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March 27, 2012 7:47 am

EDITORIAL: Preserving Heart Mountain history in the digital era

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Most Park County locals know stories from the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp. Residents often see the iconic chimney standing tall against the mountain’s unique form. Old World War II-era barracks still stand on some homesteads. The new Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center is located nearby, where we can see and hear the stories of the Japanese-Americans who lived as internees behind barbed wire.

We know the history of Heart Mountain — it’s part of our lives here.

Yet many Americans have never heard about Heart Mountain or the other relocation camps of World War II. Some don’t even know the U.S. government forced thousands of Japanese people — mostly American citizens — to leave their homes and live in camps far removed from the lives they knew.

This isn’t a flattering piece of American history, but it’s part of our history nonetheless.

It’s important to preserve Heart Mountain’s story for our northwest corner of Wyoming, but also for people throughout America and the world.

That’s why we are glad the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation is enhancing its website to share stories, images and lessons with a broader audience.

Through a Department of the Interior grant for $30,976, the foundation also will develop interactive educational lessons for teachers to use.

While Heart Mountain’s online presentation is improving, on-site preservation also is progressing.

Towering above the original relocation camp site, the brick chimney is one of the few remnants still standing. The aging chimney is leaning and at risk of collapsing. The National Park Service last summer awarded a $215,911 grant to stabilize the structure. Last week, crews assessed the site and will soon begin work to restore the 70-year-old chimney, which remains the most enduring icon of the former Heart Mountain Relocation Camp.

Keeping the Heart Mountain site’s last remnants and artifacts intact will help preserve the lessons of Heart Mountain for generations to come.

The overriding lesson: Never again.

Norman Mineta, former U.S. Congressman and former U.S. Transportation Secretary — and a former internee at the camp — emphasized Heart Mountain’s legacy last August during the grand opening of the interpretive learning center.

“What you are doing here is drawing that line in the sand to say that never again will there be something like what happened at Heart Mountain and other relocation camps.”

We hope the center’s expanded online presence takes that lesson far beyond Wyoming.

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