BROOKINGS, SD -
A toddler chasing after a stream of water that quickly shoots up from the ground and quickly disappears raises the question: have you ever wanted something but just could not seem to grab it? The question does not apply to the Children's Museum of South Dakota.
"We like to play with the big boys because we do fine when we're compared with other venues," Executive Director Suzanne Hegg said.
Employees at the Brookings museum have had their hands full with a lot of good publicity.
"A designation by Midwest Living Magazine as one of the top new venues in a 12-state region; they only named 25 venues," Hegg said.
The rest were in larger cities from Minneapolis to Boston. For nearly two years this place to play, climb and learn has been a big draw in Brookings-population of about 22,000. The four acres of indoor and outdoor activities bring about 120,000 visitors from all 50 states and beyond every year. That means kids, kids and more kids taking a hands-on approach to learning.
"Life is full of possibilities. I think the very existence of a world-class museum in a small town is a testimony," Hegg said. "We had a consultant from Ohio; he didn't think it would work. We're not easily discouraged."
The mantra must be ever present in Brookings, because the last couple of years the city has grown. It could even change the minds of many who think bigger cities are the only places to enjoy museums, parks and other types entertainment.
"Some people might think we're a one horse town. But Brookings is so much more than that," Mills Construction President Randy Hanson said.
Indeed it is, because people at the Children's Museum are not the only ones taking advantage of opportunities.
"We're going to give everybody in the state competition; there's no question," Brookings Economic Development Corporation Director Al Heuton said.
Heuton says the past seven years have boosted Brookings' momentum. Right now there are almost $500 million in building projects in Brookings. Just a week ago, officials broke ground at the site of a $100 million plant that will make bite-size cheese snacks. The Bel Brands USA facility will be located just down the road from the South Dakota State University campus, giving students experience and dairy farmers more opportunity. More than 200 people will work at the plant when it is up and running in two years.
As Brookings makes cheese from milk, it's also turning trash into treasure.
"This was the original landfill in Brookings and it will be converted into the nature center," Heuton said.
The Dakota Nature Park will find a home on the 135 acres on 22nd Avenue South. With trails and natural ponds, it will be a place to fish, hike and bike.
"In the future you'll see paved trails. There's a bike system that runs through Brookings and the nature park will loop that system," Hanson said.
Right beside it will be an outdoor adventure center. The $2.6 million building will feature a pistol range, archery and other ways to learn about the outdoors all year long.
"This is just one more reason for people to come to Brookings; to come as a destination spot, to spend a weekend, three days, five days, just to check things out," Hanson said.
As Brookings continues to become a destination city, it proves that nothing is out of your reach no matter your size.
"Life is full of possibilities. We have to imagine them and work hard to make them happen," Hegg said.
Other building projects in Brookings include updates to SDSU, a Buffalo Wild Wings and the recently completed McCrory Gardens Center.
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