Motorhomers will find plenty to see and do this fall when they arrive in Hutchinson, the site of FMCA’s 68th Premier International Motorhome Extravaganza.
By Peggy Jordan
Hutchinson, a central Kansas town with 43,000 residents, will see a temporary increase in its population when thousands of motorhomers arrive at the Kansas State Fairgrounds to participate in FMCA’s Motor “Home” On The Range convention “”the association’s 68th Premier International Motorhome Extravaganza “”on October 1, 2, and 3.
But having company is not unusual for Hutchinson. Like good neighbors whose doors are always open, residents of this town are familiar with making guests feel at home. Throughout the year, students arrive from out of town to attend Hutchinson Community College. Visitors from across the United States and around the world explore the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.
The town also hosts a variety of special events. The U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship will take place in Hutchinson July 1 through 7, and, as it has done for many years, the town will welcome thousands of people to the Kansas State Fair September 6 through 15. The same fairgrounds used for this event will host FMCA members only two weeks later.
To find Hutchinson on a map of Kansas, locate the center of the state, then move a bit south and east. It is approximately 50 miles northwest of Wichita, and accessible via interstates 135 and 70; State Route 96; and U.S. 50.
In 1871 town founder Clinton Carter (C.C.) Hutchinson established the community at the spot where the Santa Fe Railroad was to cross the Arkansas River. Like many of his religious contemporaries, C.C., a preacher, harbored a strong sentiment against liquor. He sold 1-acre lots in the town with the stipulation that the purchasers could not sell or consume intoxicating beverages on the property. He also persuaded the Kansas legislature to forbid cattle drives in Reno County, in an attempt to keep undesirable cowboys out of town.
The quiet little burg became the county seat, and the area’s rich soil attracted farmers who found the rail center convenient for trade. Hutchinson railroad tracks were used by the Santa Fe, Rock Island, Missouri Pacific, and other rail lines.
The area got its first taste of industry in 1887, when an oil prospector found a large deposit of salt, not the crude oil he was seeking. Disappointed, he left town without ever capitalizing on that discovery. But the “lode” of salt he touched covers several thousand square miles and is 400 feet thick in some places. Several salt mines were set up to extract the mineral; most did so by pumping water down into and then back out of the deposit. The salt-laden water was drained off, and the remaining sodium was sold as table salt or for industrial uses.
Salt mines still operate in town today. To recognize the industry’s impact on Hutchinson, the Reno County Museum plans to open a new facility called the Kansas Underground Salt Museum in September 2004.
Many years after the discovery of salt in the region, Hutchinson gained renown as the place where Navy personnel learned to become pilots. The Hutchinson Naval Air Station served as a training ground for flyers during World War II. The former base is now an industrial tract and home to several businesses.
Today Hutchinson thrives on a combination of industries, such as machine and agricultural toolmakers and various manufacturers. It remains an agricultural center as well, something visitors learn quickly as they make their way toward town: the largest grain storage facility in the state “”almost 1/2-mile long “”dominates the skyline.
Hutchinson is most renowned as being home to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. Plan to spend at least a half-day exploring this first-class museum. Afterward, you’ll still find much more to see in town.
The Reno County Museum, one block from downtown Hutchinson, is home to several historic displays. Outside on the museum grounds are a train caboose and a switch engine, an 1876 claim house, a windmill, and an outhouse. The latter subject is considered more fully inside the museum, where an extensive exhibit of outhouse photos titled “The Seat of Democracy: Outhouses in Kansas” appears on the walls on the way to the museum’s rest rooms.
Other museum exhibits focus on historical topics of interest, including one that features musical instruments and sheet music, and that provides visitors the opportunity to hear popular songs from 1872 to 1985. Two hands-on galleries for children offer kids a chance to play in a pioneer cabin as they learn about the past. Admission to the Reno County Museum is free. It is regularly open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Sunday. It also will be open on Monday, September 30, the day prior to the official start of the FMCA extravaganza. Phone (620) 662-1184 for more information, or visit http://renocounty.museum.com
The Hutchinson Art Center is both a fine art museum and a commercial gallery. Works by local contemporary artists are offered for sale in one gallery, and a portion of the center’s permanent collection is displayed in another gallery. Inside the third and largest gallery are traveling or temporary exhibitions. The center also has an education area that is constantly being used for a variety of art classes for many different age groups. Admission to the art center is free. Regular hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., but the center will be open Monday, September 30, to accommodate FMCA visitors. Hours will be 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. that day.
Downtown history is exemplified at the venerable Fox Theatre, which opened in 1931 and existed as a movie house for many years. It fell into disuse in the 1980s, and in 1990 was purchased by a local agency that restored it to its former art deco glory. The $4.5 million project was completed in 1999. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designated the “State Movie Palace of Kansas.” Tours of the Fox Theatre will be given on Monday, September 30, at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. The cost of the one-hour tour is $4 and will include popcorn. Each tour is limited to the first 100 people. The theater is located at 18 E. First St. downtown; phone (877) 369-7469 for information.
Also in town is the Flag Theatre, home to Family Children’s Theater presentations, as well as meetings and conferences.
