Fallen Timbers gets Senate backing as federal park unit; Status would help raise aid to convert battlefield site

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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WASHINGTON — The Fallen Timbers battlefield has received the Senate’s approval for entry into the National Park Service, a development local preservationists hope will make it easier to find the money to turn the empty farm field into a historical park.

“This is just as important a battle in American history as Yorktown or Gettysburg,” said Marianne Duvendack, president of the Fallen Timbers Battlefield Preservation Commission. “Being recognized by the Senate shows that this effort isn’t just for the Toledo area, it’s for the entire nation.”

On Thursday night, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent a bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike DeWine (D., O.), to make Fallen Timbers and nearby Fort Miamis an affiliated unit of the National Park System. The 1794 battle is considered by some to be one of the most important battles in American history.

It was the third time Mr. DeWine introduced the bill in the Senate. It did not even receive a hearing the first two times.

A similar bill must still pass the House, where it has languished, untouched, in a subcommittee since March. Ms. Duvendack will be going to Washington this week to lobby members of the House to pass the bill by the end of the year.

The Battle of Fallen Timbers pitted a confederation of Native American tribes against U.S. forces headed by Gen. Anthony Wayne. General Wayne’s victory led to the Treaty of Greeneville and allowed the white settlement of much of the Midwest.

The 185-acre battlefield site is owned by the city of Toledo. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has offered to sell it to preservationists for “its fair market value,” which he has pegged at $7.5 million. Located at the intersection of I-475 and U.S. 24, the battlefield has been a top target for commercial development for two decades.

“It’s exciting news,” said Tim Wagener, who became mayor of Maumee on Aug. 6. “It’s a major hurdle to get over, and now it will be incumbent on those who are working on behalf of the battlefield to come up with the funding.”

A marker was erected near the Maumee River decades ago to commemorate the battle. But Heidelberg College professor G. Michael Pratt led a team of volunteers in 1995 that discovered, through archaeological evidence, the battle took place some distance from the marker, near the intersection of I-475 and U.S. 24.

The city of Toledo bought the site in 1987 in a failed plan to expand its borders for industrial growth. Although owned by Toledo, the land is within the borders of Maumee.

Since Dr. Pratt’s discovery, local historians have been pushing for the battlefield to be preserved, while Mr. Finkbeiner said he would sell the land to the highest bidder, even if that meant the battlefield would be turned into a factory site. But last year, Mr. Finkbeiner announced that he wants to see the land preserved and turned into a historical park – if preservationists would buy it from the city.

Since then, battlefield backers have been trying to raise money from a variety of sources. The state of Ohio included $2 million in its last capital budget for the project and the city of Maumee has pledged $500,000.

While campaigning last year, Governor Taft pledged that, if elected, the state would pay for half of the total cost of site acquisition. If Mr. Finkbeiner sells the land at the price he wants, that could mean the state adding $1.75 million.

Officials in the state historic office have commissioned an appraisal of the land’s worth to determine how much the state is willing to contribute.

Mr. DeWine and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) are trying to secure a federal contribution for the site’s acquisition and the development of the park.

But Miss Kaptur said that it will be difficult to get any action on the House side before the end of the year because the Senate has not yet committed any money to the project. The passage of this authorization bill was a prerequisite to Fallen Timbers receiving any federal funding.

“For this session at the moment, it’s a long shot,” Miss Kaptur said. “They gave us a one-legged stool. It’s not enough, and it’s late. If the Senate had passed the authorization bill earlier this year and followed it with an appropriation, and then when the bill came to us, we would have had something.”

She said it is possible that it might be included in an omnibus appropriations bill at the end of the year.

Charles Boesel, press secretary to Mr. DeWine, said that even if federal funds cannot be appropriated in 1999, the senator will continue to work for it in 2000.

“We’d love to just slap a sign on it and say here it is, but it does take time,” Mr. Boesel said. “It’s not a done deal, but it is progress, and a step in the right direction. Senator DeWine is determined. This is the third Congress he has brought it up, and persistence hopefully will pay off.”

Mr. Boesel noted that the chairman of the House subcommittee that will determine whether the project gets money is Ralph Regula, an Ohio Republican who was a colleague of Mr. DeWine’s when the senator was a congressman.

“Regardless of what happens, we will continue to press for this,” Mr. Boesel said.

Affiliated units of the National Park System are not full national parks such as Yellowstone. They are locally managed sites that, through federal legislation, receive some support from the park system.

For some, that means financial assistance; for Fallen Timbers, it would mean having access to the expertise of National Park Service employees in setting up a quality park. Among the 24 affiliated units are the International Peace Garden in North Dakota, Chimney Rock National Historic Site in Nebraska, and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail across the West.

Under the bill, the battlefield and fort would become known as the Fallen Timbers Battlefield and Fort Miamis National Historic Site.

“If the National Park Service is putting its emblem and blessing on the site, everybody knows that it’s a very significant piece of history and well worth saving,” said Toledo Area Metroparks spokesman Art Weber.

Former Maumee Mayor Steve Pauken testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the bill in April, but ran into some opposition from park service representatives. They argued that the bill did not state clearly who would be managing the park land.

At the time, the bill said the manager of the site would be “the Ohio Historical Society, the city of Maumee, the Maumee Valley Heritage Corridor, the Fallen Timbers Battlefield Preservation Commission, Heidelberg College, the city of Toledo, the Metropark District of the Toledo Area, and any other entity designated by the Governor of Ohio.”

As a response to the controversy, Mr. DeWine offered an amendment to make the Metroparks the sole manager of the site. On Sept. 15, the Metroparks board accepted the responsibility, and the amendment was approved in the Senate on Thursday before the entire bill was passed.

“We’re happy to be contributing to the effort,” said Metroparks Director Jean Ward. “I think being with the National Park Service tells people all over the country that this site is important. But more importantly, it tells people here that it’s nationally significant and worthy of protection.”

The Metroparks would initially run the battlefield as a part of neighboring Side Cut Metropark, along the Maumee River. A citizen’s advisory committee, composed of representatives from groups such as the preservation commission and the Ohio Historical Society, would advise the Metroparks on the battlefield’s management, Mr. Ward said.

Mayor Finkbeiner said the Senate’s approval is “outstanding,” but he added that “it’s one thing to approve the designation, which is very appropriate. But now we have to find the money.”

Blade staff writer Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.