On a Tuesday morning Linda Craighead might be taking care of her responsibilities as general manager of Alma Creamery in a Wabaunsee County town.
However, this past Tuesday morning found her standing in front of Butler County commissioners representing a 22-county organization seeking to launch tourism in a region which includes Butler County.
Craighead has been chairing the Flint Hills Tourism Coalition, which has been seeking seed money funding to formally launch its tourism initiative.
Craighead’s request for $5,000 from Butler County was forwarded to Butler County Economic Development for its consideration.
Currently, Craighead told commissioners, there is a state initiative to focus its tourism efforts “in a little bit different manner” than what has previously been the case.
In the past, she said, the old cattle drive areas around Abilene, Dodge City, Garden City and Wichita have been the primary target of those efforts.
Now, she said, “we are lucky enough to have a state focus on the Flinthills.”
Previously Craighead was economic development coordinator for Wabaunsee County.
Prior to that she worked for Cargill and was moved around to numerous locations around the United States.
“I think that really gave me a vantage point” for the task she has now taken on, Craighead told commissioners.
“When I came back to Kansas,” she said, “I recognized the fact that the state had not really put the emphasis where it needed to be” with regard to promoting travel and tourism.
As commissioners “well know,” she said, Butler County is “truly a gateway” to the experience of visiting the Flint Hills.
That area is a “true blessing” to Kansas, she said, and is also an area “we really need to pay a lot of attention to.”
Craighead said the 22 counties now being represented through the Flint Hills Tourism Coalition are working together to “truly put the dynamic focus on tourism for this area.”
She said there has been about a year of “working together and making what we believe to be some very significant strides.”
Over the course of that time, she said, “a group of volunteers has had ongoing strategic meetings every month.
“We’ve really tried hard to “˜spread the wealth’ a little bit and make sure we have meetings in different areas around the Flint Hills.”
In addition to development of such things as a logo, she said, “we have worked very aggressively” on developing a Web site which is now in its final stages of development and is “about ready to go live.”
Several other agencies have also gotten involved in the coalition’s efforts, she said, with those including the Kansas departments of commerce and transportation.
She said the other agencies “have committed quite a bit of money to the project as a whole,” adding more than $250,000 has already been designated and utilized by the state for promoting the Flint Hills tourism efforts.
Craighead said plans now call for four monuments – one of which will be placed in Butler County – to be located as part of the coalition’s efforts to promote the Flint Hills.
In addition to a lot of information being put up at travel and information centers, she said, “I think one of the great accomplishments this group has been able to do” is work toward exposing the Flint Hills to the national press.
She pointed to an article in the current issue of Midwest Living, adding “it’s been a matter of collaborative efforts and networking – “˜people who know people who know people’ – to get different articles in different magazines.”
An advertisment is scheduled to run in several different papers and periodicals, she said, and she believes a New York City billboard is also in the works.
“There are a lot of things that have already happened without funding,” she said, and now “it’s just a matter of everybody working together to pull a few strings.”
Craighead said there is also a “wonderful opportunity to feature some of our Flint Hills locations as destination points” through a “second chance” promotion of the Kansas Lottery.
There will be four different vacation giveaways, she said, with each featuring a Flinthills area location.
What she was looking for, Craighead said of why she had come before commissioners, was “some help in keeping this initiative going.”
While volunteer efforts so far have been something on the order of having a “Little League” program for “a good long while now,” she said, “now it’s time to step up to the plate and make it a little bit bigger ballgame.”
She said “we truly believe” the kind of leadership which will “start making some things happen to keep things going in a positive direction” is now needed.
The issue of commercial wind energy “wind farm” projects also entered Tuesday morning’s discussion.
Commissioner Will Carpenter of El Dorado asked Craighead if her organization has yet addressed that issue.
“We have not addressed that issue collectively as a whole,” she said, although adding “we’ll sure take it into consideration.”
“I think it’s imperative we don’t have windfarms in these byways,” Carpenter said of the presence of wind turbine structures in the Flint Hills.
It seemed to him, said commissioner Randy Doll of Andover, that “almost by default” the coalition would have to oppose wind farms in the Flinthills.
He pointed to a colorful Flint Hills Heritage Guide brochure which has already been prepared, adding in his view what is featured in it would all basically “go away” if wind turbines started to dot the Flint Hills landscape.
Also attending Tuesday morning’s meeting was Keli Rice, director of the El Dorado Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Craighead told commissioners they are fortunate to have a person in El Dorado with Rice’s enthusiasm for her job.
By Steve Smith, Times Staff Writer
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