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Bird house initiative to promote art, tourism
new deh bird house main pic
Artist Mike Whelan Saturday morning uses a marker to decorate one of the decorative bird houses that will dot Great Bend as part of a community-wide tourism initiative. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Chicago has its cows.
Lindsborg has its dala horses.
Marion has its rhinos.
Very soon, Great Bend will have its  bird houses.
As part of a community-wide tourism campaign capitalizing on the area’s winged wetland creature heritage, numerous decorative fiberglass bird houses will dot sidewalks. The goal – create an attraction and get shoppers to flock to the businesses.
“We want to drive foot traffic,” said Cris Collier, executive director of the Great Bend Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. The CVB oversaw the development of the marketing plan that included the new downtown decorations.
Although not functional as bird habitats, area artists will turn each one into a colorful, ornate and unique sculpture.
The bird houses, made from molds developed and donated by McDonald Tank Service, come in three-, four- and five-foot heights. They are portable, but will be weighted down from the bottom to keep them from moving.
“What we want is a walking art tour,” Collier said. “We hope people will see them and get the idea of what they are.”
Once it catches on, she said, the effort can easily be expanded.
Participating businesses will pay for the houses, which range from $225 for the three-foot model to $250 for the bigger ones, and negotiate a fee with the artist, said Karen Neuforth of the Barton County Arts Council, the agency coordinating the project. The first batch of about 18 has already been delivered, and some are decorated and already in place.
Interested business owners can contact Neuforth at the BCAC gallery, located at Main and Forest. She will hook them up with an artist from a list she has compiled.
Darn near any design is acceptable, as long as it fits the general migration theme. More houses will be ordered as needed.
The bird house project has its origins in a grant-funded master Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway marketing plan developed in 2009 with the help of a team of national experts. Under this plan, communities along the byway each took a sub-theme.
Claflin took geology, Ellinwood the movement of man, Hoisington weather and Stafford County wetlands. Great Bend’s theme was birds and wildlife.
Just this year, Great Bend hired one of the national team members who specialized in tourism to develop a plan just for city. This way, it would go hand in hand with the regional effort, Collier said.
Here is where the bird house idea hatched.
But even with the local effort, Collier said the byway partners must work as a team. “More and more, you’ve got to take that regional approach.”