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Gunshots and bleats will soon join the chorus of voices and neighs that fills the air in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area.
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President and CEO Mitchell Reiss shared his vision of how to boost visitor numbers by making his institution a more attractive destination for families and younger people during a breakfast for community leaders held Wednesday at the Williamsburg Lodge.
Reiss used the breakfast as an opportunity to announce a petting farm in Market Square and a live-fire musket range as two ways to accomplish that goal.
“Frankly, we need to try to do some things we’ve never done before to make this special place even better,” Reiss said Tuesday. He noted the year has started off on a positive note, with a boost in revenue from last year. The foundation has collected 8 percent more revenue through April than it did during the first four months of 2014.
Construction is planned to start on the outdoor musket range in the fall. It would educate guests about black powder firearms from the revolutionary period. After learning about the weapons, guests would get a chance to fire them under one-on-one supervision from an expert. Like in the revolutionary days, the targets situated on the range would be a likeness of King George III, the British monarch who sat on the throne throughout the war.
The range is slated to be built in a wooded area off South England Street opposite the entrance to the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club’s Green Course.
The petting farm will be built on open land near the Market House, a soon-to-be-finished replica of an 18th-century market building that once stood in Market Square. The area was a nexus of commerce in the 18th century, meaning animal sales would have been commonplace in the market. The farm will give visitors a hands-on experience with animals common to colonial life, like goats.
The farm is set to open by June 15.
Those new attractions constitute two of the 42 initiatives Reese said the institution is undertaking in the next year.
“You’ll notice us paying more attention to first-time visitors and families who have chosen to invest their hard earned vacation dollars for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg instead of the Magic Kingdom [which is part of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida],” he said.
Other new initiatives include a partnership with confectionery giant Mars Inc. for events in the Historic Area on Halloween, including trick-or-treating on Duke of Gloucester Street, a shift in marketing from the traditional television model to digital media and a new archaeology program for kids.
That program, called DIG!, will allow kids to excavate artifacts from a site near the Prentis Store on Duke of Gloucester Street. The site was first excavated in 1946 but then backfilled with many period artifacts. The program runs Monday through Friday in 50-minute sessions and is free to ticket holders.
Reiss said the $600 million fundraising effort first announced last year has raised $34 million since October. The campaign seeks funds to pay for several new buildings and programs at Colonial Williamsburg, including a new entrance to the art museums.
He also used the breakfast to announce that Forrest Mars Jr., a past contributor to the foundation, has given an additional $10 million to help pay for a building where some of the foundation’s 60 million archaeological artifacts will be stored. That building will feature areas for the public to learn about archaeology.