June 10, 2012

Love of Flint Hills unites musicians, concertgoers, volunteers (2012)

The wind wasn’t the only thing sweeping across the tallgrass prairie Saturday morning before the seventh annual Symphony in the Flint Hills.

The wind wasn’t the only thing sweeping across the tallgrass prairie Saturday morning before the seventh annual Symphony in the Flint Hills.

Symphony in the Flint Hills employees and volunteers decked out in green shirts and orange vests swarmed all over Leet Pasture near the town of Bushong, in order to set the scene prior to the gates opening to the general public.

"It’s busy, but it’s a fun busy," said site manager Brandon Cole, who counted on the support of the volunteers and surrounding communities of Lyon County. Cole said he loved holding the event in his home county. "If the place was burning down, I could have a hundred water buckets here in a heartbeat."

Texas cattle rancher and Leet Pasture owner Johnny Arnold knew what to expect when he agreed to host the symphony on his property.

"I’d seen photos and magazines, so I knew a little, but I was still a little surprised," he said. "It’s good to get people out of the cities to see what the Flint Hills are all about."

Sandy and Michelle Pickert and Ruth Wetta of Wichita were three people who got that opportunity Saturday. They said they felt privileged to be involved with the symphony as volunteers in the merchandising tent.

"We figured we’re the luckiest people in the world because our applications were chosen," Wetta said, as the three of them took a moment to stake their claim on a piece of the tallgrass amphitheater.

Wetta, a two-year volunteer who grew up on a farm near Maize, but now lives in Wichita, appreciates the beauty of the area.

"The first time I came it was breathtaking, and I want to help pass that on to others," she said.

Her thoughts were echoed by her friend Sandy Pickert.

"I lived near the Flint Hills a long time ago, and I love the Flint Hills," she said.

More than 750 volunteers like them made their home on the range on Saturday, doing various tasks, including driving attendees deep into Leet Pasture and guiding educational nature walks on the outskirts of the site.

Emily Hunter Connell, executive director of Symphony in the Flint Hills, said she hopes what the volunteers and attendees take away is a new appreciation for the importance of preserving the Flint Hills and tallgrass prairie.

"The beauty of the Flint Hills is priceless and exists nowhere else in the world but here," she said.

Education is a key component of what the Symphony in the Flint Hills organization does. The event’s organizers said the educational presentations have become as popular as the actual concert itself. Sam Frey of Wichita was a first-time attendee who stood in line for tickets, and he took full advantage of the educational opportunities.

"We give it four thumbs up," he said. "It’s way cool. The education is far more diverse than we expected."

Michael Stubbs, a member of the Symphony in the Flint Hills’ board of advisors, shared his knowledge and love of the Flint Hills with concert attendees.

"We dig up all these stories and share them with the concertgoers," he said. "That’s the whole reason for this event. We want to share our culture and our history, and this is the best way to do it."

Contributing: Kristin Baker

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