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Pair Sets Off To Reasearch Every City In Kansas


The foundation behind the Kansas Guidebook for Explorers this week kicked off a journey to every incorporated city in Kansas.

The result will be a new guidebook, due out in 2015.

It takes time to research a state guidebook for explorers.

Marci Penner, executive director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation would know, she has written and researched 4.

And earlier this week at Midway Motors in Mcpherson, she started a 2-year trek for book number 5.

“This is ERV,” says Penner.

“Explorer research vehicle going on an explorer research voyage.”

ERV’s first stop is Marquette in McPherson county, and in the coming weeks he will take Penner and the foundation’s Assistant Director, WenDee LaPlant to every city in the county.

Then they will move on to another county. Then another.

“Our theory is that to really know what to put in a Kansas guidebook you need to go to every town,” says Penner, “either to say I am not sure this town has anything, or to see first hand what it does have.”

Penner says exploring is about finding and experiencing the whole town, not just a tourist attraction.

“The explorer spirit is different that a tourist spirit,” she says.

“The explorer loves to eat in local cafes, talk to the locals, look for the little details and nuances that, you know, that may not be a lot all on their own. But they add up, and there’s a charm to finding these little things that aren’t commercialized in any way.”

The mission of the Kansas Sampler Foundation is to preserve and sustain rural culture. Penner says the guidebooks uphold this mission by introducing rural Kansas to the masses.

And while they won’t be leaving out larger cities on this trip, Penner says her work is especially important for rural Kansas.

“For example, for a town to have a grocery store, they have to buy $10,000 worth of groceries a week for the wholesale truck to even stop. Some of these towns are less than 500 people, and it’s incredibly hard to keep a grocery store open. So it helps to have visitor money as well as local money to be able to handle that kind of volume.”

10 years ago while researching for her last guidebook Penner encountered issues of sustainability and food insecurity in many rural communities.

That research gradually evolved into a rural grocery store initiative now administered by Kansas State.

Penner says she expects to see major changes across the state since her last trip, and that she will likely encounter other common issues that need to be addressed at the grass roots level.

“It will be interesting to find out which ones are doing better, which ones aren’t doing so well,” she says.

“The struggle is more intense all the time. Some will have lost their school. I don’t want to say that it is all going to be doomsday, because the gumption in these towns should not be underestimated.”

Marci Penner and WenDee LaPlant will be sharing tales from the road on Facebook and Twitter, and you can also follow along on their journey at Kansassampler.org.

In a blog post written on the site at the end of their day in Marquette, Penner recounts a tasty burger at a local café, a conversation with the barber, and a trip to the cemetery.

“You just can’t orchestrate something like this” writes Penner.

“The journey will result in a guidebook…but if you read between the lines” she continues -  “you’ll see that it really is a love story.”