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Newly formed museum group pools resources

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POLSON — In the shadow of a huge taxidermy buffalo, the third meeting of the newly formed Flathead Museum Consortium recently took place at the Miracle of America Museum. With two plates of her homemade oatmeal cookies set out for meeting attendees, Karen Dunwell, the interim leader for the group, explained there are nine museums in the Mission Valley that continually struggle not only to pay their bills but also to get the word out that they exist. These museums have come together to pool their resources and collaborate in their marketing strategies.

Dunwell is visiting all of the local Chambers of Commerce, Rotary, Mason, Lions and Odd Fellows groups to announce and describe their newly formed group. Mission Valley Printing is working with this new collaboration to put together advertising brochures for placement in local hotels, motels, restaurants and businesses. The brochures will list and describe each of the museums and possibly name, for visitors’ convenience, a locally run eatery near each.

All museums plan to cross-market the other museums by “talking each other up” to visitors. Dunwell said that only 25 percent of the people who walked through her doors last summer said they had come by virtue of a local recommendation. “That should be at least 75 percent,” she said. Dunwell runs the Polson Flathead Historical Museum on Main Street her grandfather started.

Although Dunwell organized and started the collaborative group, she’s not interested in continuing to run it. Her museum’s need for a new roof and the fundraising and grant writing she plans on doing to make this happen by 2020, will keep her very busy, she said.

According to Dunwell, young people of today are more interested in the virtual world and not so much in history. She said even the Smithsonian is having a difficult time pulling in visitors. However, larger museums like the Smithsonian are able to invest in “virtual” tours that people can view sitting on their couches at home. That’s not something local museums can afford, she pointed out. Small town museums run on shoe-string budgets and depend on volunteers do everything from run the boards, man the welcome desks and do the museum cleaning.

Tour buses used to stop at the Miracle of America Museum and the Polson Flathead Historical Museum, but no longer do so. According to Dunwell, the three known tour buses that drive through the area now only stop at the Conrad Mansion in Kalispell, the Lodge in Glacier and Whitefish. 

In the future, the museums want to offer tour group options. One option would visit all museums in one day and another would visit half the museums on day one, stay over at Ninepipes Museum with a dinner that night and possibly a chuck wagon breakfast the next morning and then visit the rest of the museums on the second day. These options won’t be available until at least next year.

The Mission Valley Museum Consortium will meet again on Wednesday, March 28, at the Allentown Restaurant at Ninepipes at 1:30 p.m. Those interested are welcome to attend.

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