Saturday we headed off to Republic County and veered briefly into Jewell County as part of the Big Kansas Road Trip organized each year by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.

The road trip is a weekend set in a small cluster of Kansas counties each May. This year they invited the public to Republic, Jewell and Smith counties. The goal is to get people onto the back roads to see Kansas’ little jewels. It’s a great idea that’s resulted in a growing appreciation of that inimitable quality of life found in small towns of the Great Plains.

My husband and I sauntered into Courtland Saturday morning, ready for a tour of the Bostwick Irrigation District. I almost bailed on the tour to follow a big group of women to a downtown green space where they were gathering for yoga. It was a clear indicator that Courtland is no dying small town. The young people who have moved back there or remained to raise a family are creating a place with the amenities they value.

The western Republic County town has a health and fitness center that’s collaborating on how to create a local trail. It has a ceramics shop, an arts center, a restaurant known for great Italian cooking, a newspaper and it has Irrigation Ales, a destination brewery themed around the culture of the area’s unique canal irrigation district.

Just north of town, along U.S. 36, there’s the depot market selling fresh asparagus and salad greens and canned goods, among other fun items as they await the growing season to explode and more produce to arrive.

We didn’t have time to see more, unfortunately. But with the road trip’s brochure in hand, we’ll be headed back for future day trips.

Next year’s Big Kansas Road Trip is in Ellsworth and Lincoln counties. I’ve already got my map out.