Gunn Park Trails: Interview with Frank Halsey

A lot of people think I’m just plain nuts, but what they fail to realize is the sanity I gain from the simply being out in the woods and creating something.

In Gunn Park in Fort Scott, down by the river, you can find a well-maintained mountain bike trails. I was lucky enough to get a chance to meet with the trail designers while I was mapping out the trail for the upcoming book. Frank Halsey worked hard to develop these trails, starting without permission, but carrying on. He opens up here about what it was like to create, from nothing, an entire set of trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: What inspired you to create the trails?

Halsey: My brother-in-law sent me an email video of some downhill riders flying through the woods and it looked like fun.

Kansas Trail Guide: How long did they take to build?
Halsey: It took me a couple of months to build the first mile or so, and we’ve been working on the other three to four miles for a couple of years. Maintenance takes up a lot of time that we could be building more trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: When did the process begin – the planning stages?

On the trails at Gunn Park

On the trails at Gunn Park

Halsey: I actually started building in the fall of 2009 without much planning or even permission.  The city made me stop for all of 2010 while they did their due diligence.

During this time I worked on maintaining the original mile loop, and scoped out other areas of timber in the park.  In the spring of 2011 the city granted permission to proceed, and a few great volunteers got involved.

We built about 2 ½ miles during the spring and summer of 2011, and then another mile or so in the spring of 2012.  Because of ongoing maintenance, there really hasn’t been much opportunity to build the additional two miles that we have planned.

Kansas Trail Guide: Do you have a favorite part of the trail?

Halsey: I actually have a couple favorite sections of trail.  The “North Ridge Ride” was our first attempt at building on the side of a hill.  It’s downhill and only slightly tricky, but fun.  The “River Ride” is cool because it runs right next to the river and has some fun rolling runs, and finally the “West River Ridge” because we initially didn’t think it could be done.

Kansas Trail Guide: What are some factors about trail building and maintenance that people should realize?

Halsey: I love it, but it’s a big commitment!  Much more than I ever imagined.  My wife (she’s an angel) is really the only person that truly understands how much time I spend on the trails.  Gunn Park is practically in my back yard, so for me it’s close by, relaxing, therapeutic, most of the time spontaneous, so I tend to lose track of how long I’m down there.  Probably like gardening for somebody that likes gardening. I spend a lot of time, by myself, maintaining and improving what we have.  Kind of like weeding a big garden.

We had a tremendous group of volunteers help build the trails initially.  Sadly, volunteers wear out after a while, and they don’t share the same passion.  We try to have regular work sessions but only a couple of us show up.  I get that, many of them still have kids activities, and other hobbies, I don’t.  This has become my hobby.  My golf game is suffering, but that’s OK, this is better for me.

A lot of people think I’m just plain nuts, but what they fail to realize is the sanity I gain from the simply being out in the woods and creating something.  I get a lot more credit than I deserve, because really I’m selfishly doing this for me.  That others can take advantage is just a bonus.  However, whenever I see anybody else on the trails, riding, jogging or hiking, it gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.

Probably what I would caution others about is the “volunteers wear out” part.  The city does not have the resources to maintain what we’ve built and likely never will.  I have a couple of guys I can expect to show up 50% of the time.  Other than that, people have other commitments.  So, if planning to build trails, be careful what you ask for, you might get it.  Also, if building next to a river that floods occasionally, be prepared for lots of cleanup time.

Dining out at Crooner’s in Fort Scott

Much of southeastern Kansas is made up of gently rolling plains and forests, which makes it a great place for exploring by trail, and around Fort Scott and Pittsburg, there are multiple mountain biking trails to choose from. After checking out the trails that wind through Gunn Park (interview with the trail designer to come soon!), I was hungry. And since I was staying in Fort Scott on a Friday, I was in luck – I could eat at Crooner’s Lounge.

Duck with raspberry sauce and a twice baked potato

Duck with raspberry sauce and a twice baked potato at Crooner’s Lounge

Open Wednesday to Friday from 5 to 9pm in downtown Fort Scott, Crooner’s Lounge serves up gourmet food in a stylish dining room with brick walls adorned with images of singers and dark tablecloths and comfy chairs. The menu can and will change daily. The chef decides what’s inspired him that day, and that’s what he cooks.

I’m so glad he was inspired by pork belly – I had it for my appetizer, and it was a mix of crisp and tender and I-want-to-lick-my-plate-clean delicious. That could have been enough, but I also had the duck topped with raspberry sauce (I’ve never before seen or tried that combination, and I can now definitively recommend it!) with a twice-baked potato and mixed vegetables. From start to finish, it was delightfully yummy.

