Fort Sisseton is hoping to begin cashing in on one of the fastest growing forms of tourism in the country this summer.
Heritage tourism - people wanting to learn about their roots - is the hot item now, according to state tourism officials. And Fort Sisseton manager, Paul Wincler, said steps are being taken so that the state park located in northeastern South Dakota can take full advantage of that.
"We're trying to get the story out about why the fort was here", said Winckler, "and to show some of the difficulties people experienced when settling the area. We want to bring it to life and help people underestand how different things were then."
Fort Sisseton, initially called Fort Wadsworth, was established after the Minnesota uprising in which at least 450 Indians and settlers were killed. The fort was occupied from 1864-1889.
Winkler said visitors will get a chance to experience what some of the day-to-day struggles were like during that time. The staff will be also attired in period dress to help create that atmosphere of the late 1800's.
This summer's efforts are just the beginning of what can be developed at Fort Sisseton, predicted Winckler.
"It's taken years to get the Fort Festival and Frontier Christmas to where they are today, and we want to expand and spin off thos events, adding things like a military weekend, and a Labor Day celebration, and a fall festival. Our goal is to build a reputation that everyday you can come to Fort Sisseton and really feel what is was like to live during the time the fort was in operation.
The fort manager foresees taking that reputation world-wide.
"Native American culture is very popular in Europe, and now with the Internet, we can get our message out world-wide. There also has been a 1,000 percent increase in the last four years in the number of people who use the Internet to plan vacations."
"When you compare the tourism numbers of people visiting heritage sites, they stay an average of two days longer and spend $200 more per trip (usually in excess of $500)," said Winckler. "The key for us to attract some of those dollars is to work together. There are a lot of people and groups working individually to attract tourism. But I think we need to form more partnerships to make this part of the state a tourism destination."