Faron Wahl, Manager
We’re sure not getting any younger. Whether you’re a college student taking photos of our village buildings, a middle-aged dad spending the afternoon here with his family, or a historical society charter member – every one of us is another digit down the road from where we were last year on this date.
Thankfully, we have quite a few young folks laying foundations of interest at Prairie Village. This is very good. But when you examine the mean age of the largest group of folks rooted in our organization, let’s just say the sexagenarians – and those immediately on either side of their category – still win handily. We love and rely on that experience, but we also need to be ready to fill in behind them one day.
This begs the question: what will be the status of Prairie Village 20 years from now? We might be inclined to imagine it just like it is today, but that’s the one scenario that’s certainly not going to be. We’ll either have continued a smart growth pattern forward, or we’ll have slid the opposite direction. I can nearly guarantee it will be one or the other. Sitting still never lasts long.
As manager, I think about this pretty much daily. I have asked our board to join me in handling this operation as a business and in looking to play the long game regarding our future. The initial steps of such strategic thinking need to focus heavily on one category: our youth. And we’re taking active steps to embrace this population so critical to our survival.
Last week saw the kickoff of our 50th season of school tours. Nearly every weekday between now and early June, bus-loads of eager kids descend on our property to learn history in three dimensions, including touring our buildings and historical artifacts and experiencing our railroad. I look to grow this type of youth programming beyond the status quo, rather than settle for tradition alone and whatever numbers show up with it.
During any year except 2017, each student on a school tour would also get to ride our historic carousel, but its renovation makes that impossible this time around. So, we’re making sure each child goes home with a voucher to come back and claim that ride after our carousel’s return. Not only does this allow them to experience what they missed, but it brings them back for another probable full visit, likely with their family and maybe friends.
Our gift shop manager has been planning ideas for a couple of theme weekends, wherein families camping with us could decorate their campsite or take part in some other topic-related activity on the grounds. Again, more stuff going on to make the whole family cohesively enjoy their time with us.
For our tiniest guests, I recently ordered baby-changing stations for our restrooms. If we want families to come our way and teach their kids about history from the very first years, we need to accommodate them. Typically, a person’s earliest family memories affect long-term interests, so we would do well to get our future policy-makers here to visit at a tender young age.
Longer term, I’m fostering a set of ideas for engaging the youth visitor with on-site historic information fed to them the way they like it – via their smart devices. To be sure, I believe it’s fundamentally important to preserve the yesteryear authenticity of our structures and not interrupt their legitimacy with app-access info and scan-able clutter. But there are ways to achieve both and meet young people where they’re at. We’d be wise to do so.
These steps are only a sampling of my desire to focus on our youth nucleus. We need this population to join us in our historic undertaking so that invested leaders will be in place two and three decades down the road. It’s imperative we bring them here now, rather than betting they’ll show up later.