Funding phantom forts

Funding phantom forts
August 1, 2000

The Northwest Territory of the Great Lakes National Heritage Area Act of 1999, introduced in Congress last year by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Indiana), has resurfaced in the current session, drawing a firestorm of criticism from grassroots activists in Souder’s home state.

The Act creates 22 Heritage Areas within the boundaries of the four states-- Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio--that formed the Northwest Territory before they achieved statehood. Souder’s proposal suggests dozens of other areas that might be named Heritage Areas and leaves open the possibility of designating still further areas not named in the bill. It creates an 18-member authority to manage the areas and gives that authority power to receive funds from the federal government and other sources, make grants to and enter into agreements with various public and private organizations, and set its own pay levels.

The 18-member authority established by Souder’s bill would consist of:

  • four members appointed by the four state historical societies
  • four members, appointed by the four states’ governors, of Indian tribes
  • four members, appointed by the governors, from a unit of local government
  • four members, appointed by the governors at their discretion
  • two members appointed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior

Igniting grassroots opposition

In response to Souder’s proposal, a grassroots movement has sprung up in Indiana to nullify the bill. Fearing the Act would usurp both states’ rights and property rights, the loosely knit group has launched a two-pronged attack.

At the state level, they are proposing an “Indiana Property Rights Act” that would limit the ability of federal agencies or other authorities to designate Heritage or other areas within the state. On the county level, they are lobbying county boards to enact “Property Rights Ordinances,” aimed at adding further constraints on efforts by outside authorities to control Indiana lands.

Heritage? What heritage?

The list of Heritage Areas designated by Souder includes a few surprises. Fort Dearborn in Chicago is one surprise: It doesn’t exist.

Fort Dearborn, the beginning of modern-day Chicago, once stood at what is now the intersection of Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue where it crosses the Chicago River. The site is adjacent to the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, at the beginning of what is known as “The Magnificent Mile.”

Valuable real estate . . . but not historic.

Similarly surprising is Souder’s designation of Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, Michigan. The original fort burned down many years ago; the replica that now stands on the site was built in 1958 as a profitable tourist attraction, making money from sightseers headed toward a more famous fort, also designated a Heritage Area by the bill, Mackinac Island’s Fort Mackinac. Fort Mackinac is already one of Michigan’s best-maintained and more profitable tourist attractions.