Saving History Saturday: Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation To Renovate Visitor Center

Few National Park Service nonprofit partners have been as successful in the preservation and maintenance of their park as the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation. Founded in 1950, the Foundation essentially saved the initial 37 acres of hallowed ground to create the National Park Service site, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Today, they are indispensable in their work supporting the park in fundraising and through public events and programs. This week, the Foundation launched their latest fundraising campaign to renovate the park’s outdated visitor center.

The current visitor center at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Courtesy of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation.

Spearheading their efforts is outdoor company Bass Pro Shops, whose headquarters are based in nearby Springfield, Missouri. Their $25,000 contribution to the campaign put a major dent in the $300,000 fundraising goal. To complete the renovations, the park needs $3.5 million in total. The remaining $3.2 million is being funded by the National Park Service and the National Park Service Foundation.

The park’s current exhibit galleries. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

The $3.5 million will not simply be for cosmetic updates. In fact, there are major conservation and structural issues that need to be fixed within the visitor center. The funding will also provide a more enhanced visitor experience with new exhibit space, virtual displays, and ADA-compliant restrooms. According to the Foundation, “The renovation design calls for adding 1,873 square feet of exhibit space, providing a total of 3,396 square feet for the park’s collection of artifacts. It includes an upgrade of the Visitor Center’s heating and air conditioning systems to protect fragile artifacts and provide a positive experience for the more than 200,000 people who visit the park at 6424 W. Farm Road 182 in Republic. Updates will also provide for interactive displays and “virtual displays,” allowing fragile artifacts and other items in storage to be viewed in 3D.” Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield also hopes to add more storage areas for their extensive collection.

Artist rendering of an exhibit case after the renovations. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation.

As you can see, efforts to “save history” many times go beyond saving battlefield land or restoring a historic structure. Here at Wilson’s Creek, to save history is to update the visitor center that is at the core of the visitor’s individual experience; it is where they are introduced to the location’s history, the stories of those who were there, and the material culture they interacted with at that site. If a site is unable to care for that history, then the history is not – and cannot be – saved.

Soon enough, with help from generous corporations, enthusiastic historians, and passionate donors, Wilson’s Creek will have a beautiful new visitors center that will allow visitors to learn more about this critical battle. In an official statement from Bass Pro Shops about the campaign, “We recognize that not only does this park commemorate the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River, but it is an example of sound conservation in action and a community resource that enriches the fabric of the Ozarks.” To donate to this campaign, please visit the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation website at: wilsonscreek.com or visit their Facebook page.

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