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Residents propose tax-deductible nonprofit to raise money for improvements, programs at Chatham Manor, headquarters of Fredericksburg-area national park
Baer made clear that a new group, should it be established, would have a mission quite different from other local organizations such as the Chatham volunteers, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield or Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields.
Pure and simple, it would be focused on fundraising.
Chatham's volunteers put in thousands of hours each year keeping the house--the largest and stateliest in the area--open to the public. FOWB does the same at Ellwood Manor on the Wilderness battlefield, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the circa-1790 house. FOFAB supports the park's education programs and has recently partnered with it in publishing a series of snappy, richly illustrated histories of Chancellorsville, Ellwood and the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.
"Friends of Chatham would be super-inclusive," said Baer, who has volunteered her time at Chatham since 2005. "But all of its dollars would go to fix up Chatham and support programs there. It wouldn't duplicate what people are already doing."
The need for such a group became clear to Baer, she said, as she guided visitors through its ground-floor rooms and their historical displays. Those exhibits are the same "temporary" ones that the Park Service put in when it acquired the property as a gift from the estate of its last private owners, industrialist John Lee Pratt and his wife, Lillian.
Park Superintendent Russ Smith welcomes the idea, noting the strides that friends groups have made at places such as Ellwood, Gettysburg, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Philadelphia's revolutionary-era sites.
"Ellwood is open only because the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield staffs it for visitors, takes care of its grounds, and provides other programs and services," Smith said.
"Because of them, Ellwood went from being a shell of a building to being a very nice introduction to the whole Wilderness battlefield for park visitors. We're very grateful for that."
Similarly, Chatham is kept open because of its dedicated volunteers, he said. Overall, volunteers do 25 percent of the work that gets done in the park, Smith said.
"People have the idea that a lot of federal agencies have unlimited resources," he said.