TREGO COUNTY — Late spring brings an array of colors to the portion of the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway along U.S. Highway 283. Purple alfalfa, yellow Engelmann daisies and red and orange Indian blanket flowers are just a few of the many varieties that dot the landscape along the picturesque road.
When the byway was reconstructed in 2006, Mary Hendricks, who, at the time, was president of the WaKeeney Travel and Tourism and the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway committees, led an initiative to bring more wildflowers for travelers to view.
“The byway has kind of always been a project of travel and tourism,” Hendricks said. “We were wanting ways to have more people come to the area, something for them to see while they were here, something that was part of the byway.”
Prior to the byway project, Mary and her husband owned a bed and breakfast west of WaKeeney. They had some of the land near the bed and breakfast put into a conservation reserve program and created trails that included wildflowers for their guests to enjoy.
“It kind of stemmed from that, just on a much larger scale,” Hendricks said.
After visiting with the Kansas Department of Transportation, Hendricks decided it would be best to plant seeds that were native to the area that already were adapted to the climate.
Hendricks and a group of wildflower enthusiasts gathered to collect seeds by hand from the flowers that were already growing in the area to add into the seed mixture that would be planted by KDOT when the road was finished.
Signs were put up in various areas to alert passing motorists of the wildflowers.
Not only do the wildflowers add to the landscape of the Smoky Hills, but they also serve as a food source for various insects.
“Any flower is going to be good for honey bees because they take nectar out of the flower,” said Sue Stringer with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Though the wildflowers have adapted to the hot, dry climate of the area, they have been affected by dryer weather in past years.
“Moisture keeps them growing, and there are years they’re not as prolific,” Stringer said. “Some of the flowers will die off as the summer progresses, while others, such as the Maximilian sunflower, will bloom towards the end of the summer and last into the fall.”
No matter the variety, each flower helps the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway keep its reputation among the famous Kansas roads.
According to Cathy Albert, the current director of WaKeeney Travel and Tourism and the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway, the city of WaKeeney recently received a transportation grant to plant trees, shrubs and flowers along walkways on either side of the railroad tracks downtown. While there are regular flowers in those beds, native wildflowers also have been planted, giving the town a taste of the byway’s beauty.