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June Jaunt kickoff full of success stories

POSTED June 6, 2012 11:04 p.m.
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Great Bend Community Coordinator Christina Hayes was exhausted after 18 hours of activity Saturday, June 2, but Tuesday afternoon, she was full of energy and ideas for next year’s June Jaunt. The coordinators from each community participating in the event have been meeting every month. They all get together next Monday to review what worked, and pick the $500 winner for the geocache event.
 “What’s good about doing it the first time is getting all the ideas and finding out what worked and what didn’t,” she said. “We had people in the stores, and there was a lot of excitement in the air, and that is always a big success.”
 Great Bend, the largest of eight communities along the western half of K-96, has committed to participate for five years, and a lot of people have said they can’t wait until next year and anticipate it being even better. Hayes said several vendors have asked to be on next year’s vendor list, and the bands would love to perform again next year too. The Young Professionals “classy” beer garden made money, drawing a mellow, lawn chair crowd to the town center in search of a good time.
 Conceived by Katie Eisenhour, Scott City Economic Development director and Dan Hartman, Economic Development director for the city of Dighton, June Jaunt was created as a regional draw for “boomers,” June 1,2 and 3. From the very first meeting of the communities involved, the group knew it did not want to become a miles-long garage sale, Eisenhour said.
 “We looked at who we were and what our strengths were,” she said. “We found antiques, lots of history and fine arts.” Communities built local events based on the theme. A geocaching event helped move people around.
 The sheer number of events occurring in Great Bend simultaneously worried some at first, but actually worked to the advantage of all, Hayes said. And the focus wasn’t simply on making money – it was an opportunity for several non-profit groups, like Relay for Life, to provide activities that brought in donations for their causes. They operated childrens’ zones and activities, while the Sidewinders Motorcycle Club raised $1,600 with a poker run.
The Barton County Historical Society reported a great turnout for the car show. Other events included the Hap Dumont baseball tournament, a swimming tournament, the Nex-Tech Zoo Fest, Human eMotion, and two large weddings.
 Cris Collier, Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau director visited with a couple from Denver who stopped in Great Bend on their way to another destination when they saw all the activity in town. They had lunch at Treaders and spent a few hours in town attending the events on the square and exploring the bird house exhibits.
“It was nice to have an active and vibrant downtown,”Collier said. “We really helped each other. We all shared the people, and that’s what its all about – providing a good time for the visitors and the locals too.”
 For Great Bend, the art piece was something that really hadn’t been explored in a while, Hayes said, and venturing into the art world was definitely fun and interesting. The cast-iron performance at dark drew a huge crowd. But it couldn’t have been done without community and volunteer support, she said.
Artists were enthusiastic about producing exhibits, and stores were happy to host them, free of charge. Hayes simply facilitated the collaboration.
 “Public art is a great way to draw people in, that’s why the birdhouses tie in so well,” she said. “The unveiling happening this weekend was really an opening for the arts.”
Visitors Center Bird House Project to expand
 The Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau took on the bird house project and introduced it as part of June Jaunt, making sure the birdhouses were done, out on display, the brochure was developed and the scavenger hunt organized, Collier said. Outside of that, the Bureau was involved with the marketing, both locally and further out in the Wichita market and the statewide visitors bureau.
Hayes noted there were several people from Wichita attending events, despite Riverfest happening in that city the same weekend.
 The turnout for the bird house scavenger hunt was good, Collier said. Entry cards for the drawing are still arriving by mail, and the center will pick a winner next week.
 “One of the best ways to know you were successful on something like that is we’ve already received several calls the first two days of this week from people who did not get the bird houses initially, preferring to wait and see how the project was received,” she said. “Now there seems to be a new wave of backers.”
 Collier said the center plans to work towards rolling out a whole new series of bird houses in time for next year’s June Jaunt to add to what is already there. They’ve been very well received and have generated a lot of interest. What she likes best about the program is that they are manufactured locally, painted by local artists and they generate nice foot traffic and a display of public art which is always great for any community. Artists need to sign a contract allowing the visitor’s bureau to use images to promote the community.
 “These have great potential to become iconic symbol for the community so we wanted to make sure we had that in place,” Collier said. “Outside of that, we leave everything up to the business owners.”

Geocache attendance low
Other communities along K-96 also got their fix of visitors and locals alike coming out for events. Tribune, the western-most city along the route, saw good attendance at the Big Boys Big Toys show, the farm critters petting zoo and the free afternoon swim at the city pool said Christy Hopkins, Greeley County’s community development coordinator. Forty-six cars took part in the antique car show, another first for the town.
 Though weather impacted evening events, Hopkins reported over 20 groups participating in the geocache event designed to draw visitors along the K-96 on a scavenger hunt to find stamps for their entry card to win a $500 prize. Groups had to sign the guest book at each location before receiving their stamp. Hayes counted 23 signatures in Great Bend’s guest book.
 The geocache event was not as well attended as anticipated, Eisenhour admits, yet the turnout for events along the highway clearly drew visitors and locals alike into the towns, achieving one of the main goals of the event.

Bulding Signature Event
Collier and Hayes agree, Great Bend has been lacking a signature event.
 “Any growing, thriving community needs a signature special event,” Collier said. “Ellinwood has the After Harvest Festival, and Hoisington celebrates Labor Day. These are not only signature events for visitors, but for locals. It gives a sense of ownership and community pride.”
 Some past events that have faded away are the Marigold festival, the children’s festival, and the Fantasy Village Christmas event.
 Collier hopes June Jaunt may evolve into Great Bend’s signature event. “Local citizens need to see the value of development of an event for the community,” she said.
 “With the city hiring Christina (Hayes) as a special events and retail coordinator, that’s the perfect opportunity to develop a signature.”
 Hayes was hired on to enhance activities that were already happening, and come up with new staples. June Jaunt has been her first big event. She planned and coordinated all the events that happened in Great Bend. Growing up in Great Bend, she has fond memories of Fantasy Village and the Trail of Lights at Christmas, and stresses that she doesn’t want to forget Christmas. She does believe that June Jaunt has the potential to become a staple summer event for Great Bend.
 Hayes has established relationships with Salina Riverfest coordinators and have gotten some trade secrets that will help to enhance what Great Bend has to offer next year. Salina’s Riverfest is always the second weekend in June, and June Jaunt for the next four years will always be the first weekend, she reports, so the two cities will not need to worry about competing with one another for attendees.

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