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Friday, Apr. 05, 2013

Deanna Rose Farmstead marks 35th year at birthday party

Special to The Star

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Maybe your kids are all grown and it’s been years since you’ve visited the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead. Years and years. Maybe even a decade.

If this is the case and you stop by for the farmstead’s 35th birthday celebration today , you are in for a shock. The park at 13800 Switzer Road has doubled its size and is nearly unrecognizable from the 6-acre attraction it was in the mid-’80s.

The buildings! There’s a dairy barn, a country schoolhouse, an earthen Kanza Indian shelter, a main street.

The attractions! You (or your kids) can fish, pan for pretty “gems,” ride ponies, talk to a school marm, feed the baby animals.

Volunteers were kicking the last piles of snow away just days before the park opened for the season on Monday . The birthday celebration today with cake, ice cream, balloons and free activities runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There will be a few new attractions this year. Three new pens for birds of prey will house Americus the bald eagle, Oliver the red-tailed hawk and Zeus the barred owl. New baby animals will make their debut, as well. Over 50 baby goats will be on hand for the “running of the goats” at opening and closing time each day, when they scamper to and from their day-time feeding pens. When they’re not running, they can be bottle fed by visitors. And the farmstead will have some new baby “doll-face” sheep as well, said programs superviser Kerrie Nichols.

Part petting zoo, part living history center, the farmstead opened on Memorial Day weekend 1978 and had 10,000 visitors the first year. Now, the farmstead can expect to see 400,000 visitors a year on its 12-acre grounds, Nichols said.

The attraction began in 1971 when the city of Overland Park bought the land and dubbed it Community Park. It didn’t get its present name until 1985. The city renamed it after Deanna Rose, who was the first woman in Kansas and the only Overland Park police officer to die in the line of duty. Rose was run over while trying to make an arrest in January 1985.

The oldest part of the park is the east side. The park stayed at about six acres until the late 1990s, when the city began planning its westward expansion. The new main entrance, built to look like a big red barn, went up in 2009. The last structures to be completed were stores in the Main Street area, which has an old-fashioned bank, concessions and gift store. Those were built in 2010 and 2011.

All that expanding — the dairy barn, Indian encampment, mining area, school house and Main Street stores — was possible because of fundraising through Friends of the Farmstead, the nonprofit that supports the farmstead with money and volunteers, Nichols said. Some of the buildings at the farmstead are named after donors.

Visitors from the farmstead’s early days will remember it mostly for the animal-feeding area. Since the expansion, the park has added numerous activities, like panning for colorful rock “gems” at the mining area and fishing in the pond.

Friends of the Farmstead has raised about $1.5 million of the $4 million that has gone into building since 2000, with the rest coming from the city.

All of the activities have been popular, but none more so than the baby goats. Nichols said that last year alone visitors to the goat pen dropped $88,000 to feed the tiny animals at $1 a bottle.

Admission to the Farmstead is $2 on weekends but free Mondays through Thursdays. Activities cost extra.

For $100 to $150, kids can have birthday parties at the park. There are also special events throughout the year, including a fun run, pumpkin patch and “Night of the Living Farm” in October, Nichols said.

But there are some free educational programs, too. Farmstead volunteers demonstrate such things as quilt making and how earlier generations did the wash regularly during the day, she said. And docents, like the school marm, are on hand to interact with visitors.

“It’s grown to be so much more than a petting zoo,” Nichols said. “I run into a lot of people who talk about how they’ve grown up with the farmstead.”

While most visitors have small children in tow, Nichols said she sees some grown couples there for the nostalgia. “You have to be a kid at heart,” she said.

The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 31.

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