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April 01, 2010 3:35 am

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center will be top-notch

Written by Tribune Staff

Center will help educate thousands about WWII injustice

The group working to build an interpretive learning center at the site of the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp, where thousands of Japanese-Americans were held during World War II, has made huge strides since the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation was formed in 1996.

The foundation has allied itself with leading institutions, such as the Japanese American National Museum, as well as former internees and others from across the country, to plot a course that will ensure the story of the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp is not forgotten.

Along the way, the foundation has raised $3.5 million toward the $5.3 million needed to complete work on the center, and the site in the shadow of Heart Mountain will hold the distinction of being only the second of the 10 WWII camps with an educational memorial.

The foundation already has established the Setsuko Saito Higuchi Walking Tour, a paved loop designed to orient visitors and educate them about the history of the site. It's a Wyoming State Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark.

The recent announcement by foundation president and executive director Dave Reetz that an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker had been hired to develop a short film to introduce visitors to the center, along with word that a highly-respected company has been hired to design the interior exhibits, brings the center one step closer to reality.

According to Reetz, “We're aiming just for world-class status, and we've got the right people doing that.”

Through the foundation's work, a place that embodied racial prejudice and a gross violation of American citizens' rights will instead be a place for healing and education.

Foundation board members, donors and others who have toiled for years to make the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center a reality should be proud of their vision and their unwavering commitment to making it a top-notch facility.