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Published: Saturday, 9/7/2002

Park manager bars volunteer from meeting at Fort Meigs

BY REBEKAH SCOTT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A volunteer who recently criticized management of archaeological digging at Fort Meigs State Memorial Park was ejected seconds after showing up for a meeting Thursday and barred from the property by site manager Larry Nelson.

Pat Garver, a three-year member of the Old Northwest Military History Association, a re-enactors group that assists with living-history presentations at the Perrysburg fort site, said yesterday that she planned to attend a Thursday night meeting of the group at the new, partially completed visitors center and museum. She arrived about the same time as Mr. Nelson, who was there to unlock the door.

“I never got through the door,” Ms. Garver said. “Larry just grabbed me by the arm and turned me around, shouting at me the whole time that I was trespassing. `I want you off the site, you're out of here,'” she recalled him saying.

“I told him, `I've paid my dues. I'm a member,'” she said. “But he was right in my face, shouting about me writing to his boss. He sent me right out the door and told me he was locking it behind me.

“The room was full of people, but it was like he didn't know anyone else was watching,” Ms. Garver added. “It was embarrassing. It was scary. ... And none of the people there seemed to care. They won't stand up to him, for fear of losing their privileges.”

Ms. Garver said she was shaken up by the incident, and filed a report with Perrysburg police.

Perrysburg Police Lt. Richard Gilts confirmed that a complaint was made with police. He described the complaint as “an altercation alleged to be both verbal and grabbing, with no real injury done.” Police have not investigated the complaint and no criminal charge was filed, he said.

Mr. Nelson was reportedly out of town yesterday attending a wedding and could not be reached for comment.

James Strider, Ohio Historical Society division chief, said the society was unaware of any incident.

“We expect our staff to treat all visitors to our properties with respect. We prohibit any kind of violence by any staff member,” he said. “We're investigating what occurred at Fort Meigs, but we haven't had a chance to interview the staff who were there, including Mr. Nelson. We can't comment further on this until we learn more.”

Old Northwest members, all volunteers, dress in pioneer clothing to help fort visitors explore aspects of early 19th-century life. Mr. Nelson is not a member, but is in charge of the Fort Meigs historical site.

Mr. Nelson's management of the site came under criticism in recent months when Native American and pioneer gravesites were uncovered during construction work for the fort's visitors center. The remains were quietly whisked away to an Ohio Historical Society lab in Columbus for study, a move that upset local Native Americans and descendants of the pioneer family.

About 25 members of the Native American Alliance of Ohio criticized security at Fort Meigs and what they called the “desecration” of the remains during a meeting with Mr. Nelson and society officials in July at Sanger Branch Library. They claimed the handling of the remains violated the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Mr. Nelson and historical society officials said at the meeting that the removal of the remains was “in full compliance with all federal provisions.”

A historian who specializes in the American frontier, Mr. Nelson plans to host a four-part educational series on Ohio's native peoples called “First Ohioans.” It was unclear yesterday whether the educational series focusing on Ohio's Indians through nearly 13,000 years of history is an attempt to make amends for any hard feelings among local Native Americans.

The series at the Fort Meigs visitors center begins at 11 a.m. Wednesday - the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks - and continues with programs there on Sept. 18 and 25. The series will conclude with an Oct. 2 bus trip to Columbus to see the society's award-winning exhibit, “The First Ohioans.”



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