A public meeting will be held Wednesday night at Cahokia Mounds to talk about an initiative to turn the State Historic Site into a National Historical Park.
Ed Weilbacher is with the HeartLands Conservancy, the group behind the initiative.
He said most people are surprised Cahokia isn’t a National Park already.
Weilbacher said they’re amazed to learn there are more than 550 mound sites near St. Louis, in both Missouri and Illinois.
“The first initial reaction is, 'Oh my gosh, I had no idea that there was that many mounds in the St. Louis region,'." Weilbacher said his group has brought an oversized 11-by-13-foot map of all the mound sites to previous meetings. "People got to walk on it, and see the map, and they had no idea. They had thought all the mounds were at Cahokia, and that was it.”
The national designation would include not just Cahokia, but the other major mound sites around the St. Louis region, including the one in East St. Louis that was discovered during the construction of the new Mississippi River bridge.
Weilbacher said unlike most other National Parks, the goal is for Cahokia and the other sites to continue being managed by the state or local governments that own them now. "But they would receive programming and promotion opportunities within the National Park designation,” he said.
Weilbacher said affiliating all the major mound sites in the area with the National Park Service would attract more visitors, which would in turn benefit those local economies. He said it would help raise awareness of the American Indian culture that thrived here about 900 years ago.
During the past 18 months, the HeartLands Conservancy has worked with American Indian tribes and nations, government agencies, and other non-profit organizations to develop a plan for giving the mound sites national status.
Weilbacher said designating a new National Park would take federal action ― either by Congress or the President ― but he’s hopeful that could happen within the next couple of years.
Wednesday’s open house will take place at 7:00 p.m. at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site Interpretive Center. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the work plan and take public input.
You can find more information about the project on this Facebook page.
Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience