MONROE — Plans nearly a decade in the making to upgrade the historic River Raisin National Battlefield Park are finally starting to take shape.
The city, park, and park foundation announced details last week of the $100 million River Raisin Heritage Corridor master plan, which includes the acquisition and demolition of 20 homes and 45 acres of expansion. The Little Frenchtown settlement will be recreated, and private donors are planning a riverfront development with entertainment.
Chris Cosby, left, and Doug Hassett look at the renderings for the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.
The improvements will benefit all three partners in different ways.
"For the city, it's neighborhood revitalization and economic development," said Monroe economic development coordinator Mark Cochran. "We've shifted our economic development strategy to focus on a lot of ecological recreation and cultural tourism in developing the Heritage Corridor. The tourism that comes with it is really going to strengthen and diversify the economy, as well as improve the neighborhood around the park, which is one of the city's most economically challenged."
The Battle of the River Raisin played out in the backyards of the area's early settlers. Part of the project will transform the area across the street from the visitor's center on East Elm Avenue to resemble Little Frenchtown.
Mr. Cochran said Monroe received a $4.8 million grant from Michigan Natural Resources to purchase and scrap homes. The city has purchased 20 for $2.9 million and plans to obtain more.
The city is buying from willing sellers only and not using eminent domain. Demolitions will start Sept. 10.
"We'll have nine historic structures replicated: the homesteads, farms, a trading post," said Jami Keegan, the park's chief of interpretation and education. "It'll all be based on French architecture. We'll be in the same location where they were originally settled."
The former Monroe Multi-Sports Complex — which was shuttered in 2016 by city council — will be repurposed as the education and visitor's center for the park. Mr. Cochran said the current building is too small and has some maintenance issues.
Ms. Keegan said the remodeling is a positive step.
The city of Monroe, River Raison Battlefield National Park and park foundation announced details last week of the $100 million River Raisin Heritage Corridor master plan, which includes the acquisition and demolition of 20 homes and 45 acres of expansion.
"The building will give us the capability to illustrate the complexity of the founding of Michigan and the Michigan Territory," she said. "We're in the beginning stages of exhibit development to try to explain the story."
The park received 239,000 visitors last year from 49 states and about 20 countries. Estimates show as many as 1 million people will visit annually once improvements are complete. Ms. Keegan said the new visitor's center will allow for 300 students to visit each day on field trips.
Monroe officials are searching for private partners to develop the riverfront area with shops, restaurants, a kayak launch, and an amphitheater. The Heritage Corridor, which will include seven activity areas, is expected to bring 300 jobs and $30 million annually to the area once finished.
The battle was one of the bloodiest during the War of 1812. Great Britain and dozens of Native American tribes killed 397 Americans in a sneak attack Jan. 22, 1813, and took another 547 prisoner.
Following American surrender, the natives robbed and killed American prisoners and set fire to buildings housing the wounded in what become known as the River Raisin Massacre. As many as 100 additional Americans were killed.
Ms. Keegan said the park will tell the story from all perspectives.
"We have the American perspective, we have the British and Canadian perspective, we have the French settlers living here, but we also have all the native confederation tribes we're working with," Ms. Keegan said. "Right now the number is up to 22 different tribes involved in the battle. They all had different reasons for joining the battle. So we're trying to tell those stories too."
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