The Moffat County commissioners eliminated admission fees to the Museum of Northwest Colorado on Tuesday.
The commissioners made the decision after museum Director Dan Davidson told them visitation had dropped by 36 percent during 2004, the first year the museum charged admission.
Walk-in donations also fell by more than $3,000.
"It's pretty obvious the fees didn't do what they were intended to do," Commissioner Tom Gray.
The 2004 commissioner board instituted the fees in an attempt to create a new source of revenue for the museum after heavily cutting the museum's budget.
But on Tuesday, the commissioners questioned the effect that the drop in visitation may have had on businesses in Craig and on sales tax revenue.
"If you've got somebody going down here and they see a free admission sign and stop by, the odds are pretty good they are going to go into a business and buy something," Commissioner Darryl Steele said.
Billboards along nearby highways advertising free admission have been the museum's best publicity in the past, Davidson said. He thought the removal of the words "free admission" caused the drop in visitation.
Admission had been $2 a person. The commissioners agreed that with free admission, visitors may be more likely to donate to the museum, and they may donate more than the admission charge.
"It's appearing that from some of the things you're doing, it's possible or may be probable donations might be as much as donations and admission fees," Steele said.
Davidson raised $40,000 for the museum during the past year by leasing mineral interests that have been donated to the museum.
He agreed to use $3,000 of that money to cover the revenue that had been projected to be generated by admission fees.
Some mineral revenue also will be used to hire part-time help and pay for janitorial work.
Steele recommended that the museum place some of its mineral revenue in a trust fund so the museum still would have a revenue source after the energy bubble bursts. The county has implemented a similar policy.