The Historic O’Keefe Ranch has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it’s still fighting to stay open in the future, it’s been forced to close early this season.
The ranch north of Vernon has been operating on a by-donation basis since June 17. But as summer winds down and uncertainty hangs around the coming school year and a potential second wave of the pandemic, difficult decisions had to be made.
“We need to approach this situation with the longevity of the ranch in mind.” said Bruce Cummings, chair of the O’Keefe Ranch board of directors.
“We want the ranch to be open for generations to come and that means sacrifice now.”
The ranch will be open by donation until Sept. 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. After that date, it will begin to winterize for the first time in more than 15 years.
Finance and marketing manager Tim Gibson also provided an update on the current fundraiser.
“The Fill the Steer fundraiser is close to reaching its first goal of $25,000 and we are so thankful for everyone who has contributed,” he said.
“Without this help, we would not have been able to operate as we have been. Continued support for this fundraiser is still needed before Sept. 12 to ensure a successful opening in Spring 2021.”
Visitors will find donation boxes on site, and people are encouraged to continue visiting the grounds even after the doors have closed for the season.
“It’s the animals I am most concerned about,” said Sherrilee Franks, facilities and HR manager. “Many of these animals have never left the ranch and we have such a healthy herd. We need people or companies to sponsor the animals or we will have to make much harder decisions by the middle of September.”
Franks said a handful of animals have had sponsorship thanks to “several generous donations.”
During the regular meeting of council Aug. 17, representatives from the Historic O’Keefe Ranch and Interior Heritage Society asked the City of Vernon to defer a $70,000 loan repayment and insurance payments for two years. Vernon council is to make a decision on the request in September.