More than 60 people attended a Wednesday night (Jan. 9) meeting in Mandan, N.D., to hear about a new campground and other changes proposed for North Dakota’s oldest state park.

Mark Zimmerman, director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, said Fort Abraham Lincoln’s current 98 camping spots can’t handle the newer, larger campers, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Part of the park master plan, if funding is approved by the 2015 Legislature, is to build a new campground.

The park acquired about 300 acres south of the Cavalry Square area, which sits on the west side of state Highway 1806 and is home to the park’s historic buildings, remnants of the 7th Cavalry and Lt. Col. George Custer.

Most of the camping spots — about 80% — are used by residents of Bismarck and Mandan, Zimmerman said.

“We’ve had a 20-year gap in planning,” he said.

The idea is to update the camping areas to meet more contemporary needs, Zimmerman said.

Concepts for upgrades at the park include 60-75 new camping pads adjacent to the square, an in-park transportation system, relocating the park manager’s residence near the new campground and construction of a new park office.

The park could also lose about 80 acres on its south boundary to the National Guard for expansion of the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery.

Margaret Follingstad, a consultant with YHR Partners of Fargo, a firm brought in to consult on the plans, said a number of the park’s historic buildings, including the Commissary, Granary, Triple Shelter and Barracks, are now underused.

Plans for upgrades have already caused a rift with the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation, a nonprofit established about 30 years ago to provide financial support for interpretive programming.

The state department and the foundation parted ways at the end of 2012, and while the Parks and Recreation Department owns the buildings, the foundation owns most of the contents.

Joy and Jim Sorenson of Bismarck were among those with a particular interest. The Sorensons have spent about the last 50 years camping, hiking and using the 1,100-some acres of the park that was established in 1907.

The Sorensons said they understand the need to update facilities and grounds, but they are worried the historic, cultural and natural value of area will be compromised.

Joy Sorenson said any changes should preserve — not sacrifice — the integrity of the natural landscape and history of the area.

“As adults, we need to foster and encourage interest in this area for the future,” she said. For camping and other recreational opportunities, she said, there are other parks in the state to consider — but Fort Abraham Lincoln is an area uniquely North Dakota.

Jim Sorenson suggested the snowmobile shelter area would be better suited for the new campground, an area also considered underused by the park.

“We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with friends and family from around the country there,” he said.

“It’s part of our lives.”

Jesse Hanson, planning and development manager for the Parks and Recreation Department, said an online survey on the department’s website will continue to take comments through the end of the month. That survey can be found at www.parkrec.nd.gov.

Hanson said it’s hoped the department will have a draft of the new master plan in about six weeks.