Steamboat Springs Tread of Pioneers Museum Director Marty Woodbury is taking an unpaid three-month leave of absence to allow the financially struggling nonprofit organization to keep its doors open.
"This could be the step that gets us back on track," Woodbury said. "It buys us time and creates a situation where nothing is permanent."
Woodbury said she and the museum board reached the decision mutually. She became director at the end of April 1999.
Woodbury said she knew something would have to change when she ran a financial projection that indicated the museum would carry almost no cash into the new year. She will continue to work through the museum's biggest fund-raiser of the year, the Festival of Trees, then leave her post in December.
Woodbury's leave could save the museum almost $9,000; she makes an annual salary of $35,000. While she is away, she will teach skiing at the Steamboat Ski Area.
Museum treasurer Dave Wierman emphasized the museum intends to remain open and is in the midst of a membership drive.
He said when it came down to reducing expenses, salaries were one of the few alternatives.
"Frankly, the non-payroll expenses are pretty lean already," Wierman said.
The onset of the museum's current fiscal crisis can be traced to a decision by the Steamboat Springs City Council a year ago to trim its support of the museum from $35,000 to $20,000, Wierman said.
"It really put us in a bind, because we really don't have excess cash on hand," he explained.
Museum representatives went back to the city in the spring in an effort to get the $15,000 restored, but any decision was delayed. Woodbury said the museum board remains grateful for the $20,000 it receives.
Museum curator Candice Lombardo, who is a part-time employee, will remain in place during Woodbury's leave. And the museum will rely heavily on its corps of 38 volunteers.
A current exhibit of Edward Curtis photographs of American Indians will come down in November to make way for the Festival of Trees. During the winter, that space will be taken up with an exhibit of historic Yampa Valley artwork. The museum's ski history collection remains in place.
Woodbury predicted that during her leave, the museum board will be doing some deep thinking about the future of the organization and whether it can go forward as an institution staffed by professionals.
She believes the work she and Lombardo do is important for the conservation of the valley's history. However, she said the museum staff has spent most of its time recently on fund-raising.
"When I took this job I told myself. 'There have to be ways to create new revenue streams to keep this place operating,'" Woodbury said. "What we have is revenue trickles. Donations have been amazing this year, but we need to have a solid financial position. We have three old buildings that need all kinds of care."
The museum charges $5 admission and realizes modest profits from sales of books of local history. Recently, museum volunteer David Dykaar obtained permission to reproduce a 1907 color poster used by the Barnum and Bailey circus to promote Carl Howelsen's ski jumping demonstrations.
The museum is selling large prints for prices ranging from $100 to $300.
Wierman said he believes there are two options that hold the promise of long-term financial stability for the museum. The first is an endowment. Woodbury estimates it would take a $1 million endowment to generate $50,000 to $60,000 annually.
The second possibility is public support. Other museums around the country rely heavily on a tax millage or some other form of tax funding, Wierman said. However, he said the museum board is not pursuing that option at this time.
Woodbury remains hopeful that by taking a three-month leave, she can improve the chances she'll remain at the museum.
"It's very apparent we're looking at a shortfall," she said. "We need a break so we can figure this out. One way or another, we have to be sure the museum continues in perpetuity."