Few changes to sunflower farm; thousands of visitors, heavy Labor Day traffic expected

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Sunflowers are expected to be in full bloom at Grinter Family Farm just in time for Labor Day weekend. The sunflowers are expected to attract more than 100,000 visitors to southern Leavenworth County.

Last year on Labor Day weekend, traffic started backing up from Stillwell Road on to I-70. After a few fender-benders Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office shut down access to the farm for a short time.

County leaders, Public Works, and Emergency Management worked on several plans for months but ended up with few changes, save shutting down a couple of nearby dirt roads.

County Administrator Mark Loughry says there's really nothing they can do to prepare for the amount of people that will likely try to jam into a relatively small parking area this weekend. He says the problem isn't the roads, but the parking. It's an issue that Ted Grinter acknowledges.

"We are trying to fit a professional baseball team`s crowd into a small area, our parking is kind of tough," he said.

The Grinter family has planted sunflowers on their farm in between Lawrence and Tonganoxie for birdseed for decades. The fields went largely unnoticed until social media and the selfie.

"Facebook, Twitter everybody is talking about it, saying we got to go, and it is pretty," Grinter said.

Grinter planted early sweet corn and has already plowed five acres, hoping to have about 1,200 parking spots for picture takers. But if people all try to go on holiday weekend afternoons, it likely won't be enough.

"If we end up like we were last year we are going to have another problem. I`m hoping that people will try to find a different afternoon, Monday will probably be really busy," Grinter said.

While those in traffic management see the giant blooms mostly as a headache, shop owners in nearby Tonganoxie see them as a possible big boom for business. They were busy Monday afternoon painting sunflowers on every window downtown for this weekend's Sunflower Stroll. Businesses will have special hours. There will be sidewalk chalk, and a sunflower cut-out photo opportunity.

"This year we`d really like them to make it a point to stop here instead of waiting in traffic and come into our town to experience it on their way," Rachel Kelly, a Tonganoxie Business Association Member, said.

The Grinter Family's contribution to Tonganoxie Tourism has been immortalized in a mural at the city park. Kelly says she commends the family for not letting the red tape keep them from creating fields full of yellow.

"It`s getting to that point," Grinter said when asked if he considered not planting the sunflowers at all this summer.

"But I really enjoy it and it`s around my house, I wake up and I look out the back window and I get to see the sunflowers," he said.

Both Grinter and Loughry are advising people hoping to capture a sunflower snapshot to avoid weekend afternoons. Grinter says because of all the rain the sunflowers will likely last about two weeks, giving everyone a chance to see them, if not too many people try to take one home. The farm does allow people to cut them down for a dollar donation, but Grinter says they really don't make very good cut flowers.