What’s so special about Kansas: Interview with First Lady Mary Brownback of Kansas

We were honored to be invited to a reception at Cedar Crest Mansion in Topeka for the Kansas Book Festival this past September, and we were able to chat with First Lady Mary Brownback of Kansas. We reached out to her again recently to get her thoughts on what’s so special about the Sunflower State, and here’s what we found out!

Cedar Crest Mansion. Photo by Mark Conard

Cedar Crest has many trails close by – it’s particularly unique to have public trails so close to a governor’s mansion – what value do you feel public trails and public lands have in Kansas?

These public trails and lands give so many of our residents the opportunity to get out and enjoy nature, to see and experience so many new things.

I think about people living in large, metropolitan areas and, not that there aren’t opportunities for those people to enjoy the great outdoors, but it seems the opportunities are fewer and farther between.

Do you see a lot of trail users at MacLennan Park and Cedar Crest?

Every single day. Regardless of weather, there are plenty of people who will bring their dogs for walks on the trail. When the weather is nice though, the trails are full of walkers, runners, bikers and hikers, alike. There are many who come to fish at the ponds, as well.

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

I think two of the biggest misconceptions about Kansas are that Kansas is flat and that there’s nothing to see or do here.

View from MacLennan Park. Photo by Jonathan Conard

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

If they’re only flying over Kansas, they’re sure missing out on a lot. The Flint Hills are absolutely beautiful, the college and university campuses are wonderful and, in my travels across the state, I’ve seen some of the most unique main streets with artisan shops and local flair.

When you think of Kansas, what’s the image that comes to mind?

Without a doubt, I picture “home.” This is the state where I grew up, where I live among some of the friendliest people in the world. It’s where I’ve put down roots with my own family and raised my children. There’s no place I’d rather be.

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

There are so many great places to take a first-time visitor to our State. A walk around the campus of the University of Kansas (my alma mater!), the Flint Hills, the Kansas Cosmosphere and the salt mines in Hutchinson all immediately come to mind.

But there’s also the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays and the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield. So many great attractions that make Kansas such a special place.

At the Kansas Book Festival with Mary Brownback.

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?

Many of my answers for this question could overlap with the question above. If you’ve grown up in Kansas, you’ve surely had a tour of the State Capitol. But with the recent renovations, that is definitely a site that you’ll want to plan to visit again; it’s absolutely beautiful.

If you’ve never been to Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Wichita or the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure in Salina, those are a couple of the more unique zoo experiences that you’ll find in this area.

Finally, most Kansans get a good laugh out of the fact that we’re home to several “world’s largest” sites but if you haven’t seen it before, the world’s largest hand dug well in Greensburg really is quite the sight.

What makes Kansas special for you?

Many of my fondest memories have taken place in Kansas. Having spent the majority of my life here, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. This is home.

Don’t miss the sandhill crane migration at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Conard

Sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Conard

From around Valentine’s Day to April Fool’s Day – the cranes come through Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Recent sightings at the refuge have included sandhill cranes in the thousands on the west side of Big Salt Marsh.

Kansas is a part of the “central flyway” – a migratory route for a variety of birds between Canada and Central America and the marshes and wetlands of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge provide an ideal resting and refueling spot.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Some crane facts

Sandhill cranes are passing through Kansas on their way north to breed from their southern wintering locales.  The birds, which can be 3-4 feet tall, gather in large groups during migration — strength in numbers.

At night, the waters and marshes are an ideal resting spot as any predator coming upon them will disturb the water, notifying the cranes that danger is near.

If you see two flying together, it’s likely a mated pair. If it’s three together, it’s likely to be a family group — juvenile cranes will stick with Mom and Dad for the first 10 months or so.

They can be noisy birds with distinct calls — rattling bugling type sounds that can be heard up to a mile away. Click to listen to them here.

They mate for life, which can be 20 years. Mate selection happens after courtship in the form of dancing — leaping, bobbing their heads, displaying their wings. One example is a male will fling a piece of grass or vegetation into the air as if to say “Look at me, choose me, I can build a good nest.”

They also have distinct “displays” and you can tell from their body language what they’re trying to say. Bowing, stretching their necks, jumping – each display communicates something unique.

Stop by Quivira National Wildlife Refuge — the Big Salt Marsh is one of the best places to see the cranes. It’s open daily from 1.5 hours before sunrise to 1.5 hours after sunset.

Trail Profile: South Mound Trails

Trail Profile: South Mound Trails

“And when in the great future of the matchless State, farm shall be added to farm, and town to town, and the great cities of the future shall have come, the mounds shall still stand and still keep silent watch over the noble landscape forever beneath their feet.” -William G. Cutler 1883

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View from South Mound

One of the most striking natural landmarks in Wilson County are the Twin Mounds which rise up to an elevation of over 1,000 feet to tower over the surrounding plains.  Noted by William G. Cutler in his 1883 “History of Kansas”, early hikers were said to take a “well-worn path” to the summit and upon reaching the pinnacle can see “unrolled before him one of the finest sights of the new world. Southward runs the somber timber lines which mark the course of Fall River. Westward lies the second mound and between the fertile fields to the far north can be seen the fringe of the Verdigris”

The mounds still keep watch over Fredonia and present a sweeping view of the Fall River valley. The South Mound is now graced by a picnic area, playground, observation tower, and what appears to be the largest American flag west of the Verdigris. Through the work of the Kansas Trails Council and the Cultivate Fredonia Healthy Living Action Team, the South Mound also regained a short trail network that allows hiker and bikers to explore the rocky wooded areas along the rim and steep slopes of the mound.

