I find local lodging in small towns like Council Grove, Herrington, Stafford and then spend several days attuning to the nearby wild areas, I experience unexpected adventure. The key word is “expectations.” How do these cause us to dismiss or minimize what is right before us? “Plain” is a state of mind.

LG: I’m from Pennsylvania and didn’t come to Kansas City until 1988, and I wondered where I could find the prairies. Local friends directed me to the Flint Hills and that changed everything for me. The open expanses and vast skies became my inspiration and vocation. Luckily, PrairyErth was published right after I got here so that deepened my understanding and appreciation for exploring the Flint Hills initially.

As I’ve lived here over 25 years now, I’ve come to appreciate the waterways, especially the Kansas River, where I’ve kayaked and encountered a whole new side of Kansas––170 miles of the Kansas Water Trail – all open to the public for recreation with boat ramps nearly every 10 miles. It’s fabulous.

Kansas Trail Guide: What makes Kansas special for you?

JV: It boils down to open skies and the frequent surprise.

DH: Expansive horizons, the subtle play of light on cloud and grass, the stormy intersection of high and low pressure zones.

LG: Especially as an artist, I can use the fact that Kansas is largely under-appreciated to challenge myself to convey the immense beauty I find here to those who don’t see it. Places like Santa Fe or Sedona are so obviously beautiful that there are 1000’s of artists there and I would find that a much more difficult situation!

The space itself is what I revel in here. My work invites folks to slow down and take the long way–to stop long enough to see which way the clouds are moving, how the light changes, to sharpen their awareness and senses to the place.

The delicious and the disgusting at the State Fair

There’s nothing quite like fair food. Deep fried or slathered in sugar or doused in sauce or on a stick or sometimes all of the above. There’s even a new competition this year at the Kansas State Fair – best food on a stick. Will your favorite treat get the prize? Results will be in in a week.

Photo by churl han

Photo by churl han

Classics (and our personal favorites – we’re state fair purists) include giant turkey legs, funnel cakes, chicken and noodles, and Pronto pups. I’m scared to see the size of the turkey that results in a turkey leg that’s as big as my face, but it sure is tasty.

Other “delicacies” that make the cut for worth trying and have been around for a few years – deep fried peaches and twisted potatoes.

We tried the “moo-ink” which, as I recall (I may have blocked the memory from my mind) was a bacon wrapped meatball covered in barbecue sauce and served on a stick. I remember it being…too much. Fried Oreos – the Oreo is so delicious on its own, why would you degrade it by dunking it in oil? Deep fried cheesecake? Same question.

Some newcomers to the Kansas fair food scene this year include deep fried Nutella, deep fried Jello (tried to get it last year, but they’d sold out), and chicken rolled in Frosted Flakes and fried (oh, and it’s on a stick).

There will also be toasted ravioli, which sounds amazing, and homemade sodas.

What’s your favorite fair food? Let us know in the comments!

The National Park Service turns 98 today

Today the National Park Service turns 98! Some of our favorite national historic sites in Kansas include: Brown v. Board of Education, Fort Larned, Fort Scott, Nicodemus, and the Tallgrass Prairie.

From the National Park Service site on Kansas:

  • 5 national parks
  • 91,930 visitors to national parks (in 2013)
  • $4,100,000 economic benefit from national park tourism (in 2013)
  • 1,341 National Register of Historic Places listings
  • $349,318,392 of historic rehabilitation projects stimulated by tax incentives (since 1995)
  • 22,394 hours donated by volunteers
  • 1 National Heritage Area
  • 5 National Natural Landmarks
  • 25 National Historic Landmarks
  • $51,398,596 in Land & Water Conservation Fund grants (since 1965)

The Burger Stand in Lawrence

The Casbah

The Casbah

The burgers at Lawrence’s Burger Stand in The Casbah in downtown have been ranked as some of the best in the country. I stopped by during my visit to the nearby trails (Baker Wetlands and Black Jack Battlefield).

The burger was indeed tasty – juicy without being greasy, filling without being overwhelming, and they had options for everyone.

For red meat eaters, the options range from the classic topped with cheddar & local micro greens to the black and blue with Blue cheese & granny smith apple chutney to the smoke burger with Applewood smoked bacon, smoked gouda cheese & chipotle-cocoa ketchup.

For non-red meat options and even vegetarian, you can get a catfish po’boy, a black bean burger, the spicy shiitake burger topped with habanero cream cheese, avocado and greens.

Dipping options

Dipping options

For me, the stand out was the topping options for both the fries and the burgers. Parmesan garlic aioli? Marshmallow dip? These were options I’d never seen anywhere else.

I ordered sweet potato fries and the truffle fries (in the name of research of course), and loaded up with every topping option they had.

The food was ready pretty quickly at the kitchen window, even with the short and consistent line to order, and I savored my burger and fries at one of the long bar top tables in the front. In the back dining area are ping pong tables, pool tables, and a foosball table. During the school year, I was there in the summer, I imagine it can get pretty busy and loud in there, but for a burger joint in a college town, I wouldn’t expect much else.

