Custer Museum teetered on the edge of extinction last year but now is alive and well after a banner summer season.
Museum director Jacquie Richards said a record 14,000 people from 19 countries and 49 states visited the museum along the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River this year."It's amazing," Richards said. "We had people from as far away as Pakistan and Morocco. It's unbelievable they'd find their way up here."
The museum is in a one-room schoolhouse in the old mining town of Custer, which features a number of other old buildings. The Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, which operated for 12 years beginning in 1940 and scooped up $11 million worth of gold, is two miles down the road.
The U.S. Forest Service, which had bought the ghost town of Custer for $12,000 in 1966, stripped the museum of federal funding after the 1987 season, leaving Friends of Custer to raise enough money to operate the museum or shut it down.
Through volunteer help, the museum persevered, taking in about $4,000 in donations. Richards plans to attract more visitors and accomplish more restoration work next summer.
"We're looking forward to an even better year next year," Richards said. "And we're looking for volunteers and able-bodied people."
Volunteer work would include maintenance, trail work, renovation and leading interpretive tours of Custer.
The Forest Service acquired $7,500 in grant money that Friends of Custer will match to put a new roof on the schoolhouse, Richards said.
"We do have matching funds, but that would leave us with nothing going into next year," she said.
Friends of Custer plans to sponsor a benefit dance in Boise in June to help raise money for restoration. Nine buildings remain in Custer, and all of them need work, she said.
Last summer, Friends of Custer completed renovation of the Brockman Cabin, a private residence. The project took two years and involved reassembling the dilapidated structure.
Renovation plans for next summer include building an interpretive mineral display to explain the gold rush that swept Custer from 1879 to 1911 and opening an assay office.
Richards said trails, walkways and other public-use areas also need to be shored up to keep the area safe for the thousands of visitors.
She said Friends of Custer still is somewhat bitter toward the Forest Service for cutting funding, but that the group just wants to ensure that the museum remains open and that Custer's history will be preserved.
"I'm trying not to fight with them anymore," she said of the Forest Service. "But we do want people to know that the Forest Service is not funding the museum anymore. Any donations will be greatly appreciated."
Annual operating expenses run about $12,000, she said.