Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kansans like to get out and go places.

The state travel and tourism industry contributed more than $11 billion in expenditures and 96,000 jobs last year, according to Travel Kansas.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to change that, and not for the better.

But Kansas are also resourceful, curious and eager to go places. They may be staying closer to home because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many are not staying home. For those who are staying home, popular destinations are opening their sites to virtual visitors.

"People will travel, not to big cities, and not overseas," said Holly Lofton, director of the Lindsborg Visitors and Convention Bureau. "Where better to do that than Kansas?"

Get outside

As the state loosens social distancing requirements, more people will be able to visit the stores and museums they have been missing.

In the meantime, they have been getting outside.

The pandemic has brought the outdoor experience to the forefront of people’s minds, said Cliff Peterson, who manages McPherson County State Fishing Lake and Maxwell Wildlife Refuge.

"We’ve been really busy," said Jason Sunderland, park manager at Kanopolis State Park and Mushroom Rock State Park.

The park has been as busy as a holiday weekend, he said.

"Every weekend we’re seeing Memorial Day numbers," Sunderland said.

Last year, Kanopolis saw 9,300 visitors in March and 21,100 in April. This year, Kanopolis visitors numbered 14,700 in March and 34,088 in April, and May has been just as busy, Sunderland said.

The majority of visitors have been from Salina, McPherson and Hutchinson, he said, with some from Wichita and a few just passing through.

These numbers have been helping a lot, he said, after the flooding last May that took out large chunks of trails, particularly in Horse Thief Canyon.

Volunteers worked hard this spring to get those trails open again, Sunderland said, although they still need some work.

All facilities are open, he said, except the swimming beaches.

"Everyone’s been good about social distancing," Sunderland said. "All we ask is they keep social distancing in mind and not congregate."

People have been good about keeping social distance at McPherson County State Fishing Lake, too, said Peterson.

He has had as many as 80 people fishing from the shores of the lake at one time. He’s noticed "quite a few new visitors" at both parks, he said. The lake also offers primitive camping.

"A lot of times it looked like a holiday weekend," Peterson said.

He said Maxwell, too, has had heavy traffic through the refuge as people come to view the bison. The elk are more visible during the winter, keeping cool in the woods during the summer and coming out in the evenings.

The tours have been shut down, Peterson said, but people can still drive through on their own.


Lindsborg has not given up on its Midsummer’s Festival, still planned for June 20, but organizers are doing it differently, Lofton said.

There won’t be a maypole this year, she said, because of the social distancing guidelines, and some of the other activities will be curtailed.

Much of it will be online, she said. Classes in making Swedish egg coffee and Swedish pancakes, as well as Swedish genealogy, will be streamed online.

People should check and the Lindsborg Midsummer’s Festival Facebook page for the schedule, she said.

As of mid-May, 66 people had said they were going to the event and about 2,500 were interested, according to the festival’s Facebook event page.

Lindsborg, nicknamed "Little Sweden," is heavily dependent on tourism but is learning to adapt to the pandemic.

"It’s caused some of our businesses to look at how they do business differently," she said. Some stores, such as Small World and The Good Merchant, are livestreaming sales on some evenings.

"People are looking to travel close by," Lofton said, "as an individual, as a family, and as a small group."