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Cuts to hit Fort Morris hard

Historic site to be cut to three days a week

POSTED: May 29, 2009 12:04 p.m.
Photo by Joe Parker Jr./

Re-enactors fire a cannon at Fort Morris at one of its many historic re-enactments.

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The Department of Natural Resources has named Fort Morris Historic Site in Sunbury to a list of state sites that will be forced to reduce hours and services because of a recent 39 percent reduction in state funds and a 24 percent projected loss of revenue.
There were 11 other historic sites and five state parks scheduled for reductions. The cutbacks will affect several of the sites’ different branches.
“My position has been eliminated as of June 15,” said John Reed, a ranger at Fort Morris for more than a year and a half. “Starting July 1, our site will only be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
This is a shortened week for the site, which is currently open to the public Wednesday through Sunday and on Tuesday to private parties. Reed thinks the park will keep the same hours, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., but he said that’s not certain.
According to the DNR’s historic preservation division, Fort Morris was registered as a historical site because of its significance in the Revolutionary War history. It experienced the heaviest action in 1776, 1779 and 1812. The site also has been used for many archaeological and re-enactment purposes.
Although he said he knew about DNR employees possibly being asked to take furloughs, he was surprised by the news.
“We were completely blind-sided to be honest,” Reed said.
Representatives from DNR said it was hard to find places to make cuts.
“These decisions were heart-wrenching but were made using a business case analysis,” said DNR Commissioner Chris Clark. “We are exploring every avenue to manage budget reductions and revenue shortfalls, to properly care for our state parks and historic sites, and to minimize the impact on Georgia citizens and communities.”
Members of the DNR have said they will work with outside local parties interested in volunteering or donating time or money to alleviate some of the cutbacks.
“Outsourcing agreements will be used only if they maintain affordable and high-quality services that are more cost-effective than our own operations,” said State Parks and Historic Sites Director Becky Kelley.  “If outsourcing agreements are not possible, if our efforts do not reduce our dependence on state appropriations, or if state revenues continue to decline, further cuts and potential closures of lodges and golf courses are possible.”
Other state groups recently have begun to offer support to the parks.
Andy Fleming, with Friends of Georgia State Parks, said the group is committing resources and energy to finding local sources to make up for the cutbacks.
“We’re encouraging our friend’s chapters [which are in each Georgia county, including Liberty] to see if they can work with park managers to forestall the changes,” Fleming said. “With this new challenge, we have to figure out a way a to fill in the gaps with volunteers. Everyone is hurting.”
For now, Reed said he is unaware of how long the changes will last or if they are permanent, but said he’s not holding his breath.
“It looks like it’s going to be this way for a very long time,” he said.
 

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