With 200,000 people already visiting Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield every year, park officials expect a $4.5 million expansion and renovation to its visitor center will boost attendance.
But before any physical work can begin, the historic battlefield’s foundation still must raise $270,000. The clock is ticking with only a few weeks to raise funds in order to get the project started this year, according to park officials.
Over 75 percent of the project’s funding is provided by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, leaving the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation responsible for $1 million. Roseann Blunt, the foundation’s finance director, said $700,000 has been acquired through an estate donation made a couple of years ago upon the death of Springfield resident Ralph Shreeve. Its value was $350,000, she said, adding the National Park Foundation matched the sum.
“The National Park Service made it clear they were willing to put a lot into this project, but they wanted our participation,” said April McDonough, the foundation’s executive director. “They told us it wouldn’t happen if we didn’t.”
Once the remaining $270,000 is in hand, she said the project also would add 1,870 square feet of exhibit space to spotlight the park’s collection of Civil War-era artifacts held in its visitor center, 6424 W. Farm Road 182 in Republic. The center is part of the park’s 2,010 acres.
“It will actually double the exhibit space that we have available to showcase artifacts,” Blunt said, noting there has been a longtime extensive shortage in room for exhibitions. “The part of the collection that would not be on display would be in more adequate territorial space.”
Wilson’s Creek foundation President Mike Ussery said funds must be in hand to the National Park Foundation by May 31 or the project risks not being included in the next fiscal year.
“It’s probably fair to say it would delay the project,” he said, if money is not raised by the end of May. “It might move it away from being a top priority.”
The fundraising campaign began in earnest last month, Ussery said, after the $300,000 figure was officially determined. He said the total raised has reached nearly $30,000 since then, largely from a $25,000 donation by Bass Pro Shops.
“Conservation projects are at the heart of what we support as a company,” said Sarah Hough, manager of community affairs for the Springfield-based outdoors retailer.
She said Wilson’s Creek foundation officials approached Bass Pro in the fall about the expansion and renovation project. Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris has long supported community initiatives connecting people to nature.
“They’ve been a valued partner with us over the years. We weren’t surprised to hear from them,” Hough said.
The help has gone both ways. Wilson’s Creek has provided Bass Pro curating services for the Civil War display of Ozarks history at Top of the Rock as well as the wildlife galleries for the National Parks exhibit at Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium.
Aside from Bass Pro’s donation, McDonough said individual donations account for the other funds raised.
Park Superintendent Ted Hillmer said moving some of the offices out of the visitor center will help free up more curatorial space. But additional room for exhibits isn’t the only planned changes coming.
An upgrade to the building’s heating and air conditioning systems, which in part help protect fragile artifacts, is part of the project, Ussery said. Bathrooms also will be relocated for better access and to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
If the fundraising goal is met by deadline, Hillmer said the project should begin in late October or early November, with a targeted May 2020 finish.
The group would follow National Park Service contracting processes, which Hillmer said involves preparing documents to request for bids over a period of 30-45 days. He said the bidding process will be open to anyone, with an expected 60-day evaluation process.
But the project cannot start without money procured. A larger exhibition space would allow a more frequent rotation of the park’s 8,500 artifacts, Ussery said. Updates also will provide interactive displays and 3D virtual displays for fragile artifacts and others in storage, he added.
The center’s exhibits help tell the story of one of the earliest battles of the Civil War, Blunt said. The Aug. 10, 1861, battle involved 17,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, and it was the first major conflict fought west of the Mississippi River.
“It’s the only Trans-Mississippi artifact collection in the National Park Service. It’s a huge collection, not just from artifacts from Wilson’s Creek but really from the region of the war west of the Mississippi,” McDonough said.
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