COPPER HARBOR - Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposed budget unveiled Thursday would make cuts in 11 state departments and eliminate the History, Arts and Libraries department, which, if done, could have a local impact.
Lee VerBerkmoes, supervisor of Fort Wilkins State Park in Copper Harbor, said if HAL is cut the program providing actors in period clothing providing interpretation at the park would be eliminated.
"(The cutting of HAL) would have an impact on us," VerBerkmoes said. "The history division is in charge of interpretation at the park."
However, VerBerkmoes said it's not certain yet what departments may be cut, and Lt. Gov. John Cherry is heading a commission looking into that.
"This is a proposal," he said. "What the final result will be could be different."
VerBerkmoes said Fort Wilkins was built in 1844, and interpretation of what life was like at the park for the soldiers and their families at the time is done by actors in period clothing who take on the personas of the people they're representing. The park doesn't have enough money in its budget to do that on its own if HAL is eliminated.
"We'd lose the role-playing function," he said.
Tom Friggenn, manager of the Upper Peninsula section of the Michigan Historical Center, a division of HAL in Negaunee, said Fort Wilkins uses five actors to do the interpretation, and although there is uncertainty about the fate of HAL, the interpretation will happen this summer from May to August.
"At this time, we are fully funded for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30," he said.
When the interpretation program started at Fort Wilkins, Friggenn said the actors were students from Michigan Technological University, but since 1986, the actors have been Northern Michigan University students.
Friggenn said an order for actors for this summer has been placed to NMU, and actors are being recruited now. The actors are trained on NMU campus for 10 weeks, then they perform at Fort Wilkins for 10 weeks.
"We are moving ahead on that," he said.
VerBerkmoes said the financial situation at the park has been precarious for a while, and it's received no general fund money from the state for five years.
Park operations usually cost more than is taken in by fees, VerBerkmoes said, but visitors will accept higher fees if services are increased.
"People will pay more, but they expect something for it," he said.
Fort Wilkins is the most northerly state park in the state, VerBerkmoes said, and at 700 acres it's one of the smallest. However, McLain, Baraga and Twin Lakes state parks are smaller.
VerBerkmoes said Fort Wilkins is one of only two mid-19th century forts remaining in the country, with the other near Minneapolis, and it serves an important function.
"I think Fort Wilkins is a value to all citizens," he said. "In a way, this is a historical landmark."
As far as the future of the interpretation program at Fort Wilkins is concerned, VerBerkmoes said the state is considering putting the museum program under the Department of Natural Resources. Another option would be seeing if a pirvate entity such as Michigan Technological University or Northern Michigan University would want to take over.
"I don't think anything's going to be realy concrete until August, when they pass the budget for next year," he said.
Kurt Hauglie can be reached at email@example.com.