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Historic Forestville won’t close quietly


Fri, Mar 7th, 2003
Posted in Features

The emergency meeting regarding historic Forestville’s future drew in a full room March 4 at the Forestville State Park Pavilion. Friends of Forestville and the general public met with Tom Ellig, Southern District Manager of Historic Sites for the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) and Site Manager Charlie Pautler to share their concerns over the closing of the historic site that draws in over 13,000 people yearly, 3,000 of whom are school children.

George Colbenson, the Friends of Forestville president opened the meeting by saying, "Tom isn’t our enemy, he’s losing his job, too. He’s here to give information as to why the site is closing." Ellig is from the Redwood Falls area but works out of the Lower Sioux agency. His position is being eliminated.

"I’m here to listen to you and take messages back to my superiors," explained Ellig. The Friends of Forestville had a lot of questions and comments. The first being, what criteria were used to decide which sites would be closed?

Ellig listed four considerations 1) Number of people visiting the site each year; 2) Operating budget; 3) Current development; and 4) Geo-graphic location.

Ellig said the closing had been a long time in coming. The Minnesota Historical Society isn’t a state agency, but rather a private, non-profit organization that was chartered in 1849 when MN was still a territory. In 1966, the society came under legal protection by the state. The society receives approximately 70% of its funding from the state. The rest is private funding.

According to Ellig, the governor’s request of 15% across the board cuts for agencies means that over $8 million would need to be trimmed from the society’s coffers over the next two years. The society in turn had to decide where these cuts would produce the best long term outcomes. Forestville gets $199,000 of its $235,000 annual budget from state funds. Eight of the existing historic sites will see little if any reduction to their budgets, while up to eight other sites will be closed.

"What part of the Historical Society is getting by easy?" Roxie Tienter of Preston asked.

"Empty buildings decay. As a taxpayer, I’d rather preserve and not necessarily develop", said Deb Thauwald, Cherry Grove. “Why didn’t MHS ask the Friends of Forestville what they could cut back on in their budget before making the decision?”

Ellig explained that the society has to come up with dollar figures covering the closing and maintaining of the closed sites. Security, heating, cooling, ground maintenance still must be kept up, he said.

When asked what administrative cutting had been decided on, Ellig told the group the society board saw closing staffed sites as a remedy. However, some believe the society still remains top heavy.

Bob Baarsch, Spring Valley, pointed out that Nina M. Archabal, Historical Society Director, has a bias towards museums rather than interpretive centers. He believed a general decline in support has developed since Archabal came into office. He noted that the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis is opening up at a time when so many other sites will be locking their doors.

Forestville’s Site Manager Charlie Pautler said it’s important to write to government officials and when doing so, be specific on why this site should remain open. Examples voiced included ‘children baking bread in a wood stove, gathering eggs the old fashioned way, actually viewing the past in its natural surroundings rather than in a huge brick building downtown somewhere.'

To many in the audience, the cuts seemed almost ironic given that a half million dollar visitor center was completed at the historic site about a year ago. Meanwhile, the Minnesota DNR recently, opened bids for a proposed visitor center at Mystery Cave that will cost an estimated $1 million and be paid with other funds.

People are encouraged to write their legislators as well as Archabal. She can be contacted at: Nina M. Archabal, Director, 345 Kellogg Boulevard West, St. Paul MN 55102-1906, www.mnhs.org.

Juliann Mueller can be reached at news@fillmorecountyjournal.com.

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