ST PAUL, Minn. — Visitors have the chance to be reintroduced to Historic Fort Snelling after two and a half years of revitalization.
The grand reopening will take place Memorial Day weekend — a culmination of $34.5 million in improvements ($19.5 from the state and $15 million in private funding).
"I've worked here 23 years. I've been dreaming of this day for most of those years. It's an exciting project," said Kevin Maijala, senior director for learning initiatives at the Minnesota Historical Society.
The project includes a new visitor center inside a revamped 1904 cavalry barracks. The building essentially sat empty since the 1980s. The visitor center will give them more room for exhibits and programming.
The site has history dating back 10,000 years.
"We often think about United States history as starting in 1776. The reality is the history of this continent is much longer and we all know that but it's sometimes kind of pushed to the background. We really want to bring that out to make sure that people understand that Dakota people and Native people have been here for that long; they continue to be here today," Maijala said.
The project also includes a revitalized landscape with new river overlooks, paved and unpaved pathways and native plantings. While the restored prairie is still growing, Maijala said it will eventually start to reflect glimmers of what it used to look like centuries ago.
"The main goal here is just to reconnect people to the land and how it used to look because we've changed so much here in the Twin Cities ... concrete streets and housing and things like that," Maijala said.
The expansion of Minnesota's first National Historic Landmark will also allow them to expand on tackling tough topics.
According to MHS, a new interpretive plan was developed with community partners to include more histories of Dakota, Ojibwe and other Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans, women, soldiers, veterans and more.
The Fort was the site of a concentration camp for 1,600 Dakota following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
"So a place of pain and pride and sorrow and happiness. It's all of those things. And that's where, for me as a historian, that complexity and that messiness of history and being able to hold both the good and bad together and really think about it, we want visitors to be able to do that, as well," Maijala said.
Maijala said he expects they could see 6,000-8,000 visitors over the weekend.
"I want them to be a little bit surprised. I want them to be excited about the idea of Minnesota as a place that is complex and is diverse and has all these stories. I want it to be a place where they can feel that pride and also understand how some of the issues we have today are rooted in things that we've done in the past," Maijala said. "That is really the core of what history for me is about is understanding where you're coming from and why things are the way they are but also thinking about how do we work to make them better because there are good examples of things we've done well."
Historic Fort Snelling will be open May 28-30, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
More information on hours, admission and parking can be found, here.
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