With budget cuts looming across the state, President James K. Polk State Historic Site in Pineville might face having to close, according to one state agency.
Since the 2009-10 fiscal year, historic sites throughout North Carolina have had their budgets cut, and the Polk site is no exception. Salaries for Polk staff members, paid by the state, have been cut by $2,000 since 2009, bringing the site's operating budget from $112,144 to $109,969.
Although foot traffic has increased by 9 percent since 2009, a 15 percent budget reduction for historic sites has been proposed for the 2011 fiscal year. According to the N.C. Division of State Historic Sites and Properties, the budget cut may cause some sites to close, including the Polk historic site.
The site has seen a decline in donations from visitors, and one of the site's largest events - the Polk Family Reunion - has been canceled this year due to a lack of participants.
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While the site is supported in part by the state, the James K. Polk Support Group helps raise private donations for the site. Those donations, however, haven't been as high in recent years.
"We don't know where we are going to be next year," said Sharon VanKuren, president of the Polk support group. "We are waiting for the other shoe to drop. We have a donation box but that's all we have; what we don't have are deep pockets."
Support groups for North Carolina historic sites have become more involved as the sites continue to experience state budget cuts. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, groups supporting Fort Dobbs in Statesville and the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer donated more than $4,600 for temporary salaries.
While VanKuren didn't have an exact amount, she said the Polk support group has provided in-kind donations of time and materials for grounds-keeping and building maintenance at the site.
The donations "have not been huge because we can't afford it, but we are trying to keep the site up as best we can," she said. "We treat it as a family: You create a budget and live within your means."
VanKuren said the support group and the site are struggling and she worries about the future of the site. Last year, the site had about 11,000 visitors, and she said she's worried the numbers may go down this year.
"Vacations are a luxury these days," said VanKuren. "People don't have jobs and gas prices are only getting higher. Vacations are something that may not work for some people this year."
The cancelation of the Polk Family Reunion, one of the site's largest and most anticipated events, is indicative of the site's financial hardships.
The last reunion, in 2005, drew 80 Polk descendants; this year, only seven registered to attend the May 14 event. With more than 200 invitations sent out nationwide, the low response worried site staff and volunteers.
Scott Warren, manager of the Polk historic site, said he was surprised so few people registered but couldn't pinpoint an exact reason for the low numbers.
"It's hard to tell, but I'm sure the nation's difficult financial times have had something to do with it," said Warren. "The economy has been tough, and that's taken a toll on all of us."
Warren said that while they were disappointed to cancel the event, the site is trying to "make lemonade out of lemons" by turning the day into a living history day to celebrate Polk. Like most events at the site, the celebration will be free and open to the public. The living history day will feature exhibits displaying life during the mid-1800s.
VanKuren, who has been a volunteer with the site for 15 years, said the decision to cancel the reunion was difficult.
"We were so excited and had such great plans, but when the response was so low we knew we couldn't go any further because of the financial difficulties it would cause," said VanKuren. "Even though people wanted to come, everyone is having hard times and just weren't able to."
Even in the face of the impending cuts, Warren continues to keep a positive outlook.
"I don't think the site will close," he said. "What we are doing here is trying to provide fun, free, family entertainment when folks are watching their dollar closely. I hope people realize that and come visit us."