By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
The Friends of the Lindbergh Heritage was created to preserve, protect and provide education and advocacy for the Lindbergh Historic site, Lindbergh State Park and the Little Elk Heritage Preserve and to showcase these facilities and their histories now and for the future.
That is the mission statement of the 75 members of the Friends, established in 2006 by Chuck Stone, Paulette Pappenfus, Ron Jones and Charles Pautler.
The Lindbergh Historic Site is part of the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). The Lindbergh State Park and, as of about 2007, the Little Elk Preserve is part of the Department of Natural Resources.
“The Parks and Trails Council was crucial to the purchase of the Little Elk Preserve,” said Melissa Peterson, director of the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site. “It purchased the land, then the DNR was able to acquire it from them. It’s now part of the Lindbergh State Park.”
The Friends then raised funds to create a parking area and install interpretive signs and maps that tell visitors “You are here.”
Over the years, the Friends have helped with purchasing major items, such as a lawn mower/snowblower, plus gave money to purchase advertising in visitors guides.
“We are a major draw for Little Falls,” said Peterson. “But funding from the state has decreased. The Friends have stepped up to help.”
A major endeavor by the Friends of the Lindbergh Heritage came in 2009 when the MHS threatened to close the Lindbergh Historic Site. The group initiated a letter writing campaign that resulted in more than 9,000 letters sent to local legislators and then-governor Tim Pawlenty. Because the Friends rallied to save the Lindbergh Site, the community also stepped up.
“We were told to stop sending letters, they got the point,” said Larry Sharon, the president of the Friends of the Lindbergh Heritage.
The Friends have a garden committee which also assists with various landscaping duties and decorating.
But, budget cuts were still put into place and even today, the Site is still trying to recoup.
The Friends have also taken Lindbergh State Park under its wing.
“The Friends erected two Works Project Administration (WPA) signs in the park’s picnic shelter building,” said Ty Gangelhoff, park manager.
The group also volunteers to work at the park and just recently, funded to have one of the bridges rebuilt near Pike Creek.
“During Labor Day weekend, 2010, the Friends coordinated a bike ride in Little Falls for the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council. It’s an annual event for the Council and the Friends helped with snacks and beverages and part of the registration fees go to the park,” said Gangelhoff. “The volunteers also help during Candlelight Trails Night, held in January or February each year.”
One of the more fun activities the Friends have participated in is the training of new park rangers. For the past three years, the Friends have worked with the Parks and Trails Division of the DNR when they put on a Park Ranger Academy at Camp Ripley.
“It is scenario-based training held one evening at the Lindbergh State Park and the Friends who volunteer get to role-play as bad campers,” said Sharon. “Veteran rangers critique the recruits as to how they deal with various issues. It’s a lot of fun.”
Finally, the Friends have an annual fundraiser for all three locations. They provide live music and a silent auction to help maintain the properties. The next one is scheduled for March 2014.
For more information, contact the Lindbergh State Park at (320) 616-2525 or the Charles Lindbergh Historic Site at (320) 616-5421.