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Bushy Run volunteers keep battlefield's traditions alive, including hay-ride

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Monday, Oct. 12, 2009

For more than a dozen years, Bushy Run Battlefield has offered a "Haunted History Hayride" each October. This year will be no exception, even though the site now is run strictly by volunteers who did not want the facility close due to state budget cuts.

With state budget problems having affected historical sites, the Penn Township museum's director has been transferred, and only two maintenance workers and volunteers remain. But that will not stop special events, which primarily were run by volunteers anyway, said Kelly Ruoff, Bushy Run Battlefield Heritage Society treasurer.

The Haunted History Hayride is being held on Oct. 24 and can accommodate up to 300 people on hay-ride tours of the battlefield trail. Guides on the wagons speak with reenactors to tell the area's history. Visitors can go inside the museum that night to hear a storyteller. The hayride is traditionally a sellout, Ruoff said. By early October, tickets for only a few of the night's rides remained.

Since early September, the museum's day-to-day operations have been staffed solely by volunteers, trained by society members.

Volunteer and naturalist George Heasley held his annual fall nature walk on Oct. 3. Another walk is typically held in the spring, Ruoff said.

While volunteers for years have served as guides and worked special events, running the museum and visitor center typically was done by paid employees.

"It's been working out beautifully," said Jean Loughry, society president. "We just made out the schedule and we have the hours all covered for the month of October. We have quite a few volunteers for the Haunted Hayride. It takes a lot of personnel."

The museum closes on Nov. 1 and will reopen on April 1.

Volunteers have been able to keep the museum's Clash of Cultures educational program, tailored for students in second through sixth grade, afloat. The program examines the life of a soldier in the Royal American Regiment and the life of an Ohio Valley American Indian on the changing Western frontier.

Students learn about how the men likely lived, what they ate and what clothing they wore.

"Instead of the educator doing that, volunteers are doing it," Ruoff said. "If schools want to book for next spring, that's fine."

The historical site, the only recognized American Indian battlefield in Pennsylvania, commemorates the victory of British troops over Indian forces in 1763, preventing Fort Pitt from being captured and opening up lines of communication between the East and the frontier.

The museum and visitor center's plight first became apparent in the spring, when the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission announced it would have to find a group to take over operations because of proposed budget cuts. The heritage society began raising money to take over.

The society is continuing to negotiate an agreement with the state to allow the group to permanently take over operation of the site, Loughry said.

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