He walked into the dimly lit theatre in Emporia and it was obvious he had been there before. The front desk personnel knew his name and gave him free range to walk around the theatre and utilize a quiet room for an interview.
“I helped restore this place,” Casey Cagle said.
Standing about six feet tall, he sported a brown fedora that shielded the top of his head. His two braids hung down past his shoulders and covered his Prairie Earth Tours patch that covered his heart.
The theatre that he helped restore was the meeting ground for that day’s tour group. The Granada was in bad shape and headed towards a complete teardown before a group of investors decided to give it a facelift. Cagle was one of the people who decided to jump in and get his hands dirty during the restoration — one of the first projects he got involved in when he moved back to Emporia to start his own business.
Before he started his own touring company, Prairie Earth Tours, Cagle was living in Australia working as a tour guide in the great Outback. Before that, Cagle worked for a tour company based out of California that explored large cities and national parks all over the United States and Canada.
According to Cagle, the biggest difference between working in California and Australia was variety. While working stateside his tours took him from New York to LA and everywhere in between. However, in Australia it was the same three to four days tour every time.
“At first, I thought that was going to drive me crazy,” Cagle said. But while working in Australia, he learned that by focusing on a single area, you can become an expert on your area.
“I wanted to fashion my business model a little bit more on what I learned in Australia,” Cagle said. “I wanted a magnified lens look at one area.”
Drawing from the experiences from his previous occupations, Cagle crafted a unique touring style to bring back to Kansas.
“I don’t sell tours, I sell experiences,” Cagle said. Authenticity. It’s a word that he said multiple times Saturday, at the Symphony in the Flint Hills, and again at Chicken Express as he talked about his business while dining on a three-piece combo dinner with fries.
“Every time I plan an itinerary, authenticity is the number one concern,” Cagle said. “I want people to get local interaction. I want people to experience something that a local would experience. I think it’s working.”
It is working. Dr. Hoy, a Flint Hills rancher and former professor at Emporia State University, hosted the tour for that day, and it sold out in under 24 hours. Guests on the tour traveled the back roads of neighboring towns and enjoyed the scenic views at Teter Rock. The tour wrapped up with a dinner at Chicken House in Olpe.
As he finished his dinner the passion that led him to start his own business becomes clear.
“I missed having a real connection with people,” Cagle said.
When you are touring at a large company, going place to place, it’s interesting meeting new people, but he said he missed that sense of connection. Because at the end of one tour, there was always another one. By having his own tour company back in the Flint Hills he loves, Cagle now builds those authentic relationships that made him fall in love with the Flint Hills in the first place.
“I love the area so much, and I love the people so much,” Cagle said.
The Flint Hills suit him. One look at him and you can tell he is a man of the land. His Indiana Jones-ish features just highlight the adventurous nature of his soul.
— by Ian Knight
To check out or book a tour with Prairie Earth Tours, go to https://prairieearthtours.com/