Of the 10 volunteer spots at the National Capital Trolley Museum in Silver Spring on Saturday, three were reserved.
Of the three reserved spaces, only one volunteer showed up with tools in hand for Montgomery County’s Community Service Day last weekend.
Silver Spring resident Dick Jourdenais, a three-year volunteer at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, said it was his first time volunteering for the county’s service day. He said he was excited to do the type of work he does regularly in a new venue — one where he enjoys bringing his nieces and nephews.
“I’ve come here before and enjoyed riding the trolleys and just thought if they needed some help, I’d give them some help,” Jourdenais said.
The trolley museum, which was founded in 1959, has struggled because of two events in the last decade.
About nine years ago, a fire in a street car barn destroyed a couple of street cars in the museum’s collection and forced the museum to close for about nine days, according to Erik Ledbetter, director of marketing for the museum. The fire, he said, may have given patrons the notion that they were “damaged or badly hurt.”
About two years after the fire, the Intercounty Connecter — an 18-mile highway that connects I-270 to Interstate 95 — was built, which forced the museum to close for 14 months and relocate just up the hill from its original location, he said.
“We’re still facing a challenge getting the word out to the community that we’re here, we’re open and we’re better than ever,” said Ledbetter, a Rockville resident.
Ledbetter said aside from one teaching position, everyone who works at the museum does so in a non-paid volunteer position, including museum Director Ken Rucker of Columbia.
Rucker said there are about 20 active volunteers and that most of the museum’s money comes from admissions ($7 for adults over age 18 and a reduced fare of $5 for those younger than 18 or 65 and older).
He said that beginning in August 2011, he noticed the gift shop sales suddenly drop in comparison to what they were in 2010, which he attributes more to the museum’s existence in the “minds of people” than the economy.
He said attendance is running at about 10,000 people per year in comparison to the average 18,000 a year in the previous decade.
“It’s taking a long time to make a comeback,” Rucker said.
The trolley museum is the only one of its kind in the county, Rucker said, adding that the only similar place in the area is the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.
Though the museum has been listed with the county’s volunteer bureau program for years, Ledbetter said the museum has had difficulty recruiting new volunteers because it is harder to recruit working-age people.
“We’re seeing an enormous generational change in volunteering that really comes from much larger changes in the economy and the community,” Ledbetter said. “With the rise in the cost of living here in the [Washington,] D.C. area, it’s pretty much become a community of two-career families, especially if you’re raising children.”