Just off of Highway 77, running north from El Dorado, Kansas, runs seventy three acres of agritourism property which is a part of Carroll and Becky Walters’ family farm and pumpkin patch, Walters’ Pumpkin Patch.
For almost 20 years, the Walters have been growing and selling pumpkins at their U-Pick patch in Northern Butler County. They host more than 20,000 visitors during their six weeks of operation during September and October. Not long ago, they had been interested in adding another attraction for their pumpkin season, as well as new products and an added attraction to market to the public in the spring and summer.
In 1997, they contacted the State of Kansas in hopes that there might be grants or funding which would help them to build their business. They wanted to build the agribusiness component of the pumpkin patch. After doing their research, they submitted a proposal and received a 2005 Farmer Rancher grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE).
“We had heard of the SARE funding when we started the grant writing process. A friend from Burns had gotten funding and suggested we apply too....and she helped us as we wrote that first grant,” explained Becky Walters.
The team set to work with their grant funds and built a leaking pond with a windmill which collected the runoff from the construction work on the new Highway 77. They added signage at the windmill to tell visitors how the windmill works and allow them to “feel” the coolness of the water that was being pumped from deep inside the Flinthills. They supplied the pond with native fish that came from the creek that flows through their property.
They’ve added a self guided walking tour of native Kansas wildflowers and offer their seeds and new plants for sale. They offer educational tours, group picnics, camp fires, and seasonal events.
“Kristie Wilson, owner of Hudson Gardens, set us up with a landscape designer,” said Walters. “She had many good ideas for developing our wildflower areas and I did really like her idea of using a kiosk to set out information for our visitors.”
Their facility has become a focus on the Flinthills Prairie and its beauty. They use educational signage to draw attention to the native grasses, flowers, and the flinthills rock that are prevalent in the area.
“There is nothing exciting than seeing a group of school kids watching a crawdad crawl along the edge of the pond, or seeing their excitement when a turtle pops his head up out in the middle of the pond. These things, we in the Flinthills all take for granted, but seeing a kid from the city find the amazement in the country, is truly something that we should all do,” said Walters.
“If I had this to do over again, would I do it? Most certainly. Would I recommend this kind of fun to others? You bet I would!” said Walters.
On October 25th, 2008 the Walters will offer an “all you can carry day” at the pumpkin patch. For $15.00, all the pumpkins you can carry with your own two hands/arms and between your knees will be yours for the carrying.
Read more about the project on the SARE reporting site.