As summer approaches, the Flint Hills Discovery Center is encouraging people to go on an adventure in the region.
The center held Explore the Flint Hills Day on Saturday, featuring activities inside the building and outside in the Flint Hills for people to learn about the region. It took the place of the annual Flint Hills Festival, which would typically have a variety of vendors on Blue Earth Plaza. Instead, Saturday’s event took away the booths and focused on taking people away from the center to highlight the land, its creatures and its history.
“We have a real treasure right here,” said Jonathan Mertz, event coordinator at the Discovery Center. “We want people to get out and enjoy it and learn to appreciate it.”
The Discovery Center offered the outdoor activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic and partnered with Konza Prairie to organize guided tours of the public trails. Additionally, volunteers from the Native Stone Scenic Byway were posted to share information at various stops from the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church in Wabaunsee County along the byway to Eskridge.
Officials said several hundred people participated in the events, including about 150 at the Konza Prairie.
At the Discovery Center, people could interact up close with animals that live in the Flint Hills. The center’s reptiles were on display for those in attendance, and Amber Myers of Milford Nature Center in Junction City taught families about Lurch, a turkey vulture who has lived at the nature center for about 10 years.
Turkey vultures migrate to Kansas from the South in the spring, Myers said, and some stop and visit Lurch in his cage at Milford. They are one of two vulture species found in Kansas along with the black vulture. Myers said both species can serve as a “cleaning crew” by eating roadkill or carcasses on the prairie.
“They are a great benefit to the communities of the Flint Hills,” Myers said.
Myers said Milford tries to bust myths about animals like the vulture that might be considered “gross” and teach people how they are beneficial to the environment. She said an appreciation of nature can move people to change their actions to help the natural world.
“When people understand more about the natural world, it helps them understand the world in general,” Myers said.
She said partnering with the Discovery Center for the day was an opportunity to reach a shared audience through a similar mission of educating about the Flint Hills.
“We want people to experience, preserve and learn about the Flint Hills and our grassland communities,” Myers said.
Mertz agreed that the activities were a way to celebrate the region.
“We are the Flint Hills,” Mertz said. “Everyone in this community is in the heart of the Flint Hills.”