WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Towns along the new Flint Hills Trail park in east central Kansas are working to draw visitors as a way to improve the rural economy. The Wichita Eagle reports towns along the trail are planning music festivals, opening breweries and bike shops, and offering Airbnbs to visitors. The park runs along old railroad lines and takes hikers and bikers through hills, wetlands, tallgrass prairie and hardwood forests. It will eventually stretch 117 miles from Osawatomie to Herrington. Currently, it is open from Osawatomie to Council Grove. Once a piece of the Missouri Pacific Railroad line, the trail was acquired by the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, which converts old railroad lines and into nature trails. Last summer, the trail was officially named a Kansas state park. The trail has had a slow start and is not as popular as trails like the Prairie Spirit Trail — a 51-mile trail that runs between Iola and Ottawa in eastern Kansas. Jim Manning, natural resource officer for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said he is confident the trail's popularity will grow.
In Osawatomie, a task force has raised $250,000 to run the trail from its starting point about a half-mile outside of town into town and connect it with the recreational center, said Doug Walker, president of Kanza conservancy. "The community is really excited and has gotten behind it," Walker said. "It's gone like we've hoped, but better than we expected."
Ottawa, at the convergence of the Flint Hills Trail and the Prairie Spirit Trail, plans to open an outdoor events pavilion called Legacy Square Park in September at a cost of more than $4 million. Residents say the trail already has helped spark economic growth, including a new brewery, cafe and bowling alley.
And Council Grove is the finish line for the Rush to Rails bike race each year, with this year's event scheduled Oct. 5.The event is part of a statewide push to drive traffic to the trail, said Scott Allen, vice president of the Kanza conservancy. "We are really trying to get development in the area for activities and things to do when people get to Council Grove along the trail," said Deidre Knight, an organizer for Rush the Rails and a Council Grove resident. "People just see the opportunities and want to provide that for people along the trail once they get here."