STILLWELL, Kan. -- Sunflowers have bloomed and turned a Leavenworth County farm into a sea of yellow. The highly anticipated event brings tens of thousands of visitors to Grinter Farm, located between Lawrence and Tonganoxie.
Ted Grinter said the rise of social media and selfies has spiked interest in the field, where he’s been growing sunflowers for 40 years.
That popularity became problematic last Labor Day weekend. So many cars were on the dirt and backcountry roads to get the farm that traffic backed up onto the Kansas Turnpike. Officials reported a handful of accidents as a result.
“I’m hoping we don't get as crazy as we were last year,” admitted Ted Grinter. “I want to be busy, but not that busy.”
This year, Grinter created more parking on an old corn field. He recruited volunteers to serve as parking attendants. He hopes they can direct drivers to spots more efficiently to keep traffic off the road.
He said the biggest thing for drivers is to wait on photos and “put the phones away until they’re parked."
Leavenworth County leaders began discussions in January about how to better handle the traffic the sunflowers create while they're in bloom for two weeks each year.
— Charlie Keegan (@CharlieKeegan41) August 31, 2017
A traffic study proved there isn’t much county engineers can do to handle a traffic rush nearly equivalent to what a professional sporting event might see. Instead, the sheriff and other county agencies will just have to closely monitor the roads. They have the authority to shut them down if traffic creates a public health risk.
“I love coming out here, and I have a schedule during the week where I can come out at 9 o'clock on a Tuesday and do it,” explained Megan Vargas. “That way I don't have to run into thousands of people also trying to enjoy beautiful sunflowers.”
Grinter said visiting during a weekday morning is the best strategy to avoid the crowds.
Vargas brought her friends to see what she called a breathtaking scene.
“I think it’s totally worth a day off, a personal day, a couple of hours, because it’s going to make the rest of our week,” said Vargas’ friend Brenda Rudell.
The farm doesn’t host a specific event or charge admission. The Grinters simply open their property to visitors during the two weeks the sunflowers bloom. The farm does have a general store with locally-produced items for sale.
Grinter Farms has posted “Rules of Engagement” on its Facebook page. You’re not allowed to visit overnight. There are no restrooms. If you take a flower, leave a $1 donation. Pick up after your pets.
“I like putting smiles on people’s faces. It’s fun. And I like seeing the sunflowers,” Grinter said, explaining why he opens his property.
He harvests the sunflower seeds and sells them as bird feed.
The farm is located at 24154 Stillwell Road in Lawrence, Kansas, 66044.