While you’re exploring downtown Hutchinson, you also may wish to investigate the antiques district along South Main Street, or consider the county courthouse building, which, like the Fox Theatre, sports an art deco style.
Among the town’s newer developments is Avenue A Park. It harbors a free water park that is open in the summer, as well as a bandstand and a walking trail.
At the south end of Main Street is Carey Park, which features pathways, ponds, bridges, and waterfalls. It is home to the Carey Park Golf Course, and is the start of the 3.5-mile multipurpose Jim P. Martinez Sunflower Trail that runs along Cow Creek to Rice Park.
Carey Park is also home to the Hutchinson Zoo. Bison, pronghorn antelope, river otters, coyotes, porcupines, reptiles, birds, and many other creatures make their home there. Children will love to play in the “tunnels” at the prairie dog complex, which give them a burrower’s-eye view of the world. Zoo admission is free. For more information, phone (620) 694-2693. A new log-cabin-style visitors center is scheduled to open at the zoo this month.
From Carey Park you may wish to continue your tour down Avenue A and drive past the town’s oldest homes in historic residential areas. The largest concentration of these homes is on Avenue A and Sherman Avenue near Plum Street, and just west of Main Street between 18th and 22nd streets. Walking tour maps of historic homes are available from the Hutchinson Convention and Visitors Bureau listed at the end of this article.
A few miles north of downtown is the Dillon Nature Center, which will lure you away from the city with its promise of hiking trails, displays, gardens, and bronze sculptures. Located on the northeast edge of town near State Route 61, the 100-acre area includes approximately 3 miles of hiking trails that wind through a variety of habitats, including a prairie dog town. A visitors center contains displays about Great Plains ecology, animal exhibits, and a gift shop and library. The nature center is open daily, and admission is free; phone (620) 663-7411 for more information.
Also northeast of town is Sand Hills State Park, a 1,123-acre preserve with sand dunes, prairie, woodlands, and wetlands. Camping is not permitted, but hiking trails and nature trails have been created through the dunes and meadows. The Dune Trail is only 1 mile (round trip) and reveals the sand’s colorful hues. The park is near the intersection of State Route 61 and 56th Street. Phone (316) 542-3664 for more information.
Small-town side trips
Settlements near Hutchinson also attract explorers. The little town of Yoder, 10 minutes southeast of Hutchinson via State Route 96, is home to an Amish and Mennonite community that welcomes visitors its own old-fashioned way. Homemade bread is offered each day at the Carriage Crossing Restaurant (which also has a gift shop). You’ll be tempted to shop at stores throughout the town, such as those proffering handmade quilts and crafts, old-fashioned hardware, and baked goods (especially cinnamon rolls).
Drive 8 miles northwest of Hutchinson to Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm, and you might think you’re on another continent. Grab your camera and your walking shoes to discover zebras, camels, ostriches, giraffes, llamas, kangaroos, hedgehogs, and many more creatures. Visitors can feed and pet some of the animals, and a children’s petting zoo is also on site. The facility is open daily; phone ahead for tours. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for seniors and children. For more information, phone (888) 489-8039 or visit www.hedricks.com.
Twelve miles south of Hutchinson via State Route 17 is Cheney State Park, home to the 9,500-acre Cheney Reservoir. This lake was built by the Bureau of Reclamation and completed in 1964, and is used as a water supply for the city of Wichita. Sailboat owners take advantage of the prairie winds and hold national regattas there, and the fishing is said to be excellent. Bird-watchers congregate there during bird migration seasons for migratory waterfowl, and a road along the north side of the refuge permits good viewing. The park offers nature trails and camping with hookups (see the accompanying sidebar of area campgrounds).
Golfers will want to note that three courses in the Hutchinson area are open to the public. Unfortunately, Prairie Dunes, one of the top-ranked golf courses in the world and host of the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship, is not one of them. Public courses include Paradise Pastures (620-422-3091); the aforementioned course at Carey Park (620-694-2698); and the Links At Pretty Prairie (620-459-4653) in the town of Pretty Prairie, approximately 25 miles southwest of Hutchinson.
With all these attractions, FMCA members will be sure to find plenty of fun before, during, and after the convention. The Hutchinson motto, “Come Share Our Space,” is certainly an invitation that travelers find difficult to refuse.
Hutchinson Convention & Visitors Bureau
117 N. Walnut
Hutchinson, KS 67501
E-mail: [email protected] to order a visitors guide
Open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday (Central Time)
Cheney State Park
16000 N.E. 50th St.
Cheney, KS 67025-8487
E-mail: [email protected]
This park offers 185 campsites with electric and water hookups and is located 12 miles south of Hutchinson.
Hedrick’s Capybara Lake Resort
(At Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm)
7910 N. Roy L. Smith Road
Nickerson, KS 67561
This campground offers 16 spaces with electrical hookups and many more sites without hookups. Amenities include drinking water, showers, and a dump station.
Melody Acres RV Park
1009 E. Blanchard
Hutchinson, KS 67501
This 32-space facility offers electrical hookups, showers, water, and a dump station.