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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Timothy Reed's blog

Behind-the-Scenes: School Tours of the North Dakota Heritage Center

“My favorite quote from a student this year as she was exiting one of the exhibits was, ‘I love this place.’ Her eyes were wide open and she had a look of pure joy on her face. I bring my students there to be able to have these great experiences.” (Jessica Horst Frohlich, 4th grade teacher at Northridge Elementary)

If you’ve ever visited the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum on a weekday in April or May, chances are good that you have seen a swarm of elementary school students and their teachers enjoying themselves. As late spring weather warms up, and the average 5th grader’s thoughts begin to stray from the classroom, we begin to see huge numbers of students and teachers touring the exhibits, learning about the history of North Dakota, and generally having a great time!

Students standing by mastodon

Fifth grade students from Will-Moore Elementary School in Bismarck are welcomed to the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum by Becky Barnes of the North Dakota Geological Survey and Timothy Reed of the State Historical Society of North Dakota prior to receiving a behind-the-scenes tour of laboratory and collections areas.

Many staff members here love the heightened activity this time of year brings. We enjoy seeing large numbers of young people in the galleries. These students represent the future of North Dakota; full of potential and curiosity, mindful of our shared history, and eager for opportunities to discover and grow. Translation: you’re likely to find a bunch of kids here ready to learn and have some fun!

We host dozens of school group tours during the last month or so of the academic year. Sometimes we’re able to offer a behind-the-scenes tour of our non-public areas to these visiting school groups. Staff availability doesn’t always allow us to invite every group into our non-public spaces, but when it works out, students can gain a unique appreciation of what it can be like to work in a museum as they visit with staff.

Students in Archaeology Lab

Fifth grade students from Will-Moore Elementary School in Bismarck are given a short introduction to the archeology lab and artifact collections storage areas by Archeology & Historic Preservation Division staff Timothy Reed and Meagan Schoenfelder.

We were recently able to offer this experience to a large number of 4th graders from Northridge Elementary School in Bismarck, and also to a group of 5th graders from Will-Moore Elementary of Bismarck. During their visits, these groups visited the archeology laboratory and collections areas that are normally inaccessible to visitors. They were also fortunate to get a tour of the North Dakota Geological Survey’s paleontology laboratory and collections areas.

I’d like to thank Ms. Horst Frohlich of Northridge Elementary, along with Ms. Wetch and Mr. Schultz of Will-Moore Elementary for bringing their students here, and for helping them engage with North Dakota’s past outside the classroom. I’m glad we could accommodate your requests for a behind-the-scenes tour for your students!

Students in Paleontology Lab

Becky Barnes of the North Dakota Geological Survey describes a laboratory procedures used to prepare fossils to the 5th grade students from Will-Moore Elementary School of Bismarck in the Johnsrud Paleontology Laboratory at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum.

From July 2016 through June 2017, we welcomed 220,000+ visitors of all ages through our doors. Looking specifically at school groups, we saw 9,294 students representing 56 communities during that same period.  More recent numbers reveal that 4,000+ students visited in May 2018 alone!

With so many visitors concentrating their visits during the end of the school year in April and May, it’s important to also extend an invitation to students and educators to visit during the rest of the school year. Take advantage of all the Heritage Center & State Museum has to offer all year round! If you’re an educator, please consider scheduling an additional trip to the North Dakota Heritage Center during the fall or winter months. Kids are no less curious when it’s cold, and many discoveries await them in our galleries and labs!

Student pointing to relative's picture on display in gallery

A 5th grade student from Will-Moore Elementary School of Bismarck proudly points to a relative’s image displayed in the Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples at the State Museum.

Double Ditch Bank Stabilization Repairs Nearly Complete

Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site is one of the most spectacular archaeological sites preserved on the northern plains. The earthlodge village was a regional trading center occupied for nearly 300 years (AD 1490-1785) by the Mandan people. Due to its archaeological significance, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Aerial view of Double Ditch

Aerial image of Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site taken by SHSND quadcopter – November 2013.

Readers of the State Historical Society of North Dakota blog will likely already be familiar with threats Double Ditch faced from severe erosion caused by the 2011 Missouri River flood (please see blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/an-eye-in-the-sky-for-preservation, blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/saving-double-ditch, and blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/double-ditch-bank-stabilization).

