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Legislators ought to spare South Pass City from budget cuts

Feb 17, 2012 - Robert Snowden President, Friends of South Pass Buffalo

Editor:

Recently the joint Joint Appropriations Committee of the Wyoming Legislature is asking all departments of state government to plan for a potential cut of 2 percent, 5 percent or 8 percent to standard operating budgets.

As the group charged with supporting South Pass City State Historic Site, the Friends of South Pass would like to express our extreme concern regarding the proposed cuts to the 2013-2014 biennium budget.

As a group, we advocate for a responsible government, but we feel that these cuts would adversely affect one of Wyoming's unique resources and set back the tremendous progress that the Friends of South Pass, the staff at South Pass City and the Abandoned Mine Lands Division of the Department of Environmental Quality have made at the historic site.

South Pass City State Historic Site operates on a very frugal budget of approximately $288,000 per year, including salaries for full-time and seasonal employees. There is no excess within this allocation, and the staff at South Pass City does an exemplary job of maintaining the site and hosting extraordinary public programs.

If the proposed cuts are implemented the consequences will be wide reaching.

South Pass City is the state's largest historic site with more than 40 historic structures and 350 acres. Under the proposed cuts, the site would lose all of its seasonal maintenance and one full-time maintenance person leaving a single staff member to maintain all the structures and property. An impossible task.

The State of Wyoming recently invested several hundred thousand dollars in "catch-up" maintenance at South Pass City. The site looks wonderful, and the dollars were well spent.

Cutting now, however, will only set the site up for failure and waste in the future, and as the integrity of the site deteriorates from lack of maintenance. Visitors to the site, and our own history, will be the ones to suffer.

Recently, the State of Wyoming has invested millions in appropriations and AML funds in the Carissa Mine. The Carissa Mine boasts the first mining claim in the state of Wyoming and AML has done amazing work to highlight Wyoming's rich and important mining history. A history that is not often showcased in a state that owes its prosperity to the mineral industry.

However, the proposed budget cuts will not miss the Carissa. Maintenance at the mine is a major concern. One maintenance person will be charged with taking care of facilities that are truly huge. The Carissa Mill alone is a 20,000 square foot timber frame building built in 1904. AML has

stabilized the building but deterioration is inevitable and the loss of state dollars will be significant.

In 2009, the Legislature appropriated funds to install operational milling equipment in the Carissa Mill. The goal was to give visitors the ability to see one of a kind technology in operation giving them an experience had only in Wyoming and at South Pass City.

The equipment will be installed in the summer of 2012 but the visitor will only be able to see the Carissa from the road. Effectively, the site will have been mothballed.

South Pass City staff for the past few years has given extensive tours of the Carissa to the public. The Carissa is very popular and these tours book weeks in advance. With the cuts in staff and budget, these tours will have to be canceled.

Currently, 3,000 students each year who come to learn about Wyoming history, geology, mining and the extraordinary people that settled the west, visit SPC. Schoolteachers from every corner of the state use South Pass City as a way to make the state teaching standards interesting and relevant for their students.

With the cut, South Pass City will no longer be able to host school tours.

Of particular concern to the Friends of South Pass will be the cancellation of Gold Rush Days. This annual event brings 2000 people to South Pass City in two days. These are largely locals, coming from Fremont, Sweetwater, Carbon, and Sublette counties. They come to enjoy vintage baseball tournaments, concerts, re-enactments and a fireworks show like no other in the state.

Sponsors from all over Wyoming fund the event. 60 plus volunteers makes the event happen. However, a staff of three will not be able to coordinate the necessary fundraising, volunteers and basic services to host the event.

Our history is precious, it must be preserved and that history made accessible for the future. South Pass City is not just a ghost town. It is an active participant in the education, economy and culture of Wyoming.

We hope the Wyoming Legislature will make the right decision and help South Pass City continue to participate in our state.

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