Q & A David Eustis, president and CEO, Heartlands Conservancy
IBJ: What are you working on with Cahokia Mounds?
Eustis: A couple of years ago, when they were doing the archeological digs for the new Mississippi River bridge, they discovered a fairly significant ancient community there and people approached us about pursuing a designation within the National Park Service. Cahokia Mounds is a state historic site and a national historic landmark but it has no National Park designation. The people who approached us felt that that designation would give it the recognition and the exposure that it truly deserves.
IBJ: Would this make it a national park?
Eustis: No. There are many authorities within the National Park Service besides national parks. This would simply be a national designation.
IBJ: What is the significance of that?
Eustis: It brings exposure and it brings a certain level of significance.
IBJ: So, it would receive a national designation but it would remain a state park, correct?
Eustis: That’s a very important point. We are not trying to take anything away from the state of Illinois. The new model is for multi-agency interaction so that they can maximize dwindling resources.
IBJ: Are there other nationally designated sites in our area?
Eustis: The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Grant’s Farm over in St. Louis are. Illinois only has one national park service unit in it and that’s Lincoln’s home site in Springfield.
IBJ: What do you need to do to accomplish this?
Eustis: The National Park Service needs to do a reconnaissance study. We have largely done the ground work for that reconnaissance study in a report we recently released. We’ve already been told by the National Park Service that Cahokia Mounds gives the best example of the Mississippian culture in the United States so we think that’s going to be a very favorable reconnaissance report. Once that is completed, we’ll be looking to our legislators both in Missouri and Illinois to move this forward.
IBJ: If you receive this national designation, would you expect Cahokia Mounds to attract more tourists?
Eustis: We had an economic impact analysis done by Development Strategies in St. Louis. It gives a baseline for what they project Cahokia Mounds’ economic impact is today and then there are projections for the future. It’s somewhat hard to make a forecast for the future because we’ve considered three different scenarios, but we’re estimating up to 75,000 additional visitors, which would produce about a $15 million bump to the local economy.
IBJ: What are some of the scenarios you considered?
Eustis: Besides just receiving the designation as a National Park Service unit we also looked at creating satellite mounds sites and interpretive centers; establishing a welcome and interpretive center at an archeological site at the former St. Louis National Stockyards; increasing regional trail connectivity; and enhancing marketing and upgrading the existing site and museum.
IBJ: I wonder how many St. Louisans know anything about Cahokia Mounds.
Eustis: It is amazing how many local people have never been to Cahokia Mounds. That’s why we’re making the case. This is a World Heritage Site. Europe has a lot of World Heritage Sites, and they’re well marketed and they attract lots of foreign visitors. Over the past 12 to 15 years the number of visitors to Cahokia Mounds has dropped from 500,000 down to about 300,000. We think that by taking these actions we’ll be able to get 75,000 people back and maybe even more. There are a lot of opportunities. I think it’s an underutilized resource right now.
IBJ: Are you receiving any support for this effort?
Eustis: This effort has been picked up on public radio as far away as San Francisco and Chicago. We’ve had inquiries from all over. The archeological community has picked up on it as have the Indian nations in Oklahoma, many of whom claim their lineage back to Cahokia. They’re all aware of it and they’re getting behind it. It’s hard to get 100 percent support on a project any more but I think we’re awful close.
IBJ: How long it’s going to take?
Eustis: The first phase was getting this report done. We’re jumping immediately into our second phase. We want to push the legislature just as hard as we can. With the President being from Illinois, we certainly would like to accomplish this while he’s in office.