By CRISTINA JANNEY
An Ellis County couple is seeking to create a camping and ag tourism destination north of Hays.
Chad and Cynthia Tuttle own C2T Ranch, which is 14 miles north of Hays at 1202 Saline River Road.
The couple opened five camp sites to the public last summer, booking through the Hipcamp app.
"We stayed extremely busy all summer, all the way through September and October," Chad Tuttle said. "We were amazed, but we did it at exactly the right time.
"COVID made everyone change how they were traveling. If you still wanted to get across the country, a lot of people wanted to camp. They didn't want to stay in hotel rooms. They didn't want to fly, so camping went up 300 percent last year."
Hundreds of people visited the ranch last season. The ranch was voted the No. 1 campsite in Kansas on Hipcamp last year, and the No. 2 RV campsite in the country.
"People were just amazed at the scenery. Everybody told us we should do it in a bigger way, so that is why we decided to go ahead and expand it this year," he said.
The effort was so successful, the couple has made a request for a conditional-use permit to expand the ranch's facilities. The project is set to go before the Ellis Joint Planning and Zoning Commission on April 28.
The ranch consists of 2,000 contiguous acres and more than four miles of the Saline River. The land had been used for grazing and hay.
The middle of the ranch is bordered by 150-foot limestone cliffs.
The campground will consist of up to 36 campsites along the loop of the river. Each campsite will have river access and will be accessible by vehicles and RV’s. The couple is planning 12 primitive campsites, 12 RV sites with 50 amp power and water, six yurt sites, and six full-service RV sites with power, water and septic hookups.
The couple is also planning an outdoor event venue. Periodic flooding along the river will prevent the developers from building a permanent structure, but the couple plans to build a large deck that can be used to mount a 40-by-80-foot tent.
This can be used for outdoor events or weddings, Tuttle said. Capacity would be up to 300 people.
The Tuttles described the campgrounds as secluded. The campsites are in the middle of the ranch, and the nearest neighbor is more than a mile away.
The ranch already has access to electricity and well water. The last four and half miles from the highway to the ranch is unpaved.
The couple plans to offer “baskets” to campers that include ranch-raised hamburgers or brats and homemade roasted potatoes, ready to be cooked over their campfires.
They will also offer river floats, ranch tours and guided historical hikes. The ranch has more than 9 miles of marked trails for people to enjoy in the canyons and an extensive set of rock corrals and buildings dating back to at least 1885 to explore.
Future plans include a pumpkin patch and haunted trails along the river, along with other fall activities. The Tuttles also included a possible bed and breakfast in the conditional-use permit request, seeing that as a natural growth of the hospitality side of the ranch.
The plan will be done in several stages. Initial projects will be restroom facilities, the event venue, and clearing and cleaning for primitive sites.
Tuttle said he hopes to have the first phase of the project done this summer with campsites open by Memorial Day and a grand opening by July 4.
"It is more fun to share a beautiful place like this than to keep it to your self is what we discovered," Tuttle said.
Primitive sites book for $30 per night, and RV sites book for $40 per night.