Editor's note: This is the first of two articles focusing on local assets that have been hard hit by city budget cuts.
Matt Mayberry and Susan Davies are living parallel lives.
Both are passionate about the Pikes Peak region's assets. Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, fixates on our history and heritage; Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, on our outdoor recreational areas. Both are tireless in trying to preserve this area's unique features, and savvy about engaging the community in their missions.
Both are also very talented at stretching limited resources as far as possible.
'We were tested'
Mayberry, who's been Pioneers Museum director for nine years, had to trim staff and hours as the city slashed funding from $895,000 in 2008 to $365,000 in 2010.
"We came very, very close to having to close," he says. "It was a very tough time, and we were tested by that."
Today, however, Mayberry feels a renewed sense of energy and optimism around the 108-year-old, city-owned former courthouse. In a recent "MuseLetter," he notified supporters that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the city's 2012 allocation of funds for the museum looks stable.
He, his staff and the board of trustees have been exploring new ways to raise funds for the building. The museum's first development director, Cari Karns, will push the facility toward a 2012 goal of $250,000 (primarily for general operating expenses) in donations, sponsorships, grants and earned income.
Also new: the Pioneers' innovative Museum Experience program. In it, "community curators" pay for the privilege of browsing the 75,000-piece collection, doing research and planning exhibits. Crime and Punishment in the Pikes Peak Region, the work of nine such curators, opened Oct. 29 and runs through spring 2012.
"I think the really neat thing about the Museum Experience is people get unprecedented access to the collection, to the staff, to the process of storytelling through objects," Mayberry says. "It's important, I think, especially in this culture, where you can hop online and find photos of just about anything, but everything is virtual."
The spring 2012 exhibit will come from District 11's Patrick Henry Elementary in Rustic Hills. As imagined by award-winning science teacher Sharon Milito, the entire fourth grade there is working with museum staff to create a mineralogy exhibit to encompass science, art and writing.
It's the first project done exactly this way, but of course, it's hardly unusual for kids to connect with the museum. "This year, we're on track to have probably a couple of hundred school programs that happen in this building," Mayberry says, "so that's over 5,000 kids."
Give! funds will help the museum keep some of that momentum going, since they're earmarked for the museum's education programs, led by new education director Megan Poole.
But regardless of new funding sources, the museum's most valuable resource will remain its pool of volunteers, Mayberry says.
"Last year, our 120 volunteers provided about 6,000 hours of service to the museum, which equates to three full-time employees. We literally could not do what we do without volunteers."
Can't do it alone
Volunteers also are key to the success of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, founded in 1987 to advocate for the city's trails and parks. In 2010, TOSC stepped up to help park-related organizations after the city reduced funding from $18 million to $3 million.
"One of the positions cut was 'volunteer coordinator.' It was ironic, because the city was at a point where volunteer services were never more important!" Davies writes in an e-mail.
Davies, her three staffers and countless volunteers assist 16 friends groups that work for the region's outdoor recreation areas. TOSC also partners with the city to maintain openspacevolunteers.org, a sort of clearinghouse that connects friends groups and potential volunteers.
For this year's Give! campaign, TOSC is focusing on the Manitou Incline and "orphan parks" — ones without dedicated friends groups.
The Incline, of course, is one of the region's most popular hiking spots, despite it being private land. Now, its deteriorating railroad ties and crumbling trail are raising fears for hikers' safety.
"We are told there are about 350,000-plus trips per year up the Incline," Davies writes. "That's a lot of traffic on a 'trail' that is still theoretically illegal to use. And of course, as long as it's not legal to use, no group can tackle maintenance issues with permission from the owners."
The U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway all own chunks of the land, and the ensuing tangle of red tape has delayed the process to legalize the trail.
TOSC has played a key role in forming the collaboration between the owners and helped found the Incline Friends group. Davies is hopeful that hiking the Incline will be legal by early 2012.
"Incline Friends is maturing as an organization and has exhibited great energy and creativity," Davies writes. "We expect improvements to the safety of the Incline to begin occurring by next summer."
TOSC's mission entails speaking up for parks and trails and promoting stewardship to benefit the entire community, but the coalition can't do it alone.
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