Museums use funds to improve

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In Hahn's Peak Village, visitors and residents can see firsthand an old bear-cage jail cell that was used in the late 1800s when the gold mining boom hit North Routt County.

Famous outlaws spent days in that jail, which harkens back to an era when Hahn's Peak was the county seat for Routt and Moffat counties.

Now the jail is out in the elements on the back porch of the local museum. It rusts quickly, so volunteers spend hours every few years scraping off the rust and repainting the jail.

The floorboards in the museum, which houses mining relics, old photographs and other treasures from the past, are rotting.

"Our buildings have had little or no maintenance for years, and they're starting to fall apart," said Shirley Stocks, vice president for the Hahn's Peak Area Historical Society.

But with the $7,750 the museum is receiving this year from the voter-approved 0.3-mill levy to help historical organizations and museums across the county, the museum can build an enclosure for the jail and repair the floors.

It also can pay for its building insurance, reprint its brochures and apply for funds to replace siding on the historic, turn of the century, little green schoolhouse.

Contributions, membership dues and fund-raisers usually bring in about $2,000, slightly less than what the museum pays for insurance and utilities for the buildings. The funds will bring the group's total budget to about $10,000.

"It has been a godsend for us," Stocks said. "I don't know what we would have done because it was about all we could do to pay the insurance.

"I think you're going to see a lot of Routt County becoming a major historical center because of the mill levy."

On Nov. 4, county voters passed the mill levy to create about $210,000 a year that can be divided between the county's museums and historic groups according to school district boundaries and populations. One-tenth of that money will go into a granting fund for which all groups can apply.

Since the approval, the newly formed Routt County Museum and Heritage Fund Advisory Board has drawn up guidelines for doling out the granting fund money and has reviewed 2004 budgets for the various museums and historical groups in the county.

In West Routt County at the Hayden Heritage Center, the $18,000 they'll receive from the fund means the museum can open its doors earlier in the year, which makes it easier for schoolchildren to take field trips to the museum, said Judy Green, president of the Board of Directors for the center.

The museum has reprinted copies of a volume of the "History of West Routt, Colorado," and will have enough to install a security system. It is considering setting aside some funds to inventory its artifacts and put everything in a computer system.

"We'd been struggling the way we had done it," Green said about surviving before the fund. "Our budget was basically an $18,000 budget, and we had to pinch pennies pretty closely in order to pay our bills."

The fund, she continued, "looks like it could really benefit our small museum."

The museum, in turn, gives back to the public.

"If you don't know where you came from, you don't know who you are," Green said.

In South Routt County, the Historical Society of Oak Creek and Phippsburg is putting much of its $14,000 toward matching funds for a grant application to renovate Old Town Hall in Oak Creek for a museum.

Wendy Moreau, director of the Yampa Egeria Museum, which is owned by the town of Yampa, opposed the tax on principle, saying the taxes are better used for infrastructure and other necessities. Moreau, who was not available last week, has said in the past that the museum will be able to install a security system because of the $3,700 from the fund.

For the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs, the $118,000 it is receiving means the difference between just keeping the museum open and helping the year-round, full-time museum flourish, said Museum Director Candice Lombardo.

"Being able to go from mostly focusing on just how to keep the doors open, we're now able to plan vital projects that will help strengthen and improve (the museum)," Lombardo said.

With help from the fund, and grants from the 1772 Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and with donations from the city of Steamboat Springs, the museum is repairing and painting its turn of the century Zimmerman House, is working through a photo digitization project, and is doing a comprehensive collection inventory to catalog about 4,000 artifacts with computer software.

The Tread will launch a collection initiative to fill in some of the gaps in its collections. Its newest exhibit, "Meanwhile Back on the Ranch," will have its debut this summer, and the "Foundation of Steamboat" exhibit soon will highlight a new family.

After years of struggling financially, some buildings are in need of repair, Lombardo said, and important work in cataloguing artifacts and completing its collection needs to be completed.

With the funds, those goals can become a reality, she said.

"In a nutshell, I think it's providing the optimum care of the museum collection and catching up on much-needed building projects," Lombardo said.

"We know we're going to be here, we know that we're strong, so now we can utilize all the grants that are out there to help make museums better."

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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