H.R. 3824

Cahokia Mounds Mississippian Culture National Historical Park Act

STATEMENT OF DAVID VELA, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, OPERATIONS, EXERCISING THE AUTHORITY OF THE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, CONCERNING H.R. 3824, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE CAHOKIA MOUNDS MISSISSIPPIAN CULTURE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK IN COLLINSVILLE, ILLINOIS, MONROE, MADISON, AND ST. CLAIR COUNTIES, ILLINOIS, AND ST. LOUIS CITY COUNTY, MISSOURI, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

OCTOBER 29, 2019

Chairwoman Haaland, Ranking Member Young, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 3824, a bill to establish the Cahokia Mounds Mississippian Culture National Historical Park in Collinsville, Illinois, Monroe, Madison, and St. Clair Counties, Illinois, and St. Louis City County, Missouri, and for other purposes.

The Department recognizes the important contribution to America’s story that is represented by the resources related to Cahokia Mounds and other Mississippian mound sites in the greater St. Louis Area.  If the Committee chooses to act on this bill, we would recommend amending H.R. 3824 to authorize a special resource study limited to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, as well as Emerald, and Pulcher mounds, as recommended by the National Park Service’s recently completed reconnaissance survey of the site.  If the Committee moves forward on designating the site, we would recommend replacing the map referenced in the bill.

Establishing a unit of the National Park System could be one way to preserve and interpret the resources and related stories of Cahokia Mounds, but it may not be the most appropriate or feasible way to do so.  In addition, at a time when the Department needs to devote resources to reducing the National Park Service’s $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog and addressing other critical national park needs, it would be difficult to prioritize a new park unit without having a better understanding of how it would relate to other National Park Service resources and needs.  The Department urges Congress to pass legislation addressing the deferred maintenance needs of its bureaus.

H.R. 3824 would authorize the establishment of the Cahokia Mounds Mississippian Culture National Historical Park.  The bill would authorize a boundary for the National Historical Park as depicted on the legislative map referenced in the bill.  However, it is unclear what areas would be included in the National Historical Park as the map referenced does not depict any proposed boundary.  The bill further authorizes the Secretary to acquire any land within the legislative boundary of the park by acquisition, donation, or exchange, with the exception that State owned lands could only be acquired through donation.  H.R. 3824 also authorizes the Secretary to enter in agreements with the State and other entities to interpret and restore resources within the boundaries of the park, and directs the Secretary to prepare a management plan for the park in consultation with the State, Indian Tribes, and other entities.

The mounds at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site were a regional ceremonial and civic center for the Mississippian people, the name given by archeologists to the societies that lived in the Southeastern and Midwestern United States after about AD 1000.  In addition to the core area of the mounds preserved by the state park, there were many related settlements and outlying sites.  Earthen monuments, mounds, and the remnants of cities, towns, and villages built by the Mississippians are found across the southeastern and midwestern United States.  The most significant of these places is Cahokia Mounds.  Cahokia is the centerpiece of one of the most densely settled regions in ancient North America, located at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is administered by the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1964 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.  Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site includes 51 extant mounds, the most prominent of which is Monks Mound.  Monks Mound and the central part of the site were purchased by the state of Illinois in 1923 and have been administered by the state ever since.  The site gradually grew from the initial 144 acres to 2,200 acres.  Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site now includes mounds, public areas, and non-public residential areas.

The State of Illinois can acquire ownership of property within the boundaries of the Cahokia Mounds National Historic Landmark.  Slightly more than half of the acreage within the National Historic Landmark boundaries is owned by the State Historic Site; the balance is held by nonprofit and private owners.  Approximately 7,000-10,000 people live within the boundary of the National Historic Landmark.

In 2014, Senator Richard Durbin sent a letter to the National Park Service requesting a reconnaissance survey of the Cahokia Mounds and associated Mississippian mound groups in the greater St. Louis metro region.  A reconnaissance survey provides a preliminary assessment of the national significance, suitability, feasibility, and need for National Park Service management of an area or site proposed for inclusion in the National Park System.  If a reconnaissance survey finds that a study area is likely to meet these criteria, a special resource study may be recommended.

The completed reconnaissance survey, transmitted to Congress in July 2019, found that Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site would likely meet the criteria for inclusion in the National Park System if further evaluated in a subsequent study, and identified two additional sites – Emerald and Pulcher Mounds – as warranting further study to make definitive findings.  The reconnaissance survey recommended that a special resource study be authorized for these three sites to further evaluate criteria for inclusion, invite public involvement in the study process, and develop potential management alternatives.  The remainder of the sites considered in the survey – including the St. Louis Mound Group, East St. Louis Mounds, Mitchell Mounds, and Sugar Loaf Mounds – were determined to be unlikely to meet the criteria for inclusion and were not recommended for additional study.

For these reasons, if the Committee chose to act on this bill, we would recommend amending the bill to provide for a special resource study limited to the three sites noted in the reconnaissance survey, rather than the establishment of a new unit of the National Park System.  We would be happy to provide suggested language for such an amendment.

Finally, the map referenced in the bill was not developed by the National Park Service and does not conform to the standard conventions for NPS legislative maps.  The current map, cited in the bill as “Cahokia Mounds Mississippian Culture National Historical Park, Boundary, numbered CMMC-NHP-107, and dated 05-31-2019” does not provide sufficient detail or clarity regarding the legislative boundary.  Without a clear map, we cannot determine what areas would be included in the National Historical Park.  For this reason, should designation legislation move forward, we strongly recommend substituting a legislative map developed by the National Park Service for the current map referenced in H.R. 3824.  We would be happy to work with the bill sponsor to develop a suitable map.

Chairwoman Haaland, this concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.

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