Ethan Allen Homestead seeks state funding to reopen

WINOOSKIThe Ethan Allen Homestead was the last home of a favorite historical figure who some say has reached folk hero status in Vermont. Ethan Allen lived on the property, now the Ethan Allen Homestead, in the Winooski River Intervale during the last few years before his death in 1789. The restored Allen home, the historic center of the property, is a lasting tribute to this Vermont hero, and is located in the midst of a network of public trails and set on property rich in both natural beauty and history. The Winooski Valley Park District has managed the Allen home and guided tours of the museum and property for the past 19 years up until this past October, when the homestead was forced to close. The homestead has boasted of offering an authentic slice of 18th century life and a look inside the colorful character of Vermonts most controversial founder. Jennifer Ely, executive director of the Winooski Valley Park District, said that the museum and Allen house had to close because of the loss of two major consecutive funders that contributed on average about $75,000 per year. Those funds finally ran out, she said, which was when the financial problems set in. These financial problems dovetailed with similar dilemmas experienced by historic sites throughout the nation, she said. While the museum was forced to close because of a financial crunch, Ely said that the center had been particularly popular the last few years and saw the number of visitors on the rise. Kids travelled from all over Vermont to visit the Allen House, she said, including visitors from at least 13 counties. It wasnt for a lack of interest, she said. She also said they had received a call from a school in Utah whose class was doing a project on Ethan Allen--Ethan Allen is known nationally. She stated the historical importance of the property and of Ethan Allen in particular at this time. Few Vermonters would disagree that we need that perspective now more than ever, said Ely, pointing to a particularly vulnerable generation of youth. In hopes of returning the historical part of the homestead to the public, the Winooski Valley Park District is asking the state to help out, and hoping that the legislature will appropriate funds to their cause. Funding would go toward the creation of a staff position who would coordinate volunteers to give tours of the homestead. This is what makes the site come alive, said Ely, rather than having only self-guided tours--Its a world of difference in the quality of the experience. Another piece of the sustainability puzzle, Ely said, is that they are looking to incorporate environmental education into the site by partnering with another existing organization or group that wants to expand and start a satellite operation at the Ethan Allen Homestead. The idea would be to dedicate half of the barn on the property to environmental education, while keeping the other dedicated to the museum, although a scaled down version of what it has been. This would create two reasons to bring school children to the location. By combining environmental education with survival on the frontier, said Ely, they would fit together to make two reasons to come and spend the day down here. She described this as the hopeful path to sustainability for a well-loved historical site. Ely said they will probably know by the end of May whether the state is willing to devote funds toward the Ethan Allen Homestead. I think the Allen House is loved a appreciated by so many people, the pieces will fall together, she said. The Winooski Valley Park District manages 17 natural areas for the purposes of conservation, passive recreational and use as outdoor classrooms.

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