Old Fort looking for volunteers

Dr. Eugene Watkins, director of the Old Fort, examines some pieces of pottery that were saved from new Battleground park location before crews spread dirt and sand to start seeding for grass. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – A holiday weekend gone bad has the Old Fort Commission looking for additional volunteers to step in when current staff is unable to work events.

A bout of upper respiratory flu sidelined Old Fort Director Dr. Eugene Watkins for a day during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a typically busy day for the Old Fort and commissioners said a better plan needs to be put in place to help out when those situations arise.

At the commission’s regular meeting on Wednesday, the commission discussed ways to increase volunteer interest in the commission.

Watkins suggested the commissioners all watch a tutorial video on the Old Fort tour so the commissioners could possibly fill in as tour guides in the event that Watkins or other staff is indisposed. Also for days when attendance is so high such as when the prison opened for tours. The Old Fort had more than 300 visitors that day and needed additional help but didn’t have any volunteers to help. Family members had to step in to help Old Fort employees.

Watkins said it’s tough to keep volunteers at the facility and he typically gets kids that were in trouble and they don’t like the hard work.

“They normally want to do it until they realize they’re not playing army. That seems to be what they want to do. I don’t understand that fascination, but then they realize they may have to work.”

“It is hot work in the summer and they don’t like to wear the costumes,” Watkins said.

Commission member Sharon Harp asked if the new school requirements of 20 hours of community service would open up any volunteer options for the fort.

“That’s double the hours from last year’s so is there a way to get the school officials to work with us on this,” she said.

Andy Andrews told the board he had an hour long conversation with Fort Madison Community School District Superintendent Erin Slater about the volunteer hours and said the conversation was very encouraging.

“We had an hour long conversation. We talked about the students who got to do their 20 hours and Erin’s going to get with counselors to put emphasis on not just walking dogs but come down to the fort. It’s more educational to do some work here,” Andrews said.

Harp said the commission needs a firmer plan of what will happen in the event staff can’t get to the fort.

“We need to have a discussion of what to do in the event that happens again. I know I’m singing to the choir about volunteers, but we need to have a written plan so that if Dr. Watkins is gone we know what to do,” Harp said.

Watkins said  he has some information prepared for any volunteers that would be able to fill in. But to do it right, they should take the tour.

“I have a brief history of the fort that I’ve done but the big things is going out and doing the tour but it takes about an hour and half, but then you would be able to have the basic stuff and could talk a little about. And if everybody wants I could do a full on training course on it,” Watkins said.

“Who I am supposed to call when I have something like that. We also need people watching the other buildings for theft, so it’s going to take more than one volunteer. Someone to talk and take people through the tours and someone to watch the other buildings.”

Joe Thurman suggested creating an internal Facebook page to help with the communications.

“Right now the communications stop when we leave this room,” Thurman said.

Attendance numbers through June 1 the Fort has had visitors from 12 foreign countries, 36 states, and 56 communities of Iowa.

Watkins said the Fourth of July events will include our standard living history things. Tuesday at 1 p.m. we’ll do our national salute and we will fire the gun 18 times in a row. Starts at 1 unless it’s raining and then there will be the fireworks by the city afterward.”

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