Great Bend, Kan., is a city of the second class and is the county seat of Barton County. The city received its named from its location, which is at the point where the course of the Arkansas River bends east, then southeast.
Great Bend is a great place to live, according to locals, because of its low cost of living and high quality of life. City Administrator Kendal Francis said, “Great Bend has an outstanding quality of life, focusing strongly on youth activities and recreation.”
The Great Bend Recreation Commission, also known as Great Bend Rec, provides quality leisure, cultural, sports, fitness and educational programs to improve the quality of the community and the individual lives of its residents. Great Bend Rec offers hundreds of quality, affordable youth and adult programs, after-school programs, outdoor activities, special events, sports leagues and tournaments at its facilities city-wide.
Great Bend is historically known for drag racing; hunting, fishing and birding; and its rich oil industry. The Sunflower Rod & Custom Association operates the city-owned historic track and hosts national event drag racing every year. In addition, there are several other main attractions and draws to the city, including nature and wildlife-focused areas like the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo & Raptor Center, the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Refuge, the Kansas Wetland Education Center and the Wetlands & Wildlife Scenic Byway.
Art enthusiasts enjoy seeing the featured mural artwork and bronze sculptures. Great Bend’s downtown is decorated with beautiful pieces of bronze artwork, and large murals decorate many buildings’ walls. Painted by high school students, community members, senior citizens, professional artists and children, the murals are tied together by themes relating to Great Bend’s past and present. Found embedded in the sidewalks surrounding the Great Bend courthouse is the Kansas Quilt Walk. Quilt makers have historically used their craft to express themselves with beautiful fabrics and fine needlework. Visitors and residents can also enjoy the Shafer Art Gallery, the Kansas Oil Museum, the Rosewood Winery and the Great Bend Farm, Ranch & Hemp Expo.
Great Bend has a mayor-council form of government, with eight city council members, two from each of the four wards, and a mayor elected at-large. Agriculture and oil are the predominant industries, and Great Bend is also home of Barton Community College.
According to Francis, “Our population has declined 6.4% since its peak population in 2010 (15,995 to the current 14,974). However, we are projecting half percent growth per year for the next 20 years.”
Great Bend is also home to the Great Bend Army Airfield, an initial training base for the B-29 Superfortress during WWII. The airfield is the site of a memorial dedicated to the men and women who manufactured, flew and provided support for the Boeing B-29 Super Fortress.
Great Bend is the hometown of several inventors and famous citizens like Jack Kilby, 2000 Nobel Prize laureate in physics for co-inventing the integrated circuit (microchip); he also invented the handheld calculator and the thermal printer.
Great Bend was the birthplace of the National Hot Rod Association drag racing in 1955. The Sunflower Rod & Custom Association continues to operate the city-owned historic track and hosts national event drag racing every year. The city is also the birthplace of U.S. Senator Jerry Moran and the home of U.S. Senator Roger Marshall. Great Bend has a rich history, with several attractions to offer to its residents and visitors.