MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

August 20, 2012

FG to return $150,000 grant for improvements to park

Concern about Native American graves at site leads to federal denial of some project phases

— FORT GIBSON — Fort Gibson’s Board of Trustees has announced it will give back a $150,000 Recreational Trails Grant intended to revamp Clinkenbeard Park and the Jean Pierre Chouteau Trail.

Because of the Native American history in the area, the Army Corps of Engineers was required to notify 19 tribes of the proposed project.

At least one tribe responded by telling the corps it had concerns there were Native American graves in the area, and authorities found an 1880s hand-drawn government map that indicated there were graves in the area.

Consequently, the corps decided not to allow the town’s entire proposed project to go ahead — something the trustees felt put a stop entirely to the project, Mayor Steven Hill said.

“The restrictions just took enough out of the project we felt like it wasn’t worth pursuing,” Hill said. “We’re disappointed the project couldn’t move forward because of the objections that came from the archeological review from Native American tribes.”

The town originally planned to use the money to put in new bathrooms, better lighting, more parking and RV pads with electric and water hookups and clean up the trail.

The Board of Trustees heard a report from Town Administrator Kathy Carson at its recent regular meeting.

“The items they would approve would be the restrooms and showers — as long as nothing archeological was found — and the fish cleaning station and trail improvement,” Carson said. “Excluded are RV sites, expanded parking, light poles and signs.”

The town would be required to hire an archeologist to be on the site during construction, and work would be halted if any artifacts were found.

Instead, Carson said, there are volunteer groups interested in working only on the trail.

After Carson’s report, the trustees discussed the project and voiced their disappointment.

“All that, even though the site has been worked on for years?” Brad Clinkenbeard said. “There’s already paving, lighting, a street that had already been oil chipped. We give back the money.”

Carson said that although the grant was awarded in 2010, the town hadn’t actually received the money, so it wasn’t too difficult to return.

Hill said, “I’m going to move that we abandon the Oklahoma Recreational Trail Grant.”

Trustee Jim Huggins seconded the motion.

“Just make sure the letter says why we abandoned it, not because we really wanted to,” Huggins said.

The trustees unanimously voted to return the grant.

“It’s a shame. It’s a shame,” Myra Cookson said.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

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