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Friends of Forestville ready to do whatever it takes to save site

Fri, May 16th, 2003
Posted in Features

"I love coming to Forestville and its celebrations. Theres kids in the metro area that can still take Spanish, and my school is faced with possibly losing its ag program. Now you want to close Forestville, thats not fair," Spoken by a fourteen-year old student.

Its not fair at all agreed Bill Keyes, Division Manager, and Patrick McCormick, Director of Planning, of the Minnesota Historical Society as they addressed a full room of concerned citizens at the Wykoff Community Center on Thursday. Historic Forestville and six other smaller sites have been scheduled to close as of July 1 due to state budget cuts. "Well do anything we can to keep the site open," proclaimed George Colbenson, the current president of Friends of Forestville. "Fillmore County is one of the poorest in Minnesota. Our kids dont have the ability to go to the cities-the metro area. This is a quality site, you need to re-look at this," challenged a concerned parent. Forestville had recently added a $500,000 visitor center. "Keep the site open at a reduction, give us a chance to work it out," was a common theme expressed during the two and half hour meeting, as folks explained their willingness to help in keeping the doors open. The group isnt looking for handouts or special favors, just their fair share of the pie. "This a national problem. Were seeing the biggest shortfall since WWII," noted Keyes. "Two thirds of the budget is employees, our most valuable resource and the most expensive. These arent strangers, we see them everyday." Of the $4.2 million dollar budget cut proposed by the governor, $1.6 million is coming from historic sites. The pie isnt evenly cut, say outraged citizens. But its not the general budget cuts the group is disputing, what really sets this issue apart for the group is that not every site is taking the same financial hit. The Mill Street Museum in Minneapolis for example, scheduled to open soon, is a particular sore spot. Both Keyes and McCormick attempted to explain that that site has had a lot of private aid as well as state funding. It wasnt any help when a voice from the audience challenged Keyes loyalty when it was pointed out that hed been project manager of Mill Street. Keyes replied there was no point pitting one site against another. According to Keyes, another element in determining what sites are closed is based on attendance. Forestville does have a lower visitor base than sites in the metro area, but proponents of Forestville say that part of the sites charm is that its not shoulder to shoulder with onlookers. Instead, those that visit the store and its surrounding buildings are encouraged to participate, to catch that chicken, to bake that loaf of bread. The communitys agricultural heritage has been preserved in such a way as to quilt the past together with the present in a hands-on manner. Thats what the Friends of Forestville wanted the Minnesota Historical Society to understand on Thursday.Another major concern over closing the site goes back several years ago when the doors were closed temporarily. Keyes admitted the last time Forestville was closed, it wasnt handled very well. "It was an embarrassment and is a ghost thats going to linger on for a long time, Keyes said. Stories of dumpsters becoming residence for several of the stores belongings didnt help foster any goodwill. This led to several questions: What will happen to the artifacts this time? Whos going to make sure the store doesnt flood? Pumps alone arent the answer. How does the society plan to handle a potential closing this time? What about the cost to "mothball" the site versus cutting back on the budget and working with less? After all, isnt that how their ancestors handled tough times? So many questions and not enough firm answers from the two men who stood before the room full of people.Somewhere between pointing fingers and accusations one individual stood up and spoke: "Everyone is government and when you complain about government you are complaining about yourselves. Stop bickering and lets establish some kind of limited help, join forces," challenged Richard Nelson of Preston, who identified himself as a professional volunteer.Fillmore County Commis-sioner Chuck Amunrud of Spring Valley pointed out that not only would the community be losing a valuable site, but the economic losses would really hurt the area. Tourism is important to Fillmore County. He said the society needs to do more with less.Theres a $206,000 yearly budget on the books for Forestville. After many attempts to determine a starting point of where Friends of Forestville would need to look for funding elsewhere, Keyes threw out a figure of a $100,000 to $160,000 shortfall."Thats a starting point for us," said Dave Foster, whose great grandfather built the store years ago. Another immediate concern was that the closing, if it does really happen, is scheduled for just three days before the July 4th celebration. Can the closing be delayed? people asked. Keyes couldnt promise, but said hed look into it."Youre handling this very well, youre doing the right thing," praised McCormick as the meeting came to an end. "Your letters, petition (1,700 signatures) and loud voices, are good." "What ever happens, well be back," finished Keyes.

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