FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – The supporters of a national monument in Franklin County that honors one of the most influential Americans during the 19th and early 20th centuries have organized a creative way to raise money for the park.
The Booker T. Washington National Monument is a part of the National Park Service. It's free to visit and only closes three days during the year. It tells the story of Washington's rise from slavery to world-renowned educator, author, speaker and advisor. Washington was born on the Franklin County plantation where the park is located.
"He was born into slavery, he was born here, and ultimately he was freed from slavery here at the site," said Carla Whitfield, the park superintendent.
Whitfield said the monument faces the same challenge as other NPS parks: finding adequate funding.
"We really can't operate the way we'd like to operate, improve our visitor experience, with the budget as it is," Whitfield said.
Whitfield said the park's budget has remained flat. She said more than 80 percent of the budget is to cover fixed costs.
"The National Park Service is cutting budgets and it's a perilous time for parks right now," said Richard Millar, a park volunteer and board member with the Friends of Booker T. Washington group. "They barely have the money to maintain what they've got."
The group supports the financial needs of the park's programs.
Millar is the brainchild behind the "101st Booker T. Washington Bucket Challenge." The goal is to get 101 businesses and community members to donate $100 to support the park's mission and programs.
"Any business can give $100," Millar said. He said the community has been very receptive to the campaign.
"I've had people stop me in church, saying 'Hey! I need a brochure. I'd like to give," Millar said.
Millar said the Bucket Challenge will continue until the group reaches it $10,100 goal, and may continue after that.
The challenge's name recognizes the 101st anniversary of the National Park System, and the bucket references a part of of a speech Washington gave in 1895.
You can donate to and find more information about the Bucket Challenge here: https://www.friendsofbookertw.org/
"It's truly a gem," said Cindy Simmons, president of the Friends of Booker T. Washington National Monument. "We call ourselves the small and mighty Booker T. Washington National Monument. We feel very blessed to have this park right here in Franklin County."