SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The 14 historic buildings at Fort Sisseton State Park make it “arguably the best westward movement fort in the country,” said Willy Collignon, the northeast regional park supervisor with the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department (GFP).
Entrusted to preserve that value are the GPF and a Governor’s Commission on Fort Sisseton. The two partners have a preliminary master plan to enhance the park’s value.
Highlights from the proposed plan were shared at the Sept. 7 GFP commission meeting.
A visitor’s center on the south portion of the historic park is a cornerstone of the plan, officials said.
“Our visitor’s center is inside one of the barracks. That should be a barracks,” Fort Sisseton commission member Bruce Prins said in a Tuesday interview with KELOLAND News. A new visitor’s center would have an interpretative feature to teach more about what the area was like in the 1860s, Prins said.
The master plan was developed with input from the public, said Jon Jacobson of Confluence, an agency for planning and development in the Midwest.
“One of the big (suggestions) is that we need a visitor’s center,” Jacobson said on Sept. 7.
The plan also includes expansion of the campground and housing.
Although the primary draw of the state park is history, through public input “it became very clear that people want to use this park for more than historical purposes,” Jacobson said.
The fort was built in 1864, according to the GFP. “It was originally a frontier army outpost called Fort Wadsworth. The site was chosen because it provided a strong natural defense, an ample supply of lime and clay for making bricks, an abundance of lake water for drinking and a thick stand of trees for timber and fuel,” the Fort Sisseton website said.
Buildings on the state park include the officers’ quarters, stone barracks, powder magazine, guard house and others.
The historic portion of the park is about 33 acres. The park also includes a campground with three camper cabins.
A visitor’s center and expanded campground must be strategically placed on the park’s campus, Jacobson said on Sept. 7.
Prins said the master plan does not have a specific design for a visitor’s center but those involved know it has to “fit” the historic aspect of the park.
“The historic core of the park is off limits,” Jacobson said.
The proposed new visitor’s center would be at the south end of the park. Jacobson said on Sept. 7 the location is a natural entrance into the park. It would provide visitors with a good feel of what the site looked like a 100 or more years ago.
The master plan also needed to include an evaluation of the existing buildings as well as consideration for other desired and needed features at the park.
No estimated costs were shared at the Sept. 7 meeting. Jacobson did say the plan’s cost scale would range from modest to expensive.
Also, the plan includes analysis of revenue from additional camping and other sources, officials said on Sept. 7.
The proposed master plan projects would also be in phases, Collignon said on Sept. 7. But, fundraising would likely dictate which projects could be done first, he said.
Collignon said the master plan was developed in part because the Fort Sisseton Commission wanted to increase visitors and features at the park.
The park draws thousands of visitors for its annual historical festival. The park also has Christmas events, lantern tours, ghost-seeking events and others that draw visitors.
Prins said on Tuesday the park is at a disadvantage because it is not in a highly populated area.
Improvements that can emphasize the historical story as well as offering more camping can help make the park even more attractive, Prins said.
So far, the feedback from the public has been positive, Prins said on Tuesday.
Still, “It’s a challenge,” Prins said of the possible projects in the state park. But on the positive side “It’s a great challenge,” he said of the chance to improve the park’s features.
Prins said the goal is to break ground on some projects in the spring. The GFP and Fort Sisseton plan to apply for grants as one way to raise money.