JEROME COUNTY, ID – Together the National Park Service, the Idaho Congressional delegation and The Conservation Fund have just announced the permanent protection of 138 acres of additional land at the Minidoka National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System. The announcement helps to commemorate the anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II. This acquisition has been a priority for the National Park Service because it preserves critical open space, historic agricultural lands and an important section of the former Minidoka Relocation Center.
Between August 1942 and October 1945, nearly 9,500 Japanese Americans from Portland, OR, Seattle and the surrounding areas were interred at Minidoka. During the war, the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army, an all Japanese American unit, became the most decorated unit of its size in American military history, with the greatest number of volunteers coming from the Minidoka Center.
This newly protected property was the former site of the internment camp’s fire station, water tower, military police headquarters, barracks blocks 21 and 22 and portions of adjacent blocks. The National Park Service will begin to reestablish residential block 22 on its original location, starting with the relocation of a barracks building and a camp mess hall donated by Jerome County from the county fairgrounds. Plans for the reconstruction of these important sections of the camp were developed as part of an extensive General Management Plan completed in 2006.
“We would like to thank our invaluable partner, The Conservation Fund, for insuring the protection and preservation of this important land from the original internment camp until such time that it could be acquired by the National Park Service,” said Wendy Janssen, Superintendent of the Minidoka National Historic Site. “We also want to thank the entire Idaho Congressional delegation for their continued support of this national treasure. The creation of the National Park Service site has been called an expression of faith in the future – a commitment made by one generation to future generations for our children and grandchildren. The story of Minidoka is an important chapter of our collective American history. It is a site that addresses the violation of civil and constitutional rights and the fragility of democracy in times of crisis – a story that continues to have relevance and meaning today.”
Established in January 2001, the Minidoka National Historic Site works to preserve the resources associated with the Minidoka Relocation Center and to promote education and interpretation about the struggles of a people caught between two countries at war. In 2008, the Idaho Congressional delegation played a key role in passing bipartisan legislation authorizing expansion of the National Historic Site to incorporate these and other lands into the park. The Conservation Fund stepped in to purchase two neighboring properties from interested sellers and held the lands until the National Park Service could acquire and add them to the site at end of 2010.
“The Minidoka project ensures that we remember the past and learn from the mistakes made when Japanese Americans from the Northwest were held in Idaho during World War II,” said Senator Mike Crapo, who sponsored the Minidoka legislation. “The Site is a living lesson in history, through the people who came here and who have made the annual pilgrimage to return, so that we may never forget what happened. I am proud to have partnered in this historic effort and salute the courage and perseverance of those who have made this project a reality.”
“While the actions that resulted in creating the Minidoka Internment Camp are not our nation’s finest, they are an important part of the nation’s and state’s history. It is a graphic reminder of what can happen when constitutional rights are ignored,” said Senator James E. Risch. “This land acquisition for the Minidoka National Historic Site will help preserve this important piece of ground and serve as a reminder to future generations that freedom and the rights of individuals must not be taken.”
“This protection and restoration of the historic lands at Minidoka is essential because it reminds us of a time in our not too distant past in which war threatened our national identity,” said Congressman Mike Simpson. “We must never forget the struggles of those who were forced to live at relocation centers across the country. I am proud to support this effort to restore and expand the Minidoka National Historic Site so that all Americans can better understand the challenges faced by our ancestors during World War II and the everlasting spirit of hope that the inhabitants of this land have carried on.”
Members of the Idaho delegation also supported this effort by securing federal funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In addition, the Friends of Minidoka and numerous individual donors provided private funding for this effort. With the acquisition of the land, the National Park Service is planning to move forward with the construction phase of the project which will generate jobs and significant economic activity in Southern Idaho. The National Park Service anticipates as many as 80,000 annual visitors to the site, when the general management plan is fully implemented.
Chairwoman of The Friends of Minidoka, Hanako Wakatsuki said: “The Friends of Minidoka is thrilled with this latest development. As the park continues to grow it moves further to becoming a solid place for education and ensuring this period of American history is not forgotten.”
The protected property was also a location of historical significance after the war. Minidoka Relocation Center was parceled into farms and distributed to veterans through land lotteries, creating an emergent agricultural community. Veteran John Herrmann acquired some of the property but was recalled for active duty, causing a delay in the development of his homestead and farm. On April 17, 1952, the North Side Conservation District and Jerome County Farm Equipment Dealers orchestrated a unique agricultural event that mobilized over 1,500 workers and 200 state-of-the-art machines to prepare Herrmann’s land for farming in the course of a single day. The event was called “A-Farm-in-A-Day” and is a major benchmark in the development of the agriculture industry in southern Idaho.
“The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) applauds the work of The Conservation Fund to acquire the Farm in a Day property,” said Floyd Mori, National Executive Director of the JACL. “The transfer of this land to the National Park Service will provide for the interpretation of a portion of the former barracks and mess hall within the boundary of the National Historic Site. The joint efforts to support legislation on behalf of Minidoka will allow the National Park Service to more fully tell the story of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. The JACL is proud to have worked in partnership with The Conservation Fund and the National Park Service to preserve this important lesson in history.”
“By conserving these important lands, the National Park Service has made a tremendous step forward to promote the healing process, recognize the sacrifices made by Japanese American veterans and their families, and create an educational and economic resource for southern Idaho,” said Dan Sakura, project leader for The Conservation Fund’s Japanese American Internment Camp Protection Initiative.
Through its Japanese American Internment Camp Preservation Initiative, The Conservation Fund is working with the National Park Service, the JACL and individual camp preservation organizations to conserve historically significant lands at Japanese American internment camps like the Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho and other sites.
About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we combine a passion for conservation with an entrepreneurial spirit to protect your favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of our work is our deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. Top-ranked, we have protected nearly 7 million acres across America.