VICTORIA — A plot of land just west of town accidentally has become an attraction for nature lovers and cross-country fans. On Sunday, the Sand Plum Nature Trail adds art lovers to the list.
The 3 miles of trails are on land owned by Joe Brungardt a half mile west of Victoria and normally requires a yearly membership fee for hiking access. But the trail will be open to the public during the second Sand Plum Art Show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
The trail is home to Fort Hays State University cross country meets, and Hays High School began running meets there last year. The sport brings out people in the fall, but Brungardt wanted a spring event to attract people as well.
Last year, he got the idea for an art show and approached his friend, Jan Piesker, in Victoria for ideas.
“She had three or four friends that are artists. She got with them, and we put together about five artists on the first show,” Brungardt said.
The seven artists featured this year are what Brungardt calls “working artists” — not full-time professionals, but people who work at their craft. Among the works that will be shown and sold are iron flower sculptures, photography, oil and watercolor paintings.
Scavenger hunts and soccer goals will provide activities for children during the show.
The trail evolved when Brungardt and his father stopped farming the 70 acres in 2009. The land sat idle for two years while Brungardt brainstomed ideas of how to use it. He considered a pumpkin patch or winery among other ideas.
“We were going through the drought at that time, so it was really discouraging,” he said.
While the ideas came and went, Brungardt started mowing paths along the North Fork of Big Creek, which runs through the acreage.
“That was going so well, I decided to make a path down into the creek and across the creek,” Brungardt said. “I made my first bridge, and that went well, and it seemed to go toward a nature trail set up so I pursued the nature trail, really, accidentally.”
Brungardt expected the trail would be used by just the Victoria community. But about a month after it opened in spring 2012, Fort Hays State University cross country coach Jason McCullough happened to pass by during a run.
“He was in need of a cross country course because Fort Hays was building new buildings on campus and it knocked out his running course,” Brungardt said.
The coach asked if the trail could be used for cross country meets, and a deal was made. The first FHSU Tiger Open was there in October 2012.
The trail since has been home to the Tiger Open and FHSU Alumni Run, and last year Hays High School conducted its first meet at Sand Plum.
The meets helped get the word out about the trail, and memberships increased, Brungardt said.
“Otherwise it would have been a quiet little nature trail for the people of Victoria. I didn’t have any intentions to make any kind of business out of it,” he said.
Brungardt said in the five years since the trail opened, he’s had only one negative experience when a member’s dogs made other people nervous.
“I haven’t had any accidents. No trouble,” he said.
Memberships are $35 for a person or $45 for a family per year and can be obtained from Brungardt.