Hutchinson: Kansas Sports Center and More by Bonnie and Bill Neely

When we travelled to Hutchinson, Kansas, for the National Junior Collge Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Tournament we expected this little town of about 50,000 population in the middle of the United States to be just a location for this annual sports event, but were we mistaken! It is a real jewel for sports and entertainment for many interests, where you could spend a delightful week’s vacation. Thousands travel here each spring, summer, and fall for the various sports tournaments for which the town is well- known. Basketball finals are in March in the Hutchinson Sports Arena, which has very comfortable seating for 8,000. This Sporrts Arena also hosts theatrical performances, banquets, and conferences.
In summer months the town gears up for the thousands who visit their excellent Fun Valley Sports Complex, which was named “Softball Complex of the Year” by both U.S.Specialty Sports Association and Softball Owners and Directors of America. With seating for 5,000 the complex has five natural turf fields covering 35 acres. In the flat plains this sport is a natural, as is baseball, which is at Hobart Detter Field, a former minor league and semi-pro park.

The little town boasts four fine golf courses, of which Prairie Dunes Golf Club is considered the third best in the nation. Other excellent courses are Carey Park, The Links At Pretty Prairie, and The Highlands, with a fifth course under construction and to be opened soon. Hutchinson hosts many Golf Opens and expects about 125,000 guests for the Senior Men’s Open in 2006.

Known as Salt City, Hutchinson is the location for the mines which provide Morton’s Table Salt and Carey Salt for highways. Since the underground salt dome provides the perfect atmosphere for preservation, cinema film has been stored here for decades. In 2006 visitors will be able to tour the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, which will be the only underground museum in the Western Hemisphere.
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Perhaps the most famous and educational reason to visit Hutchinson is the vast Cosmosphere Hall of Space Museum, which is one of the first affiliates of the Smithsonian Institute. The small entrance fee enables you to spend all day in this fascinating museum, which chronicles the Space Race since World War II. With rockets, spacesuits, spacecraft, a blackbird spyplane, a piece of the German Wall, this is a learning experience for the whole family, and you’ll come away with a good understanding of what the Space Race was all about when Russia also was a Super Power.
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But the Space center is not just a museum; it is also one of only four working space centers in the United States, in partnership with NASA in Houston, TX. One or two very special students from each of Hutchinson’s high schools are selected by their teachers each year to participate in the scientific co-op with Cosmosphere. The students spend several school credit hours each week at the space center learning and developing innovative projects on their own. Among these projects are electric cars made from recycled objects and designed and engineered by these students. They are on permanent display in the state capital, Topeka.

When your feet and your brain grow weary at Cosmosphere you can enjoy one of the two amazing films on the huge screens of the IMAX theater. Then for another rest you can recline in the very comfortable seats of the Planetarium and learn the latest about stars and galaxies as seen from the Hubble Telescope. But perhaps the most fun for children and adults alike is learning all about rocket science from the Crazy Scientist who does fascinating experiments demonstrating many scientific principles and keeping his audience laughing in Dr. Goddard’s Lab.

All of this is for the admission price of full ticket for adults only $12.50, with discounts for seniors, children, or for museum only. The Cosmosphere center was conceived and brought to reality by Patty Carey, who had always loved studying the stars and dreamed of having a Planetarium. When she married into the Carey Salt family she made creating a Planetarium mid-continent her mission and continued to build it from her young years until her death in 2003 and endowed it for the growth to continue.

There are many other fun things to see and do in this mid-continent town: two free water parks right downtown, where in summer you’ll see kids of all ages cooling off and giggling in the fun sprays and the wonderful Salt City Spash Aquatic Center (1-620-662-7705.)

Downtown you’ll see skilled stone masonry from the Art Deco period. The Fox Theater, which seats 1,221 people, is one of the nation’s best elegantly restored theaters from the 1930’s. Periodically, you can enjoy live concerts and plays there, or by special arrangement you can tour this State Movie Palace of Kansas, which is on the National Historic Register.
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The Hutchinson Zoo is open nearly every day of the year and is free to all, with a small fee if you want to ride the little train in the park. For more natural animal watching you can drive just thirty miles west of town to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, where over 22,000 acres are set aside for the natural habitat of white-tailed deer, black-tailed prairie dogs, coyotes, raccoons, beaver, and over 260 species of birds. For hunting and fishing information contact the Visitor Center 1-620-486-2393. Also outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy over 1,000 acres of trails and wildlife observation blinds at Sand Hills State Park, where trail fees are $3.

Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm, Hutchinson, KansasBut that’s not all for nature lovers! You can visit Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm to pet a zebra, ride a camel, or feed a giraffe. Regular tours are April through October, or by special arrangement in other months.

In Northeast Hutchinson you can wander through a natural wonderland of plants and wildlife with over 300 species of trees, hundreds of wildflowers, birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies. There are many other wonders to discover at Dillon Nature Center.

At modest prices overnight camping with hook-ups is available closeby in Cheney State Park and Wildlife Area, just twelve miles South of Hutchinson. The Cheney Reservoir is one of the Midwest’s best spots for sailing, boating, and fishing.

Just five miles southeast of Hutchinson is Yoder, the little Amish and Menonite community with a nice half-day of quaint and lovely shops and for enjoying a delicious home-cooked Amish meal at The Carriage Crossing Restaurant, which opens at 11 A.M. six days a week. In March, Yoder hosts the annual Quilt Show, and you can buy exquisite handmade ones.
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Just five miles Southwest of Hutchinson is another little community of Pleasantview, where you’ll find the vast Stutzman Greenhouse Garden Center and Gift Shoppe. This is a delightful place to visit, especially in April and May and at the end of November and early December, for the festivals of seasonal color.
Started in 1956 by the Stutzman family, the greenhouses now cover 450,000 square feet, growing scores of species of plants and flowers from seeds and bulbs, for shipping to many states. Be sure to see the huge ficus tree, angel-wing begonia, bouganvilla, and poinsettia, which are several decades old and obviously love the tender loving care of the many green thumbs here. Next door is another place to enjoy good Amish cooking, the Dutch Kitchen which is open 6 A.M. to 8 P.M. six days a week.

Hutchinson offers so much to discover in any cross-country drive, or you can fly into Wichita, about an hour away. For your next fun-filled family vacation you don’t have to go to the frantic traffic and exorbatant prices of the big cities. Come to Hutchinson to discover mid-America family fun! For such a small place you’ll find many good eateries for modest prices; (locals say be sure to try their favorite The Airport Steakhouse.) You’ll find many nice motels for almost any budget. We were quite pleased with the Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn, which offer many amenities not usually found in moderately-priced motels. Both managed by Ishwar, the very clean rooms are large with microwave, small refrigerator and free high speed Internet connection. You’ll enjoy freshly baked cookies, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or lemonade weekday afternoons and large continental breakfast at no extra cost. The newest motel is Grand Prairie with an indoor water park.