Forest Service to Possibly Close Homeplace in 2021
November 28, 2020 | Staff Report
Editor's Note: The following is a letter published to Friends of LBL members by Aviva Yasgur, Executive Director of Friends of Land Between The Lakes.
Instead of a typical newsletter for this November, I feel the need to write to you about a major issue that has recently arisen that I think many of you will care about and want to be informed about. It has to do with some big changes outlined in the Forest Service’s new “Sustainable Recreation Plan,” which is their plan for how Land Between the Lakes will operate for the next 10 years.
First, I do want to share some good news: As we come to the end of the main open season here at LBL, we are all extremely thankful that all of our Friends of LBL employees have remained healthy and covid-free as of this writing. Although the majority of our staff work with large numbers of the public on a daily basis, we are so grateful that they took the threat of covid seriously and diligently followed the CDC-recommended safety guidelines to keep themselves, their co-workers, and the public as safe as was possible. I feel that our staff deserves major kudos for their responsible behavior throughout this challenging year.
Now, on to the more difficult news.
The Forest Service’s Sustainable Recreation plan calls for the possible closure of the Homeplace in 2021.
Specifically, their plan directs that as of March 1, 2021, the Homeplace will operate as a “museum” rather than as the living history center and working farm that it has been for decades. This means that as of March 2021, the Forest Service will cut their funding for staff interpreters at the Homeplace. Instead of the 7 full-time Friends of LBL interpreters, the Forest Service plans to cut this number to only 2 interpreters. They also plan to get rid of most of the animals and crops. Their plan also calls for efforts during 2021 to search for external sources of support for the Homeplace, such as sponsorships, more funding from Congress or other government agencies, grants, or other partnerships. If significant sources of external assistance cannot be found, the Forest Service’s plan is to shut the Homeplace down permanently at the end of 2021.
I know that for many of you, this is tragic news to hear. Honestly, we are shocked and deeply saddened. The Forest Service tells us that they do not want to do this, but that recent budget reductions have caused them to make this difficult choice.
It is a rare occasion that the Friends of LBL advocates that you take political action, but in this case, I urge you that if you care about the future of the Homeplace, we need you to make your voice heard now. We may have time to reverse this decision, or to help find a solution to bring other sources of funding to the Homeplace. If you care, please contact your elected officials, local leaders, and others in a position to be of influence.
The Homeplace brings about 35,000 visitors per year to this area, and in particular is the biggest tourism draw in Stewart County. There is nothing like it in this area where families can learn in a hands-on and experiential way about our local history and heritage. It is a treasured special place for thousands of families, a valued educational asset for many local schools, and a significant part of what draws many families from throughout the United States to vacation at LBL.
I remain hopeful that many stakeholders can come together to find a solution so that the Forest Service does not have to follow through with this course of action. I hope you can help in that effort. Thank you for being a “Friend” of Land Between the Lakes.
Aviva Yasgur, Executive Director
Friends of Land Between the Lakes