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Ohio Earthwork Saved by Social Media Campaign

By Brenda Barrett April 29, 2014

 

Credit: The Arc of Appalachia

Junction Earthworks in Ohio
Photograph Courtesy of the Arc of Appalachia

Not every story to save a nationally significant cultural landscape from imminent sale and development has a happy ending. Often the auction sign goes up, there is a brief period of bewailing the tragedy, then the inevitable happens, and the dozers move in. But this was not what happened in the campaign to save the Junction Earth Works in Chillicothe Ohio. The outcome is a lesson in how strong partnership and new media can be combined to save a landscape.

When the for sale notice went up on this property in Ohio, the Arc of Appalachia, a grassroots Ohio based conservancy with the mission to preserve, restore, and reunite the greater Appalachian Forest, spearheaded an all out conservation effort. They were joined by a strong coalition of archeological and historic preservation organizations with interest in the resource. The group mounted an online campaign only eight days before the site was slated for the auction block. The web site was loaded with great content about the significance of the archeological resources on the land and also its natural values. It even included a short video.

 

An online fundraising thermometer tracked the project’s progress towards the goal. The result, $375,000 was raised from over 900 individual donors. When leveraged with a state grant from Clean Ohio, this was enough money to purchase the 102 acres, which included the earthwork, creek frontage, and the forested acreage on the site.  A 170-acre farm field was sold to a local farmer for continued agricultural use. Pretty amazing work for a little over a week of intense effort.

The Junction site was one of the last privately owned Hopewellian period earthworks that dating to the 330-700 AD.  The Hopewell culture appears to have arisen in the Ohio River Valley and established trading connections with other mound building groups of the period from Canada south to the Gulf Coast and the Middle Atlantic west to beyond the Mississippi River.  Obsidian found in burial mounds in the Ohio River Valley has been source traced to the National Historic Landmark Obsidian Cliffs site in Yellowstone National Park.  The Ephraim George Squire and Edwin Hamilton Davis expedition, the first scientific foray of the then newly founded Smithsonian Institution, described and published a plan view of the site in the first Contributions to Knowledge Series in 1848. However, over time the site’s significance was overlooked, but not anymore.

The long-term goal is to add this site to Hopewell Culture National Historical Park for long-term management, and include it in the proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination. For more on Hopewellian sites in Ohio see the Ancient Ohio Trail.  

In the meantime, the Junction Earthwork will be developed into a public park and nature preserve offering simple mowed trails through the ancient earthworks site and providing hiking trails. The plan is to have these trails open within two years. The former cornfields will be reseeded with a native prairie mix designed to sustain Ohio’s diminishing grassland birds. While work is underway with the National Park Service for long-term management of the site, for now the managers will be a coalition of partners. The Arc of Appalachia will be the owner of the three woodland tracts, and the Archaeological Conservancy will be the owner of the earthworks tract with the Arc of Appalachia holding a conservation easement.  Great Work!

Some lessons learned:

  • Savvy use of social media can be a catalyst to engage wide public support.
  • The value of highlighting both the natural and cultural resources on the property.
  • A deadline matters, but the group’s committed to a long term vision for the site was important.
  • As always partnerships are the key ingredient!

Many thanks to Mark Barnes, Ph.D. and former Senior Archaeologist of the National Park Service for bringing this story to our attention and contributing background information

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