Kansas feted at festival’s Leavenworth swan song
Leavenworth Since they’ve been retired, Ruth and Charlie Kirby of Bonner Springs have loved to set out on day trips to visit destinations throughout Kansas.
On Saturday, though, they had the chance to visit the whole state in one day.
The Kansas Sampler Festival, which took place this past weekend in Leavenworth, brought together performers, artists, food and drink vendors and all kinds of exhibitors from throughout the state.
“I went around to all the booths,” Ruth Kirby said Saturday as she and her husband stopped to eat homemade ice cream from the south-central Kansas city of Harper. “I always love Kansas.”
The Sampler Festival was likely the place to be Saturday and Sunday for people who shared that sentiment about the Sunflower State. Between Saturday and Sunday’s crowds, festival director Keyta Kelly said, 7,409 people made their way to Ray Miller Park in Leavenworth, where the festival stretched across five acres.
Attendance was down by about 1,000 from the year before, a pattern Kelly said the festival usually experienced in its second year in each city it visits. The fact that Mother’s Day fell on Sunday likely also hurt attendance a bit, she said.
But the festival was nonetheless a full success, Kelly said, thanks to the efforts of about 200 volunteers from throughout Leavenworth County and a bit of cooperation from Mother Nature.
“We had wonderful weather, great attendance and everybody was just very happy,” Kelly said. “We had a wonderful group of volunteers who all showed up and gave their all, and it just all came off without a hitch.”
At the festival on Saturday, music carried through the air from three different stages, visitors stopped at dozens upon dozens of exhibitors and the crowd was dotted with people wearing such attire as cowboy hats and chaps, Civil-War era military uniforms or traditional Swedish dress.
Jason Cooper, who lives in rural Leavenworth County between Leavenworth and Tonganoxie, said he had never heard of the Sampler Festival until he heard a friend would be exhibiting there. As he and his wife, Kathy, sampled beers from High Noon Saloon and Brewery in Leavenworth on Saturday, they said they’d been pleasantly surprised by how much the festival had to offer.
For their 7-year-old son Luke, the highlight so far had been a ride on a handcar set up on a small stretch of railway by the Marshall County Railroad Historical Society. Kathy and Jason, though, couldn’t get out of their heads the memory of the pie they’d tried from MarCon Pies, based in Washington, northwest of Manhattan.
“It was the best pie I’ve ever had,” Kathy said.
Enjoying the festival from the vendor’s end of things was Lana Howe of Tonganoxie, who owns Vintage Soap and Bath downtown there.
People from as far across the state as Hutchinson and Harper — and from Illinois, Arkansas and other states — came to Howe’s stand, perhaps drawn by the scent of her goat’s-milk soaps wafting through the air. A steady stream of customers had come throughout the day, Howe said, some watching soap-making demonstrations.
“Some of the kids don’t realize you can actually make soap,” Howe said.
Also appealing for children were two literal “kids” — a pair of six-week-old goats in a pen next to the stand, who had no lack of people offering to pet their heads.
Adriana Kiefer, 6, stopped to pet the goats around noon, having already enjoyed a stagecoach ride and jumped into a dance circle with the performers from Lindsborg Folkdanslag, a Swedish folk dance group from Lindsborg.
“She’s our little outdoor girl,” said her mother, Emily. The family lives south of Basehor.
The Kiefers, including Adriane’s 8-year-old sister Clarissa and father Dustin, made sure to hit the stagecoach ride first this year after failing to make it there in time at last year’s festival.
“We came up last year, and it was so much fun,” Emily Kiefer said.
She said the information booths, representing cities and counties from all over the state, had inspired two possible Kansas day trips for the family — one to Hutchinson, and another to Independence to see the original “Little House on the Prairie.”
This was the annual festival’s second and final year taking place in Leavenworth. It moves around the state, stopping in cities for two years at a time. Next year it moves to Liberal, in southwest Kansas.
In addition to encouraging area residents to see other Kansas sights, the festival this year and last helped showcase Leavenworth County as a possible destination for visitors from elsewhere, Kelly said.
“I think it did wonders for the area,” Kelly said. “I think it exposed us to a lot of people who didn’t know what we had up here, especially people in the Kansas City area who are close-by but are still very unfamiliar with Leavenworth County.”