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Interpretive center becomes state entity

Posted on 5/1/2015

By Lauren Donovan, The Bismarck Tribune

WASHBURN - The doors to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center opened as usual on a lovely, first morning of May with the same cheerful staff to greet visitors.

All may have seemed the same, but it was officially the first day the center opened as a facility owned and operated by the State Parks and Recreation Department.

After 18 years of work and creating a world-class interpretive and art center, the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation stepped away from the operational side after the 2015 Legislature approved a $3 million operations and acquisition budget.

Matt Gardner manages the department's recreation division and stepped up as interim site manager.

David Borlaug remains as head of the foundation and the foundation's three employees will share the facility with the 14 foundation staff that became state employees overnight.

Gardner said the plan is to keep going with everyone in place through Sept. 30, a transition period, when any necessary adjustments would be made.

"We want to do the right thing for the people of North Dakota and it's going to take both (the department and the foundation) to make that happen," Gardner said.

He said it's clear the interpretive staff is customer centered and it isn't his plan to shake things up.

"We're here to serve the public, and they do that really well. Our goal is that the public won't even notice the change, and that's why the doors opened today," Gardner said.

Borlaug led the foundation through construction and expansion of the interpretive center, the expansion and improvement of the Fort Mandan property and the acquisition of art and historical artifacts related to the Plains Indians and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Borlaug said Friday was a good day in the history of the foundation's work.

"It's a day we've been waiting for, and one we've been working toward. This is not a hostile takeover, it's what we requested," said Bourlaug, adding that the work of the foundation will continue as will its presence in the interpretive center offices. "It worked out just the way we hoped it would."

Gardner and Borlaug said exactly how the two entities go forward together will be ironed out over the next couple of months.

"We're still trying to figure out where it all fits," Gardner said.

The interpretive center and nearby Fort Mandan are a bit out of the box in terms of state park property, but Gardner said, while it's a unique situation, it isn't daunting.

"The state parks together had over 1 million visitors last year. We can handle this," he said.

The foundation had managed operations through admission and fundraising revenue, but the interpretive center building and property has always been owned by the park's department. The Legislature's emergency clause allowed the transition of operations to go into effect immediately.

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