National Park Service Issues Grants To World War II Internment Camp Sites

Grants from the National Park Service are helping with facilities, studies, and programs at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, top, and Granada Relocation Center. Top photo courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry, bottom photo Colorado State Archives.

We usually think of the National Park Service as being in charge of campsites, not camp sites. As part of its mandate to preserve and protect sites of historical and cultural significance, the Park Service's Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program has awarded $3,895,000 in federal funds to private nonprofit organizations; educational institutions, and; state, local, and tribal governments to preserve and provide interpretation resources to the 10 relocation camps scattered in the West.

Heart Mountain, Wyoming

The largest of this year’s grants — $832,879 — goes to the nonprofit Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. On a cold, windy day last winter, I visited the Heart Mountain site between Cody and Powell, Wyoming. The experience was moving, shattering, and belatedly embarrassing for the way our government treated its own citizens — alas, neither the first nor the last time it has done so. Thanks to an earlier grant and the efforts of local volunteers, the meaningfulness of Heart Mountain is finally gaining traction. A lot of work has been done since my visit, and the new grant will help even more. The center’s motto is “Lessons From The Past – Guidance For The Future.” If only.

My visit, which I blogged about here, also had a beacon of inspiration in the person of LaDonna Zall, a diminutive retired phys-ed teacher who witnessed internees boarding trains to leave the camp soon after the war.

If you go the the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation website and watch the ImageLoop slide show in the center of the home page, you can see her, microphone in hand, addressing panelists and audience at Removal, Resettlement, Reflection: A Community Conference program presented this past September by UCLA Japanese- American Studies, the Japanese-American National Museum and the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. I don’t know her age, though she was in her early teens in 1945. For decades, she has been devoted to collecting and curating artifacts from that era, and tireslessly speaking on behalf of the foundation and how the camp site needs to become a commemorative and educational center.

The NPS grant for the completion of the interior and remaining exterior infrastructure for the new 11,000-square-foot Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center comes on top of last year’s $292,252 grant to help build a museum and learning center at Heart Mountain. It is to house important historical collections that include every edition of the Heart Mountain Sentinel newspaper, official records related to the camp, hundreds of original photographs, sketches and diaries (many of which LaDonna Zall collected and has been preserving). The grand opening of and “pilrimage” to the new Heart Mountain Intpretive & Learning Center is scheduled for August 19-21, 2012. LaDonna Zall will be biggest presence there — though she would probably never take on that role.

And in Colorado

The Park Service has two grants going to the Granada Relocation Center (aka, Camp Amache ) near Granada, today a hamlet of 600 or so in southeastern Colorado. It was the smallest of the 10 centers with 30 blocks of residential barracks, each with its own mess hall, laundry and shower rooms — set up, much like Heart Mountain and others, much like a military base. Also like Heart Mountain, children at the Colorado camp attended school while their parents and grandparents worked on farms. Click here to see historic photographs.

The Granada Relocation Center, already listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated National Historic Landmark, will benefit from three grants, two going to Colorado Preservation, Inc., and one to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. One of the Colorado Preservation grants for $20,093 will be used to survey, identify and inventory the remaining historic buildings from Amache in a 110-mile radius outside the camp.

Again like Heart Mountain, camp buildings were sold off after the internees were released. The second grant for $37,327 will be used to relocate a historic water tower tank to Amache, and develop plans to rehabilitate and reconstruct it at its original location. History has odd twists, doesn’t it? A relocating tank from a relocation center will be re-relocated to the camp site.

The final grant goes to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to formulate plans to reconstruct a guard tower at Amache.

Claire Walter is an award-winning Colorado-based writer who loves to travel. She previously has written for the Traveler about floating the Rio Grand along Big Bend National Park and Fort Davis National Historic Site.