Rotational erosion at Double Ditch

Image of rotational erosion of river bank at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site. Image taken by SHSND quadcopter - October 2016.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota, partnering with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, and other groups and individuals supporting preservation efforts mobilized after the 2011 flood to address this critical threat to the site. Left unaddressed the rotational erosion would have continued, eroding deeply into the village and causing catastrophic damage to the site.

Rotational erosion at Double Ditch

Image of rotational erosion front at Double Ditch from a trailcam that monitored the location from March 2015 - June 2017.

An engineering plan was developed to stabilize 2,200 linear feet of riverbank from the effects of rotational erosion exposing numerous burials at the site since the 2011 flood. The State Historical Society is grateful to the 2013, 2015 and 2017 North Dakota Legislative Assemblies for appropriation of the $3.5 million dollars necessary to move this important preservation project forward.

Monitoring topsoil removal

SHSND archaeologist monitoring topsoil removal by a track hoe during bank stabilization project at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site – August 2017.

Bank stabilization began in July 2017, and was anticipated to last about five months. Prior to the start of construction, it was anticipated that additional burials would be identified. The State Historical Society and MHA leadership cooperated to follow state laws and the cultural practices of the Mandan to complete this sensitive work. Archaeologists from the State Historical Society were on hand daily throughout the construction period to monitor earth moving activities. All exposed burials were cared for according to proper protocol and will be interred in private ceremonies of the MHA nation after repatriation.

Heavy excavation equipment moving soil

An SHSND archaeologist monitors removal of soil by heavy excavation equipment during the bank stabilization project at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site – August 2017.

The engineering plan implemented to stabilize the riverbank involved removing many tons of soil to reduce the weight on the bank slopes at the site. Installation of a rock -filled trench and hundreds of steel pipes vertically driven parallel to the river bank provide mass and strength to further stabilize the slopes.

Trackhoe working to stabilize slope

A trackhoe works to stabilize a slope during the Double Ditch bank stabilization project – August 2017. Quadcopter image by Dwayne Walker.

Heavy construction equipment installing steel pipe piles

Heavy construction equipment was used to install steel pipe piles parallel to the Missouri river bank during the Double Ditch bank stabilization project – August 2017. The rock key trench is already installed in this image, buried between the pipe piles and the river bank.

Aerial overview of crews working at Double Ditch

Aerial overview of the Double Ditch bank stabilization project – August 2017. The two trackhoes in this image are working to install a 20’ deep rock key trench as part of the stabilization plan. Quadcopter image by Dwayne Walker.

On a personal note, I’m humbled to have been involved with the bank stabilization activities at Double Ditch. Since 2002 I’ve been fortunate to be involved in archaeological research conducted at Double Ditch, and the site is very special to many people. It’s my belief that all those involved with the Double Ditch bank stabilization were part of a preservation project whose importance and sensitivity can hardly be overstated. Had the funding not been available and the project not been undertaken, the alternative would have been for the site to continue to be damaged and further eroded by the Missouri River.

Employees standing in front of construction equipment

Veit Construction employees Baldomero Castillo (Cabo) and John Fay pose with SHSND archaeologists Paul Picha, Brooke Morgan, Meagan Schoenfelder, and Timothy Reed during a break in the action of the bank stabilization project at Double Ditch State Historic Site – August 2017. (Not pictured: SHSND archaeologists Wendi Field Murray and Fern Swenson.)

The bank has been reshaped and landscaping with native plants was installed in early November. Interpretive aspects will be developed over the winter and installed in early summer, after the vegetation has had a chance to develop.

Arial view looking north of Double Ditch stabilization project

Aerial overview of the Double Ditch bank stabilization project – November 14, 2017. View is to the south. The dark patch on the landscaped slope marks the area covered with an erosion-control product called filter fabric. Filter fabric is used to help prevent erosion until the area develops heavier vegetation. Quadcopter image by Dwayne Walker.

Aerial view looking south of Double Ditch stabilization project

Aerial overview of the Double Ditch bank stabilization project – October 25, 2017. View is to the south. The dark patch on the landscaped slope is a portion of the area covered with an erosion-control product called filter fabric. The location of a non-motorized canoe and kayak access trail is also visible in this image. An erosion-control product called Geo Cell was used in the construction of the trail. Quadcopter image by Dwayne Walker.