Local organizations get Mariah grants





Three Garden City organizations recently received grants from the Dodge City-based Mariah Fund for tourism and heritage development projects.

The awards included $25,000 to Lee Richardson Zoo to help fund a new "trackless train" at the zoo; $7,500 for the Tumbleweed Festival to help expand event marketing and media; and $2,500 for Garden City Arts to assist in market development of the Dia de los Muertos Festival.

Brian Nelson, FOLRZ executive director, said the trackless train is more like a vehicle than a train. It will resemble a train but won't run on a track and will operate more like a golf cart in using battery power.

"It's environmentally friendly. It doesn't run on gas," he said.

People could buy tokens or tickets at the Safari Shoppe, and members will likely get a discount. The grant covers a large portion of the overall $65,000 to $67,000 purchase price of the train. Nelson believes the train will arrive later this summer.

"The Mariah grant was the deciding factor for the train, whether or not we would get it, and we did. That was the big go," Nelson said.

Kathy Friesen, Tumbleweed Festival board secretary, said the Mariah grant will help festival organizers expand marketing for the event.

"Any grant we get, we are appreciative of," she said.

The funds provide assistance with strategic planning, brochures, advertising, billboards, signage and other projects to promote the event.

"We try to market in southwest Kansas and always in Garden City. It will be focused on the western Kansas area, but certainly we've had people come from Colorado and eastern Kansas also," she said. "Anything we can do to spread the word is good. We also get people from Texas and Oklahoma."

The Tumbleweed Festival is scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 24 and 25 on the west green at Lee Richardson Zoo.

Laurie Chapman, Garden City Arts executive director, said the Dia de los Muertos Festival is modeled after the "Day of the Dead" holiday celebrated in Latin cultures.

"It's an arts and culture festival, something brand new we put together last year," she said.

Chapman said some people misconstrue what the festival is about. It has nothing to do with the supernatural, it is more about teaching the cycle of life.

"It's also kind of like a memorial day where people honor loved ones who have passed on," she said. "There's a lot of food, there's a lot of art, a lot of rich vibrant colors, music and sound that goes into this celebration. We wanted to try to bring some of that here to touch on our rich Hispanic heritage."

The festival is scheduled for Nov. 2, but Chapman said there will be several associated activities throughout the month of October.

This year, the festival will be expanding through a partnership with the Finney County Historical Museum. One of the new things will be interviewing local Hispanic families to try and record some of their oral histories that go back generations. The event will also feature art exhibits and artifact displays.

The Mariah grant will help market the festival and to reach out to a broader area, Chapman said.

"We really want to try to bring some tourism to Garden City to focus on who we are and where we come from, and kind of put the spotlight on Garden City," she said.

All told, grants totaling nearly $212,000 were awarded by the Mariah Fund to 12 organizations in Dodge City, Garden City and southwest Kansas. The Mariah Fund is a non-profit private foundation formed in 2008 to provide funding to non-profit organizations in Dodge City and southwest Kansas for the exclusive purpose of enhancing regional tourism through the development of marketing, event and cultural heritage projects.

The fund receives its sole funding from Boot Hill Casino & Resort in Dodge City. Since 2009, the Mariah Fund has received $898,374 in contributions from the casino, and has issued $457,207 in grants.

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