The Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, KS is a bit of a tough sell but a rewarding travel experience. The city of Manhattan definitely benefits from its presence. It’s a tough sell because The Flint Hills are not The Rocky Mountains even though Zebulon Pike, the first explorer to see Pike’s Peak (seen just below), named them the flint hills as he passed through the area.
The Flint Hills Discovery Center celebrates the tallgrass prairie it sits on. There were as recently as 200 years ago 150,000,000 acres of this deep-rooted grass from Ohio to the Rockies and north and south from Canada to Mexico. About the shape of Sweden or Illinois, this expanse of grasses has mostly disappeared. Only about 4% of it remains and most of that is in Kansas’ Flint Hills. A rich and diverse ecosystem, this sea of deeply rooted sometimes greenery contains many species of grasses, but it also contains lots of limestone and rocky soil that early settlers of The West bypassed because they, like Zebulon Pike, thought of it as a desert. Writer William Cullen Bryant was more astute. He called it, “The gardens of the desert.” Long-haired bison and cowboys loved it too, but so did 100 species of grasshopper (seen below the prairie chicken) and dung beetles. It’s estimated that there are ten million insects per acre here. There is also fire, lightning, and tornadoes but also the prairie chicken seen below and clean air. Early humans before Pike liked to hunt the up to 50 million bison for food and daily needs and apparently liked the flatness of the landscape. Early settlers in this area used the abundant limestone for buildings like the First Congregational Church in Manhattan. One of the great pleasures of being here is seeing the plethora of limestone used in the construction of public buildings, government facilities, and barns.
The Flint Hills Discovery Center is partially built with native limestone. Its first floor contains a theater that frequently shows a highly interactive film with smoke, other emissions, and lots of displays of the topography of the land in every direction. Upstairs is a family fun zone, usually a traveling exhibit, and a roof garden. Everything here exhibits love of a landscape.
When you finish, you still have lots of Manhattan to explore. You can eat at the Guilty Biscuit or Rock-a-belly Deli or have a drink at the So Long Saloon. Unfortunately, you can’t go to the Brookville Hotel for fried chicken. It has closed and been torn down.