Visitation at the Museum of Northwest Colorado plummeted by 35 percent during 2004.
Museum Director Dan Davidson attributed the decline in attendance to the introduction of admission fees. Before 2004, museum admission was free.
Admission fees and donations raised $9,000, and about 6,000 fewer people visited the museum than during previous years.
The county projected admission fees would raise $19,000 and visitors and supporters would donate another $4,500.
But less than $1,000 was donated to the museum in 2004.
Visitation fell in all categories, including local, state, national and international visitors.
Museum billboards along highways outside Craig traditionally have proved to be the museum's best advertising, Davidson said. When the museum removed the words "free admission" from the billboards, many people who otherwise would have stopped to see what was at the museum passed it by.
Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele said he planned to reexamine charging admission fees at the museum. In light of the drop in donations and visitation, he said charging admission fees is a counterproductive practice.
"It's kind of a wash," he said. "I think we need to take another look at it."
Admission fees were introduced to offset cuts in the museum budget.
The Moffat County commissioners chopped the museum's budget by $80,000 and eliminated the museum's part-time help at the end of 2003
A dozen volunteers helped the Museum of Northwest Colorado weather Moffat County budget cuts during 2004.
"I thank the volunteers, because they really covered the difference," Davidson said.
The museum's mineral leasing program also met more success than it has in previous years. Davidson negotiated five leases for mineral interests museum supporters have donated to the museum. The program raised $26,000 to date.
Once several leases that are being processed have been finalized early next year, the museum will have raised $40,000. The 2004 budget projected only $1,000 in mineral revenue.
Because of financial constraints, the museum was unable to host as many exhibits or special displays as in previous years.
But a display on the year 1964 was made possible thanks to a stock donation worth $1,000 from the Stoddard family. The exhibit included photos from the Craig Empire-Courier, owned by the Stoddards.
Current displays include an exhibit of presidential campaign memorabilia loaned by Craig resident John Ponikvar.
For 2005, Davidson is discussing developing a historical transportation exhibit with the help of a Golden resident who owns a bicycle museum.