Quietly, Garden of the Gods works around city budget cuts


John Demmon (right), president of the Friends of Garden of the Gods (FOGG), works the main desk at the Visitor & Nature Center recently with FOGG member Peggy Bender.
Westside Pioneer photo
       They may not have been presented with a financial hole the size that Rock Ledge Ranch or the community centers are facing, but supporters and directors of the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center had to solve money shortfalls of their own this year, thanks to the city budget crisis.
       With the potential loss of City Parks employees who work at the center - principally lead interpreter Bret Tennis - the Garden of the Gods Foundation and the Friends of Garden of the Gods (FOGG) are chipping in to keep those positions.
       The foundation had been set up 15 years ago by center owner Lyda Hill to make policy and funding decisions for park preservation using a percentage of proceeds from the center. FOGG is the Garden's friends group, providing some 200 volunteers to help with the center and the park as a whole.
       For the foundation, which was already covering the cost of Tennis' city benefit plan, it now means paying his salary too (in excess of $30,000 for a 30-hour week).
       “Our mission is to provide education to the public,” said Bonnie Frum, the center's director of operations. “Even though our volunteers are fabulous, we need the help of city staff.” Regarding Tennis, she said, “He's just critical to us.”
       Additionally, the foundation and FOGG will share the cost (about $8,500 each) for the salaries of part-time staff, who are needed for the center's special events during the year and for those days during the summer season when Tennis is off duty.

Contributions to the donation box at the Garden of the Gods help cover the costs of the Friends of Garden of the Gods (FOGG) organization.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The two entities were already contributing $12,000 each to run programs for schoolchildren at the center during the year - and that will continue.
       John Demmon, president of FOGG, said that fortunately the group had money in its treasury this year, making the extra $8,500 possible. For the future, “we're looking into fundraising perhaps in collaboration with Rock Ledge Ranch. Because we're all sharing the same turf essentially” [Rock Ledge technically being inside the Garden of the Gods].
       FOGG members' involvement includes working the center's desk, providing nature presentations and guided walks, and assisting with park litter control and trail maintenance. The nonprofit is funded through money put into the Visitor Center donation box, the sale of certain educational items in the center bookstore and when FOGG volunteers are requested to “step on” tour buses and serve as guides.

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