Behind the Scenes at the Merriam Visitors Bureau…

Summer has come to an end, and while the visitor turnout may slow a bit during the fall and winter season, the Merriam Visitors Bureau is open year-round to welcome and service our guests. From meeting patrons to bridal parties, sports parents to motor coach travelers, the local visitors bureau office is often the first stop for visitors to any community.

Because no two days are alike inside the bureau office, we thought we’d give you a sneak peek into our to-do list and the top five visitor questions we receive from walk-in guests. We hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes glimpse, and we welcome you to come see us on the East Frontage Road in Merriam.

Top 5 questions at the visitors bureau office:

  1. Why are there bears outside? — The bears are a fun play on Merriam’s history during the operational years of Merriam Park (1880s). A mama bear and her baby cubs roamed the zoo grounds that were located inside the park, and the superintendent would have to coax them back to their den in the evening. Interestingly enough, we also have an elementary school in Merriam with the bear as their mascot!
  2. I never knew this building was here. How long have you been here? — Merriam Historic Plaza and Visitors Bureau was built in 2006 and has been serving visitors from this location ever since. However, did you know we have had a visitors bureau office in Merriam since the late nineties?
  3. What is the difference between a visitors center and a visitors bureau? — Slight differences, but mostly in size, staffing and hours. Visitor centers are typically state funded, operated year-round and solely provide visitor service (maps, directions, restrooms, etc.) Some are located inside convenience stores and rest areas, others are free standing. Kansas has only two visitor centers—one in Belle Plaine and one in Goodland. The local visitors bureau is typically managed through the local city, chamber of commerce or contracted independently. A visitors bureau is often funded by guest tax dollars of visitors staying in that city’s hotels. More than just a walk-in facility, the visitors bureau is oftentimes the marketing branch for the destination, and handles sales and service too.
  4. Where do you get your beautiful flower baskets? — This question is our favorite because our Public Works department actually makes them in-house. They also host a basket making workshop in the early spring, so for around $40, you can make one too. We think Merriam has the most beautiful flower baskets in the metro!
  5. What should I do when I’m in town? — This one varies based on the visitor’s interest (and sometimes the weather). From history to art, food to festivals, we can certainly make some fun recommendations for everyone, but there’s nearly always a BBQ request.

In case these questions don’t quite explain what we do here at the visitors bureau office, we’ve also created the list below of what we might be working on any day of the week, but we’re always happy to customize the visitor experience! It’s one of the reasons we’re named a “top tourist-friendly city in the U.S.” by Expedia. So, if you’re looking for super amazing visitor assistance, please give us a shout!

Here’s a sampling of the CVB day in the life:
Restock visitor brochure racks; respond to visitor inquiries for local places to dine, shop and stay; maintain the bureau office, meeting room and historic plaza grounds; assist walk-in visitors with questions, maps, referrals and suggestions; attend meetings (regional, state, etc. that impact the tourism economy and industry); update website and online offers; conduct site inspections with local hotels and area businesses by request; provide step-on greeting for incoming buses and groups; escort motor coach tours; setup and attend industry trade shows; conduct sales calls and visits; design visitor promotions; market local and regional events; manage social media accounts; write travel blog posts (like this one); design and write the annual Merriam Visitors Guide (big job, lots of coffee); participate in City of Merriam events, employee activities and regional promotions; meet with local businesses to encourage visitor discounts and special offers; provide unified voice on issues related to tourism; connect local residents with visitor services for incoming guests; provide speaking engagements for local and regional groups (Kiwanis, Lions Club, etc.); other duties as assigned, and as the day dictates — this week, for example, we are turning our fountains pink for breast cancer awareness and next week is the annual tourism conference in Junction City.

Community centers are great for visitors, too!

Merriam is embarking on ground-breaking developments – literally! As we celebrate the upcoming groundbreaking ceremony of our new community center on Aug. 30, we thought it would be nice to share how a community center is not only great for our local residents, but also for those who visit our city.

Groundbreaking MCC

Community centers are wonderful facilities that serve as gathering places for fitness classes, recreational programs, dedicated art space, and meetings and events. From daily walking clubs to those who meet up once a month for coffee and a chat, a community center is a hub of activity in any city or town. It serves the needs of various audiences from youth to seniors, business executives to gym goers, and many in between. It’s budget friendly for those seeking affordable recreation and the offerings are always abundant.

