From ranch to concert venue: Volunteers prepare Symphony in the Flint Hills

06/12/2014 1:30 PM

08/08/2014 10:34 AM

Symphony in the Flint Hills volunteers and other patrons gathered under gray skies Thursday at the site of this year’s ninth annual symphony concert.

Before Saturday evening’s concert, they will transform the tallgrass prairie of Rosalia Ranch in Butler County into a concert venue, which will host the Kansas City Symphony and an audience of more than 6,000 people.

“It’s insane, really, that we’re doing this,” Symphony in the Flint Hills volunteer coordinator Sandy Dorsey said jokingly on Thursday.

The Symphony in the Flint Hills is a nonprofit organization out of Cottonwood Falls that organizes a symphony concert at different locations each summer. Its mission is to heighten appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie, Dorsey said, by bringing people to the hills to experience it first-hand.

Vendors from across Kansas provide generators, seats and even portable toilets. A vendor in Kansas City provides more than 20 white tents for the event, including the “saddle bag” tent for the symphony stage.

Tents went up on Sunday – a day late because of rain – and about 30 volunteers trudged through the mud Thursday morning to unload and set up tables for the food tents. Hay bales were placed around tents to hide stakes in the ground.

Once the gate opens at 1 p.m. Saturday, concertgoers can go on nature walks through the hills and purchase prairie artwork; children can play instruments in the instrument “petting zoo.” Dancing and stargazing will follow the 6:45 p.m. concert.

One week ago, the only inhabitants of Rosalia Ranch were nearly 500 cattle. Ranch manager Bill Oates is still in shock over the activity at the ranch, he said.

“I normally don’t meet anybody up on this road,” he said, pointing to the designated parking area a half mile from the concert site. “This is different.”

Symphony in the Flint Hills approached Butler County to host this year’s symphony. Oates said he’s worried how the land will be repaired once the symphony leaves this weekend, but he said the organization has professionals who know what they’re doing.

Nonetheless, he said, he sees the event as positive.

“It gets (people) out of the big cities,” Oates said. “They’ll see how much we take care of the land since, you know, it’s our livelihood.”

On Thursday, Ben Postlethwait, a member of Westar Energy’s Green Team and sustainability coordinator, helped back a semi truck out of the concert site, trying to do as little damage to the ground as possible.

The Green Team has been involved with the Symphony in the Flint Hills for many years, volunteering to help set up tables, fences and other equipment. About 25 years ago, Postlethwait said, Westar recognized that it makes an impact on the environment, so it established the Green Team to help guide decision-making processes.

Because the Green Team and the nonprofit Flint Hills organization share similar missions, it gets involved each year, Postlethwait said.

“If all it was was a concert in the Flint Hills, we wouldn’t help them,” he said. “We don’t do music festivals. We don’t work the Country Stampede (near Manhattan).

“It’s because it’s not a music festival. It’s about education.”

Saturday’s event will be the closest the symphony has been to Wichita. Last year it was at Fort Riley.

“We’re getting more people involved from Wichita, so it’s nice to get that part of the state,” Dorsey said.

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