Supporters are trying to convince the Trump administration to nominate Dayton aviation history sites and Ohio American Indian sites, including the Fort Ancient Earthworks in Warren County, for World Heritage Site status, a move that many believe would boost the state’s tourism industry.
The Ohio History Connection and other partners are working with lawmakers, such as Sen. Rob Portman, to get the Trump administration’s support.
“Of particular interest to my home state of Ohio are three sites that were placed on the United States’ UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2008, almost a decade ago,” Portman said last month in a letter to Trump. “The Dayton Aviation Sites, Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks and Serpent Mound all contain universal cultural value, from the place that turned the airplane into a reality to the earthworks and mounds from ancient cultures that hold immense ceremonial, spiritual and cultural value.”
The Trump administration is withdrawing from UNESCO, the United Nation office that makes World Heritage Site designations, which is key to establishing the sites as global tourist attractions and to preserving them.
In the Jan. 18 letter, Portman, R-Ohio, supported the U.S. Department of State withdrawal from UNESCO, called for “fundamental reform in the organization” and questioned “continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”
But Portman urged Trump to use the country’s status as a “non-member observer”’ to “strongly support” the process for the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, along with a bid seeking status for the Hopewell and Serpent Mound sites — a bid that includes the Fort Ancient Earthworks in Warren County.
The UNESCO withdrawal is effective at the end of the year.
In addition to Fort Ancient, the group bid includes the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Hopewell Mound Group, Seip Earthworks and Mound City Group in Ross County, plus High Bank Earthworks and Hopeton Earthworks and Newark Earthworks State Memorial in Licking County.
“Several sites in Ohio are poised to join the extremely prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List, with more than 1,000 other properties around the globe, including the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Stonehenge. World Heritage inscription is based on stringent criteria, and signifies outstanding universal value to humanity. Making the list helps ensure a site’s permanent preservation, enhanced understanding, deeper appreciation, and increased tourism,” according to World Heritage Ohio, a group promoting the bid.
World Heritage Ohio includes the Ohio History Connection, NPS Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, representatives from Dayton Society of Natural History, convention and visitors bureaus, the OSU Newark Earthwork Center, American Indian tribal citizens and “other interested stakeholders,” according to Emmy Beach, public relations manager for Ohio History Connection, the state government’s historical preservation arm.
Resolutions of support have been adopted by the Seneca Nation and the Intertribal Council of Oklahoma, which includes the Shawnee, Eastern Shawnee, Miami, Seneca-Cayuga, Quapaw, Peoria, Ottawa and Modoc Tribes and Wyandotte Nation.
Projections of a 10-fold increase in attendance at Fort Ancient, from 25,000 to 250,000 a year, are based on the effect at other World Heritage locations.
Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs has completed research for a market study of the economic value of World Heritage designation for the sites.
“The study will be used to help us and our project partners—especially communities in Licking, Ross and Warren counties—understand the potential economic impact of World Heritage. The study will guide us toward building sustained, positive economic impact that benefits the whole region,” Beach said.
The report is to be presented in March in Lebanon, but no details were available last week, Beach said.
It was unclear if Portman had received a response to his letter to the president, part of the latest push to get the Ohio aviation and Native American spots approved.
Beach said the state office was unaware of Portman or any other area lawmakers, including congressmen Steve Chabot, Brad Wenstrup and Steve Stivers so far receiving a response to letters of support to Trump or Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
“We seek the Department of the Interior’s official invitation for the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks to be the next World Heritage nomination prepared by the U.S. That is the next official milestone,” Beach said in response to questions about the effort. “We are encouraging elected officials to share their strong support for the nomination with the Department of the Interior and other key individuals in the federal administration.”
The Trump administration is expected to stop paying UNESCO dues, required to qualify it for membership.
“The United States is a party to the World Heritage Convention (an international treaty), whether we are dues-paying members of UNESCO or not, so UNESCO and World Heritage are not inextricably linked. In the 1980s, the United States pulled out of UNESCO but remained an important party to World Heritage, and several U.S. sites were inscribed during that period. The decision (by the Trump administration) should not adversely affect designation,” Beach added.
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