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Committee working on a long-term plan to keep park open


After meeting the challenge of raising, in a short five months, the $70,000 needed to keep the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park from being shuttered by the state, the Save the Petaluma Adobe Committee is now tasked with recommending a long-term plan to sustain the historically significant landmark for years to come.

Originally, according to Philip Sales, chairperson of the committee's fundraising effort, the idea was to raise enough money to fund the state's continued operation of the park for one year, until June of 2013. That goal has been achieved, but the park's long term future is still in doubt.

Funds raised included a $35,000 anonymous contribution and a fundraiser that brought in about $7,000. The rest came from individuals and organizations.

"Although the initial goal of fundraising has been accomplished, ongoing philanthropy is likely to be part of the long term health of the park," Sales said.

While it was originally envisioned that two volunteer groups would develop financial and operational plans for the future of the park, Sales said that the group was unable to do that. Instead, a volunteer committee must now come up with a list of options for the future of the park and recommend one by August to the Sonoma/Petaluma State Historic Parks Association, which is the oversight organization for the committee.

Along with Sales, a former chief parks planner for Sonoma County Regional Parks, members of the committee include: Jim Carr, a former Petaluma Parks and Recreation Director; Susan Villa, former executive director of the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum; Katherine Rinehart, historian with the Sonoma County Library; civil engineer Steve Lafranchi; Petaluma businessman Tim Scheele; Julia Cox, with the state parks department; Jan Mandrell of the Petaluma Department of Recreation; and Supervising Park Ranger Vince Anibale.

Long term options under scrutiny during the coming months include:

n Continue fundraising, on a year-to-year basis, the $70,000 needed annually to fund the state's continued operation of the park;

n Develop an operational plan whereby an existing local non-profit association, such as the Sonoma/Petaluma State Historic Parks Association, would operate the park on behalf of the state, which would retain ownership of the property;

n Create an entirely new non-profit organization to operate the park;

n Close the park.

"The park closes, or the no contract option is one that also must be considered," Sales said. "We have to consider the possibility that some costs won't be offset through fundraising. We have to make a decision with the best information we can gather in the coming months."

While the park remains open, the Historic Parks Association will work with the state to increase revenues and visitors to the park, according to Sales.

Toward that end, long term funding for the popular fourth-grade educational program called "Environmental Living" is needed. The program hosts nearly 3,500 students each year, but operates in the red by about $25,000 annually, according to Sales because many students receive scholarships to attend.

To increase revenues and visitors, the park will add some special events to its activity calendar in the coming year beginning with an open air production based on Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona" in August. The play will be renamed "Two Gentlemen of Sonoma," and will be set in 1840s California with locations in Sonoma and Petaluma instead of Verona and Milan.

The production will be directed by Lucas McClure, an alumni of Shakespeare festivals in Idaho and Marin. It will be co-sponsored by the Parks Association, CAPS Productions and the Sonoma Theatre Alliance.

Community fundraising is ongoing too, Sales said, citing a benefit concert on May 5 at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum.

(Contact Marsha Trent at argus@arguscourier.com