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Devotees of the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural and Education Center rallied for a united show of enthusiastic support for the center at the May 19 meeting of the Salmon City Council.

The large gathering was prompted by apprehension over rumors that the city was planning to make major cuts in the center’s budget.

A total of 18 people spoke during a public comment portion of the council meeting. The speakers represented daily users of the center’s grounds and programs, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, facilitators at the center’s Outdoor School, volunteers, docents, outfitters and other business owners.

The center was praised for the educational resource it provides to a documented 2400 Outdoor School participants; as a tourist attraction that draws visitors to the area who in turn contribute to the economy; as a showcase of the area’s abundant environmental resources; for its display of the valley’s history including its native American heritage as well as a photo op beyond compare. Statistics were quoted regarding the new Learning Center building which opened last November and has since been used 145 times by 53 different groups and organizations. The new addition to the facility was deemed a great potential revenue source and comments were made urging an active awareness campaign for all aspects of the Sacajawea Center.

Several people spoke in favor of forming a Recreation District that could financially support the city parks and city recreational facilities enjoyed by all residents in the county. They felt a district would alleviate maintenance expenses now funded exclusively by city taxpayers. Mention was also made of the great tribute the center pays to this valley’s most famous native daughter and historical figure, Sacajawea.

Mayor John Miller assured the audience that contrary to some apparent rumors, nothing definite has been decided and that the city is in the budget process which involves meetings and discussions on aspects of every department. He said there was a discussion about annual length of Sacajawea Center operation as in six month, nine month or 12 month staffing and related costs. He said use of the Learning Center will be available year around. He said, “We are just looking at all the different possibilities and alternatives of trimming our budget because I think the economy is still going to get a whole lot worse.” He reiterated that no plans have been set.

Council President Leo Marshall pointed out that the Sacajawea Center is now part of the General Fund.

There are currently 12 Sacajawea Center official partnerships in effect through Memorandums of Understanding, with each partner contributing its expertise and resources to the facility. The Bureau of Land Management is one of them and has been a mainstay of support since the center’s inception.

As a speaker during the evening’s extended public comment period BLM Field Manager Steve Hartmann stated that he appreciated the budget difficulties being faced by the city and he thanked the council for the opportunity to express constructive points of view.

He traced the BLM’s history with the center and the agency’s commitment to remain involved. He said one only has to look at the schedule of events listed for 2010 to see how active the center has become and how much the Learning Center is being used. He thinks it is a clear indication of future potential. Hartmann said, “To take advantage of that potential fully we need a director, as we have presently, who is pro-active and fully engaged throughout the entire year.” He said it is important to sustain the momentum and progress that is being made and that that will require constant vigilance, “…as opposed to a part time on-again-off-again approach which would disrupt continuity and progress.” Hartmann called the Sacajawea Center a unique jewel that distinguishes Salmon from many other communities.

Former City Councilman George Miley loves volunteering at the center every summer and said he hopes the council recognizes the fact that center visitors spend money locally. He called it a wonderful place and just had to point out that there are more walkers on the Sacajawea Center grounds than in any other city park.

The 43 minute long public comment session ended with a thank you to the participants from Councilman Ron Radford, the newly appointed Chairman of the Sacajawea Center Committee.

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