Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, contains mounds constructed by an ancient Mississippian people. Recent archeological discoveries made as a result of construction of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge have highlighted the people who used to inhabit the area.
A group is now trying to bolster recognition of Cahokia and the rest of the mounds by gaining some type of national designation through the National Park Service.
“On a world scale, [the mounds are] considered very significant. This is almost like the pyramids of Egypt, and we don’t give it that recognition here locally and as a national treasure. This was a center of civilization for this country before we were here and we don’t give it that stature and that elevation,” Ed Weilbacher said. He is the team leader for the Mounds Initiative at the Heartlands Conservancy, which is conducting a feasibility study on the best way to increase that recognition.
Currently Cahokia Mounds is a State Historic Site run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, as well as a National Historic Landmark and a United Nations World Heritage Site.
“The site is under the control of the state of Illinois,” Cahokia Mounds Assistant Site Manager Bill Iseminger said. “They’re the ones that manage and fund everything that goes on there at the site. The other titles are more like honorary titles.”
“There are so many other mounds sites and other properties that are either in different municipalities or government bodies or private properties that there is no way to acquire all that under one national park … so we’re looking at things like a heritage area or a corridor that would give recognition but not control necessarily,” he added.
Weilbacher, however, wants to go a step further than designating the mounds as a heritage area.
“Other designations that we’ve talked about include the historical park, archeological park, or … heritage area. Heritage area is more of a recognition, but it doesn’t give you that same national park service symbol associated with these sites. There’s a certain standard or quality associated with a national park service designated site and people and visitors … often times that’s where they want to go,” he said.
But whatever the designation decided on after the conclusion of the feasibility study, the hope is that an increased national designation would help give influence to preserve what remains of the mounds, as well as provide some increased publicity, funding and programming.
“People often say we’re the best kept secret, even though we’ve had a lot of publicity,” Iseminger said.
A final public meeting for the study is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on March 19 at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site Preservation Center. Once the study is concluded, the Mounds Initiative will submit its findings to the National Park Service.
In the meantime, no matter what the site is called, visitors can enjoy what it has to offer. Cahokia’s next event will be a sunrise observance of the Spring Equinox at 6:45 a.m. on March 23.