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Flag & playground on the South Mound

In a patriotic spirit, the trail network is christened the “Old Glory Trail” and trail segments include the 0.34 mile Liberty Trail which traverses the rim of the mound, and a slightly longer loop trail lower on the hillside known as the Freedom Trail.  Both trails have a natural surface and the upper trail offers sweeping views off the side of the mound and some fun rocks and boulders for a little off-trail scrambling. Check out the map below for the trail location and route options.

Our Sunflower Journeys episode premieres 11/10/16

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Our segment with Sunflower Journeys was filmed in August at the Konza Prairie, and it will premiere at the end of the Recreation episode that’s airing on 11/10/16 – episode 8 of Sunflower Journey’s 29th season.

About Sunflower Journeys: Kansas’ longest running local history program, KTWU’s Sunflower Journeys, travels the highways to bring Kansas stories home to viewers. And now, there are various ways you can see KTWU programming. Sunflower Journeys airs three times a week on KTWU. Thursday at 8 PM, Friday at 2:30pm, Saturday at 5:30PM and the following Wednesday on KTWU’s Enhance channel at 7:30pm. Sunflower Journeys also airs on KCPT in Kansas City, KPTS in Wichita, and Smoky Hills Public Television in the western part of the state. Check local listings for airtimes on those stations.

 

Tour the Capitol Dome

Of the 50 states, Kansas is the only one with a capitol dome where visitors can climb all the way to the top and go outside, 10 feet or so beneath the bronze statue of a Kansa warrior that tops the 304 feet tall dome. Oh, and that 304 feet places it 16 feet taller than the United States Capitol dome.

It’s 296 steps all the way up, though this is broken into parts where you can turn around if it’s becoming a bit too much. For the first few stops, you’re headed along stairs hugging the wall. The last 100 or so steps take you up into the middle of the dome, up into the small cupola, and then out onto a circular walkway.

And yes, it’s a bit nerve wracking if you’re scared of heights (as I am!) as you head away from the wall and into the middle, but I made it through, so I’m sure you can.

Tip – If you go in fall, the changing colors of the trees will make the panoramic view even more stunning.

A Kansas State Historical Society volunteer will take you up and give you some information. You start out on the fifth floor and get info about the restored frescoes (one of the state’s first “selfies” can be found in them!). Then you head up to above the interior dome and get a view of the steps up into the unfinished part of the dome.

The dome itself was a part of a nearly $325 million revamp of the statehouse completed in 2014.

If you go:

Cost: Free!

When: Tours are run by the Kansas State Historical Society Monday through Friday: 9:15, 10:15, 11:15 a.m., 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15 p.m. If it’s too hot, they’ll cancel the tours as the dome itself isn’t air conditioned. Not sure if it’s cancelled if/when it’s too cold…

Where: 300 SW 10th St, Topeka, KS 66612. Visitor’s entrance is on the ground level, North Wing, on 8th Avenue. Parking information here.

More info: Kansas State Historical Society, 785-296-3966

Flint Hills Nature Trail Challenge On The Verge of Completion!

Flint Hills Nature Trail

Flint Hills Nature Trail near Council Grove

Our challenge to thru-hike the Flint Hills Nature Trail has been accepted, and is on the verge of being completed! Follow the final legs of the trip on the Kanza Rail Trails Conservancy Facebook Group. We’ll post a complete story as soon as the journey is completed, cheer on Maggie Reather as she hikes on towards Council Grove! #FHNT

Kansas Chocolate Festival in Topeka

A delicious day is coming your way in Topeka on September 24

kansaschocolatefestivallogo_rendered_3f539611-cee1-4104-8a90-f41be5bf4e9eStart the day at 8am with the 12th annual Winged Foot 5k/10k run and 4k walk. Once you’ve finished the race, you’ll get some chocolate treats to keep you going the rest of the day!

From 10am to 5pm, wander along Kansas Avenue to find food trucks (all of which will have at least one specialty item featuring chocolate), live music, and vendors. Watch demonstrations of taffy pulling, chocolate clay, and fudge.

On the main stage, presentations throughout the day will give information on where chocolate comes from, a history of chocolate, pairing chocolate with other foods and spices, and more.

On the Statehouse lawn in the evening, you can watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring the late Gene Wilder.

If you want to show off your cooking skills and get a chance to win $300 – enter the Kansas Chocolate Competition.

Get more details and information about the schedule of events here.