When huge herds of bison roamed the Great Plains in centuries past, their movements kicked up clouds of dust that drifted slowly across the southwest Kansas sky.

When traders and pioneers headed west on the Santa Fe Trail early in the 19th century, their trek almost always stirred up plenty of dust along the well-traveled route.

And when John Stevens broke ground for the Windsor Hotel in 1886, the ambitious construction project no doubt created at least a little dust for people heading north or south on Main Street in Garden City.

Well, if you visit us at the Finney County Museum in the weeks and months ahead, you might get a chance to re-live some of those bygone days. That's because we've already started to stir up some dust of our own as we set out on a series of improvements in our exhibit galleries.

Spirit of the Plains

The Finney County Historical Society recently received a grant of $8,250 from the Western Kansas Community Foundation, and we're using those funds to enhance the experiences that visitors take home when they spend time here exploring the past.

The endeavor will:

* reorient the perimeter around our life-size mammoth exhibit in the Spirit of the Plains Gallery;

* relocate our Santa Fe Trail Exhibit to the south end of the main exhibit hall;

* incorporate our Plains Indian history display into the Spirit of the Plains Gallery.

* replace our stone artifact case with a secure, updated unit that will allow us to return a collection of Clovis points to public display

* expand our Front Door Gallery

* create a welcome center just inside our entrance, offering literature and information for local residents and out-of-town visitors alike.

In addition, the grant is helping us take our ongoing series of classroom educational visits to students in neighboring communities.

Staying open

We're grateful to the WKCF for the chance to carry out these upgrades because they provide a number of advantages. The new perimeter, for example, will better protect the locally-recovered mammoth tusks we keep on display. At the same time, it will offer closer access for families and individuals to pose for pictures in front of the mammoth representation.

Relocating the Santa Fe Trail exhibit will put the pictures and artifacts of the West's first "interstate highway" near displays that focus on past and present Finney County development.

Likewise, moving the Native American exhibit into Spirit of the Plains will offer a new perspective on the first people to live permanently in this region. Additionally, the change will double the exhibition space of the Front Door Gallery, which opened last May as a site for frequently changing local exhibits. We're proud to be able to take our outreach program on the road to classrooms in more communities, too, since education is a key element in our mission of preserving the past to enlighten the future.

Work has already begun in the Spirit of the Plains Gallery, which uses fossils and artifacts to tell the story of life on the plains, from the Palo-Indian period of 9,000 BC to the Historic Period of 1800 to 1878. We'll be tackling other components in the weeks ahead, while also upgrading our education office and adding a small display space to honor our annual Finney County Pioneer Award recipients.

Right now, we plan to keep the museum open during all the work ahead, so we hope you'll forgive us if you have to step around a sawhorse or two, keep an eye out for orange cones or make way for a transport cart or wheelbarrow. Exhibit hours are 1 to 5 p.m. seven days of the week, and we'll expand those when summer arrives.

Upcoming events

In the meantime, we're moving ahead with plans for a couple of important annual events:

* The 2014 FCHS Annual Meeting and Banquet, set for 7 p.m. April 26 at the Garden City Church of the Nazarene.

* The Fifth Annual Flea Market Art, Craft and Antique Fair, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 12, outdoors in Lee Richardson Zoo, just south of the museum.

The Flea Market is Garden City's original summertime shopping festival in the park, and it's supported by the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Banquet reservations will open soon, and for the first time, we'll be offering sponsorship opportunities for that event as well.

Call us at 272-3664 if you have any questions, and please don't forget to stop by the Finney County Museum at 403 S. Fourth St. in Finnup Park, where you can step over our threshold and into the past. Sure, you might encounter a little trail of dust during your visit, but that's just part of history.