|Subscribe | What is RSS|
Contact: Jami Keegan, 734-243-7136Battlefield education center gets $2 million in state funding
By Dean Cousino
The Monroe News
October 4, 2021
Battlefield education center influx of state funding The new education center under construction at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park got an early Christmas present last week.
On the urging of state Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, the Michigan Senate approved a balanced fiscal year 2022 budget that includes $2 million for enhancements at the center located in the former Monroe Multi-Sports Complex at 333 N. Dixie Hwy. The funding will help build a state-of-the art, exciting and innovative complex to educate visitors, said Scott Bentley, superintendent of the park since 2011.
“I’m incredibly grateful to Dale and the legislature for this funding,” Bentley said Thursday. “I’m excited with the announcement and will be even more excited when the governor signs it. We’ve been working on these exhibits for eight years. We’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface. This will leverage additional resources and technology to bring the education center to life.”
The senate passed Senate Bill 82, which is the proposed general omnibus budget and includes the park funding. Backers said the governor is expected to okay the spending plan. Zorn said he’s been working to secure funding specifically for the center for four years.
“It’s great to see this investment finally being made,” the lawmaker said last week. “This budget focuses on getting people back to work, supporting our direct-care workers, fixing local bridges, reducing debt and keeping our communities safe – all without raising taxes.”
Bentley said he has been working with scores of teachers from Southeast Michigan and with a team of local experts to design and create exhibits for the center to show visitors the history of the battlefield today, more than 200 years after the Battles of the River Raisin in 1812-1813. Among the estimated 300 team members are Chuck Estep, an educational consultant from the Monroe County Intermediate School District; Jami Keegan, an interpretive ranger and park guide; Tony Helou, a park ranger, and Grand Chief Ted Roll from the Wyandotte of Anderdon Nation Tribal Council.
The building that houses the center is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. However, only the large lobby and a state-of-the-art theatre are currently open to visitors. A real eye-catcher in the lobby is a 32-foot-long, glass-enclosed diorama, or floor map, of the early Frenchtown settlement along the River Raisin. The display with miniature buildings and figures gives viewers a look into the homes and stockades of militia and volunteers, many of whom perished in the battles.
Bentley said he has a binder with more than 300 pages of drawings, concepts and teacher sketches for planned exhibits in the center that were created during summer workshops that have been held since 2007. Estep said he was told by one of his team members -- Krista Seibert, a teacher at Wagar Middle School in Carleton – how thrilled she was that collaboration with the park’s team had produced positive results.
“They listened to us,” Estep said, quoting the instructor. “We told them what they needed and they listened.”
He said allowing teachers to design exhibits that provide an interactive perspective for visitors is unique.
“That is why the ISD is so excited to partner in this,” he said.
The center being developed in the former north ice arena portion of the building contains about 6,000 square feet. It tells the story of the clash of cultures and the push for westward expansion among settlers from 1600 to 1813. It contains a modern theatre and auditorium that holds 154 seats that takes up about 2,500 feet in the northeast corner of the center. It is already being used for daily showings of the movie "The Untold Legend of the River Raisin. The admission price is $3 a person, $5 for two people or $5 for a family. The price includes a second film picked from one of two choices: "The Battle Cry: Remember the Raisin" or "The Removal," which shows what happened to the Native American tribes that lived in the area after the battles.
The auditorium can also be used for government meetings, professional seminars and showing of historical films.
The theatre, Wayne Stockade and block house, trading post, an indoor archery and tomahawk-throwing center and classroom, and a 50-foot long longhouse are among the most impressive exhibits under way. At 25 feet wide and 20 fee-tall and made of elm bark from 200 elm trees, the longhouse is easily the largest exhibit in the center. Sponsored and funded by the DTE Energy Foundation, the longhouse won’t be the tallest exhibit. That distinction will go to the blockhouse that will be 22 feet high when it is completed.
The trading post is being rebuilt with French architectural methods and “witness oak” logs and timbers donated by local residents. Wall murals are being painted by local artists Darlene Belair and Brandi Gerber. They will be painted in sequence starting with spring at the entrance and ending with winter at the exit.
Other exhibits already begun include a wigwam made from birch bark, wampum belts, a maple surgaring scene to collect sap, a fiber workshop where rope, cloth and yarn are made and a corduroy road made of logs to resemble the trail to Hull’s Trace. A local Boy Scout has built a large wooden oxcart as an Eagle Scout project.
Organizers said a partial opening of the center is planned in 2022. “We’ll probably do a phased opening,” Keegan said.
Last updated: October 14, 2021