Madison County supports plan for Cahokia Mounds to become National Park

Cahokia Mounds
July 18, 2019
For Immediate Release  

Madison County supports plan for Cahokia Mounds to become National Park 

EDWARDSVILLE — The Madison County Board took action Wednesday night in support of Cahokia Mounds becoming a national park or monument. 

The board voted on the measure to provide $25,000 from its host fee fund to Heartlands Conservancy, the group leading the effort on the park’s status. Heartland is working with U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, of Murphysboro, who introduced a bill to Congress on Thursday. 

“I think it’s exciting,” Chairman Kurt Prenzler said. “This was one of America’s first cities and should be recognized as a National Park.” 

Prenzler said he met with members of Heartlands Conservancy, which is a non-profit organization focused on protecting and restoring natural resources in southwestern Illinois, to discuss getting the county’s support. 

“I think this is a win-win plan for not only Madison County, but for tourism in the state and across the St. Louis metro area,” Prenzler said. 

If the new measure passes, the Cahokia Mounds and Mississippian Culture National Historic Park would include ancient mounds in St. Clair and Madison counties and Sugarloaf Mound in St. Louis, the last remaining mound in the city. Cahokia Mounds National Park would be a collaborative partnership among local, state and federal governments, Illinois would retain ownership of the land. 

In 2014, Heartland published a study concluding that a partnership between the National Park Service and the state of Illinois would be both beneficial and feasible. In 2016, it garnered support from residents, archaeologists and Native American groups, including the Osage Nation, which owns Sugarloaf Mound, for Cahokia Mounds to become a national park, but it did not succeed. 

In May, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a resolution in support of a national park. The Legislature had previously supported a plan that would have named Cahokia Mounds a national monument. 

In 2018, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources signed on to the national parks plan. The department took over the administration of Cahokia Mounds in 2017 after the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which used to oversee the site, dissolved. 

Cahokia Mounds is a 2,200-acre Illinois State Historic Site that protects more than 70 mounds built by the Mississippians 1,000 years ago. It was “America’s First City’’ — a hub of mounds where the ancients lived, worked and worshipped atop earthen structures. The Mississippians built “satellite” mounds all across the region, stretching west across the Mississippi River. At its peak around 1200 A.D., an estimated 10 to 20,000 people lived in the region. 

In 1982, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization named Cahokia Mounds a World Heritage site. The site is currently listed as a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.  

“The monies the county is using to assist Heartlands in this endeavor isn’t coming from the taxpayers, but rather from the host fees and allows us to preserve our environment,” Prenzler said. “Parks not only provide green space and improve public health. They enhance the environment in our communities.”