BROOKINGS – Following a four-month closure due to COVID-19, reopening the outdoor prairie for play on July 14 was a big reason to celebrate at the Children’s Museum of South Dakota. But the celebration got even bigger as the museum welcomed its one-millionth guest on Thursday, July 30.
Amanda Groebner and her children Landon and Logan were in Brookings from Springfield, Minnesota, visiting their nanny, Kate. Upon their arrival on the museum’s outdoor prairie, they were greeted by museum mascot Kidoodle and the news that they were part of a major museum milestone.
“Reaching one million guests is an incredible milestone for our organization, but it is even more meaningful today because of how our lives have changed in recent months,” Executive Director Kate Treiber said.
As part of the prize for being the one-millionth guest, the Groebner family has the option of selecting one of three prizes: a camping sleepover on the outdoor prairie, a private outdoor prairie playtime, or once the indoor space is open to the public, the original prize, an indoor night at the museum sleepover.
The museum was very close to welcoming the one-millionth guest when it closed unexpectedly due to the pandemic. During the closure, museum staff offered ways to spark play at home through their Seize the Play Blog and social media channels.
“We are thrilled to have our outdoor space open and ready to welcome families. Today was a special day, and it is wonderful to have a reason to celebrate,” Treiber said. “Play is a crucial part of childhood, and we are honored to inspire children and families to spark their imagination whether they are on our prairie or in their homes.”
The Outdoor Prairie, featuring an animatronic 25-foot-tall, 60-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex named Mama and her son Max, is open Tuesday through Saturday with three sessions of play a day: 10 a.m.-noon, 12:30-2:30 p.m., and 3-5 p.m. Guests can fish in the pond, play in the stream, dig for dinosaur fossils, explore in the music meadow, and more.
The one-millionth guest milestone also coincides with the upcoming celebration of the museum’s 10th anniversary in September 2020. When the museum was built in 2009, South Dakota was one of two states that did not have a children’s museum. During the planning stages, the annual attendance was estimated to be at 25,000. But the 10,000th guest was welcomed within 27 days of being open. In recent years, more than 105,000 people visit the museum annually in a town that has a population of 23,938.
“The museum is the result of a vision to build an exciting place where children of all ages and abilities could learn through play in downtown Brookings,” Director of Marketing Kerrie Vilhauer said. “It’s been fun to reflect on the children and families who have been making memories here. We can’t wait to see what more is to come.”
Reservations for playtime can be made online (www.prairieplay.org) or by phone (692-6700) with walk-ins being admitted as space allows. The indoor space is closed at this time. Operation modifications and trip planning tips can be found at www.prairieplay.org/plan/.