Community comes together for museum

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Nettie Modlin has had the responsibility of keeping the White River Museum afloat during financially difficult times.

Now, with a $9,000 reduction in county funding, Modlin said she is optimistic that members of the Historical Society will work together to keep the doors open.

"We are really determined," Modlin said.

The museum closed January 1 and is scheduled to reopen April 1.

Modlin said society members are trying to receive funds through grants and other sources and hope, if funding is restored, the museum can open soon during its normal business hours.

The $9,000 reduction eliminates half a year of benefits and salary for the one person who manages the museum.

Rio Blanco County commissioners Ronald David, Kim Cook and Forrest Nelson attended a historical society meeting Sunday to explain the county reduction of funding for the White River Museum.

Historical Society member Sandy Shimko said the meeting was arranged to give residents first-hand knowledge of the budget cuts and to hopefully make the

commissioners aware of the museum's vital importance in the community.

"I have concerns that if the museum closes, it breaks the continuity of things," Joe Sullivan said. "Our heritage, our history is important. We are who we are because of our history."

Many members said they felt the museum was a tremendous asset to the community and shouldn't be shut down, even if temporarily.

The White River Museum, comprised of hewn logs, is recognized nationally for its exhibits and historical artifacts. Shimko said when people plan trips to Meeker, the museum is usually one of their first stopping points. She said the museum serves as the chamber of commerce by directing tourists to other places and sites in town.

Even though the museum is closed until April 1, society members still want to make the museum available to people if they call in advance.

The commissioners agreed that the museum was an integral part of the community but said they are saddled with the burden of state cuts that make it a challenge to provide many county services.

"We're in this whole thing together. This whole community is our love, too," Nelson said. He said making the cuts has not been easy but necessary.

"We racked everything and tried to spread it out," Cook said.

He said the commissioners made cuts at both the Meeker and Rangely museum and made cuts across the board in many county services.

"There are no easy choices that have been made," he said.

The commissioners chose to eliminate funding during the winter season since tourists mainly visit the museum in the summer. They said, according to the museum's guest book, approximately 125 to 135 people visit the museum a year.

Modlin said the figure is inaccurate because the buses of school children who visit the museum never sign the guest book as well as other people who visit the museum.

Modlin said the commissioners did not take into consideration the cleaning and creation of new displays that are completed during the winter months.

Davis said he couldn't predict whether the commission would reconsider funding the museum when he thinks the commission will have to make more cuts in the spring.

"I think we intend to hold the line," Davis said. "The greatest joy was funding programs like the museum. Those were the good things (of being a commissioner)."

Davis said he dislikes not being able to fund the museum but has great concern for other cuts, especially the one mill hospital cut.

Davis said he would like to go for the three-mill levy increase again in November so all county programs can be fully funded.

Shimko said she didn't understand the overall ramifications of not having the mill levy pass and would volunteer to educate people about the importance of passing a mill levy in the November election.

To reach Jamie Hallman call (970) 871-1810 or e-mail hallmanjamie@hotmail.com.

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