U.S. to expand WWII internment camp

Japan Times – February 21, 2011

More than 60 years after it was used to detain thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Minidoka internment camp is being expanded as part of federal preservation efforts.

The National Park Service has purchased 56 hectares to add to the existing 121-hectare historic site, the federal agency, The Conservation Fund and Idaho’s congressional delegation announced Thursday. The camp originally spanned 13,355 hectares.

Rick Wagner, realty officer of the parks service, said the acquired land is a fraction of the prison, which once held more than 9,000 people of Japanese descent behind barbed wire for more than three years. The land has extensive historic value, he added.

“We’ve got a small piece of a very big picture,” he said.

More than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were relocated and sent to detention camps such as Minidoka under an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, just weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Saturday marked the 69th anniversary of the order.

The Conservation Fund purchased the 56 hectares in 2008 from a private owner and held it until recent federal legislation allowed the parks service to buy it late last year for $380,000. The federal agency designated the prison as a national monument in 2001.

The new addition includes the site of the camp’s original fire station and other outlying buildings. Other former buildings that once stood on the land include a water tower, a military police headquarters and barracks.

Ann Barrett, media relations manager for The Conservation Fund, said a historic barracks building and a camp mess hall have been donated by Jerome County and will eventually be relocated to the site.

The National Parks Service planned to add a visitor site for education purposes, and to restore the fire station and other buildings. A landscape architect was hired to restore some of the sites’ historic irrigation systems and waterways.

Wagner said the Conservation Fund made it possible to acquire the land.

“(The land) would have been sold,” he said. “There’s absolutely no doubt it would have gone to a private buyer and changed greatly.”

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