Approximately 60 people turned out for a public hearing held by the National Park Service in Newtonia yesterday. The hearing is part of a process to determine if the Ritchey Mansion and adjacent Civil War battlefields should be transferred to the National Park Service (NPS).
National Park Service historian Ruth Heikkinen conducted the meeting. She was assisted by Connie Langum, historian at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
Langum presented a short history of the two battles that occurred in Newtonia. Heikkinen then opened the hearing by explaining what criteria the NPS uses to determine if a property is a good fit within the Service. She explained how a park becomes a park, noting that most properties are recommended by Congress, which gives the NPS the responsibility to conduct a feasibility study and report back to Congress.
Final determination about the future of each site rests with Congress, which can shelve the idea, pass legislation to accept the property into the Service or refuse to place the property under government jurisdiction.
Heikkinen, who works in the Midwest Region, said that during a normal year, the NPS will have only one site to study, but this year they are swamped with seven properties.
This is not a typical year, Heikkinen said, and many of the properties were are dealing with are in Missouri with one in Ohio, one in Michigan and one in Arkansas.
Following Heikkinen's presentation, the meeting was open for comments. Those in attendance were asked what changes or programs would people want to see if the property were transferred to the NPS.
Some of the items liste by the public included: more hours of operation at the Ritchey Mansion; development of the site as a prime place to study the involvement of Native Americans in the Civil War; and more emphasis on the site as a tourist attraction.
Heikkinen also invited people to express any concerns they had. There were no major concerns expressed other than the fact that as the volunteers attending the property now age there is concern about the future of the property. It is hoped that the mansion and battlefield will be accepted into the National Park Service, which will be caretakers forever.
An estimated 20 of the 60 people in attendance at two sessions of the hearing were residents of Newtonia, and there was unanimous agreement among the townspeople that a transfer to the NPS would be good for the preservation of the site and for the community. Newtonia's current population is about 150.