An attempt to shut down Arroyo Grande’s Fort Hope was recently overruled. The museum, which is a popular field trip destination for local elementary school students, is currently in need of volunteers and donations.

According to an Aug. 10 press release, “on a 4 to 1 vote, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors denied the appeal of the Planning Commission ruling to issue a conditional-use permit to the Fort.”

Mike Zimmerman, spokesperson for the museum, was one of many community members to speak on behalf of Fort Hope.

“Fort Hope just started here a few years ago,” Zimmerman said. “The county had given them a permit, but apparently the county had messed up and didn’t give them the right kind of permit. They ended up telling the Loomis family that they needed to apply for a different type of permit. So they went through that process, and actually got a provisional-use permit for the agricultural museum, which is the category it’s under.”

According to Fort Hope’s Web site, the Loomis family has owned the Tar Springs Ranch since 1942. It says that “family members built an earlier version of a western town and allowed charitable organizations to use the setting for hundreds of fundraisers.”

The Web site also says that Pat and Leigh Ann Loomis, along with their five children, have lived on the ranch their entire lives. Zimmerman is happy that the Loomis family will be able to carry out the work they intended to do. “They’ve (had) a heart for doing this kind of thing for a few years, and now we’re going to be able to do it,” Zimmerman said.

The hands-on museum is designed to mimic a western frontier town of the mid-1800s. Visitors are able to partake in many activities at the museum.

“The skills that are going to be demonstrated are pretty varied,” Zimmerman said. “There will be skills with regard to agriculture, crops and fruit trees. There will be fishing and archery. There’s gold panning, butter churning, rope making, just
a lot of varied activities.”

For all of the conditions of the permit to be met, the fort will require several changes to be made. The museum is currently trying to raise enough money to make these necessary changes within the two-year deadline.

“At this point, they have to raise money for making the improvements. They have 24 months to do the improvements according to the conditions,” Zimmerman said. “So, we’re in a fundraising mode at this point, trying to get people to donate money. There was one individual who pledged up to $25,000 as matching funds for any money raised within the next 30 days. So we’re trying to bring that in so we (can) have $50,000 to start with here, to get things done.”

Although fundraising will be essential for Fort Hope in the immediate future, Zimmerman says that additional fundraisers will inevitably occur down the road.

“We would really like to get about $60,000 right now within the next thirty, forty days,” he said. “That would give us enough to do the improvements that the county wants, plus some operating costs.

“The camp will require approximately $30,000 annually to operate, so there’s always a need for funds, and there will be fundraisers annually. Right now we need a pretty good chunk to come in, so we can get these improvements and get these conditions of the approval out of the way.”

Because of the specifications of the aforementioned permit, the fort is not open to the general public. Zimmerman says that the permit allows the museum to host thirty events a year, with no more than thirty students at a time.

According to the press release, the permit will require construction of handicapped restrooms, additional parking, and improvements to the road to meet California fire standards. Costs for these improvements are supposed to be anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000.

Fort Hope is openly searching for volunteers and donations so that they can continue to make themselves available to local students.

Zimmerman has a specific message to Cal Poly students and other people of the community: “I would say that if they were interested in California history, and want to help, there are things that can be done on a volunteer basis,” he said.

“They can see if they have any particular skills in these mountain men/frontier kind of things. They ought to get a hold of the Loomises if they want to volunteer to help do some of the projects that need to be done on the ranch. There are a lot of things that need to be done, and it would be great if they’d want to help out.”

Information on the museum can be found at Fort Hope’s Web site, www.forthope.org.

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