Roger Lende is optimistic for tourism at Frontier Village this year. The owner of jbros n me is expanding on what he offered last year at the second site for his business, the Trading Post building at the village.
“We’re hoping for a good year,” Lende said. “We’ve been doing a little research … we’re thinking that people are going to travel more this year (in the U.S.) rather than go abroad.”
That optimism was echoed by Deb Lee, manager of the Dakota Store in downtown Jamestown, which also has a second location in the depot building at the village. Sales were higher last year than in any other year since the store opened at Frontier Village in 2009, she said.
“We had a good year last year and I think more people will be traveling this year,” Lee said. “People like to buy locally made things, like North Dakota (products), so that makes us unique.”
Frontier Village officially opened for the tourist season Friday. Searle Swedlund, executive director of Jamestown Tourism, which is operating Frontier Village, said traffic didn’t fall off much during the coronavirus pandemic. But with the pandemic easing in 2021, people are more interested in going places.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that there is a pent-up demand for travel,” Swedlund said. “I think we’ll see our own version of that in Jamestown.”
He said Jamestown’s location is positioned well in the state.
“We get a lot of our traffic from folks who are on their way to a national park,” Swedlund said.“Because of our story related to the World’s Largest Buffalo and the American bison, we really fit well into that traveler’s niche. They stop here because part of that legacy of the American bison is so well connected to national parks that we have really this opportunity here in Jamestown to celebrate that with them” before they get to those parks, he said.
“I think the summer will be really good up here (at the village),” Swedlund said. “I think we’ll see a lot of traffic.”
Lende has been working to expand the visitors’ experience at the Trading Post. He wants the building to appear more authentic looking as a trading post with his business featuring antiques, collectibles and souvenirs.
“We’re really making some improvements,” he said. “What’s that old saying, ‘Go big or go home’. That’s what we’re doing.”
Lende added a deck at the building last year where he has placed tables and this year will be offering snacks including buffalo hotdogs, buffalo chicken, buffalo brats and pizza as well as ice cream and soda.
Over at the Dakota Store, the products are all about North Dakota. While some souvenirs are also available, the items for purchase are North Dakota products including food, pottery, handmade baskets and photography along with books written by North Dakota authors.
“We’re going to have a couple book signings in June,” Lee added.
There are 22 volunteers who help work in the store and Lee said it’s fun for them to learn where the visitors are from.
“It’s always amazing,” Lee said. It’s not unusual for visitors to say that North Dakota is their last stop in visiting all 50 states, which Lee says is all about “saving the best for last.”
Swedlund noted that Frontier Village’s purpose - getting people off the interstate after the highway was built in 1959 - has stayed true. Now it’s not just about getting people to stop but also how to keep them here and engage them. And that is key to the village’s future, to make it more engaging for kids and families “to get out and play, play and learn,” Swedlund said.
Jamestown Tourism is working on two “parkettes" to increase engagement with visitors. One will feature a true-to-size claim shack playhouse that has interactive experiences and the other will highlight the railroad and feature a miniature train with hand-cranked cars for adults and children and a playhouse depot.
“We think those themes are really at the core of what Frontier Village is all about,” Swedlund said and tie well into the American bison and settlement of the area.
Swedlund expects they’ll be completed sometime this summer. Jamestown Tourism is creating the parkettes so they are unique rather than something that can be found somewhere else.
“We want things that are pertinent to Jamestown, they’re pertinent to North Dakota, that are connected to the theme of Frontier Village,” Swedlund said. “We really want to honor what this property has been and what Jamestown really wants it to be and that’s much more difficult.”
In recent weeks, Jamestown Tourism has been focused on getting the village spruced up for the tourist season. About 45 volunteers helped paint and clean. The church and Eldridge store were also painted.
Much more work still needs to be done, Swedlund said.
“We took over the property a year and a half ago and what we found is just an enormous amount of deferred maintenance,” he said. “Just an astronomical amount of deferred maintenance. Every building up here is either sitting on railroad ties or on some temporary foundation structure. Every building needs siding, roofs or some other kind of functional external repair."
He said the maintenance issues didn’t happen overnight and Jamestown Tourism is working on a plan to deal with them.
Swedlund said there are no entertainment experiences planned at this time at the amphitheater. Taking on the cleanup and maintenance projects at the village as well as continuing other Jamestown Tourism duties makes that impossible. But he said they’re open to others having events there. Greeters are lined up for the season and the stagecoach rides will return. Swedlund said Mary’s House will be open on an abbreviated schedule. Mary Plumb, a member of the White Cloud Crafters which operates Mary’s House, said crafters who sell items also work at the site.
“We’re always looking for interested people to join us,” she said.
Mary’s House has crafts for purchase ranging from old silverware made into a chime to a wide variety of sewed items, Plumb said. People interested in selling crafts at Mary’s House may contact Plumb at 320-5175.
The Kirkpatrick Gallery is also selling a variety of work by local artists.
Frontier Village is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sept. 19.