Budget cuts may axe Washington historic sites

As the Great Recession drags on, more and more state programs are feeling the pinch. This includes many sites of historic interest. In the latest budget announced by Washington Governor Chris Gregiore, the state’s three Historical Society museums will all have to close.

The State Capital Museum in the Lord Mansion in Olympia, and museums in Tacoma and Spokane, would all be affected. The governor has earmarked $2.4 million to maintain the sites and their archives, but it would cost twice as much to keep them open, The News Tribune reports.

The Lord Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and in addition to having a museum, it hosts many public events. The Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma gets an average of 100,000 visitors a year.

To be fair to Governor Gregiore, she’s facing a serious problem. If she keeps the museums open, that means $2.4 million less for other programs, and then some non-travel-related blog would be complaining about her budget. But museums and historical societies are important parts of the community, not just for old-timers who want to reminisce and tourists interested in history, but newcomers who want some background on their surroundings. I’ve moved way too many times, and one thing I always do to get grounded is study the history of my new home.

I also do Civil War research, and that means I’ve seen the inner workings of many historical societies. One place you’ll often find me is the State Historical Society of Missouri. Once or twice a week my studies are interrupted by a crowd of schoolkids coming into the library to see the treasures of the archives. Some researchers grumble about this, but I’m always happy to see them come in. One object that always arouses interest is a long, thin map of the Mississippi River that unrolls like a scroll. Steamboat pilots used it to navigate the perilous waters of the river more than a century ago. The students are fascinated by it, not just because of its odd appearance but because of what it symbolizes. More than once I’ve overheard kids talking about what it would have been like to use the map to avoid sandbars, sunken logs, and dangerous currents just like Mark Twain did.

This historical society, like so many others, has had its share of budget cuts. They recently had to stop a theatrical series and a traveling lecture tour. Both were popular, but the society simply can’t afford them.

It would be a shame if they had to cut the tours. Missouri schoolkids wouldn’t get their imaginations fired by that map anymore.

[Photo courtesy Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons]

Nevada hopes adventurer Fossett’s wife pays for the search efforts

When a person goes missing in the wilderness and people try to find them, it’s not cheap. In Steve Fossett’s case, the price tag was $687,000. In Nevada, the state where multimillionaire Fossett disappeared, people don’t have to pay the cost of the search parties who are look for them.

If you get stuck on a mountain somewhere without a dime in your bank account, you don’t have to worry that you’re too poor to find. In Fossett’s case, having oodles of money didn’t matter either. He wasn’t found. Still, since his wife has all that money, Nevada is hoping that his estate will help cover more of the costs. $200,000 was paid early on. The family isn’t obligated, it just would be nice. With state budget crunches and shortfalls, some extra cash would come in handy the governor’s thinking. [see AP article]

I’m thinking, there is a bit of a dilemma. When people take off in the wilderness,or head off in a small plane that might go down in a hard to find place, there is risk involved and bad things do happen. Being found is a costly undertaking. People who don’t take such risks are then paying for those who do. However, leaving someone out there is not an option, unless it can’t be helped because the person is just too lost. I can see how some might be miffed that a rich guy gets lost because he was a risk taker and thus, put even more of a strain on a state’s strained budget, but how do we put a dollar amount on human life? There’s something in us that wants lost people to be found. Perhaps its primal–as in, if I’m lost, please come get me mentality.

We all want someone watching our back when we set off into the wild. Metaphorically speaking, isn’t the wild a symbol for life? It’s just that the line between safety, adventure and a dollar sign is not so clear.