For 28 years, anybody who wanted to know what there might be to see, do hear, taste, buy and learn in Kansas had only to make plans to spend a day or two at the annual Kansas Sampler Festival as it moved from one town to another across Kansas.
This year, the final Kansas Sampler Festival was held in Winfield's Island Park. Over the two-day run of the festival, more than 8,300 people attended the celebration, which unfolded in beautiful weather.
The Festival, a project of the Inman-based Kansas Sampler Foundation, grew out an initial book-signing event at the farm of Marci Penner and her father, Milferd, who had written three guidebooks to help the public discover great places to visit in Kansas.
From that first event, the Kansas Sampler Foundation was formed with the mission of promoting rural Kansas and showcasing what the small towns and rural areas have to offer to visitors. For the first few years, the annual festival was held at the Penner farm.
But after the first few festivals, Marci Penner decided that it would help more people explore more places if the festival were to move around the state, staged in a community for two years at a time.
Now, after two decades of festivals in all corners of the state, the foundation has decided to move in a new direction. Next year, continuing the mission to educate Kansans about Kansas, the foundation will introduce the Big Kansas Road Trip on the first weekend in May.
Penner says the idea is to have hundreds of people explore the same area at the same time. In 2018, the exploring dates will be May 3-6 in Barber, Comanche and Kiowa counties.
"We want to generate interest and fun," Penner says. "Our goal is to get people addicted to exploring Kansas."
The Kansas Sampler Foundation also supports additional efforts to promote rural Kansas, including The Kansas Explorers Club, which was founded to inspire, educate and encourage the exploration and appreciation of Kansas; the We Kan! Network, which supports the annual Big Rural Brainstorm; the PowerUp and PowerOn movements to encourage participation in rural leadership; the 8 Wonders of Kansas awards program that honors Kansas landmarks; and updated guidebooks that offer the public a detailed look at what is unique about every one of Kansas' more than 600 rural communities.