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Colfax Railroad Museum asks Dunn County executive committee for tourism dollars

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  A representative for the Colfax Railroad Museum has asked Dunn County for financial support to help advertise the museum and to further develop it as a tourist destination.

Herb Sakalaucks, owner and curator of the museum, spoke to the Dunn County Board’s executive committee August 19.

Although he did not specify an amount, Sakalaucks said he was asking the county to return the money he had paid in taxes.

Last year, the amount in taxes was about $1,100.

The Colfax Railroad Museum advertises in local and regional tourism publications and websites and also pays for radio advertising, Sakalaucks said.

In addition, Sakalaucks said he was asking for a one-time amount of $7,600 to put toward the restoration of the depot building on Main Street in Colfax.

The Colfax Railroad Museum was able to acquire the building directly south of the train tracks in Colfax last year after a tornado in June had caused roof damage to the building, he said.

The depot on Main Street was at one time located where the existing stone railroad depot is situated now on Railroad Avenue. The two-story depot on Main Street was built in the fall of 1898 after sparks from the train had burned down the original depot.

The stone depot was built in 1914.

A Power of 10 workshop in Colfax through the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission identified the railroad museum as a potential cornerstone of economic activity in Colfax, Sakalaucks said.

The depot on Main Street gives the museum Main Street visibility and will eventually act as an activities center, a community center and will provide additional museum library archive space in a climate-controlled environment, he said.

The building needs heating, ventilation and air conditioning work, and while Sakalaucks and volunteers have been doing some of the work themselves, installing natural gas and electrical systems will require professional services, he said.

Archiving museum library materials on site will save about $1,000 per year for off-site storage in the railroad museum’s budget, Sakalaucks said.

Rendezvous

The Colfax Commercial Club, of which the Colfax Railroad Museum is a member, has started working on planning a multi-day historical encampment in September of next year.

The encampments are expected to include the Civil War, Spanish American War, the Voyageurs and other groups, including a blacksmiths’ group, Sakalaucks said.

The event is planned for September to allow school groups to tour the sites, he said.

Further development of the railroad museum and holding an historical encampment event will contribute to additional economic activity in Colfax and in Dunn County, Sakalaucks said.

Sites in Menomonie receive money from Dunn County, and the Colfax Railroad Museum is working toward developing tourism outside of the city of Menomonie, he said.

“This is a restoration effort to develop a site in the county,” Sakalaucks said.

Power of 10

The Power of 10 Workshop in Colfax in July of 2012 was conducted by Philip Myrick and Elena Madison as part of the Project for Public Spaces.

Colfax was one of two communities selected as the beneficiaries of a grant from the Project for Public Spaces for which the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission had applied.

The Project for Public Spaces is a non-profit organization based in New York City and has worked with cities and villages around the United States and in many foreign countries.

The workshop focused on identifying positive aspects of the downtown area, what could be improved, and how those improvements could be accomplished.

In addition to representatives for the Project for Public Spaces, officials from the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the Dunn County Economic Development Corporation, along with a number of village board members, the village administrator, local business owners and representatives for the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group participated in the workshop.

The workshop’s objective was to identify ten major destinations, ten places and ten things to do in Colfax, how to “layer” the uses and how to encourage people to participate in those uses.

Myrick and Madison identified the Colfax Railroad Museum as an important and unique feature of Colfax.

People who are interested in trains will travel across the country to visit a railroad museum, and the museum should be considered a central part of the village. The Colfax Railroad Museum has the potential to draw many visitors to Colfax and to play a vital role in the village’s economic activity, they said.

Signs on Main Street near the intersection with Railroad Avenue would be helpful to direct visitors toward the railroad museum, Myrick and Madison said during the 2012 workshop.

The Colfax Commercial Club has included the railroad museum on way-finding signs that have been installed around town, and the Colfax Railroad Museum recently put up a caboose sign on Main Street.

County budget

Tonya Kusmirek, Dunn County’s chief financial officer, reported later on in the executive committee meeting that Dunn County is facing a budget deficit of nearly $3.5 million for 2016.

Steve Rasmussen, chair of the Dunn County Board and chair of the executive committee, said the committee would be making final recommendations on the 2016 budget to present to the county board in October.

The Dunn County Board approves a budget for consideration at the November meeting in October and holds a public hearing on the budget in November.

At the November budget meeting, the Dunn County Board can make adjustments before approving the final budget.

At the November 2014 budget meeting, a motion to increase the outside agencies budget for 2015 by $3,500 for the Colfax Railroad Museum and to decrease the fund balance in the county manager’s department by $3,500 failed on a voice vote with an accompanying show of hands of 12 “yes” to 17 “no.”