Public may vote for winners, online or with paper ballot, through Feb. 17

INMAN — The Kansas Sampler Foundation, a group formed to "help preserve and sustain rural culture," has announced the finalists for its 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography contest. As might be expected, the state's primary natural resource agency — the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) — boasts eight of the 24 finalists in the contest. A selection committee chose the 24 finalists from a list of 76 public nominations. The criteria were that the nomination had to do with nature, be pleasantly stunning in some perspective, and be unique in Kansas.

The eight KDWP sites nominated include the following:

  • Big Basin Prairie Preserve, Clark County — a finalist because it includes a mile-wide sinkhole, bison herd, and a smaller sinkhole that is home to the legendary St. Jacob's Well, a deep, funnel-shaped spring said never to have gone dry;
  • Cross Timbers State Park at Toronto Reservoir, Woodson County —a finalist because it contains one of the northernmost extensions of the Cross Timbers geographical region, including oaks that date back to the early 1700s and rugged sandstone-capped hills;
  • Elk River Hiking Trail at Elk City Lake, Montgomery County — a finalist because the 15-mile National Recreation Trail, on the edge of the Chautauqua Hills region, threads through boulders and up rocky bluffs and has been rated the best hike in the state;
  • Lake Scott State Park, Scott County — a finalist because of its history, its role as an oasis in an otherwise semi-arid land, and its craggy canyons that provide sudden and surprising relief on the High Plains of western Kansas;
  • Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, McPherson County — a finalist because its midgrass prairie is the only place in Kansas where both buffalo and elk can be viewed in their natural habitat;
  • Mined Land Wildlife Area, Cherokee, Crawford, and Labette counties — a finalist because the land, once strip-mined for coal, has been reclaimed and now features scenic woodlands, grasslands, and lakes that provide abundant recreational opportunities;
  • Mushroom Rock State Park, Ellsworth County (co-finalist with Rock City, near Minneapolis) — duo finalists because both sites showcase rare Dakota sandstone concretions, up to 27 feet in diameter, deposited 100 million years ago and since exposed by the relentless forces of erosion; and
  • Pillsbury Crossing, Riley County — a finalist because the flat, stone creek bottom forms a natural ford, followed by a long, broad waterfall that has been a landmark for generations.

Other nominated sites include Alcove Spring, near Blue Rapids; Arikaree Breaks, Cheyenne County; Bartlett Arboretum, Belle Plaine; Brenham Meteorites, near Haviland; Cimarron National Grasslands, Morton County; Coronado Heights, near Lindsborg; Four-State Lookout, near White Cloud; the Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States, near Lebanon; the Gypsum Hills Scenic Drive & Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, Barber and Comanche counties; Kaw Point Park, Kansas City; Konza Prairie, near Manhattan; Mount Sunflower, Wallace County; Native Stone Scenic Byway, Wabaunsee and Shawnee counties; Post Rock Scenic Byway, Ellsworth, Lincoln, and Russell counties; Schermerhorn Park, near Galena; and the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Hays.

"We are proud that these eight sites are finalists in the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography contest," said Mike Hayden, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “They are among the many wonderful features of the Kansas landscape that people can enjoy with their friends and families.”

Public vote will determine the top 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography. Voting has started and will continue until Feb. 17 at midnight. The public may vote for their top eight online at www.8wonders.org or by paper ballot. Paper ballots can be obtained by phoning 620-585-2374. One email address may be used three times to vote.

The contest purpose is to educate the world about Kansas and encourage travel in the state. Information about each finalist can be found by clicking on the picture of any finalist at www.8wonders.org.

The geography contest is one in a series organized by the Inman-based Kansas Sampler Foundation. The eight rural culture elements used by the foundation to help a town assess itself are each showcased in their own contest. Previously, the top 8 Wonders have been decided in architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, and customs. After geography, the focus will be on history and people. The overall 8 Wonders of Kansas were announced on Kansas Day 2008. All results can be seen at www.8wonders.org.