But, many times, when visiting a new destination, travelers don’t automatically think of a community center as something they can utilize. How many times have you visited a town and headed down to your hotel’s gym, which may only include a couple of machines and a hanging TV? Maybe you’re a free-weight kind of person or you prefer mat space for a quick yoga sesh. Why not consider the local community center? Yes, it might be more valuable to a local resident who pays an annual membership and frequents it regularly, but there’s no doubt you’ll find a great mix of daily classes, a fully accessible gym with all the latest equipment, weights and floor space, a fancy aquatic center (ours will have a lazy river), and a friendly team of people ready to greet you.

On a trip west last year for my annual conference, the hotel gym was a converted gazebo with two treadmills, an elliptical, and a stack of towels on the water dispenser. It was better than nothing, but my head nearly touched the ceiling and it just seemed thrown together. The workout was just meh. That evening, I called the local community center, and it had a 6 a.m. zumba class the next day – visitors welcomed! It was still dark outside on the drive over, but I was so much happier to greet fellow zumba enthusiasts rather than the boring, squeaky gazebo treadmill again. I paid a rate for a drop-in visitor, enjoyed the hour-long sweat marathon, and headed back to the hotel for opening conference session. Don’t get me wrong – many hotels offer fantastic amenities in their fitness centers, but if you crave all of the bells and whistles, a community center is the ticket.

kitty workout

Let’s explore other community center offerings visitors might enjoy while in town:

  • Access to a wide variety of classes — from yoga to bird-watching, personal finance to nutritious meal prep. You can check out the monthly lineup to see if you can learn something new.
  • Drop-in rate on a special program (bingo, cards, movie matinee).
  • Art gallery exhibits and events — many centers offer public viewing space for rotating exhibits.
  • Meeting space usage — need to work remotely for a few hours or find a space where colleagues can gather? Community center rental spaces are often more affordable options.
  • Walking track — get in those daily steps at the local community center.
  • Aquatic center amenities — take a dip in the pool for a refreshing beginning (or end) to your day.

Merriam’s new community center is on track for construction this fall with a proposed opening in summer 2020. This new facility is just minutes from the hotels in Merriam and will give visitors the same great access that residents can enjoy. Stay tuned on our progress here and, in the meantime, join us as we turn the dirt on Aug. 30.

 

 

Turkey Creek Festival Top 10

TCF TOP 10
Merriam’s largest annual festival is approaching, and organizers are gearing up for this highly anticipated family event. The Turkey Creek Festival officially kicks-off the summer event season in Merriam, and is held on the third Saturday in May each year at Antioch Park.

Whether you’re a seasoned TCF pro, or 2018 will be your first festival, you’ll want to be sure to take in all the sights and fun of the day. Gates are open from 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m., so there’s plenty of time to delight in all things Turkey Creek! To help you enjoy a sampling of the entire festival, check out the Visitors Bureau’s Turkey Creek Festival Top 10 below.

TCF2.jpg

  1. Get your early morning workout in by joining the Turkey Creek Festival 5K. This family friendly route through some of Merriam’s prettiest neighborhoods will earn you the daily 10,000 step count in no time. Learn more here!
  2. After 3.1 miles, you’ve probably worked up a good appetite…satisfy those hunger pangs at the Lions Club pancake feed in shelter #1 at Antioch Park.  From 7:30-11:30 a.m., for the low, low price of $6.00 ($4.00 for kids 12 and younger), you can feast on pancakes, sausage, coffee and orange juice until your heart is content.
  3. Right inside the gates, you can interact with Merriam’s first responders! From touring the fire truck to chatting with police and EMS, Merriam welcomes you to stop by and say hi.
  4. Stroll the artisans expo in search of the perfect home decor piece, hand-made jewelry bauble or other fabulous find.
  5. Tackle a little woodworking project with the kiddos at Home Depot’s building area in the park shelter.
  6. Take a lunch break on the beautiful park grounds! Choose your favorite concession fare–turkey legs, gyros, ribbon curl fries, hot dogs–the menu options are endless!
  7. Sway to the tunes during one of the live concert performances. From country to rockabilly, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to fine-tune your two-step!
  8. Ride the train…it’s small, but mighty, and will give you a tiny reprieve traveling from one space to another if you need to rest your legs while giving the kids a fun activity.
  9. Once your legs have recovered, the kids will ask to take the boat ride. Warning…you’ll be pedaling, hence they are called pedal boats. They’re a lot of fun, but make sure you’re prepared to pedal across the small lake and back.
  10. Star Wars characters will be strolling the park grounds. If you’re a character chaser, bring your autograph book and a pen! May the force be with you!

