Deep in dept, Fort Harrod drama closing

October 01, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

HARRODSBURG - After a long illness, "Daniel Boone: The man, the Myth, the Legend" finally died in Harrodsburg last week.

The outdoor drama's board of directors voted unanimously to pull the plug after 42 seasons, the last few of which saw steadily decreasing attendance and rapidly mounting debt.

"None of us wanted to do it. There were four members crying that night," said Bill Randolph, a member of Fort Harrod Drama Productions' board of directors, which operated the drama. "We could see going further in debt and throwing good money after bad. We did everything but walk the street selling brooms, but we couldn't make it work any longer."

The drama, located at Fort Harrod State Park, lost $87,000 this year alone, said Randolph, who declined to discuss the operation's total debt. Attendance dropped to 7,000 this summer, well off the approximately 23,000 who attended during the mid 1980s, the best years for "Boone," Randolph said.


"If we could draw 15,000 a year, we'd probably be able to make it," he said.

But ticket sales have never been enough to subsidize "Boone" on their own,

Randolph said, leaving the board and community to underwrite its costs with donations and fund-raisers like dances, golf tournaments and theater productions. Randolph said the board has raised about $500,000 over the last 10 years to keep "Boone" going.

Further sealing the drama's death was a decision by the state this year to withhold a $41,000 grant "Boone" had been receiving annually for the past few years and that the board had counted on. But Randolph said that even had that grant come through, it would not have revived "Boone."

"If they gave us that grant right now, it wouldn't be enough to pull the drama up for next year," he said.

The "Boone" drama employed about 25 actors and 10 other workers each summer, and had a payroll of about $125,000 a year. The board leased the 750-seat amphitheater and related buildings from the state for $1 a year, but was responsible for upkeep and paying utilities, Randolph said.

A top tourist attraction

The drama was one of Mercer County's top tourist attractions along with Shakertown, Beaumont Inn and Fort Harrod. When "Boone" shut down for a year in 1999 due to financial troubles, attendance dropped by 3,000 at the adjoining state park, said Superintendent Joan Huffman.

"I don't think it will be that significant, but it will have a negative effect on our attendance," Huffman said of losing "Boone." "That's probably the fourth largest tourist attraction in the county, so it will decrease the number of people who come here and that hurts everybody."

Randolph, who is publisher of The Harrodsburg Herald, said it would probably take "a cycle or two" without the drama for Mercer County to see what kind of impact it had on the economy. He said he hopes businesses and community members, along with the state, will realize its importance and work to resurrect "Boone" or another production at the amphitheater in the future.

In the meantime, Randolph said Fort Harrod Drama Productions plans to sell off its assets, which include costumes, guns, lighting and other equipment used in "Boone" and two modular homes used to house the actors, in an effort to pay off its debts. And it will continue to operate Frontier Tales, a school education program that uses costumed actors to provide history lessons to students.

"We're committed to retiring our debt," Randolph said. "We're not filing for bankruptcy."

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