Funding dilemma hurting Tread of Pioneers Museum

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— The Tread of Pioneers Museum's annual dinner to honor its volunteers this year was changed to morning tea, coffee and pastries on Tuesday.

Though no volunteers complained about the change, there was serious talk about the museum's funding dilemmas that caused the dinner cancellation. Recently, revenue problems at the city meant a $15,000 cut to the museum's funding. That could cause operations at the museum to alter or even cease by Aug. 15.

"We could have retired anyplace in the United States, but we chose here because of the people and the culture," said JoAnn Lathrop, who is the president of the museum's board of directors.

The museum is a big part of the culture, she said. It provides the opportunity for volunteers to get involved in the community on a level where longtime locals are.

"I think it's interesting. And I think it's important to (protect) the heritage of the county," Lathrop said.

The museum depends on nearly 40 volunteers to help with a variety of chores, duties and events that need the extra hands. The annual dinner is held to honor and thank those people.

"I just think it's good to give back," said Jack Sprengle, one of the museum's most prolific volunteers.

Some volunteers work at the front desk or help out with the installations of the exhibits. Others lecture at the brown-bag luncheon series organized by the Tread of Pioneers, help with grant writing or pitch in with maintenance around the three historical homes the museum maintains.

"Whatever is their area of expertise (and enjoyment), they just step in to help," Museum Director Marty Woodbury said.

The result is a tight-knit group that helps keep the museum afloat.

"There are a lot of people who come to this area and volunteer in the museum family to get involved," Woodbury said.

Many of the volunteers consider helping out at the museum as a service to the community and visitors to the area.

A little more than half of the museum's 9,000 visitors each year are tourists wanting to learn a little about the place they are visiting. Often, they are surprised by what they find, volunteer coordinator and front desk volunteer Barbara Stofan said.

"We get people in here that are pretty sophisticated and urbane and they say this is a fine museum. They are surprised by the quality of the displays," she said. "With what we have, we do really well."

But the museum and its volunteers have other roles in the community besides documenting and preserving Routt County's past through exhibits. It republishes significant historical books, serves on local committees as historical resources, maintains files of written and photographic history of the Yampa Valley for the public and provides curatorial support for local preservation projects.

"Interpretation also is something people don't realize that we do," Curator Candice Lombardo said.

Currently, museum officials are working with Olympic medalist Travis Mayer to get a jacket he wore when he won silver this past winter.

"If the museum closes, (documenting) history basically stops in 2002," Lombardo said.

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