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Historic Forestville asks communitys help to meet deadline

Fri, Jun 6th, 2003
Posted in Features

Im enough of a farmer yet-why would you build a barn if you dont have the money to buy the cows to milk?

Mrs. Eloda (Robert) Wood, reflecting on budget cuts.

"We have to make a commitment by June 23," stated Bill Keyes, Division Manager of the Minnesota Historical Society. "I impress upon you the urgency." The urgency is that Historic Forestville will have to close its site July 1, if a plan isnt submitted by June 16, with sufficient local funds pulled together by June 23, to cover operating expenses for the next two months.

This latest meeting with Friends of Forestville and the Historical Society members was held at the Preston City Hall on Wednesday. Richard Nelson of Preston, a self-proclaimed professional volunteer, opened the meeting by introducing the key speakers at the gathering from the Minnesota Historical Society.

This included Charlie Pautler, Forestville Site Manager; Tom Ellig, Southern District Manager; Bill Keyes, Division Manager; Patrick McCormick, Director of Planning; and David Kelliher, Legislative Liaison. Copies of a proposed alternative to closing the site were passed out to the audience.

"The alternative to closing Historic Forestville is to institute a minimal operating plan for the site. That plan changes the living history interpretive program to a guided, walking tour of the site. The site buildings will be open and tour guides will escort groups of visitors around telling the story of Forestville and answering questions," the handout stated.

Forestville would be open three days a week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) from Memorial Day through Labor Day and would be closed all other times. A site manager and a staff of two guides and a site technician would operate the site. The present school program would not exist.

The minimum operating program expenses have been penciled in at $110,100 annually, with $83,000 of it for salaries. The Society will contribute $18,000 per year to cover utilities, maintenance, and security. The remaining $92,100 is what the Friends of Forestville and the community must come up with.

To buy time for long range planning, Keyes explained that a two-month operating budget (the summer months) of $64,600 with the Society putting in $3,000 might be the best way to go. This would mean that $61,000 would need to be raised locally. If the site could generate an additional $10,000 in income over the summer, that number would be reduced to $51,600.

Thats a stiff, but doable figure, say George Colbenson, president of the Friends of Forestville and Richard Nelson.

"I will go anywhere and talk to any group if you call me," stated the energetic president. "My number is 754-5873. My address is 220 1st St. SW, Grand Meadow, MN 55936." Donations can also be sent to that address. Colbenson will be talking on the radio to get folks attention and to help start bringing in funds.

Site Manager Pautler said he has a slide presentation and is very willing to meet with groups as well. His number is 765-2785.

Nelson said he has a commitment from the city of Preston for $5,000 if other communities will join in. Hes tired of hearing how poor everyone is. When it was suggested the county take over the site, Commissioner Chuck Amunrud spoke up saying the county has lost several hundred thousand dollars in funding through state cuts. Chairman Marc Prestby said it would be on next weeks agenda, but would give no promises. Keyes did note that there have been county and even private contracts implemented to run sites in the past.

Others spoke up. Mark Bishop of Niagara Cave and Historic Bluff Country said that they are meeting June 16 at 7 p.m. at the Houston County Nature Center and would discuss the plight of Forestville.

"Were happy to participate. Just tell us what to do, supported Bishop.

A representative of Mystery Cave pointed out how important the site was to other places like the cave. "Schools pool their resources when visiting caves and Forestville. Its history and earth science combined", he said.

It was asked if the money that would normally be used to mothball a site can be used as operating expanses. Keyes said he only gets those funds once. Dave Foster, past Friends of Forestville president, asked the Society to consider leaving the school program in, as it was a wash when it came to income verses the cost. Keyes felt this was a good point.

As the two-hour meeting came to a close, the group had a clearer picture of what they needed to do and fast. Funds will be solicited from organizations, individuals and businesses that gain from keeping Historic Forestville open.

For more information on what you can do to help keep Historic Forestville open, contact George Colbenson at 507-754-5873 or Charlie Pautler at 507-765-2785.

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