Being in the Kansas tourism business must take a type of patience or resilience that I’ll certainly never have. “There’s nothing to do there”; “it’s so flat”; or my personal favorite: “Did you see Dorothy?” are all common quips when the average American talks about visiting the sunflower state.
Not surprising – the average American is fairly ignorant when it comes to midwest travel. “Flyover Country” as it’s often called, has quite a few gems and Manhattan, Kansas is one of them. It’s a fun college town where the sprawling Kansas State University campus has a significant presence and the area prides itself as a gateway to the Flint Hills region of the midwest.
The Flint Hills Discovery Center is the unmistakable landmark visitors first see as they drive into town. The museum features interactive exhibits and a 4-D movie experience to school travelers on all things “tallgrass”. The Flint Hills region is a relatively skinny section of land that stretches from around eastern Kansas down south to north central Oklahoma.
So what’s the big deal about grass? At one point, most of the midwest was covered in a tall, towering grass – something you can witness first hand while visiting Manhattan. Over time, farmers and animals cleared much of the grass – mostly through plowing fields to grow crops. What once covered millions of acres of land is now reduced to just four percent of what it used to be at its peak.
The Flint Hills was largely spared because much of the region is difficult or even impossible to plow due to the bedrock just below the surface.
After spending some time at the Flint Hills Discovery Center, it’s a no-brainer to venture out and experience the tallgrass in-person. In less than ten minutes you can drive from the museum’s parking lot to the Konza Prairie’s hiking trails to soak up the beautiful scenery. There are various hikes and a semi-strenuous jaunt to the top of a hill for unobstructed views of the region. Bring some water along and wear comfortable shoes. (Nothing reminds you that you’re out of shape quite like dozens of steps made of stone.)
After you finish hiking, head back into town to discover all that Manhattan has to offer. From its historic downtown to a cool neighborhood of restaurants and bars dubbed “Aggieville” – you’re likely to find yourself surprised that you were completely wrong about Kansas.
For other things to see and experience in Manhattan you can visit the city’s tourism website: manhattancvb.org
To learn more about the Flint Hills Discovery Center: flinthillsdiscovery.org