STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK,
DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS,
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES
TO PROVIDE FOR THE DESIGNATION OF CERTAIN SITES
IN MONROE COUNTY AND WAYNE COUNTY, MICHIGAN,
RELATING TO THE BATTLES OF THE RIVER RAISIN
DURING THE WAR OF 1812 AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM
September 11, 2008
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 6470, to provide for the designation of certain sites in Monroe County and Wayne County, Michigan, relating to the Battles of the River Raisin during the War of 1812 as a unit of the National Park System.
At this time, the Department recommends deferring action on H.R. 6470. Our recommendation does not detract from the significance and importance of this battlefield site and the historical events associated with this major engagement of the War of 1812. We believe that the special resource study and the national historic landmark nomination currently underway should be completed so a determination can be made if the site is nationally significant and is both suitable and feasible to be designated as a unit of the National Park System. On July 30, 2008, the Department testified on the Senate companion bill, S. 3247.
H.R. 6470 directs the Secretary of the Interior to accept the donation of real property from willing landowners in Monroe or Wayne Counties, Michigan, relating to the Battles of the River Raisin and their aftermath. If sufficient acreage to permit efficient administration is donated, the Secretary shall designate the acquired land as a unit of the National Park System. The new unit would be known as the “River Raisin National Battlefield Park.”
Public Law 109-429, signed by President Bush on December 20, 2006, authorized the Secretary of the Interior to complete a special resource study of sites relating to the Battles of the River Raisin on January 18 and 22, 1813 and their aftermath. The study would provide alternatives for the appropriate way to preserve, to protect, and to interpret these sites and resources. Those alternatives would include recommendations on whether the area could be included as a new unit or part of an existing unit of the National Park System, or if the Federal government is the most appropriate entity to manage the site.
The National Park Service has begun work on the special resource study and preliminary evaluation indicates that the site would qualify as a national historic landmark. There is intact archaeological evidence of the site; and archaeologists within the National Park Service's Battlefield Protection Program say that if the archaeology is preserved, the site has impressive integrity as a battlefield.
We believe the study process should be allowed to continue in tandem with the national historic nomination. With public involvement, these two efforts will provide needed information to determine the best path for preservation and interpretation of the battlefield. We expect both to be completed in 2-3 years from now.
The battles of the River Raisin were among the largest and most tragic engagements of the War of 1812. They were fought where the River Raisin enters Lake Erie at Frenchtown, or present day Monroe. Only 33 of the 934 American soldiers who fought in the battles escaped death or capture. The massacre of wounded soldiers by Indians on January 23, 1813, shocked people throughout the Northwest Territories. This was later known as the “Massacre of the River Raisin.”
The River Raisin was left a desolate, nearly abandoned settlement for eight months following the massacre. It was liberated on September 27, 1813, when Colonel Richard M. Johnson's Kentucky cavalry, led by men from the River Raisin, rode into the settlement. Although the British could not return, destruction was so severe that the River Raisin settlement remained desolate and impoverished for five years after the battle.
Until recently, the site of the main battlefield was occupied by an abandoned paper mill and listed as a brownfield site. However, the city of Monroe has received $1 million in grants and loans from the Clean Michigan Initiative and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to remove the structures and mitigate any polluted soils. An archaeologist monitored the removal and cleanup activities at the site, which has recently been transferred to public ownership.
That concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.