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Tom Ross: OB Is Part of TR’s Sagamore Hill Story

New Brochure Illustrates Eight Sites and Five TR Memorials in the OB Hamlet

The hamlet of Oyster Bay will have an increased role in representing the historic figure of Theodore Roosevelt to the public in 2011 when Sagamore Hill mansion is closed for renovations for approximately two years.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Park Supervisor Thomas Ross introduced himself to listeners at the Main Street Association annual meeting on Sept. 15 as a former downtown planner. That background will come in handy as he plans for the future of Sagamore Hill which includes the house’s closing for a two-year renovation in 2011. He said he has worked with MSA when they were creating their original historic map that includes a painting of Sagamore Hill mansion.

Superintendent Ross said there is a strategic relationship - a historic connection of the Roosevelt family and the hamlet.

“The story of the Roosevelt family doesn’t begin at the site, it begins at Youngs Cemetery, the TR Sanctuary and the memorials in Oyster Bay. From there we tell the story of TR in Oyster Bay.

“We are planning other ways to experience TR on site using the grounds, walks, tours as well as an outreach to schools. We are working with our volunteers and staff to go to the schools with travel trunks. This is clearly one piece of a multi approach when the house closes.

“Another is a brochure we produced, an Oyster Bay history walk. It is a piece that folks will want to carry: a brochure, to self guide themselves for the visitors and for locals too.” It lists eight TR related sites and five memorials to TR, and includes a map.

Management Plan

In March 2008 Sagamore Hill and the National Park Service completed the management master plan for Sagamore Hill. The search to define it began in 2003. Seven hundred residents deemed stakeholders were to help define what the plan for the next 15 to 20 years would be at Sagamore Hill.

The final document is complete and was available at the meeting. It is an environmentally friendly plan. There is limited development on the site. There is a $1.5 million in restoration of the barns, roads and museum artifacts being done.

Supervisor Ross said there was an uptick in visitation at the site, partly as a result of the 150th anniversary of TR. “In 2008 there were 53,000 visitors, an increase of 24 percent over 2007. This year from January to July, it was up 23 percent increase over that period last year or an increase of 44 percent for the two years. I attribute that to the staycation crowd, those who decided to take a vacation in their backyard which is wonderful. Our tour buses are down a bit,” he added. Another part of the uptick was the 150th birthday celebration of Theodore Roosevelt events which brought 3,000 people to the site.

“Additionally we have been doing more programming and getting our press releases out more often to more media.

“We will be doing an annual birthday party for TR, on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009. His actual birthdate is Oct. 27, but that interferes with work and school – and this is not a milestone year, but we are planning on using an agricultural theme with for instance, someone on site with a cow. There will be entertainment, music, kids activities. This was a working farm and we might promote that. We had an apple orchard here,” said Mr. Ross.

The current project is the rehabilitation of the house for which they have $4.7 million. “We are going through the architectural drawings now – which will take about a year, so by 2011 it should start. It includes a new roof, and handicap access to the first floor; lighting; fire supression; and security.

“We have already spent $1.5 million to repave roads rehabilitate farm buildings on site and conserve the collection. We are rehabilitating fields and fences, and the windmill.”

Mr. Ross said the challenge for the site is, “How to serve the public while we have closed the mansion.” He said downtown Oyster Bay was going to help and they were expanding their partnerships with the town.

The key recommendations included:

1. To improve pathways to the site through trailblazer signage.

2. Using the full name of site – that it is a national park. Just recently Mr. Ross has arranged for the NYS DOT to add signs to Sagamore Hill on Route 495.

3. There are also trailblazer signs now leading through the hamlet of Oyster Bay, something the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce has long campaigned for. Mr. Ross said school buses are told to follow Route 25A to Cove Road, but today, GPS sends people on the more direct route, down 106 tthrough the hamlet. Changing that route into the hamlet was part of the MSA 2001 market assessment strategy for the hamlet, said Mr. Ross.

4. At the Sagamore Hill Visitor’s Center they orient people at the site and beyond. The house is open eight hours a day. Most visits are three to four hours. People come to see the house, grounds and museum.

5. There is only a snack machine on site, so visitors common questions us about local restaurants, he said.

Superintendent Ross said they will continue, with the help of MSA to cleverly market the site with visitor’s guides. The new guide was on a stand at the meeting, please see photograph.

A shuttle bus/historic trolley is much discussed, he said. The vision is that the shuttle bus will allow people to park all day and use the trolley to visit the sites, to reduce traffic. They are looking for funds to do a feasability study for the trolley. The trolley was part of the Passport to Historic Oyster Bay, where it was tested successfully. “Everyone seems to be on board about the trolley,” he added.

Mr. Ross mentioned the Friends of Sagamore Hill currently uses the hamlet for their lecture series.

They plan on historical markers, and wayside signs for the Sagamore Hill site. There will be 20 at Sagamore Hill after they get the funding in place.

Some markers will be downtown at TR sites. There will be Park Ranger walking tours available next summer as they expand their programs into the hamlet with the house closing.

The new brochure for TR and the Oyster Bay hamlet will be a companion to the Talk of the Town tours available at The Baykery, 124 South Street. Sagamore Hill is printing about 30,000 of the brochures. “It should have a positive impact on visitors to the community, telling the story of TR,” he said.

National Park Service Benefits

Mr. Ross said, a tribute to the influx of visitation at all the National Parks may be the staycations that have kept Americans at home for local vacations. Since January he said they were up 4.5 million visits this year. The visitors spend yearly about $11 billion and that spending creates 213,000 jobs in the gateway communities that surround the parks. He said, “Oyster Bay is a gateway community to Sagamore Hill.”

He said in 2003 an economic impact model showing secondary effects of visitation was implemented. That model found that Sagamore Hill visitors generate $2.4 billion in the local area economy. He said about two people spend an average of $115. Therefore Sagamore Hill visitors brought in $3.1 million a year which translates into 58 jobs in the area.

Mr. Ross said his mission here is not economic development but that he was just explaining the benefits of visitation to Sagamore Hill and other local attractions as to their economic impact. It presents opportunities to the chamber and MSA and even the Long Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to work on.

He said the MSA 2001 prospectus said they wanted to promote heritage tours and he said, “We will do our part.”

He asked if people had visited Sagamore Hill recently and several people raised their hands. He invited more people to visit the site this year.

Mr. Ross said in 1903 TR named Yellowstone a National Park and on the entrance arch at Yellowstone Park it says, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” He invited people to walk the Sagamore Hill property and hike to the beach. He said, “Sit in a rocker on the porch and watch the sunset. Come by and use the site. It is owned by all the people.”

Mr. Ross mentioned the new film by Kenneth Burns on the National Parks, a beautiful idea for the country. On Saturday, Sept. 26, the 45-minute film will be shown at Sagamore Hill at 6:30 p.m. There will be free refreshments and TR himself in the guise of James Foote will be there.

For this evening, he said he was allowed to show five minutes of the film. It was fascinating to watch, and although it was at the end of a long and detailed meeting, the audience sat in rapt attention and were surprised when Mr. Ross said. “that’s five minutes folks,” as the video ended.

He then presented a special gold coin, to the MSA: one of 150 minted in honor of the TR’s 150 anniversary celebration. He also presented a print of Sagamore Hill to Ellen Roché, MSA board president and Isaac Kremer, executive director.