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Sonoma County landmark built by Russians gets financial support

  • Michael and Annette Huff walk from the chapel at Fort Ross State Historic Park on Monday, October 25, 2010.

A Russian billionaire's pledge to help Fort Ross State Historic Park is expected to pay dividends for the former Russian settlement.

"This is a game-changer for Fort Ross," said Roy Stearns, a spokesman for California State Parks in Sacramento. "It will allow us to fast track some historical, cultural, natural and educational programs."

Viktor Vekselberg made the commitment in June after he visited the fort. He is the president of Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate with interests in aluminum, oil, energy and telecommunications.

Fort Ross State Historic Park

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Last week, Renova signed a three-year agreement with state parks and the Fort Ross Interpretative Association for what it calls substantial financial support for the fort and its programs, leading up to its 200th anniversary celebration in 2012.

Although initially touted as a promise of up to $1 million a year, the agreement mentions no dollar amount.

"We have a multi-year partnership here that will add some benefits to the park every year for many years to come," Stearns said. "I haven't seen a figure that boils it down."

The promise of financial support comes after the historic state park's hours were reduced to three days a week as part of state budget cuts.

"We have been in a tough place with less support, financial and otherwise," said Sarah Sweedler, president of the fort's interpretative association. "This gives us an opportunity to grow as a park. ... We will be able to undertake projects we have not been able to take on because there will be some money."

Sweedler said the association would like to have a Russian-speaking guide on weekends, wants to hire an executive director, needs new shelves in the library and has new books to publish.

The agreement between state parks and an international company is unusual, but it is safe and good for everyone involved, said Sweedler.


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