    pedal boats

TCF helpful resources:
Festival video
TCF information
Artisans Expo
5K Run/Walk & Youth Sprint

Trek The Steamway Trail!

Turkey Creek Streamway Trail (9)

The sun is shining, you need to reach your daily step count, the dog is all leashed up, and those new sneakers are begging for a few miles. It’s never a better time to hit the Streamway Trail in Merriam.

This four-mile path will guide you along wooded areas, industrial business centers, residential neighborhoods, public parks and Merriam’s newest art installations, Still Time and Planting the Seeds. Winding along Merriam’s Turkey Creek, the Streamway Trail begins on the south end of Merriam at the 75th Street access point and finishes up near Waterfall Park at 51st and Merriam Drive on the north end of town. The trail also offers access points at Chatlain Park, Campbell Park and the Merriam Marketplace. Serious trail blazers can keep moving along Streamway Trail into Overland Park via Antioch Road.

If you’re ready to lace up and head out for a beautiful day of trekking the trail, be sure to check out page 17 in the new Merriam Community & Visitors Guide to learn about all the sights to see along the way. We’ve even included a tasty homemade trail mix recipe from our Parks & Recreation Director Anna Slocum.

Recipe (1)

More trail tips & helpful info:

  • Trail markers are available every 1/2 mile and emergency 911 markers are available every 1/10 mile.
  • The entire trail is paved.
  • Dog-friendly waste stations are available along the trail.
  • Hop off the trail to enjoy lunch or dinner in downtown Merriam.
  • Grab a JCPRD Trail Guide at the Merriam Visitors Bureau at 6304 E. Frontage Road.
  • Share your trail pics with @ExploreMerriam on Instagram.

 

Happy trails from the Merriam Visitors Bureau!

 

Fall Foliage in the ‘Burbs

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”  –William Cullen Bryant

In less than a week, the official start to fall will be underway. The temps in Kansas, according to Weather Center, will remain in the 80’s, but we Kansans flock to our sweaters and jackets the moment a slight chill is in the air. You might think that Kansas isn’t necessarily the greatest spot to view the beautiful colors of fall. Well, while we may not have the foliage followers of the Northeastern states, we can certainly hold our own in beauty, color and fantastic weather when the leaves do begin to turn.

Here in suburban Merriam, just 10 minutes from downtown Kansas City, it can be challenging to find large swaths of foliage to gaze upon, but we are definitely full of pockets of autumn Pantones across the city. Take a peek at our favorite spots to view the changing leaves this season!

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Antioch Park, Merriam Kansas

  • Turkey Creek Streamway Trail — running along the west side of I-35 from Waterfall Park to the 75th Street access point, this 4-mile paved trail is full of trees, shrubbery, wildlife and a trickling stream for a beautiful nature walk this fall.
  • Antioch Park — the most popular park in Merriam, Antioch Park offers picturesque views of some of the most vibrant and beautiful trees in our city.
  • Merriam Historic Plaza — check out the pretty line of maples along the sidewalk of Merriam Historic Plaza at Shawnee Mission Parkway and I-35. While you’re there, take in a mini history lesson about our great city on the outdoor walking path.

Nature’s beauty is never more evident than when the trees become ablaze in brilliant shades of oranges, reds and golds. Where’s your favorite spot to view the leaves in Merriam? Snap a pic when the colors are in full bloom, share it socially and tag us @ExploreMerriam–we’d love to see your fall photos.


For the locals:
The leaves are pretty but they eventually fade and drop to the ground. This year, the City of Merriam has arranged for Benjamin Lawn & Landscape to offer a group rate for residential curbside leaf removal in neighborhoods. Click here to learn more!

