The history behind the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Cahokia Mounds took a step closer this week to possibly becoming a national park.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, a longtime supporter of lifting the Native American landmark to national park status, introduced the bill Thursday in Congress to establish the park’s federal status.
“Cahokia Mounds is a significant archaeological treasure,” said Bost, D-Murphysboro. “Southern Illinois was once home to one of the largest civilizations in what is now the United States, and Cahokia was the center of this ancient civilization.”
If the legislation is voted into law, the Cahokia Mounds and Mississippian Culture National Historic Park would include mounds in St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties, as well as the Sugarloaf Mound in St. Louis.
The 2,200-acre area near Collinsville, dubbed “America’s First City,” was first protected in 1923 when the Illinois Legislature authorized the purchase of the park, which once was an ancient Native American city somewhere between 1050 and 1350.
“Making Cahokia Mounds and associated mounds sites in the region part of our national park system will help elevate this resource in our nation’s consciousness and deepen our understanding of the peoples and cultures of our past,” Bost said.
This marks the second push to designate the mounds as a national park. In 2016, an unsuccessful bid to have the park made into a national monument by HeartLands Conservancy, a Belleville-based non profit, gained support statewide and at the national level.
It was hoped that then President Barack Obama would declare the mounds a national monument before leaving office, but that designation never came.
A national park would boost tourism
HeartLands is at the head of the push for national park status once again. The conservancy believes the mounds are not only historically important, but could also boost the surrounding area through tourism.
“We are one step closer to elevating and preserving Cahokia Mounds and other mound groups of the Mississippian Culture for people to experience now and for generations to come through this bistate national historical park,” said Mary Vandevord, president and CEO of HeartLands Conservancy.
In order to be considered for a national park designation, a site must meet several criteria: nationally significant natural, cultural or recreational resources; be a suitable and feasible addition to the National Park System; and must be in need of protection and have no other protection from other government agencies.
Vandevord said Bost, along with several other members of Congress, the state of Illinois, archaeologists, historians and the efforts of Native American tribes and nations were are responsible for getting the legislation to Congress.
Elevating the Cahokia Mounds to the National Park system has been supported by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois House of Representatives and many municipalities.
On Wednesday night, the Madison County Board approved a resolution formally supporting giving Cahokia Mounds federal protected status as a national park or monument. Earlier this summer, the St. Clair County Board took similar action.