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


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.

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 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.

Endangered ecosystem: Kansas prairie

Konza Prairie. Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Konza Prairie. Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Along with individual species, ecosystems themselves can be at risk. One of the rarest is the prairie in Kansas.

Once it spread over 170 million acres from north into present day Canada and south into Texas and east of the Mississippi to the Rockies. 1% of that prairie is left, much of the tallgrass prairie is in the Flint Hills, since it was too rocky to plow under, it was protected.

It’s a uniquely North American ecosystem, and from the shortgrass prairie closer to the western edge of the state to the tallgrass prairie in the eastern edge, the prairie is home to dozens of types of grasses, hundreds of types of flowers, and these grasses once fed hundreds upon hundreds of bison, antelope, and deer.

Fire helps form the prairie by burning out the woodier vegetation, and burns were started naturally by lightning or by Native Americans. Today, conservationists still work to preserve the prairie by burning it.

One of the success stories of prairie conservation is the Kansas tallgrass prairie. 80% of the world’s remaining tallgrass prairie land is in Kansas, and the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance brings together private landowners, government agencies, and conservationists to help learn more about, protect, and expand the resource that is the prairie ecosystem.

For more information on the tallgrass prairie, visit the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. To check out the shortgrass prairie, visit Smoky Valley Ranch or Cimarron National Grassland in western Kansas.

Or consider making your yard into a prairie. It takes less water and it provides the natural beauty of swaying grasses and wildflowers.

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 --

Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush —

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 --

Reverie in Wichita. Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush —

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.

Kansas’ top 10 trails: Which is your favorite?

June 7 is national trails day. In celebration and as a preview to part of the book, on schedule for publication next spring!, here are our top 10 trails in the state.

Which is your favorite Kansas trail? Let us know in the comments below!

Cedar Bluff State Park– Agave Ridge Nature Trail – Northwest

Elk City State Park – Elk River Hiking Trail – Southeast

Kanopolis Lake – Horsethief Canyon Trail – North central

Konza Prairie – Kings Creek Loop – North-Central

Shawnee Mission Park trails

Shawnee Mission Park trails

Lake Scott State Park – Hike, Bike, Bridle Trail – Southwest

Perry Lake – National Recreational Trail – Northeast

Prairie Spirit Trail and Southwind Rail Trail – Ottawa to Humboldt

Shawnee Mission Park – Orange, Violet, and Red Trails – Kansas City

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve – Scenic Overlook Trail – South-Central

Wilson Lake – Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail – North-Central

25th anniversary celebration for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas

25th anniversary celebration for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas

This Saturday, June 7, The Nature Conservancy marks its 25th year of working in Kansas. To celebrate, they’re hosting an anniversary event at Smoky Valley Ranch.

Cretaceous Formations

Cretaceous Formations

If you’ve never been to Smoky Valley Ranch, you should check it out. Yes, it’s seemingly in the middle of nowhere in western Kansas, but it has some of the coolest geologic formations in the state – its Cretaceous formations are unexpected and impressive out on the short grass prairie.

For the anniversary event: “The event’s activities include a driving tour that will feature how the Conservancy’s long-term management makes the ranch into a model of shortgrass prairie conservation. Tour participants will also discuss how the ranch has been a site for several research projects.

Other activities include a hike that will take visitors to scenic and diverse sites on the ranch and presentations about the history of the ranch, including the role of Native Americans and bison.”

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

At Smoky Valley Ranch, The Nature Conservancy in Kansas was instrumental in reintroducing the endangered black footed ferret back to Kansas. The organization also helps protect and care for the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, one of the world’s last swathes of tallgrass prairie, and for Cheyenne Bottoms, one of the state’s and arguably the country’s most important wetlands along the Central Flyway that’s used for migratory birds.

The Nature Conservancy in Kansas also helps give information and support to landowners who want to work on conservation issues to ensure the health and beauty of the state’s natural wonders.

