Most National Park sites think they are doing well if they have one volunteer organization working with them. Fort Union Trading Post must be doing something right because they have three volunteer organizations affiliated with the site.
The first of the volunteer organizations is one that I’ve mentioned before: The Fort Union Muzzle Loaders Association. This is the group that is primarily in charge of the two living history events at Fort Union every year. The first event was Rendezvous and the second is Living History Demonstration Days over Labor Day weekend. I’m not sure how many people are actually members of the group, but there are close to 100 people associated with it if you include spouses and children.
The Muzzle Loaders Association is concerned with doing living history here at Fort Union in the right way. They have a whole library on wardrobe and developing a fur-trader persona. They have a list of acceptable demonstrations. When someone wants to join the group, they have training sessions on helping at these special events.
One of the founders of this group, and someone I encountered during Rendezvous, is Dave Finders. Dave moved to Williston in 1982 during the second oil boom. His wife encouraged him to find a hobby (and get out of her hair) so he was instrumental in starting the Muzzle Loaders Association. Dave has been coming out to Rendezvous and being the Bourgeoise for as long as Fort Union has had Rendezvous.
During the Rendezvous in June, Dave sat in the Trade Shop from 10 until 2 every day telling stories about the Trade Shop. He has a wonderful story-telling voice. He speaks very softly at first and gains the attention of everyone in the place. His stories are so interesting that everyone is soon sitting around him spellbound.
The second of the volunteer organizations at Fort Union is the Fort Union Trading Post Association. These folks run the gift shop and give the proceeds to the park for particular projects. They were instrumental in redoing the gift shop and getting the new information desk which should be installed soon. During Rendezvous many of these volunteers helped out by running the cash register in the gift shop. Wendy, shown here working at the cash register, is one of those volunteers.
The Association also runs the Indian Arts Showcase which is held the first full weekend in August. Their mission statement reads as follows: “Our vision is to promote Fort Union Trading Post as the premier trading post on the upper Missouri River in the mid 1800s, and establish Fort Union as the foremost source for information, history, and authentic reproduction items on the upper Missouri River system.”
The third of the volunteer organizations is the Friends of Fort Union Trading Post. They are the money-raising group. When the Muzzle Loaders pushed to rebuild the fort in 1983, the Friends lobbied the US Congress and made their voices heard in the state legislature. When the Muzzle Loaders wanted to put up a replica flagpole in 1985, the Friends group gave them the money. Currently the Friends group is working on getting better internet in the offices at Fort Union Trading Post.
Many people are members of more than one group. One example is Paul Bauer. Paul is a member of the Muzzle Loaders and comes out during Rendezvous, participating as a blacksmith. He is also President of the Friends of Fort Union and comes out periodically to see what we need to do next to make the park even better. Paul is also a member of the Fort Union Trading Post Association and helped design the renovation of the gift shop. He was particularly excited about the record sales in the gift shop during Rendezvous.
People like Dave, Wendy, and Paul – local folks who love Fort Union Trading Post and consider it THEIR park – are the ones that preserve these sites for future generations.