Garfunkel, a Babydoll Southdown sheep, and his furry and feathery friends are happy to show off for people after a long, quiet year.
After closure to the public due to the pandemic, Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead swung open its barn doors in May, welcoming the public back to the popular destination. During the season, the Farmstead is home to Garfunkel and about 250 other animals, including the cherished goats, birds of prey, horses, cows, chickens and peacocks.
”It feels good to be back this year and I think the public is glad to be back,” said Virgil Miles, Farmstead superintendent. “We had multiple plans to open and while the pandemic situation was improving, it wasn’t enough so we didn’t open last year.”
A few adjustments help keep the farmstead operating safely. Visitors will find signs asking them to keep 6 feet from others and to wash their hands frequently. For now, there are no pony rides or private birthday parties.
“We’re still not requiring masks but strongly recommending them, as well as social distancing,” Miles said. He hopes staff will not be required to wear masks much longer.
The dairy barn, schoolhouse, Ben’s Bank, barber shop and blacksmith shop are open, with modifications including one-way traffic to promote social distancing. School Marm Sharon E. Powers is glad to be back in Helen’s School House. She even made a new costume for the occasion. While visitors currently cannot sit at a desk in her one-room classroom, Powers is glad to be back at the farmstead and open for business.
“It’s fantastic,” Powers said. “It’s the best thing that could have happened for us. People are so excited to be back and people are adhering to the rules.”
Powers is in her fourth year with the Farmstead.
“There aren’t many places you can work and hear a cow moo and kids laugh,” she said.
Guests are able to pet and bottle-feed some animals through the fences, but pens are not open for guests to enter.
Farmstead staff members have increased sanitation and safety protocols. Restrooms and playgrounds are cleaned and sanitized regularly. The Farmstead is now open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., closing a bit early to manage all the cleaning.
Those who haven’t visited in a while can check out a new feature: Mackenzie’s Island, complete with a gazebo and an operational water wheel. The area provides more spots for fishing from the pond, a popular spot. While the public was gone, Miles said staff was able to do a lot of painting and maintenance work.
The mining slew also got a face-lift during the pandemic. That’s where visitors will find Orrin Lovewell, former Farmstead guest services coordinator turned volunteer.
“It’s great to be back and to talk to everyone,” Lovewell said. “People are so happy to be here and check everything out.”
The Farmstead originally opened to the public in 1978. It was renamed in 1985 in memory of Overland Park Police Officer Deanna Rose, who was killed in the line of duty.
Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead is one of the top visitor destinations in Johnson County, usually drawing more than 439,000 people from April through October.
Pre-pandemic, the farmstead would have about 2,000 visitors a day streaming through the gates.
“When the sun shines and we have decent weather the numbers are great; we are real close to that 2,000 a day,” Miles said. “On May 15 we had about 4,000 people. We are impacted by weather.”
Miles said he’s hopeful some of the current limitations at the Farmstead will be lifted over the summer months. However, public safety is the top priority.
“It also depends on if we can get enough staff,” Miles said “We are hiring and people can go to www.opkansas.org and look under careers.”
For up-to-date information on activities at the Farmstead, visit www.opkansas.org/recreation-fun/deanna-rose-childrens-farmstead/