When the Garden City Travel Plaza opened in September of 2000, it was the first truckstop to have a Travel Information Center located inside.
Kelly Goss, director of the Finney County Convention and Tourism Bureau, envisioned the information center after hearing that the Garden City Travel Plaza was being built. Currently, there are 27 centers in various locations throughout Kansas, but putting one in a truckstop was unique.
Goss approached truckstop owner Paul Schmeider with her idea. He agreed and made room for it in his Garden City Travel Plaza, which is located in Garden City, Kan., at the crossroads of highways 50 and 83. “The latter connects Canada and Mexico and is a hot avenue for commerce,” Gross says. “Paul Schmeider did a lot of research to find this spot for his truck plaza. So, the idea of placing a travel center inside a truck plaza seemed natural.”
“We’re the first in the nation to have a Travel Information Center in a truckstop,” says WenDee LaPlant, coordinator. “When truckers or travelers want travel or highway information, we’re open 24 hours, seven days a week.”
Travel Information Center employees are available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week to answer questions about local motels, restaurants and tourist attractions. They also provide weather and mileage information. When employees aren’t on hand, brochures and pamphlets are available. “We make certain that every kind of informational printout concerning Kansas is out front and reachable,” says LaPlant. Brochures that detail the six regions of Kansas and provide information, for specific interests, such as bed and breakfasts or hunting and nature information, are available. Because of the success of the travel center, officials plan to expand their hours to seven days a week during the busy summer months.
LaPlant says that initially they served mostly truckers, but now more tourists are taking advantage of the truckstop facilities and the Travel Information Center.
A log book is kept of all guests and their questions. LaPlant says she has many wonderful stories of the guests she has met, but perhaps none are more moving than that of trucker William Thomas. Thomas mentioned to LaPlant that he had not seen his son in many years, and that he only knew that he was serving in the Air Force somewhere in Utah. LaPlant searched the Internet, and she was able to provide contact information for Thomas. Later Thomas brought back pictures of his son and grandchild to show LaPlant. Although, LaPlant typically answers questions about Garden City, she was happy to help Thomas reunite with his son.
The Travel Information Center is staffed by more than 30 volunteers, most of whom are part of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. LaPlant, the only paid Travel Information Center employee, says that she looks for volunteers who enjoy promoting their community and are somewhat computer-savvy.
In addition, the Travel Plaza provides many other services. “The Garden Center Travel Plaza is the only full-service stop within 100 miles,” says General Manager Ron Hicks. It is a 24-hour facility with a restaurant that typically serves 300 daily. “We stock clothing, trucking supplies, gifts, toys, just a good general line of products. That fact alone has attracted considerable business,” Hicks says. In addition, there are two bays for lubes and tire changes, showers, a driver’s lounge, laundromat, CAT scale and 35-seat minitheater.
– Tyler Alexander contributed to this report.