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State to move park artifacts to Newport

by Lynn Kutter | June 6, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

PRAIRIE GROVE -- Artifacts at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park stored in a building on park property are going to be moved across the state to a collections management facility at Jacksonport State Park in Newport, according to a spokeswoman with Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

Melissa Whitfield, chief of communications, said the items are being moved because the battlefield state park doesn't have a proper place to store and preserve the artifacts.

Whitfield said a definite time has not been set on when the items will be moved to Jacksonport State Park.

Susan Adkins, battlefield park superintendent, last week said the decision to move the artifacts was passed down to the park from the state level.

"It's disappointing they are going to be moved, but under the circumstances, it's what is best for them right now," Adkins said.

She said the park received a notice the decision had been made.

Kylee Hevrdejs, who has resigned as park interpreter at the state park and accepted a new job wit Eurkea Springs as historic preservation planner, said local park officials were not involved in the discussion to move the items. Hevrdejs' last day was Friday, May 28.

Hevrdejs said she wants people to know about the decision "and be informed about what's going to happen."

The building currently being used for the artifacts has a little bit of everything, Hevrdejs said. These items include weapons, artillery shells, uniforms, saddles and furniture. Many items have been donated over the years from local families, she said.

Adkins said the building has artifacts related to the Battle of Prairie Grove but also has relics tied to the park's history and the community.

Adkins said the state park has made improvements to its building, but it's not the ideal environment. She said Jacksonport State Park has the closest collection management facility with space for Prairie Grove's relics and has a full-time curator.

Park staff and a curator will assess the artifacts to determine the best place for them. Some, according to Adkins, are "very fragile" and need to be in a suitable facility.

Adkins said she does not know if the move is temporary or permanent, but park staff will have access to the items anytime they need them.

"In an ideal situation, we would be able to have a proper facility and curator," Adkins added.

Jim Spillars, who volunteers at the park, is involved in Civil War reenactments and is coordinating the park's artillery crew, said he was concerned when he first learned about the decision.

Items in the building are used to help interpret the Battle of Prairie Grove, Spillars said.

"If the park no longer has those things, we're losing the ability to use them," he said. "For them to be moved all the way across the state where it's not available makes me very sad."

Spillars said he wonders why the state cannot create a facility and have the staff to curate the artifacts in Prairie Grove.

Spillars said he grew up going to the park and has five ancestors who fought in the Battle of Prairie Grove, three on the Confederate side and two on the Union site. In all, he said he has about 30 ancestors who served one way or another in the Civil War.

"So yeah, it's a little bit of a thing to me. That park is very important to me," he said. "You're taking our history. You're preserving but taking it away from here."

He added, "This park is very important to this community, Washington County and our state. I'm just very concerned the artifacts are being moved."

Angela Gibbs, a curator at Jacksonport State Park, could not be reached for comment last week. She has been on site to look at the items in the building, according to Hevrdejs.

Whitfield said curators will do their due diligence to make sure the items are properly relocated. At Jacksonport, the artifacts will be stored in a facility with the proper humidity, air control and lighting necessary for preserving artifacts, she said.

"We need to preserve them to the best of our ability," Whitfield said.

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