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Ancient earthworks trodden by golfers become a world heritage site

Nine months after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a country club must sell its lease to the state historical society that owns land containing Native American earthworks, golfers continue to push carts over the mounds and hitting them with three-irons.

But today these octagonal earthworks, which Native Americans built around 2,000 years ago to track the movement of the sun and moon across the sky, have been officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“Inscription on the World Heritage List will bring international attention to these treasures long known to Ohioans,” said Megan Wood, executive director and CEO of the Ohio History Connection, which has worked with the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior to create a World Heritage List. combination of eight earthworks sites in central Ohio recognized.

These sites, collectively known as the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, include the Octagonal Earthworks at Newark, which were created one basket full of earth at a time with both pointed sticks and clapper hoes.

The designation, announced Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, places the earthworks among just over 1,000 world heritage sites. There are only 25 in the United States, including the Grand Canyon, Independence Hall and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“The historical, archaeological, and astronomical significance of the octagonal earthworks is arguably equivalent to that of Stonehenge or Machu Picchu,” Justice Michael P. Donnelly wrote in the Ohio Supreme Court decision in favor of the state historical society, which upheld two lower court rulings.

The recognition comes after a years-long battle between the Moundbuilders Country Club, which had leased the land since 1910 and operated a private golf course atop the earthworks, and the Ohio History Connection, which owns the site and intends to open as a public park.

History Connection sued the country club in 2018 to try to acquire the lease, which runs until 2078. Federal officials had told the historical society that it would be impossible to obtain World Heritage recognition, which brings international reputation and legal protection, without full public access. to the site.

The club had argued that terminating the lease was not necessary to establish public use and maintained that it had preserved and maintained the mounds. Its members, club board president David Kratoville, told the New York Times in 2021, “go out for a day and clean out the sandboxes and plant some flowers.”

After the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling last year, the country club filed a motion for reconsideration that was quickly denied.

Kratoville wrote in an email Tuesday that the country club had been good stewards of the Octagon earthworks and welcomed their World Heritage recognition.

“All we have ever asked for in this protracted situation was to be fairly compensated, allowing our operations to continue elsewhere for our members, our community and the hundred or so people we employ,” said Kratoville.

The club had said it was willing to move before the lease was up, but the parties are millions of dollars apart in their negotiations. The value of the lease will now be determined in a jury trial scheduled to begin October 17.