A group of Minnesota state lawmakers visited Detroit Lakes Thursday morning to learn about the Becker County Historical Society’s plans for a new museum.

Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, and members of the House Capital Investment Committee toured the Becker County Museum, along with about three dozen other members of the community.

The tours showcased why Becky Mitchell, the museum's executive director, and her cohorts are asking for funding for a new museum building. The current building is not handicap accessible, has windows that are falling in, a roof that leaks, and is nowhere near large enough for all of their items, she said.

"Re-imagine that our museum doesn't just display artifacts and historic photos, but is a vibrant exhibition of our accomplishments both in the past and the present," Mitchell said at the start of the discussion Thursday morning. "Re-imagine that our museum has enough space for all of our artifacts that are spread over three locations right now ... Re-imagine that our museum becomes a place of gathering ... And finally, re-imagine it as a destination."

Outlines and a sample image of the new museum were featured at the front of the room. Outlines and images pertaining to the Heartland Trail were also featured during the later presentation.
Outlines and a sample image of the new museum were featured at the front of the room. Outlines and images pertaining to the Heartland Trail were also featured during the later presentation. Desiree Bauer / Tribune Staff

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"Re-imagine" is the slogan for the new building. Scott Walz, the building committee representative, said that Mitchell started "the whole re-imaging." He shared that the process for a new building has been on-going for the past 10 years, and Mitchell has helped greatly with it.

"I think it's been a great part on her vision of what the museum can be," Walz said. "We're lucky to have her."

To create the new building, Mitchell and the museum board members are requesting $3 million in state funds. Mitchell, Walz and museum board President Natalie Bly spent a day at the state Capitol in St. Paul in the spring to appeal to lawmakers for the funding. The museum did not receive a proposed $3 million appropriation from the Minnesota Legislature for its building project this year.

In a previous Tribune story, Mitchell said she remained optimistic that ground will be broken on the proposed $6.4 million, 30,000-square-foot museum by mid-summer 2020.

Money has been earmarked from other sources, however.

"We have an exciting partnership happening with Becker County," Bly said Thursday. "Our county has pledged $1 million to this campaign; our city council has pledged $500,000."

Bly shared that about half of the cities in Becker County have also pledged to help with the museum. They have started going to local businesses, and Bly said their top business donated $300,000.

With all of these pledges, Mitchell said she believes that campaign is just shy of the $3 million that they need for the building. She is confident that if the community and state continue to show support, "we will be shovel-ready in May."

Attendees on Thursday also heard a presentation about the Heartland Trail, a 100-mile trail planned to go through Becker County, continuing the current segment in Park Rapids in the east to Moorhead in the west.

"The project started in 2004, 2005," said Bruce Imholte, a representative from the local trails committee. "Part of it was because ... there are no state trails west of Park Rapids, west of Fergus Falls.

The trail committee is searching for $4.2 million more in funding to create the trail.

"If that trail just goes from Moorhead to the Detroit Lakes, lakes area ... The economic benefit ... would be awesome," said Mike Hulett, a former member of Moorhead city council and chair of the greater Minnesota region parks and trails commission. "Recreation and connecting people with the outdoors is one of the great goals of the DNR. With this trail, we can connect a tremendous amount of people with the outdoors in Minnesota."

Marquart voiced his support for the museum and the trail.

"Both of these projects, as you've heard, are going to have a great benefit economically and culturally for our communities," Marquart told the audience Thursday. "Both of these projects have very strong local support."

Representative Paul Marquart voiced his support for the new museum building and Heartland Trail extension.
Representative Paul Marquart voiced his support for the new museum building and Heartland Trail extension.Desiree Bauer / Tribune Staff