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Published: 4/2/2009

Battlefield wins protection

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The property near East Elm Avenue and North Dixie Highway in Monroe was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in the War of 1812, considered a turning point in the war.

Of nearly 1,000 American troops who clashed with the British military and their Native American allies near the settlement known as Frenchtown, only 33 escaped death or capture.

City officials hope the historic significance of the famous battle will parlay the community into a destination point now that a federal law has been enacted putting the land under the umbrella of the National Park System.

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act, which President Obama signed into law Monday, designates the battlefield site as a unit of the park system, putting it under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior for development.

Mayor Mark Worrell, who testified in September before a House subcommittee on the issue, said yesterday that the passage of the law brings to fruition many years of work on the part of local historians, community activists, and elected officials.

The city bought the nearly 40-acre battlefield in 2006 after remnants of an old paper mill on the site were torn down. More than $3.25 million was invested by the city, including $2 million in state loans, to clean contaminants from the property.

"The city reclaimed the land to become a battlefield. I believe we will have the only national battlefield in the United States to be on reclaimed lands," Mr. Worrell said.

Language inserting formation of the River Raisin National Battlefield Park as language in the act was sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) and Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn).

Jeffrey Olson, a park service spokesman, said no time frame has been established for the Monroe land to be transferred into park service control, and the amount of money from the park service budget has not been determined to be allocated for its development.

The National Park Service began a special resource study last year on the battlefield for inclusion into the national park system. Mr. Olson said the study had not been completed.

Mayor Worrell said the local economy, which historically is heavily dependent on the sluggish auto industry, should receive a shot in the arm. "This will make the city a destination. Tourists will stop here and hopefully spend their money," he said. "A national park in Monroe will diversify the community."

The battle, fought over several days in January, 1813, is viewed as nationally significant for its role as the turning point in the War of 1812. "Remember the River Raisin" became a rallying cry for U.S. troops because of the large loss of life in the battle.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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