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Our View: Viking ship faces fresh crisis

We could rehash this all again.

How the city of Duluth agreed in the late 1920s to take ownership of an open boat, the first of its kind to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean following the same route Norse explorer Leif Erikson did, centuries earlier, from Iceland to what is now America.

How the city agreed to lovingly maintain and proudly display this Leif Erikson Viking ship, a coveted prize after its sailors enjoyed rock-star status for their transatlantic achievement.

How the ship was never really taken very good care of, though, despite its place in history and its appeal to visitors and Northlanders alike.

How instead, at one point, the ship was surrounded by ugly chain-link fencing and barbed wire and was long left unprotected, allowing it to be battered and tattered, year after unforgiving year, by Duluth's famously severe weather.

How the ship was moved, from place to place, like a mismatched chair that can't find its place in any room of the house, yet can't be tossed out.

How plans kept being made, or at least discussed, to finally, respectfully, maintain the ship and display it with dignity in a space where it would be protected from the driving winds off icy Lake Superior.

And how those plans and discussions, every time, were scrapped or were simply allowed to fade away, pushed aside by whatever the next hot new priority was.

Yes, we could reopen a debate about how poorly Duluth's Leif Erikson Viking Ship has been treated. But the answer is "very poorly." And that's despite the occasional public investment or commitment and the no-doubt good intentions and dedicated actions of private citizens.

We could reopen the debate because the ship suddenly is in the news again, mentioned in a press conference this summer about the city's failings to adequately take care of its Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial and the grounds nearby. The memorial, critics charge, is just the latest public amenity taken on and then neglected by a government entity. Ship supporters sympathize with memorial managers.

We could, but something else has come up that's far more pressing. Urgent, even.

The nonprofit group Save Our Ship, formed in 1985 to do just that, to save Duluth's Leif Erikson Viking ship, found out just this past week that it needs to find a new place to store the ship. Since 2013, the vessel has been protected inside a warehouse at the former Superwood plant on Railroad Street between downtown and the harborfront. SOS leaders were told Wednesday that the warehouse is soon to be rented out. The ship has to be out by fall.

"So we are putting the word out," SOS co-chairman Neill Atkins told the News Tribune Opinion page.

Needed: warehouse or storage space, free or cheap, at least 65 feet long by 14 feet wide, and with door clearance of at least 15 feet, to hold a treasure long neglected.

To the city's credit, it has committed $60,000 toward a permanent, weather-protected display for the Viking ship with the idea that SOS would fundraise for the rest. Although that seems unlikely with estimates for a structure poking at half a million bucks. After 30 years, SOS has about $70,000 in the bank from donations.

Also, the city does have 148 buildings (1.2 million square feet), more than 100 parks, an array of other real estate holdings, 450 miles of municipal streets, and about 400 miles of sidewalk to also maintain. Limited dollars only go so far. And few Duluthians argue against knocking the Viking ship, no matter how coveted it once was, down the priority list.

But let's not reshash all of that. Not right now. Right now let's find a new warehouse or storage space so Duluth's Leif Erikson Viking ship can at least continue to be protected and preserved while funds are raised and plans are made for its future.

The city and we as a community do have a responsibility to care for this craft. We committed to it long ago. No one wants it permanently hidden away in a warehouse.

• Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Leif Erikson Viking Ship Restoration Project at P.O. Box 411, Duluth MN 55801.

• For more about the ship and the grassroots nonprofit working to save it, go to leiferiksonvikingship.com.