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This photo taken on July 30, 2019 shows a 155-foot-diameter circular enclosure around hole number 3 at the Moundbuilders Country Club at the Octagon Earthworks in Newark, Ohio. The Ohio Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 as part of the debate over public access to all old ceremonial and funeral earthworks. The case pits the state historical society against the country club where the earthworks are located. (Doral Chenoweth III / The Columbus Dispatch via AP,)

COLUMBUS – A debate over public access to a collection of ancient ceremonial and funeral earthworks is before the Ohio Supreme Court in a case between the State Historical Society and a country club on whose land the earthworks are located.

The 2,000-year-old octagonal earthworks in Newark, central Ohio, are at issue in court. The Ohio History Connection, owner of the earthworks, nominated the site along with other ancient Ohio sites for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The historical society, which is a non-profit organization that contracts with the state, argues that it must control access to earthworks for this appointment to continue.

Native Americans built the site nearly 2,000 years ago. The layout of the earthworks, including eight long earth walls, matches the lunar movements and aligns with the points at which the moon rises and sets during the 18.6-year lunar cycle.

The Ohio History Connection is calling them “Partly cathedral, part cemetery and part astronomical observatory.”

The people who built the earthworks later predated the American Indians of Ohio sometimes by centuries, but many tribes, some with historical ties to Ohio, want the earthworks preserved. as examples of the achievements of indigenous peoples. The National Congress of American Indians, the Inter-Tribal Council representing the tribes living in Northeast Oklahoma, and the Seneca Nation of New York State are among those who endorse the company’s application. historic to the heritage list.

Designation of the Ohio Earthworks as World Heritage Sites “Would protect earthworks against further development and destruction and would be places of honor for Indigenous achievements”, the National Congress of American Indians stated in its letter of support.

Such a placement would be a first in Ohio and only the 25th nationally. The designation as a World Heritage Site comes with international prestige and recognition, but without financial benefit.

UNESCO says it can help provide emergency aid for sites in immediate danger and provide technical assistance and professional training to help protect designated places.

The organization describes its goals as encouraging “International cooperation for the conservation of the cultural and natural heritage of our world.”

Two other examples of pre-Columbian earthworks on the heritage list are the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Missouri and the monumental Poverty Point earthworks in Louisiana.

In 1892, voters in neighboring Licking County decreed a tax increase to preserve what was left of the earthworks. The area was developed as a golf course in 1911, and the state first leased the 134-acre property to the Moundbuilders Country Club in the 1930s.

The historical society now wants to buy out the lease, convert the property into a park to improve public access to Octagon Earthworks and open a visitor center. The country club’s lease does not expire until 2078.

A Licking County judge ruled in May 2019 that the historical society could recover the lease via a prominent estate. The ruling was upheld by the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals last year.

The club are disputing the attempt to take the property, saying the Ohio History Connection did not make a good faith offer to purchase the property as required by state law. The country club says it has provided good maintenance of the mound and allowed public access over the years.

A 2003 agreement between the historical society and the country club allows full and unhindered access to the site four days a year. The deal also allows public access during daylight hours from November to March and Monday mornings the rest of the year, as long as the club has not scheduled golf activities on those days.

The historical society argues that public access to the site has in fact been restricted since the 2003 agreement, with individuals and groups finding it increasingly difficult to schedule visits based on golfers’ playing times and golfers. course maintenance, including spraying pesticides and herbicides.

Lawyers for the country club – referred to as MCC in court documents – argue that the historic society’s true intention to acquire country club property is in the hope of securing the World Heritage List, which is a highly competitive process. with low success rates, country club attorneys said in a September 2020 court file.

“Is it in the best interest of the public to risk losing all the benefits that the MCC offers for the chance of the property being inscribed on the World Heritage List?” the lawyers argued.

They also claim that the historical society overlooked another nearby ancient earthworks known as the Grand Cercle, despite operating as a park for nearly 80 years.

The historical society argues that its 2020 proposal to buy back the lease for $ 1.66 million was a good faith offer based on an independent appraisal, and its primary focus is public access. The historical society denies the country club’s claims that its plans for the site are contingent on placement on the World Heritage List.

Creating a park on the octagonal earthworks would be “Allowing History Connection and others to research the site on their own schedule, which in turn would allow History Connection to better educate Ohioans (and the world) about the work of earthworks and their historical significance, “ Benjamin Flowers, the state’s solicitor general, said in an October court filing.

The state Supreme Court held oral argument on Tuesday. A decision is not expected for weeks.

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