Our city has a new jewel

By Walt Braun

We suspect most area residents who take advantage of Saturday’s grand opening and open house for the Flint Hills Discovery Center will be impressed, if not downright wowed.

Skeptics of what has been dismissed as a $24.5 million grass museum and folks who’ve not warmed to any part of the massive downtown redevelopment may never come around. It’ll be their loss. The redevelopment, despite disappointments along the way, has turned out well. The stores and the restaurants are drawing plenty of customers from all parts of town and, importantly, from out of town as well.

As for the museum, whose construction has been funded through state STAR bonds, visitors will indeed learn a little about grass. The Flint Hills, roughly 4 million acres from near the Nebraska border south across east-central Kansas and into Oklahoma, after all, is a vast grassland. But visitors will find much more. As the Discovery Center’s literature notes, visitors will come away better informed about “the geology, biology and cultural history of this last major vestige of the Great Plains.”

Ours is a fascinating corner of the world, one that took 250 million years to acquire its present form. It offers long-lost life in fossilized organisms from the inland sea that once stretched across this area, and a wide variety of bugs, birds and mammals — including, of course, the bison that once numbered in the tens of millions and became a symbol of our state.

Visitors also can acquire an appreciation for the humans who preceded us, the original Americans and later the pioneers, some of whom crossed the Flint Hills en route to other destinations and some of whom made this area their home. The great grassland that fed the bison now supports Kansas’ cattle industry.

This new museum is truly a discovery center, and it’s housed in a beautiful, unique structure that commands the attention of motorists entering town on K-177.

Our city has a new jewel, one that we’re confident will attract tourists as well as folks closer to home, one that ought to be a source of pride for the city and the region.

Weather for Saturday’s grand opening is expected to be pretty much what it’s been during spring here for thousands of years: predictably unpredictable, and possibly stormy. We hope storms don’t interfere with the ceremonies, and we hope they don’t keep away residents who’ve watched the center be built and waited for this day.

Whatever the weather, the grand opening of the Flint Hills Discovery Center promises to be a great day for a spectacular facility and for Manhattan.

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