Minidoka National Historic Site
One of those camps was the Minidoka War Relocation Center in southern Idaho. Between August 1942 and October 1945, nearly 13,000 people of Japanese ancestry from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, the majority of whom were American citizens, were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated at Minidoka.
The Minidoka confinement camp was centered around a 950-acre core, although the total site spanned 33,000 acres. In 2001, the Minidoka Internment National Monument was established on 73 acres of the original camp site that were still in government ownership to commemorate the hardships and sacrifices of Japanese Americans incarcerated there during World War II.
The National Park Service (NPS) faced a challenge in preserving the history at Minidoka; it was not able to include critical properties, because available lands were outside the congressionally-authorized boundary of the site. In 2008, the Idaho congressional delegation helped pass bipartisan legislation authorizing boundary expansion and allowing NPS to incorporate new land into what is now called Minidoka National Historic Site.
THE CONSERVATION FUND’S EFFORTS AT MINIDOKA
Before passage of the boundary expansion, a vital property neighboring the park went up for sale. The Conservation Fund stepped in quickly, purchased the 128-acre property and held that land until NPS could secure funding through the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to acquire the lands and add them to the Minidoka site. With this acquisition, NPS was able to protect the historic fire station building and begin to reconstruct a residential barracks block in its original location for interpretation and visitor education. This key property also contained the actual site of one of the baseball fields that incarcerees constructed and used for recreation; that baseball field has been rebuilt on this location to provide visitors a historic perspective on life in the camp.
Many original buildings from the camp were sold off after it was closed, but some—including the mess hall (pictured on left) and barracks building from Block 22—have been reacquired and returned to their original locations at Minidoka National Historic Site. These historic buildings retain much of their original exterior, but the interiors have been modified. Photo by Richard Alan Hannon.
Then in 2008, the Fund acquired 100 more acres adjoining the Minidoka National Historic Site, including an adjacent farm that was the site of Minidoka’s historic military police headquarters, portions of the adjacent Army residential blocks, the hospital and elementary school.
The Fund transferred a small, key portion of the lands to the National Park Service through the LWCF program and donated a conservation easement on the balance of the property to NPS, which will ensure it stays as open, undeveloped farmland forever. These agricultural lands are now owned by a local Idaho farm family and contain relics of the original Minidoka camp that are being preserved by the conservation easement and the landowner.
It is projected that the National Historic Site will have a positive economic benefit to the community, as at full development the Site is expected to attract up to 80,000 visitors per year, which is estimated to generate approximately $5M annually in the regional economy.
WHY THIS PROJECT MATTERS
The acquisition of these lands allowed NPS to reconstruct key structures of the historic site in their original locations, helping to fully tell the story of the hardships endured by Japanese Americans. These reconstructions include a guard tower and the Honor Roll, which held the names of every prisoner of Minidoka who left to fight in World War II. Visitors can learn about life at Minidoka and the history of why Americans were imprisoned by their own country through exhibits along a 1.6 mile interpretive trail and at the visitor center.
These projects also generate jobs and significant economic activity in southern Idaho. While the Visitor Center is only open during the summer season, the park recorded over 13,000 visitors in 2019.
- Reflecting on the Incarceration of Japanese Americans During WWII by Kurt Ikeda
- Ensuring Our Nation’s History Will Not Be Forgotten: Minidoka National Historic Site by Emily Korest
- Minidoka Pilgrimage—Since 2003, the annual Minidoka Pilgrimage offers an opportunity to revisit the place and the memories amidst family, friends, supporters, and National Park Service officials. The intent is to honor the first generations of Japanese Americans who suffered most under institutionalized racist laws, to deliver the message of “Never Again,” and to pass on the legacy to anyone who will listen.
- Watch “A Challenge to Democracy,” a 1940s-era film produced by The War Relocation Authority, to get an idea of what the camps looked like and how the government explained the incarceration of its own citizens
- Topaz Relocation Center
Senior Vice President, Western Director, Conservation Acquisition