Story and Photos by Cherlyn White-Conklin
“You live where?”
That’s the response I usually get when I tell people I live just outside Wamego, Kansas. (Pronounced wah-ME-go.)
It’s a small town — population less than 5,000 — with four stoplights and a Main Street that’s straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. I love it here and I burst with pride discussing our town and region for what it has to offer residents, visitors and passers-by.
I was raised here and moved back from Kansas City with my husband (a transplant) in 2013. While we may miss a few stores and our suburban family, we don’t miss life in a big city. I could go on for hours (and often do) about my love for this area. You might wonder how I could possibly leave that excitement behind and fall back in love with rural living. Plenty of reasons. And the switch is much easier than you might think. The things we gained are so much greater than what we gave up.
We have access to so many amenities — culture, shopping, dining — with boundless beauty everywhere we look — nature, sports, agriculture. It’s the best of all worlds. We’re close to cities like Kansas City, Salina, Topeka and Manhattan with world-class facilities, and far enough away that we can enjoy rolling hills and amazing celestial phenomena (no light pollution). There’s plenty of space to just breathe.
In addition to the basics like high-quality hospitals and school systems , this region has so much going for it. Here are just a few (of the many) reasons I love this area.
- Variety. People don’t realize the level of talent this area can attract. Concerts, theater, comedy, festivals — if you want to see performances of any kind, we have plenty. If museums or art classes are your jam, we’ve got them. If hunting is your thing, got it. Fishing, kayaking, hiking, biking, festivals, boating — all the things. Yep. Got those, too. You can be as plugged in as you want with any interest that makes your heart happy.
- Scenery. Where we are is absolutely stunning. The rolling hills of the Tallgrass Prairie are breathtaking. That’s right. Kansas isn’t all flat. This area — the Flint Hills — has a unique ecosystem that’s incredibly important. Most people don’t even know about it, but it’s one of the country’s most significant landscapes. Seeing the wide-open spaces with grasses rippling in the wind, especially in May and June when the brome grass is a gorgeous kelly green, you can just sit and watch for hours. It’s mesmerizing — just beautiful.
- Minimal commutes (and beautiful, see “Scenery” above). We don’t miss commuting! After you’ve had to commute an hour each way for work, a quick trip of 15-20 minutes changes your life and perception of time. We love it and will never go back to commuting long distances.
- Great outdoors. We are outdoors people and get outside as often as we can. I like to say there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. We used to have to travel well outside the city for outdoor options like kayaking or canoeing. Here, we are five minutes from the Kansas River, where we regularly drop in with our kayaks and enjoy our waterways. There are lakes for boating and fantastic hiking, too. Plenty of trails within minutes of our house provide an opportunity to see a variety of birds, grasses and terrain that make up this unique geography. You can also marvel at seeing agriculture at work — crops growing throughout the seasons, herds of cattle or bison grazing peacefully or the distinctive burning of fields in the spring that helps preserve this ecosystem. Seeing all those things at play throughout the year is one of my favorite things about Kansas. I love to be outside.
- Food, food and food. We are foodies. In a rural area, it’s easier to get high-quality beef, pork, chicken and vegetables, because we live closer to the source. Farm to table? Yep. Literally. We also garden (see “Big yards” below). And many local restaurants rival my old favorite foodie spots in the city. From haute cuisine to comfort food to ethnic options, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from that will satiate your palate and your appetite.
- Big yards. We loved our house and yard in the city, but there weren’t any mature trees to speak of. We missed mature trees and the shade and beauty they offer. We have that here in spades — even right in our own yard. We also love being able to garden and let the dog out to run and play.
- Culture. We are blessed with a lot of access to culture. Nearby you can find concerts, music festivals and local bands — we love live music. The arts abound with classes at the Manhattan Arts Center, exhibits at the Beach Museum, Flint Hills Discovery Center and local galleries. You can enjoy world-class performances at McCain Auditorium at Kansas State University. You can also enjoy food-on-a-stick at a county fair. This area does tourism beautifully and there are so many ways for couples and families to entertain themselves, their children or visitors.
- Shopping. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a shopper and you won’t find me doing much of that (see “Great outdoors” above), but we have a lot of options when it comes to shopping including box stores, large retailers and small specialty shops. We have a lot of amazing boutiques. These businesses are run by friends and neighbors. When you buy from a local merchant, you have a better appreciation for the economics involved in shopping local. It makes a difference. And if you yearn for more shopping options, you can always take a day trip to the city.
- Community. You can be as involved as you want to be. Volunteering is in my DNA. I believe in service above self. When we moved here, my husband and I got involved by volunteering and it was key to our sense of belonging. The people are super friendly and whether you’re focused on your profession, parenting or a combination, you can find like-minded people to connect with. Most places will welcome you with open arms. People are committed to making this area a great place to live, work and play. Getting involved made us feel like a true part of the heartbeat of our community.
- Fiber. No, not the dietary kind. Having a high-speed connection was important to us when we were researching where to live. When you move to some rural areas, you may have to give up great access, but that’s not the case here. Most of the area is covered by high-speed internet. And communities farther from city limits are getting better and better access with new fiber lines being installed. It’s important for professionals and families to have that connectivity and I think it’s unique that service is provided by a local company .
- Clear skies. You might wonder why having little-to-no light pollution ended up on this list. You just have to see it for yourself to understand. I like to watch my friends look up in awe when they visit and realize how many stars they can see when we sit outside at night. It’s astounding. To be able to sky-watch from our own back yard is incredible. We have witnessed more stars, meteor showers and clearer views of the Milky Way since leaving the city. Even during the day, the vast expanse of blue dotted with puffy white clouds makes you breathe a bit deeper. You truly wonder at the big sky.
I told you I could go on for hours and I’ll stop now. I’m really proud of where I live — our little town of Wamego and the region beyond. We did not sacrifice a single thing when we moved back here. In fact, we gained a lot.