MEDORA Doug Wicklund, considered one of the nation's top firearms experts, expects to return to North Dakota this year for an antique gun road show.
And the "Classroom in the Badlands" program for school students also will get under way again this year.
These are some of the programs the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and its Center of Western Heritage and Cultures is involved in to provide educational opportunities to the public.
Doug Wicklund, front left, one of the nation’s top firearms experts from Virginia, and Mark Halvorson, back left, curator of collections for the State Historical Society of North Dakota in Bismarck, evaluate historic firearms that area gun owners brought to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame’s Center of Western Heritage and Cultures in Medora last June. Wicklund expects to return this summer for another antique gun road show.
In a relatively short time, the Cowboy Hall of Fame, which built the interpretive center in Medora, has grown to an organization with 1,150 members, 226 trustees and assets of several million dollars. Bob Knudson, Minot, is chairman of the trustees.
This is what has transpired since the group was organized 15 years ago in 1994.
Since then, the organization has raised funds and built the $4.2 million interpretive center in Medora, added exhibits, including the Hall of Fame recipients, as well as providing various programs. The facility, built to promote and retain Western culture and heritage, now is in its fourth year of operation.
The Cowboy Hall of Fame organization is involved in other programs as well, including the now annual winter programs on Western history and culture which travel the state. The N.D. Humanities Council provides the funding for the series.
And plans for the future are in the works for the organization and its center.
"For the future, we have to look ahead," said Phil Baird, Mandan, president of the Cowboy Hall of Fame board of directors. He said the board has a strategic plan for the center in Medora.
He said they know what people want is something different to see there. "The size of the facility allows us to be diversified, but it has to have a North Dakota story," Baird said. "We're an interpretive center, not a museum."
He said they are always looking at how they can bring in a "neat niche" at the center.
This month, the rodeo gallery is being updated to include two North Dakotans who are the 2008 National Rodeo Finals champions, Dusty Hausauer and Shaun Stroh.
The interpretive center has six galleries on two floors with a timeline that demonstrates the Plains Horse Culture and how it came to be on the plains of North Dakota. The timeline is combined with videos and interactive exhibits.
A major firearms exhibit shows the evolution of the gun and how it was used on the plains. The 40 guns in the exhibit have historical significance to North Dakota from the time of Lewis and Clark to the early 1900s. Sponsored by the State Historical Society of North Dakota and the National Rifle Association, the exhibit will continue through September.
The center also has a homestead exhibit with original homestead documents and other information, as well as the Hall of Honorees with inductees in the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
One of the main goals of the group is to pay off the building debt.
Darrell Dorgan, Bismarck, NDCHF executive director, said there's still $900,000 to pay off on the interpretive center. He said if a family, individual or other party comes forward to pay it off, "we'd put their name on the building, on a gallery we'd work out something."
As for Wicklund, who expects to visit North Dakota again this year, he is curator of the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va., where he is in charge of the NRA's 4,500-piece collection. He is frequently featured on "The History Channel." During the antique gun road show, Wicklund evaluates historic firearms that area gun owners can bring in for examination. More details will be announced later.
And the dates of the "Classroom in the Badlands" program are May 1 to 29. For more information, schools can call the center in Medora at 623-2000. Kathy Miller, center manager, said schools from as far away as Minot and Grand Forks have taken part in the program.
The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation also offers a Classroom in the Badlands overnight package with a special rate for schools. For more information about the overnight package call the foundation office at 1-800-633-6721.
Miller, who has been center manager for two years, said she visits with many who come to the center and gets feedback about the facility from the comments they write in the guestbook. "It has really been received not just by North Dakotans but people all over the world. 'It's an unexpected surprise that we have something of this quality,'" she said many visitors comment in the guestbook.
The NDCHF's 2009 Wild West Series includes a listing of events planned at the center and in Medora this year. For more information visit (www.northdakotacowboy.com).