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The Times
  • Fort Stanwix repels budget cuts, plans to keep employees

  • Fort Stanwix will absorb about $90,000 in federal cuts for 2013 and still keep all 20 of its employees in its $1.5 million budget. That includes $78,000 in federal sequestration cuts, which represents a 5 percent budget reduction.

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  • William Sawyer’s 30-year career as a Fort Stanwix National Monument park ranger started as an “excellent summer job."
    “I was part of a re-enactment group that did some of our initial training with one of the rangers here at the park, and he let me know about seasonal opportunities here,” the 50-year-old Boonville native said. “So, I volunteered for a year and applied for a seasonal position the next year, and I’ve been here ever since.”
    The fort’s four seasonal positions would be the first to go if Fort Stanwix faces further budget reductions, Superintendent Debbie Conway said.
    But for now, the park will absorb about $90,000 in federal cuts for 2013 and still keep all 20 of its employees in its $1.5 million budget. That includes $78,000 in federal sequestration cuts, which represents a 5 percent budget reduction.
    “I think the people that have never been here before won’t necessarily experience a real difference,” Conway said. “I’m hopeful that because we were able to maintain most of our staffing levels we’ll be able to maintain most of the programs that we do and people won’t notice a huge impact on that.”
    The fort, which played a key role for the American colonies during the Revolutionary War, was reconstructed as a national monument in time for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976. The fort opens for the season Monday.
    Changes
    By not reducing its staffing, the fort can keep most of its programs going. The impact of the cuts will be more qualitative than quantitative, Conway said.
    “We took some pretty heavy hits in our supplies, materials and travel budgets,” she said. “Pretty much sending any of our employees to any kind of training or travel is going to be out of the question this year.”
    One program that won’t be returning is the Homeschool Days, which saw participation from 1,200 children over two days in spring and fall last year. That program is costly because it is supply-intensive, Conway said.
    Some projects such as replacing the lights around the Visitor Center also are on hold due to the cuts, she said.
    Continuing to provide a quality visitor experience is the park’s priority, Conway said. The park surveyed visitors in 2011 and found that people valued the living history programs, where workers dress in period clothing and do demonstrations.
    “It’s not just a person spouting off facts and figures to you,” said Sawyer, who often trades his park ranger uniform for period clothing. “You get the sights, smells and feel of the 1700s.”
    Visitation up
    The cuts come at a time when visitation is high: There were 110,498 visitors in 2012, 102,874 in 2011 and 103,748 in 2010.When Conway came to the fort six years ago, visitation consistently was right about 70,000.
    Page 2 of 2 - Conway said she has encouraged visitation at the fort by mixing up the programming to include “some fresh interpretation, fresh ideas and more interactivity.”
    She’s also done more outreach to schools in the spring and has secured grants in order to bus in students from underserved areas. She’s also brought the park’s outreach efforts to the New York State Fair.
    The fort’s numbers have been helped by Oneida County Tourism, which has featured the site in its promotional efforts over the last several years, she said. As a National Park, Fort Stanwix is not allowed to use appropriated funds for self-promotion.
    “They recognize that having a National Park in the county is a key attraction,” Conway said.
    The park also has seen more regional visitors as gas prices have gone up, she said.
    “We actually got a lot of folks from the regional area kind of coming back and visiting us,” she said. “Either they’d been here before, or sometimes the parents had been there when they were kids and they were bringing their kids back.”
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