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Preserving history:Ebey’s Forever Fund continues to support local preservation efforts
Standing back, Central Whidbey farmer Don Sherman can’t help but admire “Grandpa Clark’s” old barn.
Of course, it’s a little easier nowadays. The nearly 80-year-old building was recently given a new lease on life with a much needed renovation. Worn out siding was replaced, the second story doors were repaired, and the eyebrow-raising tilt to the North stabilized.
The barn was even restored to its old, bright-red glory.
“It’s nice to see the old girl with some paint on her,” Sherman said.
Sherman is one of many property owners who have benefited from the Ebey’s Forever Fund, a budding, community-driven grant program that aims to help with the high cost of maintaining historic structures.
Since it was kicked off, the fund has assisted 17 properties and raised nearly $130,000 in donations for contributing structures located within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
According to Mark Preiss, manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, its success is evidence that alternative funding programs that leverage community support are not only effective, but demonstrate the public’s commitment to historic preservation.
“Clearly, they recognize the importance of community involvement in these heritage resources,” Preiss said.
“The money raised speaks for itself,” he said.
The program began in late 2010 at the annual Ebey’s Forever Conference when the Pickard family announced a financial grant challenge.
Any money donated by the community for the preservation of historic structures within the reserve would be matched by up to $50,000.
At the time, and continuing to this day, government funding can be hard to come by. Old buildings are expensive to maintain and property owners are left with the responsibility of keeping up structures that they sometime can’t even use.
The idea behind the fund was simple; to foster a program that would provide enough financial assistance to property owners that they would be willing to reinvest in the old buildings.
For example, “Grandpa Clark’s” barn, built in 1935, had been used for many different things over the decades but 80 years will take a toll on any building that sees hard use, particularly those for farming.
The building had fallen in such disrepair that Sherman had all but stopped using the second story for fear of its structural stability. While he never planned to abandon the building, the expense of repairs did delay its rehabilitation.
The Pickard’s challenge was met and Sherman was one of the first grant recipients. That financial help was one of the big reasons the project got done when it did, Sherman said.
“It was a really important consideration,” Sherman said.
“I really give all those guys credit for getting this going,” he said.
Linda Bartlett, co-owner of Rosehip Farm & Garden, was a grant recipient last year and the Sam Keith Farm Shed, a small building located next to her home, received a major overhaul.
“It was pretty unusable. … It was more like a lean-to than a building,” she said.
Trying to take on expensive projects like that can be a “daunting” task when you’re trying to run a successful farm, she said. Like Sherman, she said the end result is that renovations and even maintenance can be pushed back.
“We might have been able to do this ourselves but this allowed us to make it a priority,” she said.
In both cases, the funding program not only enabled property owners to fix up historic structures that had fallen into disrepair, but also, and just as importantly, to put them to use.
According to Preiss, that’s a big part of keeping these buildings alive and maintaining the fabric of a working, cultural landscape.
It may also be a big reason for the program’s popularity among working farmers, as many now see the fund as a realistic source of assistance.
By comparison, similar state programs can be highly competitive.
Fourteen property owners submitted applications for this year’s grants, the most the program has seen so far.
The community’s investment has also increased, with more money raised last year than ever before.
“This has it’s own energy now,” Preiss said.
An anonymous donor issued a $75,000 challenge grant and, like the Pickard’s initial challenge two years ago, it was met by the public.
Not all donations are financial and some funds may be retained for another year so it’s difficult to say how much will be allocated in 2013, Preiss said.
“I can tell you this, it will be more than we’ve ever granted before,” Preiss said.
This years grant recipients will be announced early next month and will be featured in a follow up story in The Whidbey Examiner.