Fort Caspar Museum could close each winter, despite pleas from local history buffs who recently implored a Casper city official to leave the facility open year-round.
The city needs to reduce its spending because annual appropriations from the state Legislature are in jeopardy, Parks and Recreation Director Tim Cortez explained to about 40 people who gathered Friday night at the museum for a public meeting about its future.
“We are at the mercy of the Legislature,” said Cortez, adding that all city departments are being asked to cut back on expenditures.
The director said the city is considering only keeping the museum open from the beginning of April to the end of October, which is expected to decrease annual expenditures by $167,000. About 76 percent of the museum’s foot traffic occurs during this period.
But multiple speakers said closing the facility during the winter months would be a mistake.
“We [museum workers] need this time to get other things done,” said Mel Glover, the superintendent at the Wyoming Pioneer Memorial Museum in Douglas.
Staff and volunteers explained that they use the slower season to maintain the property, care for artifacts and create new exhibits.
Johanna Wickman, the vice president of the Fort Caspar Museum Association, said visitors will stop coming if the exhibits aren’t new and exciting.
“If the museum starts to slip, it will take years to get out of that hole,” she said.
It would be beneficial for the city to invest in the museum because it supports the tourism industry, Wickman said, and Casper needs to diversify its economy away from oil and gas.
About 25,000 people annually visit the regional history museum, which features a reconstructed 1865 military post, as well as exhibits on prehistoric people, Plains Indians, ranching, the energy industry and frontier Army life.
Con Trumbull, the president of the museum’s association, also felt it would be a mistake to cut funding from a thriving facility. Fort Caspar receives international visitors and was listed two years ago as one of the top 10 museums about the West by True West Magazine.
“This is a prime example of how groups should operate,” he said, adding that the association undertakes many fundraising efforts to help support the museum.
Multiple speakers also questioned why the city was capable of finding money for other projects, such as the new lodge at Hogadon Basin Ski Area.
Cortez thanked everyone who attended and assured the crowd that he would relay all concerns back to the city.
“We obviously feel your level of passion,” he said.
City officials recognize that the facility offers valuable services to citizens, City Manager Carter Napier previously told the Star-Tribune. But Napier said the city needs to consider various options for cutting spending to reduce Casper’s reliance on state funding.
Napier said Monday he hadn’t looked over the report from Friday’s meeting, so didn’t have anything to add to his previous comments.
Wyoming’s local governments have limited means of raising funds, which leaves them largely dependent on appropriations from the state Legislature. Given that the state’s boom-or-bust economy relies heavily on the energy market, local leaders are often uncertain about the level of funding they can expect to receive.
The state generally allots $105 million for city and county governments, but many municipality leaders are worried this funding might be reduced due to the weak energy market.
Even if local governments receive the money this year, Napier explained that it’s a never-ending cycle.
“In 12 months, we will have the battle again,” he said.