Museum budget ax falls on Cross Orchards farm

The gates at Cross Orchards Living History Farm will be closed most of the time, and the Museum of the West downtown will be open five instead of six days a week as the Museum of Western Colorado deals with a 30 percent cut in county funding.

The Museum of Western Colorado, the umbrella organization for venues in Fruita, Grand Junction and Fruitvale, had its funding reduced to $375,000 as Mesa County wrestles with its own budget woes.

The museum’s Dinosaur Journey in Fruita won’t get the same reductions, but the umbrella organization will continue to rely on it for cash flow during the busy summer travel months.

Fruita decided against a $600 increase to Dinosaur Journey’s $4,800 monthly lease payments, giving the museum a break on costs.

“I think this is something that will help us locally as a focal point for regional visitation,” Fruita Mayor Ken Henry said.

A year ago, the county cut funding to the museum from $575,000 a year to $500,000. The county softened the blow by contributing $100,000 in capital improvements, part of which went to shore up the barn at Cross Orchards.

The barn, which served as a backdrop in 2008 for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential-campaign appearance in September, will be behind closed gates except for special events, school tours and a summer children’s camp, Executive Director Mike Perry said.

Gone as well will be some favorite events, such as the museum-sponsored Easter-egg hunt and Christmas-season Breakfast with Santa, Perry said.

Those programs have been “a benefit and service to the community,” Perry said. “But we just don’t have the staff now.”

Employees will see a yet-to-be-determined reduction in health-insurance coverage, and they won’t receive any salary increases, as has been the case for the past four years, Perry said.

Some employees will have to take on additional duties, he said.

Vehicles not needed in the winter will be mothballed, so the museum can save on insurance costs, and computer work stations will be reduced from 28 to 20, he said.

The museum board has yet to take final action on the budget that goes into effect Jan. 1, but there are few other options, Perry said.

“I really have to admire the staff,” Perry said. “The community is blessed with a good, committed staff here.”

It’s unclear whether the museum could get today the national accreditation it received in 2009 because much of that depended on a stable source of funding, Perry said.

Dinosaur Journey remains the museum’s most regular source of cash from tourist visits, but cash flow has been flat so far this year, Perry said. Dinosaur digs, however, saw a 4 percent increase, a trend Perry hopes to see continue.

The museum also is continuing with fundraisers, including a staging of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” next week at the Avalon Theater and a return engagement of “Night at the Museum.”

Dinosaur Journey could be a cash cow, or in this case maybe cash sauropod, for Fruita through cooperation with the Dinosaur Diamond, which connects the paleontological resources of Fruita, Dinosaur National Monument and the Utah towns of Moab and Price, Henry said.

There’s more than money to the museum, though, Henry said.

“We think, number one, that museums are very important,” he said.

“Even in down times, you have to maintain museums. If you allow them to go away during the down times, how can you re-establish them in good times?”


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