‘Adventure a la carte’: Big Kansas Road Trip comes to southeast Kansas

Jordan Meier
Morning Sun
Marci Penner talking with representatives of Crawford County on Tuesday morning meeting about Big Kansas Road Trip.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — On their quest to uncover the unexplored areas of the state, the Kansas Sampler Foundation, a nonprofit, is bringing its annual event the Big Kansas Road Trip to southeast Kansas next year, specifically to Bourbon, Cherokee and Crawford counties.  

“Everyone is looking forward to coming to this area,” said Kansas Sampler Director Marci Penner. “There’s lots to see and do.”  

On Tuesday morning, the Kansas Sampler Foundation met with Crawford County representatives to discuss what the event — scheduled to take place May 5 through the May 8 of next year — would look like.  

From brainstorming ideas for events to discussing how towns could collaboratively work together, a preliminary picture of all that southeast Kansas could offer began to emerge, as city leaders from Arma, Frontenac, Girard, McCune, Pittsburg and more gathered in the Frisco Event Center.  

“The public is looking for neighborly, friendly, welcoming people,” Penner said, “to get to know their story.”  

The Big Kansas Road Trip is still in its infancy, the first one being held in only 2018, but Kansas Sampler has been around since 1993, and was started by Penner and her father after they created their very first guidebook of the state. Kansas Sampler has gone on to create more guidebooks, including one recently that outlines attractions in every incorporated municipality in the state.  

“We realized that Kansans didn’t know their own state very well, and that if one small town was doing something great there was no way to communicate it to another small town,” Penner said. “We formed the nonprofit to educate Kansans about Kansas and network and support rural communities.”  

Penner said the Big Kansas Road Trip was born out of an event Kansas Sampler used to hold called the Kansas Sampler Festival, which involved communities from all across the state setting up booths and operating more as a convention rather than a real exploration of different communities.  

Penner said while that event was great, they wanted their members — the Kansas Explorers Club — to have the opportunity to be really immersed in rural cultures across the state.  

“We wanted something more active, more dynamic,” Penner said. “We wanted to get people into the towns. We wanted to teach them firsthand how to explore, and we wanted to make an economic difference in communities and this really does that.”  

Penner said the Big Kansas Road Trip allows hundreds of members of the Kansas Explorers Club to see parts of their state that they haven’t before and learn about its culture and history, while not having a set schedule of events they have to go to.  

“I like to say its adventure a la carte,” Penner said.  

Penner encourages any business or entity in the three counties to participate, but also emphasizes the need to not go too far above and beyond. She said those coming want to get a real sense of what the towns are like and are “easily entertained.”  

Penner said short tours, talks, or scavenger hunts work great for the event.  

“You might say it’s a tri-county open house, that offers adventure to the public,” Penner said.  

Interested parties have until Feb. 1, 2022, to submit their business for participation or an idea for an event. Businesses, restaurants and events will be compiled into a guidebook that will be given to those that venture to the southeast corner of the state for the event.  

Those with questions or concerns can contact Devin Gorman or Chris Wilson at the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau.  

Jordan Meier is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be reached at jmeier@morningsun.net.