North Dakota Legislature approves takeover of Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — The North Dakota Legislature has decided to take over operations of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn because the group in charge of the facility has struggled with fundraising efforts to keep it open.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate agreed Monday to spend just over $2 million to pay off debt, acquire the assets and assume operations from the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation. The Legislature also included $950,000 to operate the center over the next two years.

The center and its land already are owned by the state Parks and Recreation Department. The facility was built in 1997 to showcase the Lewis and Clark expedition. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent the winter of 1804-05 at Fort Mandan near present-day Washburn on their way to the Pacific Northwest.

Mark Zimmerman, director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation, said the foundation has struggled to cover operating costs and debt payments for the facility.

"It's tough raising dollars for any charitable organization," he said.

Foundation President David Borlaug said the original 5,500-square-foot center was built for $1.5 million. It has been expanded twice since then and now is about 20,000 square feet.

The most recent expansion done two years ago left the foundation $2 million in debt, Borlaug said. The foundation has been raising about $1 million annually in donations, he said.

The center gets about 80,000 visitors annually, he said.

Since 1997, Borlaug said the state has given $4 million to the center. Federal grants have totaled $3.2 million since that time, while the foundation has raised $22 million from donors.

"We really feel like over the past 18 years we've done our fair share," he said.

Zimmerman said the state will utilize foundation staff until September, when they will be replaced by four state employees.

Borlaug said the foundation will continue fundraising efforts for the facility.

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