By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

RANSOM -- The simple sign belies the brilliance that is growing beneath it.

That sign, a simple 8-petal symbol, is anchored by a single word, "Wildflowers."

Wildflowers are indeed in the area.

It is, after all, the wildflower leg of the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway, a 60-mile loop that is anchored on the east, along Kansas Highway 147, by Cedar Bluff Reservoir.

Along U.S. Highway 283, south out of WaKeeney, wildflowers are an important element, and were incorporated into the seeding mix when contractors rebuilt the highway.

This year, the wildflowers are blossoming out, and the Kansas Department of Transportation has put up a sign at the west end of Cedar Bluff announcing the flowers.

This is the third year for the flowers, and they are shaping up quite nicely, according to Mary Hendricks, one of the original promoters of the idea for a scenic byway.

"I haven't been out for a week," she said of watching the flowers as they grow and bloom. "So far, they were a little behind, it was so cool."

But that is making for a colorful carpet in the roadsides, coming from the prairie coneflowers and black-eyed susans that were planted.

While many of the flowers interseeded with the grasses were ordered by the Kansas Department of Transportation when the highway project was completed, they sought to keep the flowers reflective of the area.

A band of volunteers spend several years prior to the construction collecting wildflower seeds.

"We had volunteers that went out in the area," Hendricks said, "especially in areas of the Smoky Hill River to collect wildflowers."

The goal was to return those seeds into the soil from whence they came.

"But you're talking about an awful large area," she said.

In the end, the volunteers filled a 30-gallon barrel of wildflower seeds that were re-seeded into the project area.

"We had quite a nice group of volunteers doing that," Hendricks said.

When the seeds were planted, the idea was to plant them back away from the roadway. KDOT must mow the immediate edge of the roadway for safety reasons, and so to let the flower grow they were planted outside that mowing area.

That's not to say wildflowers aren't growing in that mow zone, however.

"There are wildflowers growing in there," Hendricks said, "whether they got planted there or planted themselves."

*  * *

The Smoky Valley Scenic Byway is a project that Hendricks and others have been working on for about 10 years -- "when we first started, got the idea," she said.

Once the idea was hatched, it took three to four years to get the byway designation.

The highway was then rebuilt, but that allowed for the planting of the wildflowers and construction of an area where motorists can pull to the side of the road for an information kiosk, a limestone structure.

Hendricks said K-147, with Cedar Bluff, was able to hold its own.

"It has that wow factor on its own," she said. "I always felt 283 needed something. That's why we pushed the wildflower side of it."

Now, the wildflowers and Scenic Byways in Kansas are part of a promotion under way by the Kansas Lottery.

Artist Stan Herd has done paintings of the byways, and will be part of the art walk in WaKeeney from 6 to 9 p.m. July 31.

He will be displaying his art at the WaKeeney City Library. A reception is planned for 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the WaKeeney City Library.

* * *

Since the installation of the Wildflowers sign, KDOT has inter-seeded wildflower seeds in an area just to the south of Interstate 70 at the 127 interchange.

Hendricks and her band of volunteers have also taken a quadrant on the southeast side of the tracks in WaKeeney and planted wildflowers.

The other three area were included in a transportation grant that have been landscaped.

Hendricks said they planted "lots of the same varieties in that particular area as there are on the byway.

"It's coming along nicely," she said.