By MIKE COURSON
Great Bend Post
Vacations can be expensive. The state of Kansas is giving families an affordable option with a reboot of its Sunflower Summer program. The program, which is funded by federal COVID-19 money, promotes learning and family engagement. Kansas Wetlands Education Center Director Curtis Wolf calls it a great tool for families.
"It's a resource that's available to Kansas families in order to visit museums, zoos, and various other attractions for free," he said. "The funding is there to pay for admission for these Kansas families to attend these different locations. It's an impressive thing to look at the list of all the attractions on there that are available to families during the summer."
Since starting in 2021, Sunflower Summer has provided free learning opportunities for more than 164,000 Kansas students and more than 110,000 adults. Seventy-one sites across the state participated in the first year. That number bumped to 90 last summer, and more than 100 venues will take part this year. KWEC does not charge admission but is included in the list.
"Even though we're already free, we're hoping it generates some more visitors, some awareness for them to come out and utilize our center as well," Wolf said. "It's a good opportunity for us to get our name out there along with the other attractions."
The program is available for Kansas children pre-K through 18 years of age, as well as students in 18-21-year-old programs. Up to two accompanying adults may also access tickets via the Sunflower Summer app. Funding is limited, and tickets are issued on a first-come, first-serve basis.
More information, including a full list of 2023 participating venues and a frequently asked questions section, is available at sunflowersummer.org.
Bonuses to the program this year include:
Dates and locations: Beginning in July.
Clinton State Park in Lawrence.
El Dorado State Park
Milford State Park.
What it is: Interactive adventures that combine the fun of reading with exploring. Story Adventures are based on three books that are part of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library collection. During the entire month of June, families with children of all ages can access short trails – about one-quarter of a mile in length – with 16 signs that feature a children’s story related to nature and the outdoors. Signs have large-scale displays of actual pages from the three books, allowing children and/or families to read the stories as they progress along the trails. The signs also have activities that participants can do along the trail. At the end of each trail, as a part of the Sunflower Summer app, families can virtually “meet” a new friend and take a photo with the friend in a story-themed photo frame. The three featured books are:
“As an Oak Tree Grows,” by G. Brian Karas
“Miss Maple’s Seeds,” by Eliza Wheeler.
“Where Butterflies Grow,” by Joanne Ryder.
Families living throughout Kansas can also register to enroll children birth through age 5 in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library using QR codes on the signs and in the Sunflower Summer app.
Sunflower Summer Mini Camp Nights
Dates and locations:
June 2-3, Milford State Park. To register, contact the Milford State Park Office at 785-238-3014.
June 9-10, Cheney State Park. To register, call the Cheney State Park Office at 316-542-3664.
June 16-17, Historic Lake Scott State Park. To register, call the Historic Lake Scott Park Office at 620-872-2061.
What it is: The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks will offer one night of camping to Sunflower Summer participants. Up to five campsites will be available per park, per camp night (pre-registration is required). Camp nights include a one-night stay at a campsite, a tent (for up to six family members) and a day permit to access the park. Registration closes a week prior to the event. More information will be provided after registration.
Tri-State Antique Engine and Threshers Association 70th Annual Show
Date and location: July 27-29, Bird City.
What it is: Celebrate our rural heritage. The 70th annual show will feature 17 operating steam engines, wheat binding, threshing, sawmill, tractor pulls, gas engines, children’s activities, quilts, chuck wagon breakfast, and more.
Sunflower Summer Family Camp
Date and location: July 13-14: Eisenhower State Park.
What it is: Registration is full. However, families can be added to a waiting list. Tents are available for 30 families (up to six family members per tent). Dinner is provided for all registered families. Families must pre-register for this event. For more information, email [email protected].
Wichita Wind Surge Sunflower Sundays
Dates: June 25 and July 30
What it is: The Wichita Wind Surge, affiliated with the Minnesota Twins, plays home games at the Riverfront Stadium located just west of the Arkansas River. Tickets may be activated on the Sunflower Summer App on the day of the game only. No reservations or advanced purchases are accepted. Check the app for more information.
Summer Camps and Enrichment
Various dates and locations.
What it is: Learning experiences for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Connect with nature and take part in canoeing, archery, fishing, cooking, coding and more. Visit sunflowersummer.org for more information.