Reservations aren’t required, but they’re recommended, particularly on Friday nights. Since it’s only open 3 nights a week, you want to make sure you can get a table. The restaurant is a part of the Liberty Theatre building, with the entrance through the theatre doors.

If you go:

Entrees range from about $12 to $30, and there’s happy hour with $5 drinks from 5 to 6pm.

113 and 117 South Main Street, Fort Scott, KS 66701

620-215-1788

*Meal was compliments of Crooner’s Lounge. All opinions are that of the author.*

Overnight in Lyons Twin Mansions in Fort Scott

Lyons Twin Mansions

Lyons Twin Mansions in Fort Scott

After a long day of hiking at Gunn Park and Crawford State Fishing Lake in Southeast Kansas, I arrived at Lyons Twin Mansions in Fort Scott sweaty and stinky. I had no idea what to expect, having contacted the Chamber of Commerce and letting them arrange my accommodations for me, and I couldn’t have been more surprised and more pleased with where I’d be staying for two nights as I researched and hiked trails in the southeast: Lyons Twin Mansions in Fort Scott.

DSC05551

The check in room for Lyons Twin Mansions.

Near the center of town are two twin Victorian mansions one now primarily guest rooms and the other one housing Nate’s Place, the B&B’s restaurant that’s open for anyone and everyone, not just guests. I figured that I was staying somewhere unique as I pulled up and parked the car, but it wasn’t until I stepped inside and was greeted by owner Ms. Pat that I realized just how special this place was.

Elaborate decorations fill the mansion, and everywhere you look, there’s something that catches your eye. From the peacock atop a chest in the dining room to the historical pictures tucked into a windowsill on the way up the servant’s quarters stairs, it’s a lavish and unique place. There are guest rooms in the mansions themselves and a few in the surrounding buildings, as well as a dining room and lounge areas. Each one has its own character and flair. So even if you stay there once, if you go back and you get a different room, it’ll be a whole different experience with rooms ideal for romance and luxury as well as family getaways.

I was staying at the top of the main building servant’s stairs in “The Adventure” room. With wooden floors that creaked upon occasion and old, built in wooden desks, the room also came with modern features that I love whenever I can get them – a king size bed, flat screen TV, and mini fridge. Bonus – the fridge came stocked with a handful of sodas and if I managed to drink them all or needed more Diet Coke (which I happened to need), all I had to do was head outside my room to the living space that not only had a lounge area with several board games, but a microwave and popcorn and extra soda and bottled water.

Shangri-La room at Lyons Twin Mansions

Shangri-La room at Lyons Twin Mansions

My room felt more rustic luxury (as rustic as a place with a comfy bed, coffee maker, DVD player, and couch can be) but there were more high end style luxury rooms, and you can even get an entire mansion to yourself with the von Blucher mansion next door starting from $500 per night.

On the second floor of the main building, I was able to check out a room with a large, walk in steam shower, and upstairs, across the hall from my room in the former servant’s quarters, I snuck a picture through the open door of the Shangri-La room that comes complete with a large whirlpool tub.

The B&B is all about detail. Forgot something, like a phone charger or shaving cream? They’ll be able to take care of you. Don’t like the sound of trains in the night? (In the heyday of the railroad era, 7 lines ran through Fort Scott, now it’s just 2.) There are complimentary earplugs next to your bed for anyone who doesn’t want to be serenaded to sleep by the sound of a train whistle.

Both mornings of my stay, I hit up Nate’s Place for breakfast. The selection was varied, though fairly classic, with options from Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream, strawberries, and blueberries to a create your own omelet to Eggs Benedict. Something new, at least for me, was the sweet hash option – fried sweet potatoes and apples.

I wasn’t able to take advantage of the spa services the B&B can arrange (facial, hot stone and aromatherapy massage, manicure/pedicure), though I wish I would have had the time (and the money). I did get a chance to wander the grounds a bit. With a sprawling lawn in the front and a well-kept fountain and gardens in the backyard complete with hammock, it was a calm, pleasant space to relax. Just the thing after a day of hiking.

The sitting room of the main building

The sitting room of the main building

And, the B&B is on the warmshowers.org site, which is a free hospitality exchange for touring cyclists to find places to stay on the trips. Check through the warmshowers site, and if you can, try and stay here.

And even if you’re not crossing the country on your bike or hiking the nearby trails, it’s a great spot to stay under 90 minutes from Kansas City and about 45 minutes from Joplin, MO and worth the trip for a quirky, memorable stay in a historic town.

If you go:
Rooms from $119
620-223-3644
742 and 750 South National, Fort Scott, KS 66701

 

Garden at Lyons Twin Mansions

Garden at Lyons Twin Mansions – The pond I could see from my window in The Adventure room