Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 13:45 UK

Earhart supporters vow to keep site

By Freya McClements
BBC News

John Thompson in the Amelia Earhart museum, Derry
John Thompson wants to keep the Amelia Earhart museum open

To it's supporters, it's a historical site with global significance and a hidden tourist gem, but it could soon close its doors for good.

The Amelia Earhart centre in Ballyarnet Country Park in Derry marks the spot where the American flier - the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic - touched down in Europe after her record-breaking flight in 1932.

The museum has been earmarked for closure by Derry City Council as part of a package of cost-cutting measures to save £1.5m from the city's rates bill.

Derry City Council have said they had to make "difficult decisions" in order to minimise the impact of the savings on everyday services.

The council said that for that reason they are currently in discussions with Mr Thompson and other representatives, and are considering options which include relocating the Earhart story to other council facilities.

Earhart enthusiast John Thompson is a member of a new group called the Friends of Amelia Earhart Society.

He says that if the council turns the cottage over to them they can not only keep the museum open, they can turn it into a profitable tourist attraction.

This has the potential to do for Derry what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand

Earhart enthusiast John Thompson

"Amelia Earhart made that long trek across the Atlantic in the darkness, with no navigational assistance, with part of her plane damaged, with fire coming out of the back - and this is where she landed, the famous Cornshell Field.

"This is where she made history"

"This facility is now effectively closed because of these cuts, and all we're asking from the council is to tell us what the running costs are.

"If the council can't, or doesn't want to commemorate one of the most famous women of the 20th century, then let us as an organisation do it.

"Americans all know the story of Amelia Earhart, and they want to come and stand on the spot where she landed.

"This is a potential tourist goldmine," he said.

Amelia Earhart landed in this field in Ballyarnet in 1932
Amelia Earhart landed in this field in Ballyarnet in 1932

Mr Thompson also said that the upcoming film of Amelia Earhart's life will attract even more visitors.

"This has the potential to do for Derry what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand," he said.

Olly Green from Greater Shantallow Community Arts runs the Amelia Earhart festival in the park every August, and has worked on projects which include a graphic novel on the famous flier.

He said it was "vital" the Earhart story stays in the area.

"To close this would be short-sighted.

Amelia Earhart facts

Born 1897, Kansas

The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic

The first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross

Disappeared over the Pacific in 1937 while trying to fly around the world

"I believe that we should be looking to the future and looking at how we can maximise the historical significance of having Amelia Earhart land within our community.

"We have a population of 40,000 in what is one of the most deprived areas in the North, and we need to look at what can be done to build on this connection with history," said Mr Green.

The society's plans to turn the museum into a thriving tourist destination rest largely on tapping into the profitable American market.

"Whatever happens it has to be kept open," said tour guide John McNulty.

"Amelia Earhart is a very famous lady in America, so why not make her more famous here?

"It's just false economy. We've got one of the most famous heroines in the world, and she's an American to boot."

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