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History, whimsy are waiting to be discovered in Concordia, Belleville

By Megan Moser

NOTE: This piece is the second in a series of four weekend getaways outside of the Manhattan area.

Some places open themselves up for visitors; others take a little work to discover.

The town of Concordia, for instance, has a motto: “We build community!” Its online presence seems to support that. While it has a modern and well-developed website for its 5,400 residents, the links for visitors lead to blank pages.

Perhaps that’s why the city and others in the area — Belleville, Clay Center, Clyde and Clifton — are sometimes overlooked on the tourist circuit. They’re too busy building community to promote themselves to outsiders.

But that’s not such a bad thing for prospective visitors. You’ll just need to hunt to find their treasures, which include whimsical museums, historic sites, great parks and a few fancy theaters. Oh, also, you can literally hunt for treasure — or at least do its modern equivalent, geocaching. Cloud County alone boasts more than 75 caches.

The attractions on this itinerary would be great for families, but they would appeal to anyone who likes fun. Make a whole weekend out of it or drive up and back in one jam-packed day. Either way you’re sure to discover something new.

Friday

Concordia is about 80 miles north and west of Manhattan, and the charming town of Belleville is 18 miles beyond that.

If you’re leaving in the evening, give yourself time to stop at Leonardville and eat at Nelson’s Landing, a popular spot owned by the family of former K-State football standout Jordy Nelson. You can look at the sizeable menu, but what you really want is the chicken-fried steak ($12.59). It threatens to overtake the plate, but is nonetheless served with gravy, potato, vegetables, a roll and a side salad. If you can manage, finish the meal with a slice of homemade pie. If you want to watch sports while you eat, this is the place to do it.

Head toward Clay Center. On the way, stop in Miltonvale at Grassland Gardens, a nursery and flower farm that specializes in ornamental grasses and dried arrangements (call for hours). Afterward, if you have children along, play at Tootleville, a playground made as a community projects by Miltonvale residents. It has a terrific wooden ship, train and play buildings. For the older visitors, it offers a disc golf course that will take you down along a creek.

Past Clay Center, you can take two routes: either continue west on US-24 and then take US-81 north; or take K-15 north and then K-9 west. I prefer the latter because it goes through the tiny towns of Clyde and Clifton.

In Clifton, pull over for the run-down Old West town on its main street. One of the buildings was made to look as if an airplane crashed into its roof. Years ago, someone bought the town and put it there as a marketing gimmick, but apparently it didn’t work too well. The town was sold again last year.

Stop for the night at the Clyde Hotel, a small inn built in 1870 ($55-$65) or go on to Concordia, where there are a number of decent chain hotels. If you want something that gets you away from it all, though, try Marshview Log Cabin Retreat, 20 miles from Concordia, which offers a one-bedroom bed-and-breakfast experience ($135) or a three-bedroom lodge for rent.

 

Saturday

In the morning, get a jump on the day with coffee at Jitters in Concordia. Try any number of espresso-based drinks, then sip it next to the stone fireplace. Jitters also offers a variety of sandwiches and lunch items.

Head down the street to the beautiful Brown Grand Theatre. The 650-seat French Renaissance-style theatre, which has two balcony levels, was completed in 1907 by Napoleon Bonaparte Brown.

The theater is undergoing a back-stage facelift, so it’s not having any productions in the near future, but you can look around at the fine architectural details and turn-of-the-century play posters. Self-guided tours are $2; guided tours are $5. Open Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Next, check out the National Orphan Train Museum, which documents the late 1800s initiative to disperse an abundance of orphaned or neglected children from New York and other east coast cities by train to foster and adoptive families in the west. The museum is in the old train station, and kids are likely to find this bit of history about people their age more interesting than the typical museum, especially when they see the haunting photos of orphan train riders printed on the building’s window shades.

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children. It’s open Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Also stop by the Nazareth Convent and Academy, the motherhouse and home for the 260 Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. The stately red-brick complex, which is visible from almost any point in town, was built in 1903 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Tours by appointment only.

If you have time, visit Camp Concordia, a WWII-era German prisoner-of-war internment camp outside of town. It was in operation from 1943 to 1945 and held more than 4,000 Germans.

For lunch, stop at Heavy’s BBQ. Start with the Peach Jalapeno Cream Cheese Torte, $6.49, followed by your choice of ribs: Pineapple Sticky Ribs, Jamaican Jerk or blackened Argentinian, $15.99.

Next, drive to Belleville, a charming little place with plenty for kids and adults.

Start out at the Paul Boyer Museum of Moving Carvings. Boyer spent more than 40 years creating these folksy, whimsical moving scenes that operate with a complex network of gears and wires. Open Wednesday through Saturday 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $5.

Next, don’t miss The Feathered Nest, a deceptively large store that would be at home in Kansas City or Denver. It’s full of home goods, kitchen items, bags and other accessories, and even a coffee bar.

But if some in your party prefers shopping that’s less domestic, send them over to Otter Creek Hunting Co., which stocks a variety of outdoor and hunting gear.

Next, relax with a round of bowling at Belleville Lanes.  Grab dinner at El Puerto Mexican Restaurant or Dinner Bell Cafe, which serves typical diner fare.

Wrap up the evening with a movie at the historic Blair Theatre, built in 1928. It typically has showings at 3, 7 and 9 p.m. on Saturdays. Check its Facebook page for special events.

 

Sunday

If the weather cooperates, spend your Sunday with a treasure-hunting adventure in the great outdoors.

For geocaching, all you need is a GPS device or GPS app on a smart phone. Do an internet search for existing caches on a website such as http://www.geocaching.com. There are dozens in the Concordia area. The listing will give the coordinates for the cache and any necessary hints. Then just use your GPS to find the spot.

Typically, geocachers leave a box or other receptacle containing trinkets (that’s the treasure) and a log for people to sign. When you find a cache, just take the trinket, leave one of your own and sign the log.

Once cache east of Concordia listed on the site will lead you to a beautiful stone arch bridge. It’s a nice, short walk along the riverbed.

But before you leave town, don’t miss Concordia’s Whole Wall Mural, the longest sculpted brick mural in the country and the largest piece of public art in Kansas.

And finally, as you head back toward Manhattan, you might want to plan a stop at the LCL Buffalo Ranch and Heritage Museum near Clifton.

Visits are by appointment only (call 785-455-3707), but you might catch a glimpse of the herd just by driving past.









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