US Forest Service considers significant reduction of LBL’s The Homeplace

The plan calls for a reduction in staffing and services at the farm beginning when the facility reopens for the season in March 2021. Animals and crops will be reduced and some live demonstrations will be cut.

A working farm in Land Between the Lakes dedicated to preserving the history of antebellum life in Western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee will see changes in operating structure, including possible closure, under the weight of federal budget constraints.

The U.S. Forest Service, LBL’s parent agency, recently published “Forward to the Future,” a 10-year sustainable recreation plan for the property that outlines projects and programs LBL staff will undertake to keep up with trends in outdoor recreation and public lands management. Several action items in the plan are related to the operation of The Homeplace, a working farm and living history museum in Stewart County, Tennessee that simulates life in the 1850s.

LBL Homeplace wedding guests gather
The Homeplace 1850s Farm at Land Between the Lakes recreates an 1850s wedding and visitors to the farm get to be a part of the celebration. (Public domain photo)

The plan calls for a reduction in staffing and services at the farm beginning when the facility reopens for the season in March 2021. Animals and crops will be reduced and some live demonstrations will be cut. Overall, the site will become a “farm museum” in contrast to its current “living” status.

The farm operates on a deficit, and LBL Public Affairs Director Chris Joyner said that makes the facility an unsustainable use of public funds. In Fiscal Year 2018, the federal government spent $408,626 to operate The Homeplace. The farm pulled in revenue of $117,341.

“Nowhere is that sustainable business,” Joyner said. “We do have an environmental education component of how we operate and our goals for our facility. But we also have to be good stewards of taxpayer money.”

Although the Forest Service foots the bill for operation of The Homeplace, the site is staffed by interpreters provided by the Friends of Land Between the Lakes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to working with public sector partners to promote proper stewardship of LBL. Friends of LBL Executive Director Aviva Yasgur penned a letter to members of the group last week asking for community support in favor of The Homeplace. Joyner said Yasgur’s message doesn’t provide an accurate representation of the matter.

“The letter does not appropriately characterize the situation. This is an issue that we’ve been dealing with for many years and we have absolutely been discussing this with the Friends group for many years. They are a partner with us, and the letter is not an accurate depiction of the facts,” Joyner said.

Joyner said LBL officials and the Friends have worked in conjunction to raise attendance at The Homeplace for several years, but efforts have not been fruitful enough to warrant operating the facility with its current staffing levels.

sheep at LBL's Homeplace
Sheep at the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm in Land Between the Lakes. (Public domain photo)

Although Joyner said the government has been in talks with the Friends group for years over the sustainability of The Homeplace, Yasgur told WKMS the potential closure came as a surprise to her and her staff.

“We were shocked. And then the next day (after the announcement of the plan), the Forest Service management came down to The Homeplace and told this to our staff that work down there, basically giving them the heads up that all but two of them were gonna be laid off this winter,” Yasgur said.

Yasgur said the announcement has created “lots of uncertainty” among her team. She added the Friends of LBL are “not adversaries” of the Forest Service, but disagree with the agency’s decision to scale down the functions of The Homeplace.

Both Joyner and Yasgur agree on the need for a groundswell of community support to keep The Homeplace open. Joyner said he hopes those who love the farm will visit in the next season to increase the number of patrons and the amount of revenue brought in.

“I do think people are going to step up and step out to come visit us at The Homeplace and help us boost that revenue so that we’re not operating so far in the red,” Joyner said.

In addition to encouraging visits to The Homeplace, Yasgur in her letter called on those concerned about the potential shuttering of the space to contact political leaders to advocate for more funding.

“It is a rare occasion that the Friends of LBL advocates that you take political action, but in this case, I urge you that if you care about the future of The Homeplace, we need you to make your voice heard now. We may have time to reverse this decision, or to help find a solution to bring other sources of funding to The Homeplace. If you care, please contact your elected officials, local leaders, and others in a position to be of influence,” Yasgur wrote.

The Forest Service is looking for partners in government or the nonprofit sector to assist in future operations. If sources of assistance can’t be obtained in the next fiscal year, LBL will seek permanent closure of The Homeplace.

US Forest Service considers significant reduction of LBL’s The Homeplace

WKMS

This story first ran on WKMS, the public radio station at Murray State University.