What’s so special about Kansas: Interview with William Least Heat-Moon

Whatever else prairie is—grass, sky, wind—it is most of all a paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power comes from its apparent limitlessness; there is no such thing as a small prairie any more than there is a little ocean, and the consequence of both is this challenge: try to take yourself seriously out here, you bipedal plodder, you complacent cartoon.

William Least Heat-Moon, PrairyErth

We have to admit, that we have used this series on the site as an excuse and reason to reach out to some of our favorite authors. We heard back from Rolf Potts and Marci Penner, and now, we’re honored that we got some face time, or rather Facebook time, with William Least-Heat Moon.

To start with, yes, we know he lives in Missouri, but he spent a great deal of time in Kansas researching his book PrairyErth: A Deep Map, and he’s an advocate for the prairie and the small town.

He’s written extensively about America and its landscapes in books like Blue Highways: A Journey into America, where he writes of checking out the back roads of the country after his divorce and in River-Horse: The Logbook of a Boat Across America, sets off aboard a small boat named Nikawa (“river horse” in Osage) from the Atlantic at New York Harbor in hopes of entering the Pacific near Astoria, Oregon.

His work isn’t just about travel within America; his most recent book Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road is a collection of his selections of his best shorter travel stories.

His insightful, thoughtful writing paints the pictures of lives and places that may be far beyond our own experience, but he brings them close and takes us with him on his journeys. His writing is intensely good and will stay with you.

Deep in working on his own book, and not knowing us beyond our cautious request that he write the foreword for our book, he graciously answered a few questions for us.

Kansas Trail Guide: You wrote PrairyErth, an in-depth book on Chase County, Kansas, which is situated in the Flint Hills. Part of the area has been set aside as a national preserve. Why do you think that the Flint Hills ecosystem is an area worth protecting?

Heat-Moon: It’s the American uniqueness of the tallgrass prairie and its rarity today.

[Kansas Trail Guide: The tallgrass prairie is at 4% of what it once was, and one of its largest intact swathes is in the Flint Hills. Thanks to the underlying rock, it’s a landscape that is unfarmable, and so was saved from being plowed under, but there has been a switch, it seems, from seeing the land as useless to a unique ecosystem.]

Kansas Trail Guide: What do you think is the appeal of a landscape like the Flint Hills that some may think is uninteresting or uninspiring compared to mountain or beach landscapes?

Heat-Moon: The tall prairie asks people to look more closely and deeply (hence the subtitle of PRAIRYERTH–“A Deep Map.”)

Kansas Trail Guide: In our upcoming trail guidebook, we’re focusing on the trails that can be accessed on foot, on a bike, or on a horse as compared to any highways or byways, forcing people to slow down to experience the area.

What value, if any, do you see in getting off the paved sidewalks and onto trails through the woods and the prairies?

Heat-Moon: Our human origins do not lie along sidewalks and paved surfaces; rather they lie where living things arise from soil and water.

Kansas Trail Guide: Your writing has focused around traveling, often more slowly than most people travel. Do you have another big trip in the works? Or one that you’re working on writing up?

Heat-Moon: My days of writing about long travels are likely at my back now. I hope now to look more closely at what I find on the little place in the woods where I live.

[Kansas Trail Guide: We’re looking forward to reading more from him.]

What’s so special about Kansas: Interview with Marci Penner

People are missing a lot if they don’t spend time in Kansas, especially if they like hiking, eating in locally-owned cafes, finding architectural gems, running in to grassroots art.  There are so many excellent things about Kansas but a person has to do a little exploring.

For the second in our What’s so special about Kansas series, the first interview was with Rolf Potts, we reached out to Marci Penner. Award-winner for tourism promotion and being an all around great leader for the state of Kansas, she wrote the 8 Wonders of Kansas guidebook and is updating the Kansas Guidebook for Explorers. She kindly wrote a foreword for our upcoming trail guidebook, and she’s getting geared up for this year’s Kansas Sampler Festival.

