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Internet, transit top priorities at meeting

Flint Hills groups discuss what’s things are most important to the region

By Brady Bauman

If the state and federal government ran more like Thursday night’s joint Flint Hills Regional Council and Flint Hills Frontiers workshop, it’s safe to assume our representatives would be talking about solutions more than problems.

That was the theme of last night’s meeting at Sunset Zoo: solutions.

More than 50 people — elected and ordinary citizens alike —brainstormed ideas to improve the Flint Hills region and make it an attractive destination for visitors and future residents.

Flint Hills Frontiers has conducted meetings all over the region, with previous stops in Council Grove, Emporia and as far south as Pawhuska, Okla.

“It’s all a part of a process,” FHRC regional planner Jeff Adams said. “We came with a vision and now we’ve narrowed it down to goals in different areas.”

The workshop broke down areas to brainstorm into seven categories: natural systems, cultural systems, social systems, farming and ranching, opportunity and economy, mobility and transportation, and built environment.

Attendees separated into four groups to rank what issues mattered to them most. Each table had a big board with ideas from previous Flint Hills Frontiers meetings posted under each of the seven categories.

Participants were then asked to rank their top five ideas of importance wearing different hats, such as that of an elected official, a business owner, a tourist, and a resident — just to name a few.

For some groups, a reliable and fast high-speed Internet network was important to both business and visitors. For others, scenic bike paths and hiking trails around the Flint Hills found enthusiasm. One group cited improved transit options as crucial across the board, along with reaching out to rural communities that are losing common services bigger cities take for granted.

Many ideas overlapped across all the tables.

At one table, Craig Phillips, a self-described Flint Hills resident, thought the area’s heritage should be better marketed.

“Seems like people not from here who come to Kansas always mention wanting to see cowboys and Indians,” he joked.

It’s not an idea totally out of left field, as Adams told the group at the top of the night the Flint Hills region is home to the Kaw, Osage and Pottawatomie American Indian tribes.

At the end of the brainstorming session each group shared with the entire group what ideas were discussed.

Manhattan city commissioner Rich Jankovich spoke for his table and mentioned the importance of education and services for the elderly.

Earlier in the night it was mentioned that state is losing population in two distinct age groups: the youth and elderly.

“When you look at what’s important to various different areas in the Flint Hills region, schools are critical,” he said. “If you don’t have good schools people aren’t going to stay.

“And if you don’t have high-speed Internet you’re dead. Your business community is gone, and schools aren’t able to keep up.

“If you saw the graphic, the aging are moving away because they are unable to achieve or retain the types of services they need as they grow older. If we improve the transit system, it will allow them to stay where they are and still get to the services they need to get to.”

Susan Jagerson from the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce spoke for her table and also cited improving internet capabilities and the marketing and branding of the area.

“Infrastructure of the cities and towns were important to us, and the Internet is important (with marketing) whether you’re a resident or a visitor,” she said. “Conservation programs are also important for both the youth and the elderly, and we thought an education program about the Flint Hills could be useful.”

Overall, the night seemed to be another roll of the growing snowball for partnerships and collaboration in the region to make the Flint Hills a growing economic and planning machine.

“Part of what the regional council’s purpose is is to bring people together with different ideas and different needs to work together for a common end and a common cause,” said Jankovich, who also serves on the council, at the close of the workshop. “If that’s not relevant to tonight, then I don’t know what is. The common theme was ‘How can we all get better?’ It was never said, but that was really the theme.

“I would say that the success of the regional council is being seen today. We need to continue this. We, as a group, can’t stop here.”

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