Brownback lauds progress in Flint Hills at 3rd summit

By Katherine Wartell

Gov. Sam Brownback made his way to Rock Springs 4-H Center near Junction City on Friday for the third Governor’s Flint Hills Visioning Summit, where the topic of the day was the Kansas economy and job creation in the region.

Brownback spoke at the summit and expressed his pleasure with progress in the Flint Hills, which has included the Kansas River being named a national water trail. The designation, which took place in July 2012, is believed by officials to be an impetus for encouraging tourism and preservation efforts in the area. Officials at the summit said it was the second such designation in the country.

“It is fabulous what is happening in the Kansas Flint Hills,” Brownback said.

Presently, he said, the water trail through the Flint Hills is 65 miles long and growing, and the ultimate goal is for the trail to reach from Herington to St. Louis, Mo.

The opportunities it presents for tourists include water sports and outdoor exercise and recreation.

Brownback also said he was pleased to see the return of two American Indian nations that once inhabited the region, the Kaw and the Osage, and their plans to put roots down in the area once again.

He told the gathered crowd that he looks forward to presenting the Flint Hills through their eyes.

“(There is) this energy of tourism connecting with the natural heritage,” he said.

Brownback’s address lasted approximately 20 minutes and included the recognition of several key people involved with the designation of the Kansas River Water Trail, including the Friends of the Kaw.

In a light-hearted moment, Brownback pulled Manhattan-area resident and designated “Poet Lariat” Ron Wilson to the stage so Wilson could recite a piece from his collection of cowboy poetry.

Brownback also appointed singer Annie Wilson, who has written 40 songs about life in Kansas, as Flint Hills Balladeer. Wilson had welcomed summit-goers into the auditorium for Brownback’s address with her song “Clean Curve of Hill against Sky.”

The summit took place at Rock Springs 4-H Center south of Junction City and lasted for much of the day. It followed two previous summits held in May 2011 and January 2012, and officials said the intent of the summits is to use input from attending stakeholders to help advance strategies for the Flint Hills region.

They are another step toward creating thriving and sustainable rural communities throughout the Flint Hills, officials said.

The day, which began at 9 a.m., was filled with workshops on promoting local economies and included talks on how businesses can use social media and ways agricultural products can be branded and promoted using the Flint Hills name.

Robin Jennison, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, attended the summit, as did Assistant Secretary Linda Craghead.

Craghead said it was the largest summit to date with about 200 people in attendance.

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