Brownback talks tourism in the Flint Hills

tallgrassCOUNCIL GROVE – During an all-day trek through the Flint Hills, Sen. Sam Brownback unveiled his plan to bring more tourists to the state.

Standing outside The Cottage House Motel in Council Grove Friday morning, Brownback, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, vowed to do more to attract visitors.

“Kansas has been blessed with a lot of God’s art,” he told the crowd of about 60 “We’ve known about it all along but we need to share this with people.”

He proposed developing a system of biking, hiking and horseback riding trails that would connect to other points of interest in the rolling tallgrass prairie.

Kansas already has a 117-mile multi-use trail, the Flint Hills Nature Trail, running from Osawatomie to Herington. The trail, developed by volunteers, is one of several converted from old railroad routes.

Brownback emphasized cooperation between public and private groups to expand interest in the region. He praised voluntary efforts to preserve the grasslands and said he hoped to expand those efforts to include more than 1 million acres of tallgrass prairie through voluntary conservation easements.

He also envisioned portals of entry along Interstates 70 and 35 that would draw people off the roads and into the communities. He proposed reaching out to private groups such as outdoor sporting stores Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and REI to develop new ways for visitors to experience the Flint Hills.

Through those efforts he hopes to more than double the visitors to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve site from 20,000 in 2009 to 50,0000. He did not stipulate a time frame.

Brownback started the day at a coffee shop in Alma and was scheduled to tour Valent Aerostructures in Cottonwood Falls later in the day. The company produces complex sub-assemblies for a variety of aviation manufacturers.

He was scheduled to end the day with stops in Marion and McPherson.

State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, dubbed Brownback’s proposals as “hollow support” in a written statement released by his campaign.

“Tom Holland has voted to provide for rural schools, invest in renewable energy and protect our most precious resources, like the Flint Hills,” the campaign statement said. “Holland offers more than rhetoric – he offers a record of results.”

“We’re glad to see Senator Brownback is finally noticing the local efforts already underway to attract tourists to Kansas, though it’s disappointing that Brownback opposed, and his running mate voted against, the balanced budget that supports many of these projects,” the statement read.