Thorpe: Chester County not adding to Battlefield Park coffers

The signs were placed on doors, walls and even a few trees.
One sign listed the event schedule for Patriot’s Day at the Brandywine
Battlefield Park Saturday, the other requested donations for a cannon fund to
help replace the wheels on a cannon cart at the park. But there could have also
been signs requesting donations for the park itself.

George Thorpe, Chadds Ford Township supervisor and a past
president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates is frustrated that
Chester County and several Chester County townships have not committed to help
keep the park operating. And that leaves the park funding in a major shortfall.

The associates, now called the Friends of the Brandywine
Battlefield, took over the operation of the park when the Pennsylvania Historic
and Museum Commission ceased funding operations this summer.

Thorpe, who has been spearheading the efforts to keep the
park going, said Delaware County and at least three Delco townships–Chadds
Ford, Concord and Thornbury–have committed to donating $75,000 for the park in
2010.

He said he and the friends group have calculated they need
approximately $333,000 to keep the park operating as it had been under state
management.

Thorpe said the state is now paying for the utilities and
maintenance of the site, roughly $70,000, plus $5,000 to maintain equipment,
$30,000 in cash and may give another $30,000 to $40,000 in grants.

With the Delaware County and township contributions coming
to $75,000 for next year, the park budget still needs more than another  $100,000.

That remainder should be coming from Chester County and
Chester County townships, Thorpe said, but so far there have been no takers.

As with Delaware County, Thorpe said he’d like to get $5,000
from each of the neighboring townships including Birmingham, Pennsbury,
Pocopson and a few others, plus another $55,000 combined from the county and
the county visitors’ bureau.

“We’ve visited Pennsbury. We’ve visited Birmingham … and we
have visited Chester County Board of Commissioners twice–once with the chairman
and once with the full board. We’ve had either negative or no reply. Birmingham
Township who, by far is the most critical and major participant in the
battlefield, has indicated they will not put anything in their budget for
this,” Thorpe said. “Pennsbury has not responded and Chester County has had all
sorts of comments that are not positive.”

He added that one of the Chester County Commissioners
suggested either operating at a minimum or even closing down until the
recession is over. That, Thorpe said, is unacceptable since the site was
already closed for two weeks in August before the Friends took over the
operation and that any other closure would mean an end to the park.

John Conklin, chairman of the Birmingham Township Board of
Supervisors said there is nothing in the 2010 preliminary budget for the park.
It was discussed briefly, he said, but rejected.

Conklin said having Birmingham donate to the park wouldn’t
be right since supervisors there are already raising taxes for next year and
the township is spending $50,000-$60,000 this year to take care of its own
portion of the battlefield landmark, the trail around the Odell and Worth
properties along Birmingham and Meetinghouse roads.

The main portion of the 1777 battle took place in
Birmingham, not Chadds Ford Township.

Charles “Scotty” Scottoline, supervisors’ chairman in
Pennsbury Township said that Pennsbury didn’t add the item to its budget
because supervisors didn’t think Thorpe was going to all possible sources such
as Kennett Township and the Kennett Area Regional Planning Commission. He said
he specifically suggested Thorpe approach KARP.

“We figured they must not be that hard up if they weren’t
chasing down these other sources,” Scottoline said.

He added that Pennsbury Township supervisors didn’t want to
raise taxes to cover the donation in light of a pending open space referendum.

Scottoline said, however, the board can reopen the budget in
January with Aaron McIntyre, a new member, on the board.

Thorpe also took time to clear the record of false
information reported in a variety of other publications. He said the friends
group does not have 250 volunteers ready to take over the site, but has less
than five volunteers who are trained, able and willing to work at the park,
operating the Visitors’ Center gift shop and giving tours of the historic
houses on a regular basis. The group itself has a total of 170 members and from
that membership more volunteers help out at special events.

He added that it had been reported that the Friends of the
Brandywine Battlefield, when operating as the Brandywine Battlefield Park
Associates, gave $150,000 to the site operation. Thorpe explained that this was
not cash the associate had on hand, but rather it was “pass through” money,
money the associates group took in through sales at the gift shop and admission
collected at events.

“All that I’ve said … the wrong information about the number
of volunteers, about the wrong information about the $150,000 and that we
haven’t gotten Chester County to do anything has put a negative feeling for
others to say, ‘We would contribute if we thought the other entities who would
benefit would step up,’” Thorpe said.

He clarified that by saying there are businesses that are
willing to contribute, but are reluctant to do so until the various governments
in Chester County do likewise.

Thorpe was asked if there is a date by which Chester County
and its townships near Chadds Ford either pony up or the park would have to
close for good.

“We haven’t faced that yet. The answer is no, there’s not a
date, but we have now finished the good revenue producing months… until March,”
he said.

There are fewer events and school programs at the park now
until March, he said, fewer opportunities to bring in more revenue.

Thorpe said he would prefer the park operate without
government assistance, but that isn’t practical in this case.

“This is not one of those sites that will ever be able to
operate on its own revenue generation. It’s governments’ responsibility to
maintain history, and this is one of the most historic sites in the United
States,” he said.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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