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Fort Atkinson State Historical Park awarded Helmsley grant for revitalization projects

Fourth of July Living History weekend at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun.
A new grant will fund revitalization efforts at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park. Above, people participate in a Fourth of July Living History event on July 6, 2019, at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park. | Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley, NEBRASKAland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

LINCOLN, Neb. — A new grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust worth nearly $500,000 will assist Fort Atkinson State Historical Park in two revitalization projects.

The two-pronged grant for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission property provides:

  • $220,000 for the development of new, interactive museum exhibits at the Harold W. Andersen Visitor Center on the park grounds, and
  • $272,500 for the replacement of logs in the barrack walls, an ongoing preservation project.

The Fort Atkinson Foundation, which applied for and was awarded the Helmsley grant, anticipates the exhibit updates will occur in 2021, the year the Commission’s parks system turns 100 and a statewide, yearlong centennial celebration is planned.

“We are excited to modernize our museum exhibits in a year when the Nebraska state parks, including Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, will be celebrated,” said David Genoways, president of the foundation. “We hope these improvements will engage audiences and grow new ones excited to learn about the history and heritage of our park.”

Repairs to the barracks, which run along three of the four sides of the original perimeter, will be ongoing.

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park aerial views from cherry picker.
Aerial view of Fort Atkinson State Historical Park. | NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Fort Atkinson, established in 1820, was one of the first U.S. military outposts west of the Missouri River. It was active until 1827 before being closed by the Army. After Game and Parks purchased the land in 1963, the historic outpost was reconstructed over a 20-year period, with the museum exhibits installed in 1985. Some of those displays have never been updated.

Interpretive work at the historical park has continued, though, with donations and grants provided by individuals and organizations who share Helmsley’s appreciation for historic preservation. All improvements are part of a five-year plan to enhance programming, restore aging facilities and boost visitation to the park located just 12 miles north of Omaha.

“Fort Atkinson holds significant historical value as an early American settlement,” said Walter Panzirer, a Trustee for the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “The Helmsley Charitable Trust is excited to fund the important work of restoring this historic fort as well as building a new, interactive visitor center that will provide engaging educational opportunities for years to come.”

The plan to revitalize Fort Atkinson began in 2016. Game and Parks initiated the public planning process and collaborated with numerous partners, including the Game and Parks Foundation, Friends of Fort Atkinson, City of Fort Calhoun, Washington County Historical Association, and Fort Atkinson Foundation. The ties built between the Foundation and Game and Parks were the impetus to apply for the Helmsley Charitable Trust grant.

“The partnership between the public and private sectors working to revitalize Fort Atkinson is what has made this endeavor possible,” said Jim Swenson, the Commission’s Parks Division director. “These improvements will bring us one step closer to realizing our goals to make Fort Atkinson a vibrant destination for families across the region.”

For more information about Fort Atkinson SHP, visit outdoornebraska.org. For more information about the Helmsley Charitable Trust, visit helmsleytrust.org.

About The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more than $2.8 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. Helmsley’s Rural Healthcare Program funds innovative projects that use information technologies to connect rural patients to emergency medical care, bring the latest medical therapies to patients in remote areas, and provide state-of-the-art training for rural hospitals and EMS personnel. To date, this program has awarded more than $460 million to organizations and initiatives in the upper Midwest states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana. For more information on Helmsley and its programs, visit helmsleytrust.org.

About shawna richter-ryerson

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