Wichita's downtown sidewalks will come alive this spring and summer as walking trails that loop, educate and entertain.
Ten routes through the middle of Wichita will each carry a theme, from Kansas poets to Kansas sports. Each route will feature signs marking their course and spreading Kansas history in the form of little-known quotes and facts. Real-life characters will be part of the scene when the trails become places of entertainment during Final Fridays starting in April.
It's just a slice of serendipity that Richard Schodorf's brainchild is coming to fruition during Kansas' sesquicentennial. He's a former history teacher who loves to walk and who has been frustrated by a lack of walking trails in Wichita that actually loop. "People like to get out," he said, but when faced with hikes such as the K-96 trail to nowhere, "people find that to be tedious."
When Prevention magazine back in 2007 listed Wichita near the bottom of 500 cities for walkability, Schodorf decided to take the initiative himself to improve the situation.
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His business, Sunflower Title, is paying the $40,000 cost of the signs, and Schodorf, along with experts in various areas, dug into annals of the state's past for quotes to feature on the signs.
"We tried to get quotes nobody knew of. We wanted people to learn something," Schodorf said. The city of Wichita will be installing the signs.
Schodorf also wanted to highlight Wichita's cultural life with the trails.
"We have these organizations that get no play at all. They don't have an advertising budget," he said. The signs will include the websites of the cultural groups that have collaborated with Schodorf on the signs.
The routes will each be around 2 miles, and Schodorf is working with city hotels to provide print-outs of the routes for guests who want to get out and see Wichita.
He's received approval from Haysville to do a "magic" trail featuring optical illusions there, and is proposing one with the theme of humor in Derby — two cities that also have Sunflower Title locations. A second trail in Haysville would ask schoolchildren what Kansas' 150th birthday means to them.
To make the trails more fun and get more people introduced to them, the trails will come to life during Wichita's Final Fridays starting in April. Entertainers in keeping with the trails' themes will be along the routes, and there will be contests and prizes. Among the planned events: a "CSI" night in concert with an exhibit at Exploration Place of the same name, and a "Wichita Idol" contest.
"It's going to be fabulous entertainment, and all it's going to cost you is 300 calories," Schodorf said, grinning.
Schodorf has plans to let Prevention magazine know about Wichita's progress, to see if the city can't improve on its 480-out-of-500 ranking of walkable cities when it's all said and done.