New funding will bring purchase of Spirit Mound closer to reality

New funding will bring purchase of Spirit Mound closer to reality Lewis and Clark's Spirit Mound, a painting by artist Ron Backer, depicts the sights observed by the explorers as they climbed the knoll on Aug. 25, 1804. Backer, originally of Worthing and now living in California, did the painting in 1988. The original was purchased by Dr. W.O. Farber and Dr. Loren Carlson, both professors emeriti at The University of South Dakota. Limited edition, signed prints have been sold as a fund raiser for the Spirit Mound Trust to help restore the landmark. Prints are still available for sale by the Spirit Mound Trust at the W.H. Over Museum or by calling Larry Monfore, Spirit Mound Trust president. Postcards of the painting can be purchased at Deb's Hallmark, USD Book & Supply or Davis Drug. Donations can also be made to the Spirit Mound Trust, PO Box 603, Vermillion, SD 57069. by M. Jill Karolevitz In 1986, the Spirit Mound Trust, Inc., began its long journey to purchase, restore and ultimately preserve the knoll on which explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark stood nearly 200 years ago. Step by step, the group of Vermillion citizens have worked their way toward their goal, much like the Corps of Discovery did on Aug. 25, 1804, when they climbed Spirit Mound.

The recent announcement by Governor Bill Janklow that the state plans to acquire and

manage the site as a nature area, brings the reality of the group�s dreams even closer.

Janklow is providing $378,400 in federal TEA 21 grant money available to the state for scenic, cultural and historic preservation of the area. The money will help fund the collaborative project that will return the farmland surrounding Spirit Mound to the native prairie that Lewis and Clark viewed during their travels through the region.

Janklow said the restoration of Spirit Mound, located six miles north of Vermillion, will be complete by the bicentennial anniversary of Lewis and Clark�s stop at the site in 1804.

�Spirit Mound is a very significant historical site for our nation,� he said. �We need to make sure it is preserved for future generations.�

The total project cost, which includes the purchase of seven parcels of land that make up 320 acres surrounding the site, is just over $1 million, according to Larry Monfore, Vermillion, Spirit Mound Trust president. The federal government has provided $600,000 to the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation from the National Park Service � for the acquisition. The Spirit Mound Trust must also match a portion of the funding.

�We also have an endowment requirement to meet for the state Division of Parks,� Monfore said. �That money � $100,000 � will help maintain Spirit Mound once it is restored. The Spirit Mound Trust is providing $20,000 of that from the donations we have received over the years.�

Working together, the Spirit Mound Trust and the state Game, Fish and Parks department will complete the restoration and development of Spirit Mound. The land will ultimately be deeded to the state Game, Fish and Parks department for its future maintenance.

Completing the purchase of the land, owned by seven people, is the first priority, Monfore said. Removal of man-made structures will be the next project, followed by restoration, which includes seeding natural prairie grasses. Signage and interpretative exhibits will be installed and a parking facility for at least two buses and a dozen cars is on the agenda, along with a hiking trail to the top of the mound.

�The Governor�s Office really wants to see this happen,� said Rep. Judy Clark, Vermillion, who has been instrumental in communications with the governor regarding Spirit Mound. �This is a unique treasure and many people on all levels have been involved to make sure it is preserved. We will have a lot of people visiting this area for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, so this is also an economic development opportunity for us. We can�t let it go.

�I moved here four years ago and while driving through the area I told my husband ?if I don�t do anything else if I�m elected (to the state legislature), I want to see Spirit Mound become a park.� He laughed at me, but I knew it needed to be done,� she added.

Monfore, who has been with the Spirit Mound Trust since the beginning, said the process has been �painfully slow,� but he�s pleased with recent funding progress. As monies have been made available, he is looking forward to the project�s completion.

�Things are moving faster now and I hope that the project is far enough along by 2004 so that it looks much like it did to Lewis and Clark in 1804,� Monfore said.

Loren Carlson, Vermillion, vice president of the Spirit Mound Trust, echoed Monfore�s sentiments.

�I�m really pleased to see things moving forward as they are,� he said.

The scenario has changed, however, since 1986, when efforts to buy Spirit Mound started. At that time, it was estimated that the purchase price would be $290,000, with a restoration cost of about $200,000, according to an article in the July 23, 1986 edition of the Plain Talk.

�The estimates from back then really show the difference that time makes,� Clark said.

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, a Vermillion native, is another proponent of the Spirit Mound restoration. While he visited the site in October of 1998 to announce the authorization of the $600,000 grant, he said not only Lewis and Clark fans, but Lewis and Clark scholars as well, who, in the coming years, will be retracing the route of the explorers.

�If we can have this location here preserved in the tall-grass prairie condition of 1804, I think it would be a wonderful thing for those people and for all generations of South Dakotans and people from all over the world who are fascinated by the Lewis and Clark story,� he said.

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