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Fort Morris cuts outrage supporters

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POSTED: March 8, 2007 5:11 a.m.
With the volume of outrage from residents and advocates growing, Liberty County’s leaders under the Gold Dome have weighed in about cutbacks at Fort Morris Historic Site.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, citing a temporary personnel shortage and lack of visitors, reduced operating days at the Revolutionary War site from five-and-a-half days a week to three earlier this month.
One lawmaker said the decrease in operating hours could be the first sign of history repeating itself.  
“My big temper and fear is, history teaches that cutbacks are the step right before closure,” Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) said in a recent meeting with members of Leadership Liberty and county commissioners Pat Bowen and Eddie Walden. “They very seldom stop at cutbacks.”    
But Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said DNR commissioner Noel Holcomb assured him “in writing ... they are not getting ready to downsize.”
Johnson noted the state’s fiscal year 2008 budget provides funding for new employees to assist with the agency’s personnel problems.
“The Department of Natural Resources is 100 employees short of where they need to manage all of their historic parks and properties,” he said. “There are 33 new positions in this new budget that will help staff them up.”
According to the FY 2008 budget, the additional staff will cost an estimated $990,000 to “expand operating hours and enhance customer service in state parks.”
But the budget does not explain where and how these new workers will be dispersed throughout Georgia’s 48 state parks and 18 historic sites.  
Employee shortage aside, Fort Morris also suffers from a lack of visitation, at least when compared to surrounding sites such as Fort King George and Fort McAllister.
In 2006, Fort Morris received 13,577 visitors, while Fort McAllister alone has averaged 12,000 visitors per month.
Williams said the problem stems from insufficient marketing of the site’s history and heritage.
“The thing is, when you look at it, do we maximize from a state standpoint the advertising of Fort Morris? Do we really sell it? I don’t think so,” he said. “In tourism, if it’s a secret, it can’t be utilized. You’ve got to tell it.”
Liberty County Tourism Director Sandy White agreed the state should take a more active role in promoting Fort Morris.
“It’s a state site,” she said. “If visitation is the prerequisite for that site staying open or not, then the state should be the one that’s marketing the site to keep it open.”
She also said it will ultimately be the community’s support, or lack thereof, that will decide the fate of Fort Morris.
“My fear is that if the community does not stay on the state’s back about this, one day that site will just close,” White said. “If it comes to a point where there’s a major budget cut, they’ll say ‘Well, nobody’s giving us a real hard time about this so we’ll just go ahead and close it.’
“If we allow the state to just slowly and quietly close these kinds of places, then that history’s lost forever. You can’t tell me that if Fort Morris ever became available for private use ... it wouldn’t become condos in a year.”
 

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