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Cahokia Mounds is weathering budget cuts

Photo courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Monks Mound is the largest prehistoric earthen construction in north or south America.

Despite reduced park hours, the head of the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society says the year was brighter than expected at the Illinois state historic site, which is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico.

Lori Belnap, executive director of the society, says that 290,000 people visited Cahokia Mounds, even though the park was closed two days a week because of state budget cuts. That was about a 3 percent drop from the previous year. And gift shop sales -- her group’s primary source of revenue – were down just 2 percent.

“The only reason we’ve been able to counter some of the impacts is that people have continued to support the site,’’ Belnap said.

The state covers operational expenses for the site, but the nonprofit museum society pays for public events held throughout the year, plus research and land acquisition programs.

Though the grounds are open seven days a week, the site’s interpretive center is now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The two-day closure is usually in effect from November through April, but budget cuts forced the site to adopt its winter schedule all year long.

The society feared that gift shop sales would be affected, and turned to crowdfunding to raise $7,500 to print brochures for the metro-east landmark. The group also beefed up its social media sites.

Belnap is grateful for the support, but she says that uncertainty about the future has caused the society to limit some of its advertising.

“My fear is that if we don’t stay on top of promoting the site, maybe next year our visitation will be adversely affected,’’ she said. “We’re trying to work hard to maintain our budget. So, we’re not out of the woods -- especially since we don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s still no state budget up there.’’

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.