Monday, August 11, 2008

Fort Ticonderoga faces financial challenge

Fort Ticonderoga
Ticonderoga, New York 12883

The trustees of Fort Ticonderoga have a problem that many other historical foundations and organizations have faced over the years - a debt crisis. Funding a operation like Fort Ticonderoga (which is a privately owned not-for-profit organization) from year to year is very expensive and it is just like operating a business. You have to pay your employees (volunteers can only do so much) and for your utilities, insurance, maintenance and upkeep.

Unfortunately, all of these expenses cannot be met simply by the cost of admission or the sales in your gift shop or restaurant. Fort Ticonderoga has also had to deal with declining numbers of visitors over the past few years. In order to attract new visitors and to meet the needs of today's visitor, Fort Ticonderoga has been making changes. A new facility has been built with the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center, the footprint of the Fort has been expanded and concrete has replaced the old mortar and stone that formerly supported the walls of the Fort. This is important because of the frost heaves that winter in the Northeast brings every year.

In order to meet budgetary shortfalls and to fund this expansion Fort Ticonderoga was fortunate enough to have wealthy benefactors: the Mars family. Forest Mars, former CEO of Mars Inc. and heir to the family fortune and his wife Deborah, have donated millions to to the Fort. Deborah Mars was born in Ticonderoga, New York and is president of the board of trustees.

Unfortunately, there was a "falling out" between Forest and Deborah Mars and Fort Ticonderoga's executive director, Nicholas Westbrook. The Mars' apparently felt slighted in the treatment they received from Westbrook and in February of this year severed their relationship with the Fort - by email. Fort Ticonderoga was suddenly left with a $2.5 million debt with no apparent means of paying the bills.

The trustees now face a Hobsons choice: sell some of its assets or possibly be forced to close the Fort. Fort Ticonderoga and its museum has in its possession millions of dollars worth of artwork and historic artifacts. One painting by Thomas Cole, "Gelyna, view near Ticonderoga", could by itself fetch over a million dollars.

Fort Ticonderoga is important both for the important historical role it played in two wars, the American Revolution and the French and Indian War and for its part in educating the public about our history. One of the first popular tourist attractions in this country, for almost two hundred years people have been visiting this destination. Permanently closing such a unique place as Fort Ticonderoga would be a great shame.

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