The Conway Springs family of Jessi and Bryan Lynch considered Oklahoma City and Kansas City for their destination spring break vacation.
Which place won? Reno County.
The couple and their daughters Piper, 6, and Myka, 5, ate lunch Thursday at Carriage Crossing in Yoder, and then toured Strataca/Kansas Underground Salt Museum, 3650 E. Avenue G. On Friday morning, they were at the Cosmosphere - the first time for the girls. On Saturday morning, the family headed to the Hutchinson Zoo.
The sightseeing even extended into their overnight choice: Hedrick’s Bed and Breakfast Inn so they also could see Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm, Nickerson.
“Petting the big fluffy bunny” at Hedrick’s was a highlight for Myka, while Piper was impressed by the friendly black cat at Hedrick’s.
Choosing the Hutchinson area for the mini-vacation made it easier because of the proximity, according to Jessi Bryan. It’s roughly an hour away.
Also at the Cosmosphere, 1100 N. Plum St., on Friday was Sara McIntyre, Wichita, with her two children, Abigail McIntyre, 8, and Wyatt McIntyre, 5. This was spring break week in Wichita schools. “It was just on our spring break bucket list,” Sara McIntyre said of the Cosmosphere.
The children’s week included skating and swimming, but Abigail McIntyre said the Cosmosphere, where she helped launch an air rocket, was “the most fun.”
Based on 2017 figures, said VisitHutch’s Vice President of Operations and Tourism LeAnn Cox, visitors spent $112 million in Reno County. Visitor spending in Reno County ranks tenth among all counties in a 105-county state, she also said, citing statistics from an outside study.
That study also showed tourism in Reno County in 2017 generated $17.9 million in tax revenues in 2017, with $11.1 million accruing to state and local governments, she said.
Museum-goers are part of the tourism picture.
Drawn to space
In 2018, total attendance at the Cosmosphere was 81,288, up from 80,732 the previous year. The attendance total does not include non-ticketed events such as building rentals, member events, special events or Coffee at the Cosmo, according to Cosmosphere staff.
Visitors in 2018 came from throughout the U.S. and also from 42 foreign countries. The international visitors had homes in countries including South Africa, Mongolia, New Zealand, Malta, South Korea, Turkey, and Latvia.
Student groups are staples at the Cosmosphere, and 16,988 visitors were part of student groups last year. Camps at the Cosmosphere are another component, and 1,095 people were pulled in by a camp. The majority of campers live in Kansas, but campers in recent years have come from Israel and Germany, according to staff.
“We’ve just been swamped this week,” said Mary Clark, interim director of the Reno County Historical Society, noting that Strataca/Kansas Underground Salt Museum had sold close to 500 tickets Friday.
A family from Nebraska touring the underground salt museum Friday was going to the Cosmosphere Saturday, Clark said. Lots of tourists this week have been from the Wichita area, she said.
Ticket sales at Strataca in 2018 totaled 44,776, down 133 from total sales in 2017.
Many children see Strataca on school field trips and last year, 6,628 visitors were part of school groups. Murder in the Mine plays attracted 953 visitors last year, and Scouts camping overnight in the old mine topped 500.
Clark previously worked at the Dillon Nature Center in Hutchinson, which drew mostly local visitors. She has been “totally flabbergasted” by the visitors coming from across the country and from many foreign countries to tour Strataca and the Cosmosphere.
“They’re coming specifically for these,” she said.
Guests are not required to sign the guest book, Clark said, but the 2018 Strataca book reveals people came from 48 states and from such countries as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bermuda, Aruba, China, Japan, Kuwait, and Australia.
In February, the 5K run in Strataca had nearly 400 participants, including runners from 21 states. People came from as far away as California, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania, Clark said.
The Reno County Museum, 100 S. Walnut St., had 7,225 walk-in visitors last year, a number that includes those going to the Oodleplex. That was up from 7,098 the previous year.
More spring breaks
While Wichita schools were on spring break this week, spring break for Hutchinson USD 308 and other schools will be next week.
The spring break events at the Cosmosphere, including free activities for children, will continue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, March 18, through Saturday, March 23, according to Michelle Snyder, space science educator at the Cosmosphere.
“It has been extremely exciting and busy,” Snyder said of this week.
She helped students start to build their air rockets and they were able to launch the air-powered rockets with a stomp. “Kids can stomp on these for hours,” she said.