The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs may seem like a quiet place, but big things are happening there.
Although it’s mostly closed for the winter right now, Santa will visit there Saturday, Sunday and Dec. 12 and 13. On Saturday, the center will hold its new Santa Express 5K run to raise money to fix up its historic railroad depot.
The depot, which originally stood in nearby Morris, Kan., has almost all of its original fixtures, but that means it also needs maintenance work. The center brought the depot to its grounds in the 1980s.
Runners interested in the 5K can pre-register for $25 or $30 on the day. There will also be a special one-mile route, where runners pay $15 to pre-register or $20 on the day. Participants doing the 5K will get a T-shirt, and those doing the one-mile route will get a headband with reindeer antlers on it.
Runners will loop around parts of the 160-acre property and end at the depot, where Santa will be waiting. Visitors will also have the opportunity to ride a narrow-gauge rail car that travels around the buildings of the center on a six-minute ride. It also stops at the depot.
At the depot, there will be craft activities, snacks and fake, biodegradable snow — if there isn’t any real snow yet.
Dawn Gabel, the center’s executive director, is hoping for a big turnout. Gabel is finishing her first year at the center, which had been almost completely closed during 2014. She has plans to revitalize the center and its exhibits, starting with a day camp next summer.
The nine-week camp will be open to first- through seventh-graders and will focus on agricultural projects. When campers sign up, they’re automatically signed up for 4-H as well. Gabel hopes most campers will be able to present their projects at county fairs at the end of the summer.
She’s planning to include a live animal program with chickens for the campers, anticipating that avian flu won’t be a problem next summer like it was this year. County fairs in Kansas were not allowed to have live poultry displays this year because of the disease.
Gabel said she also wants to expand on existing programs, such as one they have about bees and pollination with an on-site apiary and local beekeepers.
“We’re re-imagining our space,” Gabel said. The plan is to be a “modern children’s museum space focusing on STEM. … The board had to look at where we wanted to go into the future. It needed to be modernized. … That means interactive. That means hands-on, not just a presentation style.”
The center, chartered in 1960 and opened in 1965, aimed its exhibits at the interests of the rural population at that time, Gabel said, but “the museum of 1965 isn’t the museum of 2015. We never want to forget our history, but we’ll be mixing in more about what we currently do” in farming.
The center, which does not receive any government funding, runs on grants and donations. Gabel said the center had received backing from the Farm Bureau, Bayer, Country Club Bank, Walmart and others.
Gabel said she’s applying for grants and hopes to have revamped exhibits ready in about a year. She’s grateful to curators of other museums, both in the Kansas City area and beyond, for giving her advice during this process.
“The community of Kansas City has been more than welcoming in helping us re-imagine and giving us quality advice as we move forward,” Gable said.
One thing that helps the center keep running is its volunteers. Lars Dahlquist of Kansas City, Kan., has been a volunteer for four years. He and a few others do maintenance work on the property, and that can include anything from mowing the grass to fixing the plumbing to repairing very old farm equipment.
He’s looking forward to getting some of the older engines in the collection back into the best shape possible.
“They’re fine, except they haven’t been run in 50 years. We’d like them to run at some of the events so some of the younger people could see what was going on in 1910 and 1920,” he said.
Dahlquist grew up on a farm in Big Bow, Kan., about 90 miles west of Dodge City.
“When I got into college, I couldn’t wait to get away from the farm. … Actually, I kind of miss it now,” he said. “That’s one of the things I like about working out (at the center) is being able to drive the tractors and the equipment that I grew up with.”
He said was excited about Gabel’s leadership, which he called “really exceptional.”
“She’s making a lot of things happen,” he said. “I was kind of discouraged when they shut down for a year … but they managed to resurrect it, and it’s doing pretty well.”
Beth Lipoff: firstname.lastname@example.org