Members of a group studying ways to designate the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site as a national site met with members of the public Thursday in Fairmont City.
The Heartlands Conservancy is spearheading the effort, known as "The Mounds -- America's First Cities: A Feasibility Study."
With hundreds of the ancient mounds -- existing, damaged, or destroyed -- dotting Southwestern Illinois and the St. Louis region, the group is studying ways the ancient sites could be linked under a national park designation to protect, connect, interpret, promote, and preserve the prehistoric civilization.
The team in charge of the study was put together in August after the archaeological review conducted for the new Mississippi River Bridge discovered a previously unknown village that was part of the prehistoric Mississippian culture hidden beneath the former National Stockyards.
"This is the largest archaeological dig in the country. They've discovered this city, and what we don't know about that culture, we are learning more and more as we study it," said Edward Weilbacher with Special Projects at Heartlands Conservancy. "Cahokia Mounds is a wonderful, fabulous cultural resource protected by the state, but, in this region, there are other mounds."
By seeking national recognition as a historic site, the mounds could bring additional tourism, jobs, and money to region.
"When people travel they want to go to a national park," Weilbacher said. "This would be a way to market it as having national significance and tourists would look at it as a national site to go to."
The study is looking at ways to somehow link the hundreds of mound sites throughout Southwestern Illinois and the St. Louis region, either by trails or a vehicle tour with the ultimate goal of connecting the sites under an "umbrella of interpretation." So far, some of the mounds in Missouri and Illinois can be toured via the Mounds Heritage Trail, a 15-mile route that can be traveled by car, bike or pedestrians to visit mound sites, museums, historic buildings and cultural landmarks.
For now, the Heartlands Conservancy team is studying the different options for the sites to be registered under the national criteria to find out which would fit best. They are also looking at other national historic sites across the country to find one that the mounds could be modeled after.
"Does it qualify on a national scale? We think so. It qualifies on a global scale," Weilbacher said.
Cahokia Mounds became a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1964, an Illinois State Historic Site in 1975 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
For more information about the study, visit www.HeartLandsConservancy.org.
Two more public information meetings will be held:
* From 6 to 7 p.m. March 14 at the Granite City Township Community Building, 2060 Delmar Ave., Granite City.
* From 6 to 8 p.m. May 13 at the Sugarloaf Township Building, 240 S. Fifth St. in Dupo.