Kansas hops aboard rail trail development as boost to tourism industry

Linda Craghead, KDWPT assistant secretary of parks and tourism, speaks to members of KRTC Saturday about rail-trail development in Kansas and how it augments the state’s tourism industry.

OSAGE CITY – Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy held its annual meeting Nov. 23 at the Osage County Senior Center, Osage City, with more than 60 people in attendance. Linda Craghead, Kansas Department Wildlife Parks and Tourism assistant secretary of parks and tourism, was the keynote speaker for the event. She spoke about growth of the tourism industry in Kansas, and how it coincides with the planned development of the Flint Hills Nature Trail with $2.4 million in federal and state grants announced earlier this year.

Craghead said tourism is the third largest industry in the state, and the Flint Hills and Flint Hills Nature Trail are the types of attractions that will bring people to Kansas. She said outdoor recreation is something Kansas has that tourists want to experience, and it requires minimal investment in infrastructure.

“If there’s anything that will bring people to Kansas, it is outdoor tourism,” she said. “It’s a great way to attract business to your community.”

 Craghead said people from outside of Kansas are surprised at what the state has to offer once they’re here. She said 80 percent of Americans have never seen the Milky Way and most have never experienced the tallgrass prairie or farm life.

“It’s just about getting out there to experience it,” she said. “We really are the heart of America.

“We just need to tell them, we have to tell them what we have to offer is something really special.”

Craghead applauded the work of the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, which has been developing the Flint Hills Nature Trail and the Landon Nature Trail for a number of years.

“I know what you guys have done hasn’t been easy,” Craghead said. “There’s been a lot of roadblocks, a lot of tractor blocks. But you guys continue to persevere.”

She said the best way to complete the trail is by working as a team. Noting the support of Governor Sam Brownback and KDWPT Secretary Robin Jennison for trail development as a tourism draw, “it takes a team to make things happen.”

“Our governor is an avid supporter of what you do,” Craghead said.

“All of the communities along the way, all of the landowners along the way … all of these people can be on the team,” she said. “We need to continue to move beyond the differences we have and work toward the things we have in common.”

She said the trail “is going to help every community along that trail to become successful.”

“Your local leaders and legislators, we need to let them know how important tourism is for the state of Kansas,” she said.

In addition to the state’s involvement in development of the Flint Hills Nature Trail, Craghead said a statewide rails to trails plan is being developed. Plans are also in the works for organizing a state foundation to recruit donors to help develop state parks and other attractions.

Craghead reported that a design firm, RDG, and engineering firm, Cook Flat and Strobel, had been selected to head the planning for development of the Flint Hills Nature Trail. Scott Allen, KRTC president, noted earlier announcements that the $2.4 million grant would complete the trail were not entirely accurate. KRTC had estimated that the funds would complete the trail if only volunteer labor was used, but state and federal involvement requires engineering and bidding of projects, adding to costs.

The amount to be completed, Allen said, “is as far as the money goes on the Flint Hills Nature Trail.”

Craghead confirmed that volunteers would continue as a part of the trail development team, in part to help lower expenses.

Representatives from the design and engineering firms spoke about the schedule for building the trail. Opportunities for public input will happen early next year, with a goal to have designs developed by June and possible construction commencement by September.

Also at the meeting, KRTC honored KDWPT and Brownback for their support of the Flint Hills Nature Trail, presenting the Rusty Spike Award to Craghead on their behalf. Friend of the Trail awards were also given to Richard Porter, of Porter Cattle Company, of Miller, who has mowed a section of trail from Osage City to Bushong, and Mike Kuhn, who has helped maintain the trail near Admire, where he operates The Last Chance Café.

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Scott Allen, president of KRTC, left, presents a Friend of the Trail Award to Richard Porter, of Porter Cattle Company, of Miller, for his dedication in maintaining a section of trail from Osage City to Bushong.

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Mike Kuhn, who has helped maintain the Flint Hills Nature Trail near Admire, where he operates The Last Chance Café, was honored with a Friend of the Trail Award during Saturday’s KRTC annual banquet.

See story about the $2.4 million federal and state grants here.

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