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Our First Visit to the Flint Hills

February 21, 2011


On the weekend of February 4th, the Flint Hills Studio visited our project site in Chase County, Kansas. We arrived Friday night from St. Louis and check in to the Prairie Fire In and Spa in Strong City (pop. 527). On Saturday morning, we ate a family style breakfast at the Emma Chase Cafe in Cottonwood Falls (pop. 955), one of three full service restaurants in the area.

Downtown Cottonwood Falls

Downtown Cottonwood Falls (photo by James Klauder)

At 10 a.m. we walked to down the street to a roundtable discussion with stakeholders in the local community. The meeting was hosted by Emily Hunter, the executive director of the Symphony in the Flint Hills and included the following guests:

Community Members and Stakeholders:

Bill Haw Senior, a private land owner in the Flint Hills
Kelly Kindscher, a botanist at the University of Kansas
Brian Obermeyer, Director of the Nature Conservancy’s Flint Hills Initiative
Jerry Reece, CEO of Reece & Nichols Real Estate
Patty Reece, Chair/Alma of the Symphony in the Flint Hills
Mike Sinclair, an architectural photographer from Kansas City
Bruce Waugh, Shareholder at Gilliland & Hayes Attorneys at Law
Ken Wold, Camp Wood YMCA


Wendell Burnette, Principal, Wendell Burnette Architecture of Phoenix, AZ
David Dowell, Principal, El Dorado Architects of Kansas City, MO
Tom Nelson Principal, BNIM Architects of Kansas City, MO


Max Bemberg
Andrew Buck
Jing Chen
Andrea Fisk
Yu-Cheng Hsieh
James Klauder
Matt Kleinmann
Gabriel Lampe
Jared Marcantoni
Kristen Rose
Tim Scolarici
Boris Tchatalbachev
Lavender Tessmer
John Wheadon

Roundtable Meeting

Roundtable Meeting (photo by James Klauder)

Left to right: Jerry Reese, Bruce Waugh, Yu-Cheng Hsieh, and Jing Chen

Left to right: Jerry Reese, Bruce Waugh, Yu-Cheng Hsieh, and Jing Chen (photo by Max Bemberg)

Wendell introduced the the mission and objectives of the studio, and Brian Obermeyer and Kelly Kindscher gave a presentation on the history and ecology of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Over lunch, we discussed possible sites and locations for our project, the intent of which is to engage the landscape and culture of the Flint Hills and to increase visitorship to the Preserve.

Following the meeting, Wendell Burnette, Bill Haw, David Dowell, and Tom Nelson drove out in the privately owned pasturelands south of Cottonwood falls to look at a variety of landscape conditions that might present possible site opportunities for our projects.

Bluestem pasturelands south of Cottonwood Falls

Bill Haw discusses cattle operations in the Flint Hills

Bill Haw discusses cattle operations in the Flint Hills (photo by James Klauder)


On Sunday we ate breakfast again at the Emma Chase Cafe and then spent the rest of the day exploring the Preserve.

Spring Hills Ranch

Spring Hills Ranch barn (photo by James Klauder)

Our first stop was the Spring Hills Ranch, the current headquarters from which the Park Service operates the Preserve and the future home of the visitors center, a new construction that will be set downslope from the existing barn. The ranch was established by Stephen F. and Louisa Jones in 1878, and many of our projects will propose that the new visitors center be located elsewhere so as not to disturb the historic ranch. Driving north on State Route 177, we entered the Preserve from Road R at the entrance adjoining Charlie Rayl’s property.

Wendell consults a map with Charlie Rayl

Wendell consults a map with Charlie Rayl (photo by Max Bemberg)

Charlie Rail introduces Jing Chen (center) and Yu-Cheng Hsieh to his horse

Charlie Rayl introduces Jing Chen (center) and Yu-Cheng Hsieh to his horse Tornado Red, named for his Vietnam helicopter callsign. Colonel Rayl, an attorney in Cottonwood Falls, helped write the legislation that created the Preserve and he has placed his adjoining property under a conservation easement (photo by James Klauder)

We walked for several hours across the northern part and then along southwest corner of the preserve, discovering several different topographic conditions.

Trekking across the landscape

Trekking across the landscape (photo by James Klauder)

Because it was Superbowl Sunday, Lavender and Andrea came prepared with complete sets of Steelers gear under their winter clothes. We called it a day around five o’clock in order to make it back to town in time to see the kickoff.


On Monday morning after breakfast, we had another meeting downtown with Wendy Lauritzen, the National Parks Service superintendent of the Preserve, who discussed the challenges involved in constructing a new visitors center. We returned to the Preserve for a few hours to explore the Fox Creek Bottomlands, across Route 177 from the Spring Hills Ranch, then began the long drive back to Missouri.

Fox Creek

Fox Creek (photo by James Klauder)

Andrew and Gabe march through shoulder-high grass

Andrew and Gabe follow Wendell through shoulder-high grass toward the hilltop east of Fox Creek (photo by John Wheadon)

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