In her office Wednesday, City of Great Bend Community Coordinator Christina Hayes continued to tweak the final details for this weekend’s massive multi-city tourism initiative. She still gets questions.
“A lot of people are asking what is June Jaunt,” she said. “There is a lot of buzz about it.”
However, she added, there is no simple response to the quarries. The answer depends on the community.
In a nutshell, June Jaunt is an opportunity for a host of communities along Kansas Highway 96 to show themselves off Friday through Sunday. The theme is “Get your fix on K-96.”
The towns included in the weekend-long 176-mile trek are from west to east Tribune, Leoti, Scott City, Dighton, Ness City, Rush Center, Great Bend and Ellinwood. Non-stop, the trip would take about three hours and 40 minutes, but organizers are hoping folks will take a lot longer, and see what they have to offer in arts, history and commerce.
For Great Bend, Hayes said the answer is art. “This was one of the things we decided to focus on.”
There will be over 20 artists and artisans displaying their creations and offering demonstrations at sites all over town. This includes the decorative bird houses outside many businesses.
But, Hayes said, the shear number of activities can be intimidating. “I would suggest that if people are wondering about June Jaunt, they come to the Courthouse Square (in Great Bend) Saturday morning. That is a very good place to start.”
The plaza will be filled with arts, crafts, music and food from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. “We’ll be there all day.”
Folks can pick up a complete schedule of events and plan their adventure or “they can just start walking and explore,” Hayes said.
Of course, she said, there are activities and special events in the other towns along the route. Most of the activities are free and it is being billed as a weekend trip or, in new tourism lingo, a “staycation.”
How did it get started?
Representatives of the chambers of commerce, economic development offices and convention and visitors’ bureaus in the towns on the route have met monthly either in person or on-line, and each has made a financial contribution to the tourism effort. Area businesses have also contributed. So far, however, there is not state or federal funding involved.
However, the towns have made a commitment to hold the jaunt for five years.
“The goal is to make travelers move along the jaunt,” Hayes said. Each stop will focus on the arts, antiques, crafts, cuisine, music and other areas of interest to travelers.
The idea for the jaunt is a Kansas one, the brain child of Katie Eisenhour of the Scott City Chamber of Commerce, but it sprung from the Nebraska Yard Sale, a multi-town event featuring yard sales along the route. “We wanted to up the scale and make it more high class,” Hayes said.
Summertime seems natural for travel and outside adventures along K-96, the Kansas Highway that stretches from the Colorado border in Greeley County to its eastern terminus on Wichita’s east side where K-96 evolves into US54/400. People representing the seven western-most counties along K-96 (Barton, Rush, Ness, Lane, Scott, Wichita and Greeley) thought long and hard about what genre of event the K-96 project should be, Eisenhour said.
All envisioned a weekend event that was unique to the area and enjoyed by our local residents and travelers alike. “Our area is rich with prehistoric and American history. Our vast open countryside boasts the finest farmland and pastures for grazing cattle and other livestock,” she said.
“Conversations revolving around desires to share the beauty of the western Kansas with others were mere conversations,” Eisenhour said. As more time passed, economic developers, chambers of commerce and tourism professionals felt challenged to create a reason for people to venture to westward.
“We are blessed with talented artists and craftsmen and women. Wouldn’t it be nice to feature all these treasures in western Kansas?” she said.
So, the K-96 June Jaunt was born. “The K-96 June Jaunt will be massive in 2012, its very first year.”
To make the jaunt to a reality, organizers needed support. “Each county was charged with acquiring financial backing to participate,” Eisenhour said. “Once the vision of the regional tourism event caught the sights of local residents, it literally caught on fire. Well, maybe not literally. However, as you can see by the vast schedule of events, west central Kansas is excited.”
There was another piece. It was vital to determine a way with which to move the traveler along the K-96 route. Geocaching seemed to be the perfect game to encourage travelers to hit all eight communities over the weekend. Organizers will pay a $500 cash prize to one lucky traveler who has completed their geocache card correctly.
This activity on K-96 on this weekend is collaboration of eight communities across seven counties, and is a real winning combination, Hayes said. “It shows that we can work together for our mutual success.”
After all, she said, no community is an island. “We must rely on each other.”