Randolph County leaders pitch national park surrounding Kaskaskia
KASKASKIA, Ill. (KMOV) - There’s a renewed push to create a new national park in southwestern Illinois dedicated to the area’s French history and Illinois’ first state capital.
The locations in question are currently state historic sites near the Mississippi River in the Randolph County area about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis. They are Fort du Chartres, Kaskaskia Island, Fort Kaskaskia and Creole House. Now, leaders there want to create a national park surrounding the sites.
It was an idea born out of necessity after the 2019 floods highlighted the need for better infrastructure and funding for levee improvements to preserve the Mississippi River floodplains and the history and farmland they still contain.
“This is where the French history in the United States started. It started in Kaskaskia,” Randolph County Economic Development Director Chris Martin said. “Perpetuity. For the next generations. For my granddaughter and her grandchildren.”
Fort du Chartres was once a major French base in the 1700s during the French and Indian War, before Illinois became a state. When it did become a state, nearby Kaskaskia briefly became its first state capital, with many historic buildings still standing.
The idea has already garnered bipartisan support from Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, along with Congressman Mike Bost. Duckworth introduced a bill that would have formed the park in the 117th Congress, but it stalled and was never passed.
Local leaders hope the bill gets introduced again. They offered a tour of the sites Wednesday to several Congressional staffers and the National Parks Service. Duckworth’s Southern Illinois Outreach coordinator Jim Kirkpatrick says the area is important to the country and the state.
“Kaskaskia has as much significance in the development of the western part of the United States as Jamestown,” Kirkpatrick said.
“[We’re] trying to show everyone the historical significance (of the sites) and why they are important to us, in the hopes that they will reintroduce the bill again,” Prairie du Rocher Village President Mark Wilson said.
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