Kansas isn’t among many Americans’ top summer travel destinations compared to neighboring mountainous Colorado, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

One latest signature tourist attraction, the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, joined the ranks of other great destinations in the Sunflower State this year. This new $24.5-million facility isn’t your typical museum and is projected to be the “next great attraction to experience our story,” according to Bruce Snead, former Manhattan mayor and president of the Kansas Flint Hills Foundation.

The center greets visitors entering “The Little Apple” from the east on K-177. The 35,000-square-foot facility changed the skyline of the city with a striking outdoor-infused, three-story structure, which is adjacent to the new Hilton Garden Inn hotel and conference center and Blue Earth outdoor plaza. The Discovery Center was built to serve as the official tourism center for the entire Flint Hills region. The museum enables visitors to learn about the ecosystem, people — including the native Kaw Indians — and history of the Flint Hills, among other educational factors. Organizers hope it is the beginning of more efforts to expand trails in the Flint Hills.

“The last stand of the Tall Grass Prairie, we’re going to protect it ... and we’re going to show it off,” Gov. Sam Brownback said at the center’s grand opening two months ago. “As one author said, ‘The mountains take your breath away, and the prairies give it back.’”

The museum is beautiful on the outside, as well as the inside. An outdoor terrace and landscaping, including a distinctive Flint Hills image on the metal gateway, accompanying the area’s native limestone structure, are perfect for looking out on the city. Those features complement the grand, circular, glass-walled lobby leading into the “Family Fun Zone,” and seven interactive learning stations, including an immersive experience.

An inspirational building of this nature is “representational of the values of a whole community or region dedicated to the mission to inspire,” Snead said at the opening ceremonies, as seen on a KTWU public TV video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhflEKPgTJY&feature=player_detailpage

His words are true. We all should take time to enjoy the peace that the prairie provides and make a daytrip to see and learn more about the new museum so we too can better appreciate our state’s own natural beauty.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher