Bottinelli: Make the Ward Museum a state park


When, in July 2022, the world-renowned Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art abruptly had its doors closed and the immense art collection kept from public view, Delmarva — not just Salisbury, Wicomico County, or Maryland — lost access to a significant community asset that brought thousands of people to our area and inspired thousands more.

Now, nearly two years later, the museum property is still closed, with no answers.

Tens of millions of local, state and private dollars have been allocated to the property at 909 South Schumaker Drive — most notably more than $2 million in capital improvements that were unveiled in 2018.

The longstanding HVAC issues that ultimately caused the property to be closed due to a mold outbreak were never fully addressed in that campaign but were on Salisbury University’s deferred maintenance list as we entered the pandemic.

So, why is the museum still closed?

The costs of the potential repairs to the museum property, approximately $16 million, have been known to its caretakers, Salisbury University, for some time. They have not presented a viable plan to reopen or reactivate, or reevaluate the facility use. As recently as this year, private donors have been ignored offering significant gifts for an effort to reopen the facility with no response from the University.

Though having their own calculations and motivations, it doesn’t excuse the fact that Salisbury University just quit on their duty of care for the museum.

Remember, these millions of dollars of museum assets are actually owned by the State; and the State of Maryland has other agencies who have acted as reliable caretakers for natural and cultural assets — the Maryland Park Service.

I, among many other supporters, are petitioning Gov. Moore for the state’s assets at the Ward Museum property and the related collection of art be transferred as an asset under the care and programing of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources — and the Maryland Park Service. This effort would create Wicomico County’s first State Park, install a new set of leadership and caretakers for future decisions about these state assets, and help to normalize relationships with the community of supporters — from the Ward Foundation to the thousands of supporters it will take to execute the planning and fundraising for this initiative — the Ward Museum State Park.

Some have imagined other great things that can be done at that inspirational location on Schumaker Pond. But the property needs to remain a museum. The original intent of the gift of land from the City of Salisbury to the Ward Foundation in the early 90s outlined its required use as a museum for the public. Later, the transfer of the property to Salisbury University and the State of Maryland underscored that public use and place for investment. If other uses are explored or proposed, the residents and taxpayers, through their elected officials, need to be informed and involved.

The museum’s namesakes, Steve and Lem Ward, helped inspire a century of conservationists and nature-lovers. Yet, the Delmarva that inspired the Ward Brothers is rapidly fading. At the Ward Museum property, Delmarva students and kids of all ages received vitally important environmental literacy and discovered a passion for the Chesapeake region’s great traditions as well as the great outdoors. This experience was made so much greater by the grounds on which this museum and education space resided. Sitting on Schumaker Pond, this space included nature trails, native plant collections, viewing areas for our local wildlife, and so much more.

This building, the grounds, the museum contents, and the programs fit together into one beautiful reflection of the Chesapeake way of life. It’s not too hard to imagine how the Ward Museum State Park can meet the needs of the upcoming generations, and at the same time bring back to life a major tourism destination and community gathering place for the region.

The magnitude of the tangible and intangible assets that have been brought together at this property, and the community investment that has taken place here for generations should be fostered by a state agency that can appropriately manage its future use.
Please join others in the effort to establish the Ward Museum State Park before these shared cultural properties are lost for good.

Lora Bottinelli is the former director of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury.

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