315 S. 3rd St.
Manhattan Kansas 66506United States
Midwest Living Recommends
Opened in April 2012, the $24.5 million Flint Hills Discovery Center takes visitors on an immersive journey through the continent's only remaining tallgrass prairie.
When a scenic drive through Kansas' Flint Hills isn't enough of a prairie experience, visitors can get knee-deep in grassland beauty and heritage at Manhattan's new $24.5 million Flint Hills Discovery Center. It takes you on an interactive trek (nothing stuffy about it) through the geology, flora and fauna and original Native Peoples to today's ranchers and preservationists talking on your individual touch screens about the continent's only remaining tallgrass prairie. What blows everybody away, literally, is the "Tallgrass Prairie: Tides of Time" film, where you should start your visit. Shown every 30 minutes, the film sweeps across the theater's curved 67-foot-wide screen with panoramic photography and inspiring narration. Gusts blow through the theater during wind-swept scenes, snow falls around you in winter settings and smoke billows during burning season, along with a thunderstorm that almost sends you searching for cover! Another hit: the Underground Forest that goes beneath the prairie to show the grasses' 10-foot long root systems and the critters burrowed there. Visitors enter the contemporary building through a three-story limestone-and-glass cylindrical tower. Permanent exhibits fill the main floor, a children's play zone and temporary exhibits occupy the second floor and the third leads to an outdoor terrace. The center anchors a new downtown development, with hotels and a public park. "If half the people who leave here have a better understanding of the importance of the Flint Hills and its need for preservation, then we've done our job," says director Bob Workman. We certainly did. Plan to spend at least 90 minutes there. It's open daily; admission charged.