U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says Southwestern Illinois should be home to Cahokia Mounds National Park. He recently wrote President Barack Obama to ask that it be granted national monument status that could lead to it becoming a national park.
There is a strong case for protecting Cahokia Mounds. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983, one of only nine cultural sites in the United States to gain that designation, four of which are already national parks or monuments. For 700 years Cahokia Mounds was a major city, with an estimated 14,000 residents at its peak, and was the center for trade, religion and political power for more than half of the present-day United States.
So why a national park? The site needs a solid steward, an agency that will care for the site and give visitors the best experience to help them understand the significance of those dirt mounds. Illinois has allowed the site to languish for decades.
Cahokia Mounds is 2,200 acres, but it should be 4,000 to protect all of the original site. Collinsville Road and Interstate 55-70 cut up the site. The surrounding area is home to used tire, carpet and liquor stores. A mobile home park sits on some of the site.
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As Obama seeks to build his legacy by using federal spending to revitalize urban areas, how about dropping some money on his home state to allow tourism to thrive in the heart of our impoverished river bottom communities. Cahokia Mounds National Park would be a foundation for that effort.