BY CJ GIBSON
“I know where that is,” I told the driver of the van for the Student Recognition Program when he mentioned the Event Center.
He put down his phone to stop plugging in the address. “Oh, are you from Great Bend?”
I said yes—I’d lived in Great Bend for most of my life—but it felt off. I’d answered that question for so many icebreakers since coming to college, but this was different; usually, it’s just a pair of words, but that night, “Great Bend” was a place—a place I was intricately familiar with.
I hadn’t thought about the uniqueness of Great Bend much since I moved out and my parents moved away.
Though I’m normally incompetent when it comes to directions, I know the streets and landmarks better than most thanks to my years playing Pokemon Go. Being in the Great Bend raid group introduced me to all sorts of people in the community, and I’d recommend finding something similar to anyone wanting to get to know a place.
As I begin reflecting on some of the highlights of Great Bend, keep in mind that my experience is subjective. Every town has little places of joy if you know where to look, and mine are highly swayed by my own interests and experiences. But if I were to show you around, here are the places I’d pick:
One of the most notable attractions of Great Bend isn’t even within the city limits: its wetlands. Cheyenne Bottoms is the largest inland wetlands in the U.S. and provides a home for a range of natural Kansas wildlife—a must-stop for bird-watchers. Visitors can drop by the Kansas Wetlands Education Center to see some exhibits or explore the trails on their own.
Veterans’ Memorial Park
On the west end of town, Great Bend has its most substantial park. Surrounding a lake, “Vets’” Park includes a playground, a fitness zone, a frisbee golf course, a dog park, and walking trails—something for everyone!
Great Bend’s zoo is free to the public and open every day but major holidays, so you have little excuse not to take a stroll and see the animals.
As Barton County is home to a couple of big cat mascots—Barton Community College as the Cougars and USD428 as the Panthers—it should come as no surprise that the zoo is also fond of felines: it has a lion, a leopard, and a pair of cougars! But as with any zoo, the exhibits are not limited to one animal family—stop in and see them all.
Coffee: Great Bend Coffee
Great Bend has a couple of local coffee shops that are worth a shot—or three—but Great Bend Coffee stands out because it doubles as a tasty lunch spot. In addition to typical café pastries, Great Bend Coffee has a selection of sandwiches, wraps, and pizzas.
I’d recommend The Oh-My Pizza—it’s topped with garlic, jalapeños, and blue cheese!
Sit-In: Mizumi Sushi & Steak
If you’re craving some Japanese cuisine, Mizumi Sushi & Steak is the best place in town for sushi. With its relaxing atmosphere, it’s a great place to laugh with friends as you bravely decide on a spicy roll.
I’d recommend the Kung Pao Tofu. Be warned, it’s hot!
Unlike most Applebee’s, the Great Bend location hosts karaoke on Sunday nights.
Mind Sculpt Games has a wide selection of board games, card games, puzzles, and tabletop accessories. They also host some events, like Dungeons & Dragons sessions and Pokémon card tournaments!
Can’t go wrong with a good candy store!
Other just Great Bend things
If you’re fortunate enough to have stopped by Great Bend in December, you can see the city’s elaborate display of Christmas lights. At Vets Park, the zoo, and the courthouse, you can tune into a radio station and watch the lights move in time to the music. The town goes above and beyond with their set-up, and it improves every year.
While I’m not sure whether Great Bend is home to me anymore, it’s still home to my memories, and I remember so many people and places that make it great. If you happen to pass by, don’t dismiss it for being a small town—give one of my recommendations a try.