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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2003

Fort Meigs asks for cash to support site

BY REBEKAH SCOTT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In a couple of weeks you can take children, cameras, and picnic baskets and enjoy the new re-do at Fort Meigs State Historic Park in Perrysburg. Be sure to take your wallet too.

Ohio lawmakers and the Ohio Historical Society just spent two years and $6.2 million of state capital improvement funds to turn the reconstructed frontier fort into a first-class attraction. Now, the financially troubled society wants the public to chip in $1.5 million more to keep the place open and running.

That money will go for picnic tables, a history video, and archaeological cataloging. A portion - $800,000 - will create the first historical society endowment to a particular site. It will secure ongoing funds for educational programs, festivals, and the growth and care of the fort's artifact collection.

“The money in the endowment will not go away. It will continue to grow,” said Scott Mueller, the historical society's development director. “Its income will cover special speakers, emergency repairs, things that can't wait for the budget process. It's a measure of security we need to establish at other major sites in the state.”

Mr. Mueller and other leaders of the state-funded historical organization will meet with local fund-raising campaign members at 7 p.m. Monday at the new visitors center to explain how they will raise the money in an area already hard-hit by a slow economy.

The campaign's chairman, Dr. Richard Ruppert, a retired Medical College of Ohio president and member of the historical society's board, said the fort is a community asset, and those who live nearby won't hesitate to help out. The historical society has sacrificed to make the fort what it is today.

“The original plan was for $8.2 million, but our funding was cut,” Dr. Ruppert said. “We had to cut down the size of the museum building by about 5,000 square feet. We have to go to the community for money that would have come from state funds in better days.”

Like many state-funded programs, the historical society has had its annual budget slashed by 16.5 percent since 2001, about $2.4 million less than the $14.2 million originally allocated.

Since 2002, the society has reduced its staff from 412 to 343 positions, shut down the Ohio Village historic site in Columbus on weekends, and raised admission fees at several popular sites.

The Ohio House of Representatives' version of next year's state budget includes an additional $1.9 million cut each of the next two years. If the budget is approved, the impact likely will be felt next year with museum closures or cutbacks, reduced services from curators and preservation officers. Hours will be cut at state archives and historic-records offices.

“We all are facing severe cuts,” said Roger Bridges, director at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, another site that receives substantial historical society funding.

“We laid off some of our staff, and there won't be any salary increases this year. We turned down all the thermostats and use both sides of the paper in the copy machine.”

“But people who care about Fort Meigs - not just Perrysburg people, but history-lovers from all over the state and beyond - will still be generous and thoughtful,” Mr. Mueller said. “I'm confident we'll meet our goal, though this is not a good time to be fund-raising. We've already made extraordinary progress.”

So far, local supporters have pledged $391,000. The new Fort Meigs State Memorial Park will cost an estimated $300,000 a year to operate.



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