Photo provided
Children can interact with all kinds of animals at Animal Encounters at Conner Prairie.
Photo provided Children can interact with all kinds of animals at Animal Encounters at Conner Prairie.
FISHERS – Every year while her husband attends a conference in Indianapolis, Karen Ferri and her young daughter visit a host of central Indiana attractions. Last year, they added Conner Prairie to the list.
“I remember, Nora missed our dog terribly so we spent a lot of time in Animal Encounters,” said the Troy, Mich., resident. “The staff was great to bring over animals for her to pet and suggest places that she might enjoy to visit on the grounds. Their knowledge and insight into the animals and their care was incredible. We had a very memorable experience and are coming back in May.”
Ferri and her daughter were just two of a total of 428,602 people who visited Conner Prairie in 2017, all all-time attendance record since the museum was founded 84 years ago. That number is up 37,341 people from 2016. Visitors came from 46 U.S. states and 22 foreign countries.
Membership also grew to a record high as 8,267 families consisting of 39,332 adults and children joined Conner Prairie last year. Preliminary total revenue for the year was $11,279,631 while expenses were $11,268,194. Other milestones:
• 21,005 people took flight in the museum’s tethered helium balloon, generating record annual revenue of $231,048
• 123,855 people attended Kroger Symphony on the Prairie, an all-time record
• 40,283 people attended the Headless Horseman fall festival, an all-time record
• 11,570 guests attended three free admission days, including a record 4,757 people on President’s Day
• 575 adult volunteers gave a combined 41,273 hours of service to the museum and 100 youth volunteers ages 10-18 gave 120 hours each throughout the year
In 2017, Conner Prairie received a national award for exhibit excellence from the American Alliance of Museums. The museum was also named one of the most-visited outdoor museums in the U.S. by Education.com, Ancestry.com, Family Living Magazine and Outdoor History Museum Forum. And Conner Prairie made international headlines when an extremely rare English Longhorn calf was born via embryo transfer at the museum.
Also, Conner Prairie launched the first phase of a 20-year site master plan that will explore ways to potentially develop and program nearly 1,000 acres of undeveloped land and 3.2 miles of river frontage running through the middle of the property. Conner Prairie has the largest contiguous tract of undeveloped land and river frontage in Hamilton County.
“While we will always have a heart for the past, we also have to have a head for the present and an eye to the future because we believe that understanding the past can help us navigate current pathways and forge new paths into the future,” said Conner Prairie President and CEO Norman Burns. “Through our planning so far, there have been big ideas for improving, expanding and creating new experiences across the entire property and push us toward our goal of becoming a year-round destination for all ages.”
Conner Prairie has engaged urban design and landscape architectural firm MKSK and is in the process of consulting with staff, community members and other key stakeholders to dream about the future development of museum property.
“The White River is key to why the Lenape Indians relocated to where Conner Prairie is today and it’s the reason William Conner and his family chose to remain on this property,” Burns said. “We see Conner Prairie as a pre-eminent outdoor history museum and place for experiences that will fully embrace the White River as a resource for its future success and growth. We want to better utilize and steward our segment of land and river in Hamilton County while integrating it more fully with the surrounding areas.”
Looking forward into the new year, new programming and exhibit enhancements will be occurring now through the fall.
Programming will continue to evolve and expand in Conner Prairie’s newest year-round exhibit, Makesmith Workshop, a makerspace which debuted earlier this month.
A new outdoor experience will open March 27, which is the first day of Conner Prairie’s 2018 outdoor season. Fort Hoosier will be a 100,000-square-foot addition to Treetop Outpost that promotes free play in nature.
And new activities and amenities will be added to River Crossing, the indoor-outdoor water play area inside Civil War Journey, and Animal Encounters, where visitors can get up close to rare-breed and modern-day farm animals and learn more about how they live and are cared for.