Rock Ledge Ranch staying open in 2010

       The Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site isn't closing its gates after all.

Andy Morris

Ron Wright

       Encouraged by nearly $40,000 in private donations since December, ranch manager Andy Morris and the facility's volunteer Living History Association (LHA) have decided to go ahead with a 2010 schedule that will be just slightly leaner than 2009's.
       “A month ago, this was hard to imagine,” Morris said this week. “We weren't sure what was going on. Now, with the help of the LHA and the rest of the community coming forward with donations, we're back for another year…. We're grateful, humbled and happy that people are supporting what we do.”
       But Morris and LHA President Ron Wright emphasized that the decision in no way means the city-owned, 1880s-style working ranch north of Pleasant Valley is on financial easy street. Morris had to tap into a reserve “gift trust account” that he'd built up over the past several years to cover unexpected costs; and even then, he said, ranch supporters remain $30,000 short of their fundraising goal ($136,000, announced in December). “We're hoping that with grants and sponsorships and the money we earn from events, we'll turn out OK at the end of the year,” he said.
       Donations continue to be welcomed. The LHA has established a non-profit foundation to accept monetary donations, and any contributions are tax-deductible. For more information, call the ranch at 578-7777, or go to the website at Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 6299, Colorado Springs, CO 80904.
       The 230-acre ranch's need is a direct offshoot of city financial troubles in a weak economy. Formerly subsidized annually with about $150,000 from Colorado Springs coffers (to go with about $35,000 in earnings), Rock Ledge is slated to receive no more from that source after March 31. It was one of many cutbacks City Council had to make after revenues came up some $30 million short for 2010 and residents rejected a property tax increase to cover the gap.
       Possibilities of mothballing the buildings and selling off the animals were under consideration before Wright and the LHA organized the fund drive in mid-December, focusing on the Westside community and seeking donations of any size. Their slogan was “Not now. Not ever,” in response to the possibility of the ranch closing.
       At this point, “Things are looking better but we have to continue with fund raising,” Wright said. Looking ahead, he said the LHA would appreciate donors considering the ranch for bequeathals and leaving money through wills or planned giving. “We need to form an endowment fund to see that we are not put in this position again,” he said.
       In an e-mail and phone interview, Morris explained that the ranch will have a typical sort of Memorial Day-to-Labor Day season this year, except that it will be open one less day each week (Sundays) and will not offer two free outdoor concerts as in the past. All major special events through the year will be back - Earth Day, opening day/sheep shearing, Fourth of July, Fiddles & Vittles, EcoFestival, Labor Day vintage baseball game, Folk Art Festival, Harvest Festival, Everything But the Oink hog-processing event (probably), Holiday Evening, Holiday Tours and a new Indian powwow event that will fold in the key elements of the ranch's traditional First Nations Day.
       There will be an added emphasis on revenues. “We won't do things that don't make money,” Morris said.
       The one free event will be Earth Day (April 17 this year), but it pays for itself because “so many good things come out of it,” he said, including materials being handed out to visitors, a partnership with the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center and volunteers donating and planting fruit trees.
       Morris revealed a pre-season fundraising concert that will be new this year. Scheduled May 22, it will feature well-known area singer/songwriter Chuck Pyle. Also planned are school programs in the spring (in addition to ones in the fall) and a Mother's Day Tea in May.
       Other revenue enhancements are in the works, including possible workshops in the Carriage House and a farmer's market in the east parking area, he said.
       Volunteers will again play a large role in ranch operations. Out of about 1,200 LHA members, close to 100 typically get involved as docents. They assist five to eight summer staff who ensure the different ranch buildings and visitor areas are always manned and ready to go, Morris summarized. The only year-round, full-time staff are Morris and his assistant, John Winters.
       Sunday is being eliminated from the summer schedule because it has “historically been a slow day for us,” Morris elaborated in an e-mail. “This change will leave Sunday open for private events that may come along such as weddings, birthday celebration, family reunions, etc.”
       Reflecting the city's financial troubles, the ranch had already been cut back in 2009, forcing a shortened season and a two-hour Sunday reduction.
       Another financial concern is ranch upkeep. Part of the 2009 cutback eliminated such funding, 2010 is the same, and 2011 will likely be no different. “It's not real likely when city employees are losing their jobs,” Morris said. But he's relatively confident Rock Ledge can hold up this year without major maintenance. “Fortunately we had stayed up with that the last several years - things like fences, a roof on the barn and a fenced-in livestock area,” he said.
       The Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site grew out of an actual ranch/farm on the site that the Chambers family started in the 1880s. The property was bought by the city in the 1960s.

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