CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. — Officials converged on Camp Ripley Friday, Sept. 6, for a tour and presentation on a bonding initiative to potentially bring two cultural hubs of the region together — namely, the Minnesota Military Museum and Library, alongside the Minnesota Fishing Museum and Hall of Fame.

It may seem like an odd pairing, but the two institutions find themselves at their own crossroads, while joining forces looks to solve a number of problems for both parties.

“The Minnesota Fishing Museum and the Minnesota Military Museum have very similar histories, very similar missions in lots of ways,” said Military Museum Executive Director Randal Dietrich. “In many ways, we’ve grown up and evolved in the same way.”

“We’re in a building that doesn’t present itself as the best location, nor the best building for the viewing of all the artifacts we have,” said Robert DeRosier, president of the Minnesota Fishing Museum. “Now, we’re trying to expand and find a location out near the highway to provide for better traffic to the museum. By partnering with the military museum in Camp Ripley … we’re looking to kill two birds with one stone.”

Museum merger under consideration

During a tour of the museum grounds situated in the heart of Camp Ripley, Dietrich said the move would address a litany of concerns — ranging from aging buildings never designed for archival purposes, to maintaining hundreds upon hundreds of historic military items (some of them quite rare and prestigious), and establishing a facility with enough space and amenities to properly honor the illustrious history of Minnesota in war.

The military museum showcases these items for 12,000 to 15,000 visitors a year, but the current buildings are little more than refitted barracks and warehouses, not proper structures to house and display articles of historical significance.

Commissioner Larry Herke of the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs said to ensure the long-term existence of the museum and, perhaps more importantly, the long-term preservation of its historic artifacts, it would require a move to a larger, more modern facility.

“It seems like the right time,” he said, “based on the end of life for many of our mechanical systems, to make a move to a place that’s larger and concentrated in one facility.”

Originally founded in 1992, the Minnesota Fishing Museum serves about 6,000 visitors per year on a roughly $180,000 annual budget, which is funded primarily through donations, membership fees, fundraising and charitable gambling. Featuring an assortment of fishing exhibits, displays and memorabilia — all of it acquired through donations — the museum has rarely taken any kind of federal or state aid during its history and isn't subsidized by the state currently.

However, DeRosier explained, the museum has sometimes struggled to maintain funding for itself — particularly during times of construction when the current facility is cut off from traffic. The current museum also isn’t outfitted, he said, nor large enough to house the sizable collection of historic fishing memorabilia and displays to promote the state’s most popular outdoor sport.

The bonding proposal entails:

  • The purchase of at least 10 acres of property (currently, a plot of land mostly covered in sunflowers) on the western side of Highway 371, near the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery, for $75,000.

  • Funding for the pre-design phases estimated at $1,117,600.

  • Purchasing and installation of art for $102,400.

  • In total, the 32,000-square-foot complex is estimated to cost about $12,151,280, with $11,151,280 in the state request.

Representatives from both museums stated the complex would house both museums with enough space for interpretive displays, archives, hall of fame, housing for large “macro-artifacts” (often vehicles or big rigs), a welcome center, meeting areas for civil and veterans groups, and room to expand in the future.

None of these goals are possible in their current locations. Representatives noted the fishing museum on 304 W. Broadway, Little Falls, is tucked away, cramped and cut off from the main roads, while the military museum is confined within a restricted military base. Establishing a new footprint near the veterans cemetery would alleviate these restrictions of space, usage and security.

Both parties would have input, but the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs would preside over the property and supervise its long-term ownership.