ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Historical Society this week laid off 176 furloughed employees and brought 64 back to work, as it prepares to reopen select locations that have been shuttered since March by the COVID-19 pandemic.
MNHS temporarily closed all 26 of its historic sites and museums across the state on March 14 and furloughed 274 employees — just under half its staff — on May 1. Those who were not laid off or recalled this week have had their furloughs extended, according to a spokesperson for the 171-year-old nonprofit institution based in St. Paul.
“These actions will address strains on the MNHS operating budget as a result of ongoing closures,” the spokesperson said. “Critical staff will continue to ensure the security of historic sites and resources.”
The first locations to be reopened to the public will be Split Rock Lighthouse and Jeffers Petroglyphs on July 15. Trails at three self-guided outdoor sites — Birch Coulee Battlefield, Traverse des Sioux and Marine Mill — are also open.
“As we reopen our historic sites and museums in phases, we plan to recall dedicated staff members back to work,” MNHS CEO Kent Whitworth said Wednesday, June 17, in an email to members. “We expect to open additional sites as restrictions are dialed back and as safety and fiscal responsibility allows.”
The employees who were laid off were “primarily those who work at MNHS historic sites and museums that remain closed at this time,” Whitworth said.
New safety measures will be implemented at the sites as they come back online, such as encouraging visitors to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, he added.
Beginning July 8, tickets to the reopened sites will be sold in advance via the historical society’s website or by phone at 651-259-3015, and a limited number will be available each day to prevent crowding. MNHS members will be able to buy tickets beginning July 6.
“These are trying times for all Minnesotans, and certainly for the Minnesota Historical Society,” Whitworth said in his email to members. “Nevertheless, I remain confident that we will emerge as a more reflective, inclusive, and empathetic community.”