Ask someone what would make a good day trip, and thoughts may stray to a ticketed attraction that draws thousands of visitors. A zoo, perhaps. Or a botanical garden. You won’t find those in Crawford County.
But the charm of its small towns, the ease of getting from place to place, a peaceful quality combined with the spirited energy and welcoming nature of its residents, make it the most attractive day trip Kansas City resident Becky Hulla can think of.
Best yet, she says, is that each day trip she makes can be whatever she wants it to be.
“It’s a different trip each time. There are so many amenities here that make it a fun getaway,” says Hulla, who several times a year travels from Kansas City to Ft. Scott, where she picks up her mother, then on to Pittsburg and sometimes surrounding towns, to spend the day.
They eat at their favorite restaurant: The locally owned Mall Deli, a local institution for decades.
“We always try to find a way to run there and get the signature French Dips,” Hulla says.
And they partake in their favorite form of evening entertainment: Shows.
“We love to see them — ‘Pittsburg Idol,’ ‘The Nutcracker,’ there’s always something,” she says.
In between, there are plenty of shopping opportunities in quaint shops like Audacious Boutique, which opened downtown last year and has received a warm welcome from locals and visitors alike. The attractively decorated store is small so as not to overwhelm, and staff order just a few pieces of clothing in each size so shoppers are guaranteed they won’t look like everyone else.
Store Manager Toni Taylor and Sales Associate Morgan Driskell assist shoppers in finding just the right piece they’re seeking. After hanging their finds in one of three charming changing rooms, each make it a point to check in with shoppers frequently to see if they need to try a different size, or perhaps a pair of leggings from their cabinet filled with a myriad of colors.
A friend, parent, or spouse, meanwhile, can wait in comfort in a quiet corner on an overstuffed couch.
“I think what draws people to our shop from all over is they find it be an experience, rather than just buying a new shirt,” says Taylor. “They like to make a day of it.”
Taylor says many of her customers may first visit Root Coffeehouse just a block away, where owners Trent and Lindsey Kling offer specialty hot and cold coffee and tea drinks, smoothies, and gourmet peanut butter sandwiches, in a cozy, funky space with locally drawn art for sale on the walls. Or, day-trippers may stop in at Signet Coffee, where owners Leah and Dennis Posterik roast their own beans and offer homemade pastries, as well.
Then, they may visit a locally owned restaurant like Jo’s Gyros, the only Greek-Mediterranean restaurant for miles around, or Napoli’s in downtown Pittsburg, the only Italian restaurant for miles around, then top it off with specialty cupcakes at Sweet Designs Cakery.
“People are seeking very local, personalized attention these days, and that’s what coming here provide day-trippers,” she says.
Local historian Alan Roberts, a volunteer with the Miners Hall Museum, says day trippers who are history buffs have noted when they stop by to see the exhibits that there is plenty to capture their interest for a day in Crawford County.
An homage to the tens of thousands of miners of the Cherokee-Crawford coalfields, the Miners Hall Museum was established in a tiny town founded by immigrant miners on the site of their union hall.
The site once played a central role in the area’s mining history: The famed Amazon Army march, reported in papers as far away as New York, began there in December 1921. Destroyed in the May 4, 2003, tornado that also leveled one-third of the town’s homes and the post office, the community center was rebuilt and repurposed as a museum, with carefully preserved and displayed historical photos, mining tools, and other artifacts.
Each quarter, a new exhibit is installed based on a theme of importance to Crawford County, and in conjunction with that theme, several programs are held that focus on an ethnic heritage — programs like wine making, or Italian foods.
Downtown Pittsburg offers history buffs a stroll through Immigrant Park, dedicated to the immigrants who settled here and built where the old Frisco Train Depot and Europe Hotel were located.
A mural in the park captures that time pictorially, and a large statue of a miner surrounded by granite slabs inscribed with miners’ names pays tribute to the area’s heritage.
On the campus of Pittsburg State University, the Veterans Memorial & Amphitheater offers individual day trippers and groups a beautiful place to reflect on personal history as well as that of our nation.
Carol Woolbright says it’s an important stop for the annual Leadership Kansas group she helps direct on their visit to Crawford County.
“The usually gregarious group becomes very solemn at the memorial and they either whisper or remain within their own thoughts for the duration of the visit,” she says. “I think the classes would agree the memorial seems like sacred grounds. They sometimes share remembrances of family members who are or were veterans. It’s a time of quiet reflection on the sacrifices that people have made to ensure enduring freedom in this country — a very moving experience.”
While on campus, visitors can stretch their legs a bit beyond the Veterans Memorial by following the hike-bike path, which starts at the edge of the Memorial on Rouse, west to the heart of the campus. The path will pass the scenic University Lake, where benches under trees provide a place for quiet rest, and meticulously landscaped garden beds beautiful in all seasons. It also will pass by several sculptures made by noted artists, like “Birdsong” between the Overman Student Center and Porter Hall.
“I like it because it’s beautiful, well-kept, and those who use it are always friendly students and community members,” Harper says of taking time for a walking tour. “It’s also a great way to see some neat historical architecture in these 100-year-old buildings, check out what’s new on campus, and explore what’s in store for the future.”
Away from it all
Those who would prefer to pass up a show or a nightclub to get away from it all at the end of a day trip can do so at the PSU-Greenbush Astrophysical Observatory, which opened in August 1996 through a cooperative effort by 30 area school districts, Greenbush, and PSU.
Its centerpiece is a unique telescope with a 24-inch primary mirror and a focal ratio of f/15, which appeals to researchers. But in conjunction with monthly public programs that educate and inform, the telescope also appeals to visitors.
The format for the public programs, held at dark, hasn’t changed much since they began in 1997, says science educator Josh Cochran. But they were enhanced a few years ago by the addition of a planetarium — also a rarity in the Four States.
“It allows us to present multimedia technology in our talk in a comfortable environment in our Science Education Center before going over to the observatory, and gives us a Plan B when the sky is uncooperative and we can’t get to the observatory at all,” he says.
Past programs have focused on meteor showers, lunar eclipses, and other astronomical phenomenon.
“It’s a great evening out for locals and visitors alike, many of whom drive in from across the area because what we have is so unique,” Cochran says.
By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Andra Bryan Stefanoni is a longtime Kansas-based journalist now working as a freelance writer for a variety of publications, businesses and organizations. Since 2000, she also has worked as a freelance writer for local, regional and national publications and magazines. You can follow her on Twitter @AndraStefanoni. Her outdoor blog is at www.atwoodsedge.net.