If you’re cruising down Interstate 35 at 75 mph, you’ll zip through miles and miles of Kansas’ celebrated tallgrass prairie. But you don’t have much of a chance to stop and take it all in.
That could change. The Kansas Turnpike Authority is considering building a scenic outlook along I-35 in the Flint Hills.
Although construction tentatively wouldn’t start until spring 2015, the spot would finally give drivers the opportunity to hop out of their cars and gaze at the Flint Hills.
Rachel Bell, marketing and communications director with the Kansas Turnpike Authority, said the stop would be the first of its kind for the turnpike.
“They’ll be able to potentially get out of their vehicles and stand in the Kansas wind and get a clearer picture of what living in Kansas is like,” she said.
Bell said plans for what the outlook might look like and cost estimates would solidify in the next few months. The project also needs approval from the turnpike authority’s board.
The turnpike authority is looking at improvements to on and off ramps south of Emporia that primarily serve cattle owners. Cattle are brought into the area in the spring to graze, then are picked back up in the fall.
When the work is done, the improved ramps would serve truck traffic and travelers pulling off into the scenic area. Those ramp changes would provide an opportunity to put in the scenic area as an additional project.
Over the years, Bell has heard people say the turnpike is the primary way they can see the stretch of prairie that runs through the eastern half of Kansas.
Suzan Barnes of the Flint Hills Tourism Coalition describes a sense of peace that comes over people who see the Flint Hills, herself included. That strong emotion factored into her decision to open the Grand Central Hotel in Cottonwood Falls — she knew it would draw people in.
“It’s so beautiful to look across the Flint Hills and see nothing but rolling hills,” she said.
Linda Craghead, assistant secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said she’s had people ask her about creating a place like the outlook.
She pointed out that the majority of the property in the Flint Hills is privately owned, which means travelers have limited opportunities to see the area. She also noted that if the project comes to fruition, it has the potential to further education about the tallgrass prairie.
Bill Haw, who bought and restored the Livestock Exchange Building in Kansas City, owns a considerable amount of land in the area and said the scenic area would overlook his property. He said he thought the spot was one of the most scenic areas in the Flint Hills, and he wanted people to have the opportunity to enjoy the view there.
“I think Kansans and many Kansas Citians really believe the Flint Hills are an important heritage for Kansas,” he said.
Although it can be tough to gauge people’s interest because the overview hasn’t been publicized yet, Barnes said she thought the project was a great idea.
“There’s a very strong pull for people to learn about the Flint Hills,” she said.
Fred Goss, director of the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kan., said people are often amazed by the wide-open spaces of the tallgrass prairie.
“It’s really a point of pride for the state of Kansas,” he said.
Goss said he knew of a couple of scenic outlooks in the Flint Hills, and said the new one would be good way to introduce people to the landscape.
“Anything that helps us do that is a plus,” he said.