The President James K. Polk State Historic Site, located in Pineville, NC near Charlotte, could close for at least two years due to funding cuts in both Governor Pat McCrory's and the NC Senate's recommended budgets. It is the state's only presidential historic site. This action will deny thousands of public, private and home school children the opportunity to experience hands-on history that can never, ever be taught in a classroom. Cost savings involved in mothballing the site would be negligible, and the educational, historical and economic value of the site cannot be quantified. It is up to members of the North Carolina General Assembly and the Governor to restore state funding for this precious cultural and educational resource.
The site tells the story of James K. Polk, our nation's 11th president, who is widely considered the greatest president never to seek a second term. This "One-Term Wonder" nearly doubled the size of our nation by annexing the Oregon Territory and adding California and New Mexico to our borders. He re-established an independent treasury, reduced tariffs and created the Department of the Interior. All in just four years.
Colonial-era buildings, artifacts, a working garden, as well as a museum, tell the story of Polk's life in the early 1800s in Mecklenburg County. More than 15,000 visitors come to the site each year to attend living history demonstrations, community events, camps for kids, 18th century cooking demonstrations and educational programming. It's a required field trip for Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) third-graders, and the site welcomed more than 3,100 of them last year. That's 20 percent of all CMS third-graders.
The site is an oasis of history and hands-on learning in the modern, progressive Charlotte-Mecklenburg region. It is the ONLY site in North Carolina that is a required field trip for local schoolchildren (required for for Charlotte-Mecklenburg third-graders), and countless private and home school children rely on the site to touch, taste and smell history in a way no textbook or worksheet possibly can. The North Carolina Constitution (article XIV, section 5) mandates that the state preserve historical sites "for the benefit of all its citizenry." A DORMANT SITE BENEFITS NO ONE. As the site looks to start a $130,000 upgrade to its visitor center, it would be a true shame if the public could not enjoy these renovations their tax dollars are paying for.
NC officials cite high costs per visitor and low visitation as criteria for targeting certain sites for closure. However, Polk ranked #13 in cost per visitor in FY10-11. The following year, Polk's visitation rose by 25 percent to almost 16,000, all while its operating budget decreased to $101,681 and its cost per visitor went down to only $6.46. Visitation this year is on track to meet or exceed last year's numbers, with more than 5,300 children being served so far. It ranked #8 in revenues, due in no small part to the Polk Memorial Support Fund, which consistently contributes a significant portion toward the site's operating costs, maintenance and improvements to the visitor experience, which saves the State money. And it's a bargain for taxpayers, receiving the lowest appropriation of all historic sites in the state this fiscal year.
We feel the dollars saved by mothballing this site will minimize -- if not completely eliminate -- any savings the state hopes to achieve. Staff who currently care for the site ensure the safety and security of the area. Because of its close proximity to retail development, a mothballed site would quickly attract criminal activity and put the historic structures at risk, requiring 24-hour security to ensure their preservation.
How could a site with increasing visitation, a declining cost per visitor and a strong friends group and volunteer base face imminent closure from the state? Please prevent this local, state and national site of historical significance from closing its doors to our children and to our cultural landscape!