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Wild in Wichita!

Wichita is an American city with the world at its doorsteps.
Though it sits in the middle of the country, this Kansas city is by no means provincial. With thriving museums and other attractions, Wichita brings fascinating elements of foreign lands and cultures to its visitors.

Groups that tour Wichita can see horticulture, animals and antiquities from around the globe, and learn about the city’s history that includes such wide-ranging elements as cowboy settlements and aviation pioneering.

Artifacts abound

In Old Town, a downtown district that has become one of Wichita’s hottest dining and entertainment destinations, the Museum of World Treasures offers a look at national and international history that is driven by an impressive collection of objects and artifacts.

“It’s such an eclectic collection that it makes more sense just to call everything treasures,” said Kim Noller, a museum guide and daughter of its founder. “We have a wide range of treasures from ancient civilizations to fossils and a glove belonging to Marilyn Monroe.”

Artifacts at the Museum of World Treasures range from dinosaur fossils to Greek and Roman items from the time of the New Testament.

The museum started eight years ago as a repository for one family’s eclectic accumulation of historical objects; today, it has grown to encompass an array of themes, including geology, history, music and numerous small sports halls of fame.

Among highlights at the museum are a number of dinosaur skeletons and an authentic Egyptian mummy, as well as ancient artifacts from the Middle East. Visitors can see temple stones from Ur where Abraham lived, artifacts from ancient Babylon, and Israeli swords used in the times of David and Solomon.

“A lot of what my father collected was based on his Christian faith,” Noller said. “We have a case of artifacts from Jesus’ time period — things such as dice that the Romans used during his time, and Roman silver coins.”

In the museum’s European section, visitors can find a number of artifacts that once belonged to kings and queens. The military section has many firearms used in the Civil War, as well as weapons, uniforms and other items from both World Wars.

One of the museum’s most interesting exhibits is the Hall of Presidents. In addition to numerous pieces of presidential information and memorabilia, the exhibit showcases signatures of every U.S. president on original documents and letters.

A world of color

Nestled among a number of larger museums near the center of the city, Botanica: The Wichita Gardens is among the area’s most beautiful attractions. Though the garden’s 9.5-acre plot is much smaller than many other well-known botanical gardens, the size gives Botanica an intimate feel that is special in its own way.

And despite its small size, Botanica’s gardens are full of plantings that display an international flair. Organizers have made every square foot count, installing 24 different displays as diverse as a butterfly house and a koi pond.

Among the most impressive installations is the Shakespeare Garden. The Shakespeare area is the most formal garden at Botanica, and everything planted in that section was either indigenous to England in the time of William Shakespeare or was mentioned in one of his plays.

At the Society of Decorative Painters, groups can take workshops on using art to decorate household items.

Groups will also enjoy the sensory gardens, an area where guests can touch and smell a variety of plants and flowers. The aquatic garden nearby offers a glimpse of plants such as lotuses, water lilies and water platters that are native to places far away from Kansas and the United States.

Homespun art

Wichita is the headquarters of the Society of Decorative Painters, an international association of artists, and the group’s museum, the Decorative Arts Collection. The museum highlights the use of decorative painting to create art on everyday household objects.

The Decorative Arts Collection features more than 1,000 pieces of artwork painted on chests, clocks, serving trays and almost any other household furnishing imaginable. Styles range from simple and elegant detailing to complex, intricate scenes and patterns that cover the entire face of an object.

The collection includes items dating back more than 250 years, with themes, styles and techniques from around the world. Displays include Christmas designs, Russian platters, a Japanese color wheel table, Scandinavian stroke art and American folk art.

With some advance planning, groups can arrange to have a hands-on workshop in simple decorative techniques.

Worldwide wildlife

You won’t find tigers roaming the open Kansas plains, but you will find them and other exotic creatures from around the world at a number of sites in Wichita.

At the Sedgwick County Zoo, a new exhibit area allows guests to see tigers in an immersive environment. The exhibit, called the Slawson Family Tiger Trek, features a 50,000-square-foot habitat with t

At the Sedgwick County Zoo, the new Tiger Trek lets guests see tigers in a number of habitats.

wo tiger yards, a river and two tiger pools.

The exhibit is set up as a tour through a simulated tiger reserve, and visitors walk a path and a boardwalk through various topographical features. From an observation tower, visitors get a bird’s-eye view of the six adult tigers that live in the habitat. In various places along the exhibit’s walls, large glass viewing ports allow guests to come almost face to face with the fierce creatures.

The Tiger Trek is home to two types of tigers: Amur tigers, which can grow to up to 700 pounds, and Malayan tigers, a smaller variety of animal from the tiny Malayan Peninsula. Other animals, including endangered red pandas and Burmese brow-antlered deer, share the habitat as well.

Just west of town, the Tanganyika Wildlife Park gives groups further opportunities to interact with exotic creatures. The facility began as a breeding operation for zoos throughout the region but has expanded to include its own set of exhibits.

“Recently, they’ve built an actual wildlife park where people can hand-feed giraffes or watch penguins parade through the park,” said Ken Vandruff, director of communications for the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They have leopards, zebras and an Indian rhinoceros, and they have a ring-tailed lemur that will sit on your shoulder.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.