The Minnesota Historical Society made a wise choice when it decided to award a contract to the Nicollet County Historical Society to manage Fort Ridgely.

And the other group vying for the contract, The Friends of Fort Ridgely, deserves a standing ovation for keeping the site open for about two years without state backing.

It was a monumental task for the volunteers, and the group members exhibited their dedication and resourcefulness by keeping the important historical site up and running. Fort Ridgely houses historical artifacts, including displays of the Dakota Conflict of 1862 when Dakota forces attacked the fort. The site plays a key role in the interpretation of our region’s history.

The recent awarding of the contract to the Nicollet County Historical Society should not be seen as an insult or as criticism of the job the Friends did. Instead, it is a step toward stability. The county historical society will oversee daily operations, hire and supervise staff, handle maintenance and host special events.

The Nicollet County Historical Society knows what it’s doing when it comes to running historical sites. It operates the 1870s Harkin Store near New Ulm, the E. St. Julien Cox House in St. Peter and the Treaty Site History Center, a wonderful museum and interpretive trail in St. Peter.

Historical sites around the state, including Fort Ridgely and the Lower Sioux Agency near Morton, took huge hits during state-budget cutting. The Lower Sioux Agency closed, while the Fort Ridgely site was kept open by the efforts of the Friends.

Now Fort Ridgely is able to afford professional oversight because the Legislature finally came through with $700,000 for the state historical society this session. Fort Ridgely is to receive $60,000 during the next two years. No additional tax money from the residents of Nicollet County will be used to run the site.

Our state’s historical sites need attention and backing from state government. Once special places such as these are abandoned, bringing them back into operation is a difficult task, and closing them cheats Minnesotans from learning about their heritage.

The historical education of our residents, especially our youth, depends on the care of these sites. It’s a relief that the money is coming to operate them, and it’s a good sign that the very competent Nicollet County Historical Society will be running Fort Ridgely.

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