Kansas Trail Guide: You and your father founded the Kansas Sampler Foundation, which puts on the Kansas Sampler Festival, and you’re currently the director – can you give an overview of the event for those who may not have been of it before?

festivallogo2Penner: We are in our 25th year of the Kansas Sampler Festival.  It started out as a book signing party for our first Kansas Weekend Guide and turned into a full-fledged festival to provide the public a sample of what there is to see, do, hear, taste, buy, and learn in Kansas.  It was held on our farm near Inman for eight years and now the event moves around the state.

The Kansas Sampler Foundation was started in 1993 to help preserve and sustain rural culture.  We educate Kansans about Kansas, like with our guidebooks, the festival, the Kansas Explorers Club, e-blasts, and programs

WenDee LaPlant, assistant director, and I are currently going to every incorporated city in Kansas again to research for the update to Kansas Guidebook for Explorers.  It’s due out in early 2016.  It takes awhile to go to 626 towns!

The Foundation also works to network and support rural communities.  We do things like the Big Rural Brainstorm, We Kan! Conference, the PowerUp Movement, Rural Kansas: Come & Get It ( and many other things.

Kansas Trail Guide: When and where is this year’s Kansas Sampler Festival, and what can people expect if they visit?

Penner: This year’s Kansas Sampler Festival will be held in Wamego’s City Park on Saturday, May 3 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) and Sunday, May 4 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.).  $5 adult admission, $3 for kids 7-12.  You’ll find representatives from 150 Kansas communities on the grounds to help you know about everything from trails to restaurants, historic sites to events.  Kansas musicians, historic performers, photographers, and entrepreneurs will be there along with a kangaroo, packgoats, Mammoth Donkeys, and a Kansas fish aquarium.  Come buy, sample Kansas wines and microbrews, or just enjoy the entertainment.  In one weekend you’ll get a year’s worth of day trip ideas.

Kansas Trail Guide: You’ve written some guidebooks of your own for Kansas – what place do you feel a trail guidebook would fit into the mix of information out there about Kansas?

Penner: A trail guidebook will be an awesome addition for glove compartments, coffee tables, and backpacks.  You’ve done a great job finding all the trails and going to them so you could deliver firsthand information.  I’m so excited about your book.  The diversity, quality, and even number of trails in this state are overlooked.  We appreciate you drawing attention to one of our best assets!

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?

Marci Penner on the trail

Marci Penner on the trail

Penner: I really love the trails at Cross Timbers State Lake in Woodson County.  You almost feel like you are in a different state with all the rock and woods but this is Kansas, too!

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

Penner: As Jason Probst says, “Kansas is in the details.”  You have to want to get to know Kansas and when you’ve come to that point then the state becomes a huge playground with infinite nooks and crannies to explore.  Until you are willing to get to know the state there will be misconceptions between east and west, between urban and rural, between young and old.

The joy is when you toss aside expectations and judgments and just get out there to meet people for who they are and try to understand each place for what it is.

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

Penner: First we have to change the minds of Kansans.  Once we are proud of our own state then attitudes will start to change everywhere.  Guidebooks like yours and photography that is shared online are two good ways to help reset the way people see Kansas.  People are missing a lot if they don’t spend time in Kansas, especially if they like hiking, eating in locally-owned cafes, finding architectural gems, running in to grassroots art.  There are so many excellent things about Kansas but a person has to do a little exploring.

Kansas Trail Guide: Some Kansas natives think of Kansas as a place to move away from once they’re old enough or after college – what would you say to change their minds?

Penner: I don’t think it’s our job to convince them.  I think it’s our job to work daily at making Kansas a place that is vital to young people.  The first step is to enlist the young people that are here and to make sure their voice is heard in discussions about sustaining communities.  I’m all for young people going out to see the world and then if they want to come back to Kansas we’re better off with all the experience they bring with them.  There are many things we can do to make our state a great place to live for all ages.

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

Penner: One of my favorite images is sitting on the porch of my barn house and watching an electrical storm sweep across the sky.  The vast horizon is the pallet for those huge lightning strikes that run across the sky.. and then it all goes pitch dark until the next one erupts.  Sometime we get lucky when a rainbow shows up the next morning. It’s all in the details.