story by Glenda Winders
Even if you’ve been to Conner Prairie more times than you can count, this year there are lots of reasons to go back. In addition to the historic places and costumed interpreters, the four-story tree house and the animal encounters, now come exciting features that will make a visit here fresh and new all over again.
Spark!Lab, opening in August, was developed by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and celebrates the process of innovation. With the feel of an inventor’s workshop, it will give visitors an opportunity to learn by creating. “We feel that when people get the opportunity to have different materials and opportunities to solve real-world problems through invention, the possibilities are endless,” said Katie Warthan, Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy. “We’ll provide the ideas and the materials and then let them go from there.” Smithsonian Spark!Lab staff prototype activities, and Network museums create their own challenges to highlight invention in their community and history.
Some of the challenges include designing a soundscape, creating a way to clean plastic out of waterways, and inventing a vehicle. The prompts will change often so that no two visits will be alike. The museum will also be spotlighting some young inventors as well as showcasing some of the inventions in their collection.
The Sunflower Fields that first opened last year as a way to utilize the fields on the property year-round will return in August, too. The museum will continue to have the corn mazes it has had in the past, but now they’re focusing on flowers as a way to talk about pollinators and the influence they have in the life of plants.
The 3-acre field will contain thousands of blooms and three different variations as well as a path where visitors can walk through it and explore — an ideal spot for weddings and photo ops.
In collaboration with Smithsonian Gardens, and the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), Habitat will open in September with insects starring in an opportunity to better understand how they interact with plants. The idea was first created on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and it’s a perfect fit for Conner Prairie.
The plan is for people to better understand the life cycles and how everyone plays a role in the condition of plants, insects and animals. Visitors will explore how the flora and fauna survive and thrive and look at the role humans play in their existence — and sometimes their extinction.
The popular Jupiter Flights Balloon Festival that debuted last year will return in September to celebrate all things flight. Colorful hot-air balloons — some of them in playful shapes — will join the museum’s permanent helium-filled tethered balloon, which lifts guests to 377 feet and provides a spectacular view of the city.
This largest balloon festival in the state will offer two nights of balloon glows and two events at sunrise that will challenge pilots to land on predetermined targets. Other programs related to flight are also in the works.
October’s Headless Horseman Festival is now in its 39th year, with
the Headless Horseman Hayride being everyone’s favorite part. As the wagon rolls through the grounds, the horseman shows up at surprising moments. Coupled with lighting, audio and special effects, these encounters will provide everyone with a delicious but safe scare.
Three corn mazes will cater to whatever your fright level is. Both a shorter and longer, less-scary maze will be open during the day, while a haunted corn maze is set to scare the wits out of those with stronger constitutions. Expect also to find lots of entertainment, fall-themed food and Ichabrewed Crane beer.
A Merry Prairie Holiday captures the spirit of the season, no matter what your religious beliefs or traditions are. Visit with Santa, if you wish, or choose to learn how other countries celebrate. This is also an opportunity to discover the origins of traditions you might follow within your own family.
For the second year, a 3-D projection on the front of the William Conner home will retell “The Night Before Christmas.” Lights throughout the grounds, a sock skating rink, a tubing hill and a carousel add up to making this an unforgettable holiday experience.