Boot Hill Museum continues to attract tourists interested in experiencing the myths and reality of the Old West, but officials must start thinking of ways to attract younger visitors.


   Boot Hill Museum continues to attract tourists interested in experiencing the myths and reality of the Old West, but officials must start thinking of ways to attract younger visitors.
    That's one of the key points of Dodge City's and Ford County's tourism master plan, which gives the city and county a road map for capitalizing on the region's heritage. The plan was released last week by the Alexandria, Pa.-based consultant Heberling Associates.
    Authors Michael Husband, Judith Heberling and William Hunter said Boot Hill has a number of assets, including a talented staff and well-organized artifact collections. But they said those advantages are offset by several problems, including the fact that the museum is essentially landlocked with no room for expansion.
    Other problems included a series of ongoing maintenance projects, a wish list of renovations and the challenge of ensuring the museum's financial stability.
    "Although the museum earns a large amount of its current operating budget, it consistently comes up about $150,000 short each year and has been asking the CFAB (Community Facilities Advisory Board) to recommend making up the difference," the authors wrote. "Under the current circumstances, it is impossible to address the long list of capital, large-scale maintenance and other projects currently on the table."
    Boot Hill director Lara Brehm told the Globe that the museum's top priority is finding a permanent source of funding — perhaps a mix of governmental and private support.
    "First and foremost, we've got to become financially stable and be able to continue our operations before we move toward doing capital improvements," she said Tuesday.
    Dodge City's arts and tourism coordinator, Bob Lancaster, said the plan spells out the steps that Boot Hill and other attractions should take to capitalize on the area's heritage. But he added that those attractions will have to take their finances into account when deciding which steps are feasible for them.
    "The difficult part of a lot of these things is it does come down to monetary issues: Which of these things can be afforded?" he said.

Problems and solutions
    Besides identifying the challenges that Boot Hill faces, the plan's authors also listed several possible strategies for tackling them.
    For instance, the authors said that Boot Hill's board of directors must either update the museum's current strategic plan or devise a new one, which should include a strategy for developing a permanent funding stream. That funding source, they said, should ensure the museum's financial health and provide support for making improvements.
    The authors also recommended renewing Boot Hill's accreditation from the American Association of Museums unless there was a compelling reason for letting it lapse.
    "It is important for the Boot Hill Museum to have the enhanced professional standing that comes with AAM accreditation, both in terms of its reputation in the community and as proof of its quality and stability when applying for funding from governmental agencies and corporate/private foundations," they said.   
    Brehm acknowledged that the museum recently allowed its AAM accreditation to lapse, mostly due to its financial health. But she said that museum officials will be seeking re-accreditation soon.
    "We were kind of in a position where some of the important aspects we needed to address — namely, our strategic planning and our financial situation — we felt maybe could put us on shaky ground," she said. "So we chose to voluntarily let it lapse. But we'll be reapplying in the near future."
    Brehm said the museum abides by the AAM's standards and is still a member in good standing.
    The plan's authors also recommended reconfiguring the museum complex, taking steps to make it more attractive and upgrading some of the exhibits.
    "Because funds have not been available to update all of the exhibits, visitors see a mixture of new and good — the firearms exhibit, for example —and tired installations," the authors wrote. "The latter include the vignettes behind patio doors. Some visitors have commented that they do not like the static exhibits or enjoy peering into dark rooms.    "
    The authors noted that museum staffers have developed a plan to replace or revitalize exhibits as funding becomes available.
    Brehm said the museum's board of directors is aware of the challenges it faces and is taking steps to address them.
    For example, she said, the board is already working on a strategic plan and is investigating the possibility of launching a fund-raising campaign for capital improvements.
    "I don't think there's really anything that we disagree with on it (the plan)," she said. "How we actually make it happen is always the hardest part."

    EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in an occasional series examining aspects of the tourism master plan.
   
    Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or e-mail him at eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.