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Plans in the works for new, sheltered site for Duluth Viking ship

The tiny ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Norway to New York, and eventually crossed the inland sea to Duluth. The next journey for the replica Viking ship, now hidden under heavy white plastic and nearly screened from view by evergreen bushe...

Artist's conception of new shelter
This is an artist's conception of the new shelter for the Leif Erikson boat, which restoration committee members hope to see on display somewhere in Leif Erikson Park. (Drawing courtesy of Krech Ojard & Associates)

The tiny ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Norway to New York, and eventually crossed the inland sea to Duluth.

The next journey for the replica Viking ship, now hidden under heavy white plastic and nearly screened from view by evergreen bushes in Leif Erikson Park, will be about 10,000 miles shorter.

Destination: A more visible site in the park, near 10th Avenue East where London Road curves to join Superior Street. The city-owned ship will be displayed in its own building, visible through Plexiglas that will protect it from vandals.

Neill Atkins and Randy Ellestad, members of the Save Our Ship restoration committee, met at the park on Friday morning with descendants of the men who brought the ship on the last leg of its 1927 voyage. They hope the ship will be in a new building, designed by Richard Ojard of Krech Ojard & Associates, by next fall, they said.

"We've been wanting to get it out of here for a long time," added Atkins, who is the committee's chairman.

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The new site, which is partially owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and still must be cleared by that agency, will improve both visibility and security for the ship, Ellestad said. At its present spot below the Lakewalk, it has been neglected and sometimes vandalized.

They expect the journey to start sometime next month, when a crane will lift it onto a railroad flatbed. From there, it will be taken to the LaFarge warehouse just west of Bayfront Festival Park. The crane will lift it onto a trailer, and it will spend the winter on the trailer in the warehouse. It might make an appearance in the Christmas City of the North parade, Atkins said.

Developers of the LaFarge site are donating use of the warehouse. They also have suggested making the ship a future part of that development, which also is envisioned to include a hotel, a restaurant and luxury condominiums.

That idea isn't being ruled out, Atkins said.

"We don't know how long their project's going to take," he said. "We figured this one's languished long enough. We need to put it to bed here in the park for the time being. If the city decides -- if the LaFarge project moves forward, and they all decide they want to do it, then that's going to be up to them."

Ted Marken said he approved of the plans announced Friday, but only if they don't end at LaFarge.

"As long as it's still in the park and not at the Bayfront," Marken said. "Why let some hotel take advantage of all the publicity?"

Marken is the nephew of Thor Borgen, who piloted the ship from Two Harbors to Duluth on June 23, 1927, with his father, H.H. Borgen. About a dozen descendants of the Borgens gathered near the boat on Friday, and the scene took on the feel of a family reunion.

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The 12-ton, 42-foot ship that's under plastic now was built in Korgen, Norway, and set sail from Bergen, Norway, on May 23, 1926, with a four-man crew. The purpose was to demonstrate that Leif Erikson could have sailed across the Atlantic in 997. The ship wintered in New York, and then sailed through the Great Lakes.

The widow of Emil Olson, who along with Bert Enger sold furniture in Duluth, bought the boat for $5,000, and donated it to the city. "The city promised ... they'd accept it, maintain it and cover it, which never happened," Atkins said.

The restoration committee formed in the mid-1980s. Work on the ship itself is largely finished, Atkins and Ellestad said. Use of the crane to move the ship is being donated, and construction of the building likely will be. Materials for the building are expected to cost less than $100,000.

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