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Fundraising halfway mark met

Resource type: News

Powell Tribune |

Original Source

Written by CJ Baker

More than 60 years after its closure, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center is becoming harder to forget.

Just below the grounds that once held nearly 11,000 Japanese-Americans sits the construction site of a new Interpretative Learning Center.

The new structure off U.S. Highway 14-A on Road 9, west of Ralston, represents the first phase of a $5.5-million project organized by the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation. Their goal is to memorialize and help others learn from the World War II internment camp.

“It’s more than a local story. It’s more than a Japanese-American story. It’s an American story. It’s a piece of history that needs to be remembered and learned from,” said Dave Reetz of Powell, the foundation’s president.

The construction currently underway makes up approximately 70 percent of the planned 11,000-square-foot facility. This roughly $1-million first phase includes only exterior work and is scheduled to finish up in about three weeks. A second $1-million phase will go towards interior work or will finish up the remaining 30 percent of the exterior.

When complete, the property will house replicas of the barracks used to house internees, a reconstructed guard tower and sentry station, multi-media exhibits and a theater.

The largest space inside the center will be an area recently christened the “Mineta/Simpson Friendship Hall.” It’s named after former Heart Mountain internee and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. The two political giants met at the camp nearly 65 years ago as Boy Scouts and have been friends since.

The foundation hopes to host a grand opening for the learning center in summer 2010.

“It’s going to be a major destination for a lot of people,” Reetz predicts.

The foundation’s economic plan for the center calculates it will see some 45,000 annual visitors — roughly 125 adults and children per day.

Reetz said the former relocation camp — without a learning center — already has drawn thousands of buses of children from places as far off as Rock Springs, Cheyenne and Pinedale.

“They’ll drive six hours to bring a busload of kids to this site,” he said.

With Yellowstone National Park drawing millions of visitors each year from around the globe, Reetz thinks the center can be a big draw.

Original plans had called for an opening this summer.

Reetz said it has taken time for the group to work around grant-funding calendars.

“I don’t think there’s any unanticipated delays,” he said.

Reetz added that the foundation is building the project only as it has funding.

“We’ve always been fiscally responsible,” he said.

By splitting the project into phases, Reetz said donors can see the center is real — not just a five-year fundraising project.

Currently, the Heart Mountain Foundation has raised roughly $2.5 million of the $5.5 million needed. Early in the project’s development, the foundation received $500,000 from congressional matching funds.

Recently, the group received $150,000 from the Kresege Foundation. That follows other recent awards from the Atlantic Philanthropies, W.K. Kellogg and UPS foundations totaling $275,000.

Reetz said the donations are testaments to the project’s importance.

“Those people do not give their money away unless it is a credible, valuable project,” he said.

Individuals and families also have made significant contributions, Reetz said.

The Heart Mountain Foundation already has hosted fundraising events in Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City. Another event is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 31, in Los Angeles, Reetz said.

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