A volunteer group is expanding fundraising efforts this year to support the Johnson Hall State Historic Site, which closed temporarily two years ago due to the state’s fiscal problems and isn’t getting any extra money this year, either.
The site will open May 19 for this year’s season, which runs through October.
Heidi Meka, president of the Friends of Johnson Hall, said the group is sponsoring the first-ever Johnson Jog 5k run/walk, which will start at 9 a.m. May 19 from the site.
Ron Robinson, coordinator of the Johnson Jog, said the group hopes to raise $5,000 to support the historic site, once home to Sir William Johnson, baronet and superintendent of Indian Affairs north of the Ohio River. At the time of his death in 1774, Johnson was considered one of the most powerful men in America.
Meka said the group will also conduct the Market Fair, a second major fundraiser, in July. The group took over the fair after the state stopped funding the event.
In August, the volunteer group has scheduled the appearance of the Mettawee River Theater Company and its giant puppet show at Johnson Hall.
“The site is working with a really small budget. That is where the friends have stepped in to help fill in the gap,” Meka said. “We are a group of people who love the story and love the building and want to keep it open. It is an undiscovered treasure and it needs to remain open.”
Dan Keefe, spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said his agency has seen its budget cut over the years because of the state’s fiscal problems. He was unable to provide a budget for Johnson Hall, as the agency operates its programs on a shared-services model.
Groups such as Friends of Johnson Hall “can provide the extras and enhancements that the park system can’t provide,” Keefe said. “They can do fundraising and can do projects that augment the mission of the historic site.”
The state closed Johnson Hall for two weeks in the spring of 2010. A last-minute funding reprieve allowed it to reopen in time for Memorial Day weekend.
The site did not receive any of the $89 million in New York Works capital projects funding for 178 parks and 35 historic sites announced last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo with passage of the state’s new budget. The only project from the Mohawk Valley region to receive money was Glimmerglass State Park in Cooperstown.
Keefe said the $89 million went to projects with priority needs that were already well along in planning and execution.
Robinson said he does not expect the state to increase funding for Johnson Hall anytime soon. “Everyone knows the state funds are less and less and we need to protect our interests in the city. That is why [my wife and I] got involved. We are very concerned about the park itself,” he said.
Johnson Hall is integral to the city’s history and helps bring in tourists and boosts the economy, Robinson said. “We will look back years from now and we can tell our grandchildren about the historic value of the hall,” he said.
Meka said the Friends of Johnson Hall hopes to raise enough money to install new wallpaper in Johnson Hall. “The state has not been able to do any special projects there. We want to put something new in there to attract people,” she said. The goal is to finish one room of the hall in time for the start of the 2013 season, and then to wallpaper the entire building.
The Friends of Johnson Hall has been in existence for approximately 30 years. It was dormant for several years, however, due to a lack of volunteers, Meka said. “A group of us stepped in when the [permanent] threat of closure occurred in 2010,” she said. “It needs to remain open as a place where people can visit. It is important to the history for our country.”