Discover the important history behind the country's newest national park

An educational plaque sits in front of a water tower; a black and white photo shows barracks at the Granada Relocation Center in the 1940s, not the Amache National Historic Site

Colorado is now home to the country’s newest national park — but it’s not full of rock formations, forests, or rivers like you may imagine.

The Amache National Historic Site, which was established by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland earlier this month, is a former incarceration site that unjustly detained Japanese Americans during the 1940s.

Amache, also known as the Granada Relocation Center, was one of 10 such sites created during World War II. More than 10,000 people were incarcerated at Amache from 1942-1945. 

A wooden sign points to the Amache Japanese-American Relocation Center
Photo courtesy of Mitch Homma/Amache Preservation Society

The preservation of this site is meant to confront the “painful chapter of American history,” according to a press release from the National Parks Service.

The process to establish this new national park began in March 2022, when President Biden signed the Amache National Historic Site Act, designating the location as part of the NPS. The land was donated by the Town of Granada, and through this formal designation, will be permanently protected.

“As a nation, we must face the wrongs of our past in order to build a more just and equitable future,” Secretary Harland said in a statement. “The Interior Department has the tremendous honor of stewarding America’s public lands and natural and cultural resources to tell a complete and honest story of our nation’s history.”

An old photo of a group of Japanese boys on what is now the Amache National Historic site
School kids on the grounds of the Granada Relocation Center (colorized). Photo courtesy of Joseph McClelland/Amache Preservation Society

According to NPS, the original buildings associated with the incarceration site were removed or demolished in 1945, upon the closing of Amache. 

However, original building foundations and road networks are still visible on the landscape, making Amache “one of the most intact examples of a World War II incarceration site.” 

All preserved elements of Amache are there thanks to decades of preservation work by Amache survivors and their descendants through the Amache Preservation Society and the Town of Granada. 

A structure on the grounds of the Amache National Historic Site
Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service

Visitors can also learn more about Amache by touring a historic cemetery and monument, which honors 121 people who died while being held at Amache. The historic site is also home to several reconstructed and restored structures, including a barrack, recreation hall, guard tower, and water tank. 

To fully understand the history of the site, visitors can take a self-guided driving and audio tour of 11 points of interest — or even join an interpretive tour led by student volunteers.

Folks with a personal connection to Amache can search an online barracks directory created by the University of Denver to unearth more information about their family’s history.  

A screenshot of the interactive Amache Camp Directory Map
A screenshot of the Amache Camp Directory Map, created by the University of Denver

“Amache’s addition to the National Park System is a reminder that a complete account of the nation’s history must include our dark chapters of injustice,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a statement. 

“To heal and grow as a nation we need to reflect on past mistakes, make amends, and strive to form a more perfect union.”

Amache joins six other similar national parks established to remember this dark era in American history. 

A grave stone at what is now Amache National Historic Site. It reads "Sho Fujui: 1890-1943. To Die is to Gain."
Amache Cemetery grave site of Sho Fujui of Los Angeles, circa 1944. Photo by Hikaru Iwasaki (National Archives)

Since 2009, the NPS has administered over $41 million in funding through the Japanese American Confinement sites grant program, which supports hundreds of nonprofits, educational institutions, local governments, and more in preserving significant stories connected to unjust Japanese incarceration in World War II.

The new designation also embeds itself in the diverse, painful history of southwestern Colorado, where other national historic sites, like the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and Bent’s Old Fort, pay homage to Indigenous history in the area.

While all of these sites have unique, important stories, the through line that connects them all is the desire to learn from the past and honor what has been lost.

“Amache,” per the park’s official NPS website, is “a place to reflect, recommit, and further the pursuit of freedom and justice.”

Header images courtesy of Mitch Homma/Amache Preservation Society and the National Parks Service

Article Details

February 23, 2024 9:25 AM
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