For the visitors:
Stop by the Merriam Visitors Bureau office at 6304 E. Frontage Road (M-F 8-4:30) to pick up a Merriam Visitors Guide full of attractions, shops and restaurants, or click here to explore our seasonal favorites in and around Merriam!

Eclipse With Merriam!

Have you ever heard the saying, “the future’s so bright we gotta wear shades?” Well, that rings true for Merriam, Kansas and the entire Nation on Monday, August 21, 2017 when the solar eclipse treks across the country–an event not witnessed in 38 years and one that many of us may never see again.

TOTAL ECLIPSE IN THE PARKS - newsroom (2)

To welcome the eclipse, Merriam has teamed up with other local CVB’s and Chambers, the Johnson County Park & Recreation District and local food trucks to offer “Total Eclipse in the Parks.” If you have the opportunity, you should try to make the trek to the path of totality and we are aware that our destinations are not in the path of totality. But, there are some folks who simply can’t make the trip to the path, so we’re hosting eclipse viewing parties in Merriam, Shawnee/Lenexa, and Olathe. We’ll be 99.8% dark during the eclipse, so if you’re looking for a lunchtime spot to view this celestial celebration, come on out to Antioch Park, Heritage Park or Shawnee Mission Theater in The Park anytime between 11:30-1:30 on Monday! If you’re one of the first 200 individuals to join us, you’ll score a FREE pair of ISO certified solar viewing glasses.

Until then, check out a few eclipse tips we think you’ll enjoy! Happy eclipsing.

  • Arrive a little early to your view site to secure your prime viewing location. Antioch Park view site will be at Shelter 2. Parking is limited (again, not in the path of totality, just FYI)
  • Bring plenty of water, a lawn chair or blanket, sunscreen and bug spray.
  • Pack a cooler or bring some cash (or credit card) to grab a bite from the Fresh & Tasty Food Truck–they’ll have cold sandwiches, baked potatoes, mac & cheese and cold drinks.
  • Secure your solar viewing device early! Many places are selling non certified glasses now which are not safe to view the eclipse. Look for the proper ISO requirement on the glasses.
  • Bring a camera to document the event, but don’t miss the actual peak by viewing through a camera lens. Take it in and enjoy this historic celestial moment. If you must shoot photos, remember to still protect your eyes.
  • If you can’t even make it outside at all, download the Total Solar Eclipse 2017 app by Exploratorium. This cool app will feature live streaming by educators and NASA scientists. NASA will also live stream on television so everyone can view.
  • Check-out this eclipse map which details the path of totality across Kansas!
  • Here’s a list of fun eclipse events in our region!

Happy eclipsing everyone!

Beat the heat at the Library!

Looking for a place to cool off during the Kansas heat wave? Head over to the Antioch Branch of the Johnson County located at the corner of Shawnee Mission Parkway and Antioch in Merriam. Created by volunteers in 1953, the Antioch library (the first public library in the county), was initially open just five hours a week. Today, the Johnson County Library system serves more than 566,933 residents from thirteen public facilities and a well-developed website.  Antioch Library in Merriam serves an area of about 40,000 people as well as anyone from outside this area visiting Merriam. Membership is not exclusive only to residents–everyone is welcome to apply for a Library card.

The Library offers strong WiFi connections and free public computers with printing capability. If arriving in Kansas for a meeting or interview, study rooms can be reserved at many of our locations. If arriving with children, the Library offers story times for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, and at Antioch specifically, we maintain a creative and educational play area that features early childhood literacy hand-on activities. We host other events and programs year round, each of which is described in our seasonal guide available at the Merriam Visitors Bureau.

After leaving Merriam, our magazines, newspapers and databases will continue to be available. Everything from consumer information to personal finance tools to learning a language, among many other recreational and educational topics, can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection and a current Library card.

The mission of the Johnson County Library is to provide access to ideas, information, experiences and materials that support and enrich people’s lives. The Library is supported by ad valorem taxes, by the Friends of Johnson County Library book sales, and by the philanthropic efforts of the Johnson County Library Foundation. Please visit our website at www.jocolibrary.org to learn more or come see us at Antioch and Shawnee Mission Parkway!

Guest blog by Michelle Holden, Information Specialist – Antioch Library