by Julie Roller, Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation
Located just minutes away from the heart of Manhattan, the Lazy T Ranch is one of the Flint Hills’ best-kept secrets.
While some would be curious about their willingness to share this awe-inspiring ranch, the Wilson family welcomes visitors to their relaxing country oasis. “We want to share the story of the family farm and the Flint Hills with visitors from across the country,” owner Ron Wilson said. “There is a growing interest in western history, ranching and cattle drives; people are looking for authentic destinations and we want to share that experience with our visitors.”
Homesteaded in 1855 by New Hampshire native, Enoch Collins Persons, the ranch is located just below Riley County’s tallest hilltop, Freemont Point. In 1958, the ranch was sold to three Manhattan-area businessmen who gave the ranch its name, the Lazy T. Wilson’s parents, the late W. John and Glenna Wilson acquired the property in 1968 and since then three generations of Wilson’s have lived at the Lazy T. While the property has changed owners since it’s homesteading, the ranch’s original 1919 clay silo and 1860’s stone barn and 1939 corrals still remain.
“Our barn was recently nominated for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. The barn is structurally sound and we still use the hayloft to store our square bales,” Wilson said. “The engineering in the barn is amazing, once the hay is in the loft, it’s very simple to get it right into the troughs.”
Although majority of the ranch’s original structures remain, the original stone house was replaced with a more modern farmhouse in 1923, where Wilson’s mother still resides. In 2006, a new house was built on the ranch for Wilson and his family.
While at the Lazy T Ranch, guests can enjoy a relaxing hayrack ride through the majestic Flint Hills and the ranch’s untouched tall grass meadow, interact with the ranch’s “farm animal friends”, eat a delicious chuck wagon supper and enjoy western music and cowboy poetry preformed by Wilson around a rustic campfire under the stars.
According to the ranch’s brochure, “the poetry is fun, family-oriented, patriotic, relates extremely well with ag and rural audiences and most of the time, it even rhymes”. Wilson will also prepare and present an original, customized cowboy poem for a group or event. Starting in October, guests can also pick their own pumpkins, acorn squash and gourds at the ranch’s Valley View Pumpkin Patch. While at the pumpkin patch, they will also be able to enjoy tangy apples, sweet caramel and apple cider.
Today, Wilson’s mother Glenna, his wife Chris and their four school-aged children, including triplets, live on the ranch and take part in its day-to-day activities. This family is also very involved in Pottawatomie County 4-H, where they show many of the ranch’s animals. In addition to 4-H, Chris is slated to become the 2009 National President of American Agri-Women, a national coalition of farm, ranch, and agri-business women's organizations, while Ron is the director of the Huck Boyd Institute at Kansas State University, whose mission is to “help rural people help themselves”.
The Lazy T Ranch is a premiere example of bridging tourism and agriculture to increase the economic vitality of the Flint Hills region. Its prime location along Zeandale Road and Highway 18 make it an attractive tourist destination and its breathtaking scenic backdrop will surely leave visitors in wonder. “We want the Flint Hills to become a national location of choice, for people to rediscover their roots and our country’s heritage,” Wilson said. “We appreciate our history and want to share it.”
For more information about the Lazy T Ranch or to schedule a visit please call: (785) 539-7899 or visit www.lazytranch.org.