And for my favorite dipping sauce, for both uniqueness and tastiness, it was a tie between avocado ranch and chipotle-cocoa ketchup.

If you go (and you should!):
The Casbah
803 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS


Have you been to the Burger Stand? What’s your favorite burger or dipping sauce? Let us know in the comments below.

Dodge City Days

We’re in the midst of Dodge City Days. The annual event is in its 54th year, and it ends this weekend. While the barbecue cook-off is over, there’s still plenty to do at this western celebration.

Photo by Tourism Kansas

Photo by Tourism Kansas

The “Arts, Crafts & Things” show is August 2 and 3 at the Village Square Mall (air conditioning!).

August 2 is also the day you can check out the classic car show at Wright Park. At 11am, 1pm, and 3pm, you can watch the extreme motorcross show.

In the afternoons, the public library is hosting talks on early days of ranching and trail driving that built up the town of Dodge City.

And each night you can go to Central Station for the street dance.

Of course, Dodge City Days wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the rodeo. The PRCA is hosting the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo from July 30 to August 4, also known as the “Greatest Show On Dirt”. Each night from 7:45 to 11, you can watch the riding and roping skills of professional cowboys.

Get your artisanal caffeine fix at these 5 Kansas roastieries

Caffeine can help your perceived effort and help decrease fatigue, so before your next trail adventure, down a cup or two of coffee. And while you’re at it, you might as well make it a local Kansas roasted coffee.

Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush -- CreativeRush.org

Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush — CreativeRush.org

Five of our favorite Kansas coffee roasteries and nearby trails:

PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. in Topeka

On their website, you can get info on the individual farmers who provide the beans for the brew. Signature blends include John Brown and Cold Front – perfect for summer, the Cold Front blend is designed to serve cold and pour over ice.

PT’s at College Hill
1625 SW Washburn Ave
Suite A
Topeka, Kansas 66604

PT’s at Crossroads
310 Southwest Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64108

Nearby trail: MacLennan Park near the Governor’s Mansion

Greenstone Coffee in Lawrence

The mission of Lawrence’s Greenstone Coffee is: “We strive to use socially responsible practices- protecting the natural integrity of the coffee from bean to your coffee cup. We hope you love our coffee and become excited about coffee and its potential all over again.”

Started in 2013 and focusing on roasting beans from small farmers, Greenstone Coffee can be found at local coffee shops, the Cottin’s Farmer’s Market and Hy-Vee.

Nearby trail: Baker Wetlands

Reverie Coffee Roasters in Wichita

Reverie in Wichita. Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush -- CreativeRush.org

Reverie in Wichita. Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush — CreativeRush.org

Another  newcomer to the Kansas coffee scene, opened in 2013, has classes on coffee as well as tastings in their hip retail and roasting space.

You can watch the beans being roasted on a Tuesday, and you can find out what farmer, even down to the plot of land, that grew the beans in your favorite brew.

2611 E Douglas Ave
Wichita, KS 67211

Nearby trail: Air Capital Memorial Park

Blacksmith Coffee in Lindsborg

Housed in a former blacksmith shop (hence their name) with the roaster on top of the original forge, they focus on making single origin and unique coffees. Fittingly, since they’re in Little Sweden, USA, one of their collections is the Swedish coffees, which includes their darkest coffee.

122 N Main St
Lindsborg, KS 67456

Nearby trail: Välkommen Trail

Radina’s Coffeehouse and Roastery in Manhattan

The tasty treats in the bakery cabinets may draw you in, but stay for the coffee.

On their blending philosophy: “At Radina’s our goal when blending is to create coffees that are more complex and interesting than when served as a single origin. Some of our blends use five different beans (more would be decadent, and perhaps redundant). In addition to beans from different regions we blend different degrees of roast to create an interesting, multi-dimensional cup of coffee.”

Aggieville, 616 North Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan, KS 66502

Drive-Thru, 2809 Claflin Road
Manhattan, KS 66502

Nearby trail: Manhattan river trail along the Blue and Kansas rivers

Yes, overall, these coffees are more expensive than Folgers or even Starbucks. But you get locally made products that are of better quality. It’s worth it, and remember, it’ll help you on the trail.

It’s official: World’s largest waterslide ready to ride in Kansas

After delayed openings and safety concerns, the Verrückt waterslide is now ready to ride at the Kansas City Schlitterbahn. Check out the video of one of the first riders below, and you’ll see why it was named for the German word for “crazy” or “mad.”

That doesn’t, however and sadly, mean it’s yet open to the public. It starts with a 168 feet and 7 inches drop of excitement/terror/adrenaline, then up another 5 story hill and back down. It’ll open for 4-person rafts, so you don’t have to go it alone. It should be opening any day now – keep checking their website for updates.

Would you ride it? I’m not sure if I would – let us know in the comments below!