Planning for the Flint Hills

Recognizing that the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie is an increasingly threatened resource, that the region is simultaneously faced with economic challenges and new opportunities, and that there is a mounting effort to preserve native grasslands, the time is right for the creation of a regional plan that outlines an integrated, sustainable, and equitable future. This planning process, Flint Hills Frontiers, has galvanized stakeholders and the larger community to engage in a long-term implementation strategy and has created a road map for coordinating regional efforts that identifies opportunities to accomplish meaningful, measurable gains.

The act of planning is a communal agreement to work toward a better future. Flint Hills Frontiers was built around achieving consensus on a shared vision of the future. The consensus-based planning process included casual discussions, expert interviews, and extensive community dialogue. The collaborative relationships forged during this threeyear planning process gave Flint Hills Frontiers a foundation for long-term success. While the planning effort has been thoroughly documented, it is the process itself and the relationships formed that are of the utmost value. Productive conversations and projects that seemed unattainable at the outset of the project are now underway. At each successive step of the creation of Flint Hills Frontiers, the vision has become clearer with inspired champions emerging to lead the way forward.

Just as the roots of the prairie grasses knit together for stability, the Flint Hills Frontiers planning process has reminded the fiercely independent people of the Flint Hills of their strong connections to each other and the environment that sustains them. Flint Hills Frontiers will continue to nurture relationships and build the constructive energy required to implement a plan of action. These relationships may include local municipalities working with private businesses, chambers of commerce partnering with researchers, tourism advocates collaborating with ranchers, and local artisans engaging with the public.

Flint Hills Frontiers has been building dynamic partnerships and facilitating a public discourse throughout the region. An implementation framework based on market realities, guided by smart physical planning, and a collective vision of the future has been established. By defining a set of goals and guidelines around seven issue areas (Natural Systems, Social Systems, Cultural Systems, Farming and Ranching, Opportunity and Community, Mobility and Transportation, Built Environment) and identifying the tools to address these issues, Flint Hills Frontiers is working to protect and nurture the region.

FLINT HILLS FRONTIERS includes 9 counties and two tribal nations in Kansas and Oklahoma that encompasses the Flint Hills ecoregion, crossing political and social boundaries, and forming the context of this regional plan.
Flint Hills Frontiers was originated by two groups working together to advance the interests of the Flint Hills. The Flint Hills Work Group was established by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to develop strategies to preserve the Flint Hills and leverage this unique resource to benefit communities in the region. The Flint Hills Regional Council is a voluntary affiliation of municipal and county governments centered around Forty Riley and the greater Manhattan metropolitan area. These organizations received a regional planning grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities program that allowed them to advance the aligned goals of these two organizations.
Flint Hills Frontiers is a comprehensive analysis and plan for the region that considers issues from preserving the natural environment to improving mobility and increasing employment. The plan has been driven by public involvement and is focused on creating the tools needed to implement positive change.
background: © Kevin Sink Photography