MONROE -- The country's newest national park in Monroe just quadrupled in size.
The River Raisin National Battlefield Park, a War of 1812 battle site, was the recipient of 143 acres donated to its 42.2 acres.
Federal dignitaries convened at the park Wednesday for the ceremonial signing over of the land to public ownership.
"These things don't happen when you don't have the private sector involved," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "The restoration of the battlefield illustrates the vital role partnerships play in land conservation efforts."
The park is on property near East Elm Avenue and North Dixie Highway that was the location for a former paper mill before it was reclaimed and redeveloped by businessman Roger Homrich, who donated 78 acres of the newly acquired land.
Acquisition of the additional 65 acres was made possible through $1.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and a matching land purchase of $325,000 by the Monroe County Historical Society.
The Port of Monroe will hold the property until a landowner is determined. Portions of the property ultimately could be transferred to the National Park Service, the city of Monroe, or the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
"We are proud to establish a first-class national park," Mr. Salazar said.
The River Raisin National Battlefield Park is the site of one of the bloodiest War of 1812 battles. The battlefield was set aside by Congress with legislation signed by President Obama in March, 2009, and is the only national park commemorating the War of 1812.
"We are preserving history and memories and values so important to our people," said U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell, (D., Dearborn).
Since it was established as the 393rd unit of the national park system in October, 2010, Mr. Salazar said it has already made an impact on the local economy.
The park has attracted tourists from five countries, 35 states, and the District of Columbia, and is sure to become a magnet for tourists in the future, he said. Its impact on the local economy is likely to increase over time, he added, providing more jobs and increasing tourism to the area.
Following the signing event at the park, Mr. Salazar and Mr. Dingell visited the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in Trenton, where they announced new land acquisitions from private parties for the retreat there.
The additional land was acquired with the help of Ducks Unlimited and funding by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and U.S. Department of Transportation.
Mr. Salazar said he foresees increased expansion of Battlefield Park, but continued collaboration between the public and private sector is necessary for that to happen.
"Hopefully, in 10 years this will be a 300-acre National Park," he said. "We still have a long way to go, and we need [the community] to be there every step of the way."
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