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May 7, 2008
Contact: Margey Frederick, Special Events and Visitor Services, (785) 864-7103.

Rural communities are focus of day two of Wheat State Whirlwind Tour

LAWRENCE — The challenges rural communities face in an increasingly global economy, Kansas art and the state’s history will be the focal points of day two of the 2008 Wheat State Whirlwind Tour. On Tuesday, May 20, the tour will make stops in Edson, Goodland, Lucas, Nicodemus and Palco.

University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway sponsors the tour, now in its 11th year. The first leg of the day’s tour is from Concordia to Lucas. Along the way, the group will tour Lake Wilson in Russell County. The lake, located just north of I-70, is an example of the natural beauty Kansas has to offer people willing to take the road less traveled.

The tour will roll on from Lake Wilson to Lucas. The community is a hotbed of Kansas folk art. Participants will be able to tour the Grassroots Arts Center, Deeble House and Rock Garden and Garden of Eden. The Grassroots Arts Center is home to artists from across the state. Many of the displays at the center are of a kinetic nature, speak to Kansas’ history or are what some would consider nontraditional. Barbed wire creations and suits made entirely of pop tops are just a few examples of the unique, Kansas-created art at the center.

The Garden of Eden is the former home of Civil War veteran and farmer J.P. Dinsmoor. One of the state’s most unusual yet intriguing sites, the property is surrounded by concrete structures depicting Biblical scenes, Dinsmoor’s populist political beliefs and quirky sense of humor — such as the house, in which no two doors or windows are the same size. The site was recently named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas.

From Lucas, the tour heads to Palco in Rooks County, the hometown of Don Steeples, senior vice provost for scholarly support, McGee Distinguished Professor of Geophysics and tour director. In Palco, tour participants will have a town hall lunch with local residents and community leaders. Like many Kansas communities, Palco is facing a declining population and challenges in agriculture, education and business. Local officials will tell the group about innovative approaches the community is taking to remain economically viable. Guests at the lunch will include Doug Kysar, a local manufacturer with an international clientele; Dave Miller, local school superintendent, who employs distance learning to broaden the school’s curriculum and capabilities; Omer Knoll, an artist whose work was presented by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on a trip to China; and farmers, ranchers and local merchants who serve in leadership capacities in the community and beyond.

The group also will tour Palco’s high school, where Miller will demonstrate how the district is using cutting edge distance learning technology to combat low enrollment. The group will also visit the town’s grain elevator.

The tour will stop at the Steeples wheat farm in Palco. Steeples maintains the farm with his brother, Dave, who lives in Stockton. The brothers will explain the business and labor aspects of their operation and demonstrate equipment. One of the more popular activities from past years, combine rides for those who have never experienced the mammoth machines, will once again be on the agenda.

From Palco, the tour bus will head northwest to Nicodemus in Graham County. An historic African-American pioneer community, Nicodemus was settled in the late 19th century by Kentucky residents and was the first African-American settlement west of the Mississippi River. The National Parks Association designated Nicodemus a National Historical Site in 1996 to recognize the role of African-Americans in settling the West.

The day’s last stop will be Goodland, the westernmost stop in the tour’s 11-year history. An alumni dinner will be held at the Prairie Castle/Kuhrt Ranch near Edson. The ranch was originally a one-room sod house, built in the 1880s. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the ranch was purchased by Pauline Kuhrt in 1891. A stone house was built on the property in 1934. Designed as a tribute to German castles and faced with native limestone, the house quickly became known as the Prairie Castle.

Hosted in conjunction with the KU Alumni Association, the dinner will be a chance for alumni in the area to meet with tour participants. Faculty associated with the KU Medical Center and KU Cancer Center will give an update on the university’s work to support and improve health care in rural Kansas and efforts to achieve National Cancer Institute designation. The Northwest Chapter of the KU Alumni Association is led by Jeff Mason, a Goodland attorney with two degrees from KU. On past tours, similar alumni dinners have been in Liberal, Hutchinson, Concordia, Dodge City and Colby.

On Wednesday, May 21, the tour will travel to Oakley, Ness City and Dodge City.

To view daily itineraries, maps of this year’s route and photos of previous tours, visit www.wheatstate.ku.edu. During the tour, visit www.wheatstate.ku.edu/blog for comments from this year’s tour participants, photos from stops and updates on the tour.

Itinerary for Tuesday, May 20

7:30 a.m. — Depart Concordia for Lake Wilson (87 miles)
8:45 a.m. — Tour around Lake Wilson (11 miles)
9:15 a.m. — Arrive in Lucas; drive by Garden of Eden; tour Grassroots Arts Center, Deeble House and Rock Garden
10:30 a.m. — Depart Lucas for Palco (62 miles)
11:30 a.m. — Arrive in Palco; lunch at Town Hall with local residents; Steeples Wheat Farm; grain elevator; distance learning 2:45 p.m. — Depart for Nicodemus (16 miles)
3:10 p.m. — Arrive in Nicodemus 3:45 p.m. — Depart for Goodland (110 miles)
5:45 p.m. (4:45 p.m. Mountain Time) — Check in at the Goodland Holiday Inn Express 7 p.m. (6 p.m. Mountain Time) — Alumni dinner at Prairie Castle/Kuhrt Ranch
9:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. Mountain Time) — Return to hotel

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