Jaci Trefz is an artist whose work is for sale at the Kirkpatrick Art Gallery at Frontier Village. She said sales appear to be up this summer at the gallery, which is operated by The Artisans Group.
“Sales were incredible,” said Trefz, who is secretary for the group. “Everybody else is gone, but we decided to stay open until the end of the month. ...
“I would guess that it’s probably the best year we’ve had as a group,” she said.
Across the street is the Trading Post, operated by Roger Lende as a second site for his business, jbros n me. Lende sells souvenirs, antiques and collectibles.
“We were very satisfied with the turnout this year," Lende said. “It was great. It was much better than last year. A lot more positive.”
Visitation was up this year at Frontier Village, said Searle Swedlund, executive director of Jamestown Tourism.
Frontier Village’s official tourism season ended Sept. 19. Visitation from the beginning of the year through Aug. 30 was 68,429 vehicles coming through the gates. That is up 17.84% from 2019, an increase of 10,358 vehicles, Swedlund said. The numbers were compared to 2019, which was a more typical year, he said.
“We were a little nervous going into the summer watching our numbers,” he said. But he said the visitation this season was “excellent.”
Of the vehicles coming through the gates, an average of 2.8 occupants per vehicle is estimated, Swedlund said. That would place the number of visitors at more than 192,000.
“We saw a much more diverse U.S. lower 48 population than we would have seen normally,” he said of the visitors. He said most visitors are from five or six states east of North Dakota although they come from every state in the U.S.
Swedlund said one thing that stood out this season was the lack of international travelers. He said it’s typical to see 26 countries represented during the season. This year, by contrast, there were only eight, he said.
“So what got people here? I think that’s been the $2 million question for us all summer,” Swedlund said.
He believes some of the increase is tied to changes Jamestown Tourism made in in-state marketing campaigns and a new website. He also believes it’s due to travelers’ preferences these days.
“I think we are going to continue to see experiences like this -- outdoor experiences where people can be in control of what they do and what they do not do,” Swedlund said. “I think we’re going to see that trend continue in the future.”
Swedlund noted when people go to a concert or museum, for example, they are inside for specific periods of time. But Frontier Village offers a different experience.
“Here, you’re in control,” he said. “There is no fence. There is no time limit. There is no time expectation. You are here for the time and in the way you want to be here.”
Swedlund said there are plans to have the General Store open next season. The building, which was closed this season, has previously been a place where people can purchase food and souvenirs of various types.
Two new parkettes will also be open next year, Swedlund said, one related to homesteading and the other to the railroad. Both are expected to provide engaging experiences, something key to Frontier Village’s future, he said.
“The value in this place is to tell a story, a very specific story related to this area,” Swedlund said. “To teach people from this area and not from this area about what it meant to settle North Dakota and this region. And there’s some very interesting themes in that. And the first two started with homesteading and the railroad.”
He said through educational play at the parkettes, kids will be able to engage and learn about the themes that make Frontier Village continue to be relevant.
That relevance won’t change with the addition of the proposed Bison World project, Swedlund said.
“The Bison World project will only benefit and enhance this part of the experience (Frontier Village),” Swedlund said. “I had to dispel a number of rumors this summer where people were concerned about buildings being torn down and Frontier Village disappearing. The context of that project (Bison World) will only help Frontier Village.”
Part of the Bison World plan features a tram ride that will bring people from Bison World to Frontier Village, he said.
“The whole intention of that is to bring folks from the new tourism property to this property … and of course, we’ve got really great numbers here but can you imagine even more people,” Swedlund said. “And I think it’s just a great solution, a great opportunity for this place to continue to be relevant, but more importantly, there’s going to be some really wonderful growth opportunities as that project comes online. So the key, of course, is this place isn’t going anywhere.”
Swedlund said work is also continuing at the village. This year a fair amount of plumbing work and maintenance work were done that was needed. The village acquired a fiberglass milking cow, which will fit in with other themes about agricultural products produced in the state.
“All these elements that we want people to understand in terms of the identity of our state,” he said.
Swedlund said when you make change, there is a fear of losing an element that was important, but Frontier Village isn’t going anywhere.
“We believe the Frontier Village has always been relevant and will continue to be relevant because it’s about telling the story of our past,” he said. “What will change is not that mission, but how we do that. So instead of being a museum-like setting, it will be more of an educational play space for families to come and engage. The elements will be hopefully more entertaining and I think as a result that value for the story will increase.”