Stafford County is key to byway growth
BY CHUCK SMITH
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of articles about the assessment of sites on the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway.)
The local scenic byway isn’t just in Barton County, and the communities in Stafford County also make up important elements in its success.
Barton County Finance Office Janet Crane reported recently on reports from the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway Internal Marketing Committee to the Barton County Commission and she noted that they show a mix of opportunities for continued growth in the county.
Strengths — The reputation of this small town is spread through word of mouth — still the most powerful marketing tool. The all-you-can-eat Sunday chicken dinner at the Wheatland Café is legendary, and the town does a first rate job with special events.
There is a nature walkway near the café, and residents are well known for offering hospitality to bicyclists traveling the Transcontinental Trail.
The Hudson Flour Mill provides an excellent movie on the local milling operation, and artists host customers “in the know” in their home studios. The community stays abuzz with local classes and gatherings.
Challenges — The town hosts excellent special events, but does not have the infrastructure to take care of visitors the other days of the week.
A row of empty buildings stands empty across from the café, awaiting either new owners or workable ideas for reuse.
Opportunities — There has been strong interest in bike linkages with the other two communities in the county and with Quivira. There is a solid base of experience throughout the community with bicyclists from the TransAmerica Trail and also with staging the annual Chicken Ride.
The historic jail is an attraction for those who know about it.
Restoration of the hotel across the street either for lodging or other retail (or both) could capitalize on traffic created by the Wheatland Café.
Strengths — This historic town square is visually “postcard perfect.”
Currently, food is the major draw to St John. There are two Mexican restaurants, and locally grown food includes hydroponic tomatoes, vegetables from the DeVore Farms and Spare Produce, and pumpkins and berries are grown at the Stimatze farm.
The quirky Science Museum is beginning to attract many school groups, and is contributing significantly to the aliveness of the square. Challenges — The square retains its elegance, though most of the historic buildings are currently used for storage.
Long-term residents remember when it hosted Saturday night entertainment—with a band playing on each corner of the square.
A major challenge is bringing life back to the square, making it a hub of action.
The Mormon story is well known locally, but not readily available to travelers and the Exoduster story seems lost even to local residents, despite the presence of the Martin Cemetery.
Opportunities — St John has a real opportunity to capitalize on a national locovore movement — buying and eating locally grown food.
The town could restore the W.R. Gray Studio and use his high quality images to unify the downtown area, and possibly providing visual cohesiveness through window displays in empty historic buildings.
The Exoduster story should also be told, and interpretation and marking provided at the Martin cemetery.
Strengths — In both proximity and historical connections, Stafford has a strong connection to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
The Henderson House B & B and Retreat Center books groups throughout the year, the antique mall and the Curtis Café anchor the downtown, and the Ritz movie theater operates on weekends.
A new Mexican restaurant has doubled the number of places to eat on Main Street.
Challenges — Additional retail businesses are needed to bring the downtown to life, and to capitalize economically on the 2,000 visitors a year coming to town to the Henderson Retreat Center.
The town entrance from US 50 does not signal to travelers that there are reasons to stop, nor do the businesses reflect the connections to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
Two architectural jewels — the Nora Larabee Memorial Library and the Methodist Church with a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired design — are located off Main Street and not immediately seen by drive-through travelers.
Opportunities — Guided tours could be offered of these two local treasures, and the library could serve as a center for visitor services including computer access, rest rooms, and local information, and maybe even book, audio and bicycle check-outs.
With museum buildings dominating the main intersection of historic downtown, the museum is well positioned to play a broader role in visitor services.
A first target market for expanded services for the library and museum can be the RVers who camp near the golf course.