Flint Hills Discovery Center celebrates decade of prairie teachings mission

The Flint Hills Discovery Center celebrates 10 years of operations starting Thursday, April 14 through Sunday, April 17, 2022. (Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)

The Flint Hills Discovery Center is staying busy all weekend long starting Thursday as it rings in its first decade of celebrating, exploring and caring for the Flint Hills.

Susan Adams, director of the Flint Hills Discovery Center, has worked for the center since before its opening in 2012.

“So, I started in October of 2011, and we opened to the public in April of 2012,” Adams said. “It’s been amazing to watch the 10-year succession of the Discovery Center. You know, we started off with a plan, but it’s been fun to see it grow and develop, and a lot of it came from partnerships and community involvement.”

(Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)
(Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)

Manhattan City Manager Ron Fehr talked about what went into the construction of the Flint Hills Discovery Center and how the center has helped the Manhattan community in development in the past 10 years.

“The Flint Hills Discovery Center has been a top attraction to our community since it was constructed to anchor our South End Redevelopment District that yielded $50 million in STAR Bond investment from the state of Kansas in public infrastructure and Blue Earth Park as well as the FHDC [Flint Hills Discovery Center] building,” Fehr said. “That was matched by an initial investment of over $50 million of city and private funding, which paid for the FHDC exhibits, as well as a parking garage, hotel and conference center, and a mixed-use retail, office and residential building.”

The celebrations start at 11 a.m. on Thursday with local speakers, but doors open at 10 a.m. Alongside the speakers, visitors will have an opportunity to engage in activities and a balloon drop – which almost only happens at the Flint Hills Discovery Center’s New Year’s Eve events.

“We’ve got an 11 a.m. presentation with some speakers: our city manager Ron Fehr, the President and CEO of the [Convention and Vistors Bureau] Jason Smith, Mayor Linda Morse and the president of our foundation, the Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation, Bruce Snead,” Adams said.

Throughout the weekend, the center is offering throwback pricing — $7 for adults and $3 for children. Offers at the gift store and opportunities on membership rates will also be available.

“We’re also giving 10 percent off at the gift store, and that’s a great benefit that a lot of people like because they like to come in and shop,” Adams said. “Any of our membership rates other than the already discounted membership rates, you can get 10 percent off, so that’s also a nice perk. And then we have some giveaways again throughout the weekend. But that all goes on from April 14 to 17.”

(Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)
(Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)

The Flint Hills Discovery Center is a hands-on experience for all ages about science history, focusing on geology, plants, biology and culture.

“A lot of people don’t understand the value of grazers upon the grassland and the value of the ecosystem itself,” Adams said. “If we don’t have the tall grass, then we’ve lost a whole component of our eco-diversity. So that’s pretty key to this center.”

Fehr explained what role and value the center takes in tallgrass prairie understanding through its hands-on activities and immersive experiences.

“The FHDC plays a key role in educating visitors about the value and significance of one of the last remaining areas of the tallgrass prairie on the planet,” Fehr said. “The Immersive Theatre experience exemplifies that aspect and also illustrates one of several significant private investment partnerships within the facility.”

The center’s mission is to inspire celebration, exploration and care for the Flint Hills, and all programming at the center advocates for that.

“If people walk out of here and they didn’t understand what we were all about, they weren’t paying attention because there’s a lot of great information and a lot of hands-on learning,” Adams said.

(Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)
(Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)

Alongside the main exhibit, the center is always looking for new ways to be more interactive for all visitors. The Flint Hills Discovery Center is redesigning the second-floor children’s area.

“Personally, I’m gonna go up there and have a ton of fun, and I think any age can do that,” Adams said. “But again, just from the beginning with the Flint Hills Discovery Center, it was really about partnerships… making programs to meet what the expectations are [for the community] and really focusing on our mission to try to get people out to experience the Flint Hills.”

(Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)
(Claiborn Schmidt | Collegian Media Group)

Aside from the redesign of the second floor, the Discovery Center is always working on other ways to keep people interested by hosting traveling exhibits.

“We’ve hosted traveling exhibits since the day we opened our doors, and most often we try to stay within the mission … but we’ve had a variety of exhibits from dinosaurs, to last summer we hosted hands-on Harley Davidson, this summer we’re hosting an exhibit called ‘Big League Fun’ focusing on baseball,” Adams said. “We’ve had bison exhibits, and we’ve had art exhibits, so trying to tie something to the exhibit while it’s here and tie it to our mission is really important to our purpose.”

More information about the exhibits, this weekend’s events and upcoming events are available on the Flint Hills Discovery Center website.