Staffing the Trails Museum

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

With some 11th-hour budget amendments this month, the city of Independence will reopen the National Frontier Trails Museum this year. 

The next fiscal year budget begins July 1, but as city staff initially hadn’t planned to open the museum until next year, it will take some time to iron out details and arrange enough staff. 

Tentatively, said Morris Heide, interim parks, recreation and tourism director, the city is looking at early or mid-August to open the museum at 318 W. Pacific Ave., which has been closed since the pandemic closed many facilities 15 months ago. 

Once open, the planned times are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m., similar to the city’s already opened historic sites – the Vaile Mansion and Bingham-Waggoner Estate. Council Member Karen DeLuccie, who had proposed the budget amendment to reopen the museum, said she hoped to have it open for those times.  

“We have some bicentennial activities planned at the museum in August, so hopefully by then,” Heide said, referring to Missouri’s 200th anniversary of statehood on Aug. 10. “The request from Council Member DeLuccie was to get the museum open, so that’s the first run through.” 

Heidi said the approved funds will allow the city to fill one full-time position and several part-time positions, enough to run the gift shop and assist group and general public tours. The Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department was interviewing candidates for a couple open full-time positions last year when the pandemic hit and the museum closed temporarily. 

For the public, tours through the Trails Museum are mainly self-guided, but  volunteers have long assisted with the group tours such as school kids. Heide said the city hopes to resume a long-running agreement with the Independence School District for elementary class tours. 

“We will try to get the school-kid tours going again,” Heide said.  

As for special programs at the museums, he said, “That will be a phase two of reopening, down the road. At some point, we’ll have to add more staff.” 

The city initially planned to keep the museum closed this year, owing to 2020’s lack of tourism sales tax revenue, which often covers funds museum operations. DeLuccie’s plan had the city dipping into a still-healthy tourism reserve fund.  

Also on the to-do list: the Pioneer Spring Cabin that was relocated to the museum grounds and refurbished late in 2019 into early 2020, to be fitted as part of museum tours. The pandemic essentially halted that follow-up effort. Heide said they could have the currently empty structure open for curious visitors for now. 

“We’re still working through the details,” he said of the cabin. “Unfortunately, when COVID hit, we didn’t have time to outfit the cabin. It’s far from complete as far as what we’d like to have the cabin look like.”