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Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum uses $5K grant to waive admission fees

Jeff Himler
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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
An exterior of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum taken on Thursday July, 28, 2016, in Darlington. The museum is offering free admission through Labor Day.
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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Admission prices hang on outside wall of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum taken on Thursday July, 28, 2016, in Darlington. The museum is offering free admission through Labor Day.
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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
An interior view of the artifacts in the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum taken on Thursday July, 28, 2016, in Darlington. The museum is offering free admission through Labor Day.
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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Some of the artifacts on display at the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum taken on Thursday July, 28, 2016, in Darlington. The museum is offering free admission through Labor Day.
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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
A sign announcing free admission sits on the register in the giftshop at the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum taken on Thursday July, 28, 2016, in Darlington. The museum is offering free admission through Labor Day.

The Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association is looking for more visitors at its museum — and for more volunteers to guide guests through the restored 1890s train station in Darlington.

The nonprofit group hopes to pick up steam toward the former goal, thanks to a $5,000 foundation grant that will allow the museum to offer free admission to all until Labor Day.

“We’re a small museum, and that’s one of the reasons we’re so thankful for the grant,” said Bob Stutzman, the association’s treasurer and a museum docent.

The grant was provided by the Latrobe-based Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, which made previous grants to help the association with capital expenses.

This time, Stutzman said, the grant was targeted for operational purposes, and foundation officials suggested using it to underwrite admissions.

“I said, ‘That sounds great,’ ” he said.

Linda McKenna Boxx, who chairs the foundation, said no formula was used to calculate the amount of the latest grant to the association.

“We just thought that this would cover their needs,” she said. “What they’ve done with the Darlington station is really remarkable. They’ve turned a facility that was practically falling down into a lovely attraction and tourist destination. They’ve put so much work into restoring it, I think it’s an honor for us to help them with maintenance of all their hard work.”

Since the museum opened in 2009, more than 7,000 people have toured it and have learned about the Ligonier Valley Rail Road’s role in spurring the development of eastern Westmoreland County, Stutzman said. A 1905 caboose is on display at the museum.

The museum averages 10 visitors per day, with normal admission fees of $5 for adults and $3 for students. There is no charge for active military service members or children younger than 6.

“As an income source, that’s not going to keep the doors open,” Stutzman said.

Stutzman, 75, said the association also looks for contributions from dues-paying members of the supporting Friends of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association, who number about 350. An annual tour of area model train layouts raises additional money, with sales in the museum’s gift shop bringing in minimal income.

Stutzman said museum funding won’t run out in the near future, but the group is hoping to tap additional grant sources.

Most importantly, he said, getting younger people involved in the association is a priority.

“We have seven docents who give tours, and we could always use more. We’re always looking for volunteers,” he said.

He added that his group has come a long way since being organized in January 2004, when it simply envisioned a storefront in Ligonier where photos could be displayed.

“It has really grown to where we now have this building. It’s grown beyond our wildest dreams, but now we have to maintain it. We want to keep it going,” he said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or [email protected].

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