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Pioneer Grounds may get new leadership

The nonprofit organization in charge of Perham’s two museums is looking to bring another local historical resource under its wing – Pioneer Grounds.

The History and Cultural Association of East Otter Tail County (formerly the Friends of the Museum) has submitted a proposal to the city in hopes of taking over management of the historic grounds.

If that proposal is accepted, it will mean a change in management from the East Otter Tail County Historical Society, which has also submitted a proposal, in its case to maintain management of the grounds.

At a meeting with city councilors last week, representatives from both organizations said separately and in their own words that they were interested in securing a successful future for the grounds. After previous discussions, however, the groups had not been able to reach an agreement about how to achieve that goal together.

Darla Ellingson, director of Perham’s museums, said the History and Cultural Association has concerns about how Pioneer Grounds has been managed in the recent past.

“The Pioneer Grounds are underutilized, and the method and accountability for community use of the grounds needs to be improved,” the association’s proposal states. “The community does not know who to call for rental, and if they locate a number, calls are not returned. The main summertime event on the Pioneer Grounds, the Heritage Festival, is not well attended. Liquor use and liability is a growing concern.”

Some councilors echoed a few of these concerns, saying they’d heard that the Historical Society was difficult to reach, and noting that the kitchen and other facilities at the grounds were badly in need of repairs and upgrades.

The Historical Society’s proposal, however, counters that the number of activities at the grounds has been growing: “In 2013 we had four weddings, the summer library program concert, Make-A-Wish bike rally, Teens in Faith concert, Kit Masters employee party, Heritage Fest with Black Powder Shoot and our Halloween Haunted Village. This is an increase from 2012, when we held only four events.”

The Historical Society board, a group of just three people, asked for the chance to continue their efforts into the future, in hopes of fostering continued growth at Pioneer Grounds.

Board members at the meeting admitted that there was work to be done to improve the facilities, and said they’ve had some trouble finding the necessary funding and volunteers to make positive change happen as fast as they’d like to see.

Still, they said progress has been made under their leadership, and they expect that to continue.

“We’re just hoping to continue to bring the past into the future of the Perham area,” said Bonnie Lee, president of the Historical Society board.

Improving and growing the Pioneer Grounds is also the goal of the History and Cultural Association, Ellingson said, and association members believe they’ve come up with a solid plan to achieve that, and soon.

The association has proposed the establishment of a program committee to help oversee events at Pioneer Grounds, as well as the hire of a part-time facilities coordinator. This coordinator would have set office hours at the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum, and would be easily reachable during those hours.

In taking over management of the grounds, the association would also provide and support all recordkeeping and fundraising efforts, as well as volunteer scheduling.

With 10 current board members and 50 regular volunteers, the association is a larger group than the Historical Society, with access to greater resources, Ellingson said.

The association has invited the Historical Society members to be a part of its proposed program committee, so “they can stay involved and we will benefit from their wisdom.”

As of last week, the Historical Society had not taken the association up on its offer, opting instead to submit their own proposal.

City councilors reviewed both proposals, but tabled a final decision on the matter, wanting to give the History and Cultural Association and Historical Society more time to try and work out a cooperative solution.

They also asked to see a 2013 financial report from the Historical Society.

“I think both parties have pretty much the same goal; I strongly recommend you sit down (and talk) for the sake of the betterment of everyone,” said councilor James Johnson.

“Getting everybody together might be in everybody’s best interest,” added Mayor Tim Meehl. “It might be a way to take some of the burden off the Historical Society’s shoulders.”

The council is expected to revisit the issue at future meetings.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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