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Cedar Bog Nature Center Opens While Historical Society Cuts Jobs

The Cedar Bog nature preserve just south of Urbana, in Champaign County, has one of the state's greatest concentrations of rare and endangered species. A new education center will open at the bog later this month. But the center will cost more than a million dollars and it comes as the Ohio Historical Society is making cuts and laying off employees.

A spokesperson for the Ohio Historical Society calls Cedar Bog "the crown jewel of natural areas in Ohio." It's the southern most location in the United States where northern white cedars grow. You'll also find showy lady's slipper orchids, eastern massasaugua rattlesnakes and spotted turtles here. But the newest attraction at Cedar Bog is not the preserve; it's a million-dollar interpretative center. Cedar Bog volunteer Sally Engle

"This is our humble abode," Engle says. "This is our new educational center. It's very nice to have a roof over our heads and electricity and we have real restrooms instead of a port-a-john. So we're quite happy." The new building replaces a kiosk. And it was a long time coming says Ohio Historical Society director Bill Laidlaw:

"That education center was actually planned for back in 1998 I think, when the money was set aside for it and the building was supposed to begin," Laidlaw says. "And then the 2001 recession hit. So we put it on hold and we finally got the funds restored I think two years ago and so now it's just finally coming to fruition."

But it's coming to fruition as the Historical Society continues to make cuts. 25 employees have just lost their jobs - 40 were laid off last year. Eight historical sites around the state have had to shorten the hours they're open to the public. Last week most of the staff - 250 people - were put on a week-long furlough. Construction of the Bog's educational center was allowed because the group The Friends of Cedar Bog established an endowment that helps pay for the building's upkeep and utilities. That endowment at present is about $190,000. The Cedar Bog Association is responsible for paying the salary of a part-time manager; the rest of the staffing is done by 45 volunteers.

"Right here is a skunk cabbage looks like it's right out of a Robert Heinlein book and what that actually is, is a spathe "

Sally Engle is a member of the Cedar Bog Association, a group that signed a partnership agreement to manage the 400-acre tract. Of the 58 Ohio Historical Society sites around the state - half of them are operated by local groups or governments. Historical society spokeswoman Kim Schuette:

"This model of operating sites which we've been doing since 1912 is very successful," Schuette says. "It really harnesses the enthusiasm of a local community; they are committed to the historic site or property in their area and are interested in helping us preserve the site and to increase access to the site."

And since local groups like the Cedar Bog Association take care of the staffing themselves, it decreases expenses on the financially pressed Historical Society. Society director Bill Laidlaw says state appropriations have been decreasing over the last eight years.

"If you go back to 2001, which is when these cuts really started, we got $13.8 million for basic operating expense, we're now getting $10.7 million, so that's about a 15 percent decrease over that period of time," Laidlaw says.

Factor in inflation, Laidlaw says, and you get a much deeper cut.

"We went from 400 employees in the year 2001 to what we expect to be 236 full time equivalent employees by the end of this year," says Laidlaw.

The Historical Society, says director Bill Laidlaw, wants to find more groups to run more of its sites.

"History's local and the people who are most close to these sites really have the greatest passion for them," says Laidlaw. "And we think it's better not to try to run these sites from Columbus but to have people managing who are right there on site. So we think we get a lot more passion for the sites and we hope it's going to translate into a lot more local support: volunteer time support and local dollars.

The Cedar Bog Education Center opens April 18th.