River Raisin Battlefield National Park

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (left) talks with Scott Bentley, park superintendent, Wednesday while visiting the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.

The Battle of the River Raisin during the War of 1812 was the largest battle ever fought on Michigan soil and resulted in the largest number of deaths of any single-day battle during that war.

The next day, it was followed by an act of terrorism, frontier-style, that added grave insult to serious injury. It was the massacre by British-allied American Indians of the American wounded and survivors of the battle. The atrocity gave rise to “Remember the  Raisin!,”  a battle cry that inspired other American troops in War of 1812 battles against the British for control of the Old Northwest.

Then, remarkably, it was all but forgotten.

It shouldn’t be anymore.

The clash between the British and American forces on Jan. 22, 1813, and massacre the next day now is memorialized by the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, the nation’s newest national park, formed on ground reclaimed from an old industrial site where paper mills once hummed.

After years of community efforts characterized by an unparalleled display of local teamwork, the National Park Service on Oct. 22, 2010, designated the old site the nation’s 393rd national park, accepting donation of the site lands from the City of Monroe, its port commission, Monroe County and the Monroe County Historical Society.

Once a contaminated, abandoned industrial site, the land at N. Dixie Hwy. and E. Elm Ave. has been cleared and reclaimed and, starting this year, the battlefield will be developed further and maintained by the federal government, which already is mapping plans for enhancement of the site.

Scott Bentley, the new National Park Service superintendent at the battlefield, said the battle and slaughter at the site is noteworthy in history.

About 2,260 combat-related deaths occurred during the War of 1812. About 15 percent of those occurred at the River Raisin battle and massacre.

“It was the largest battle every fought on Michigan soil and was the largest number of fatalities of any single-day battle in the War of 1812,” he said. “The grounds of the River Raisin battlefield are truly sacred grounds. I hope as you visit the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, you’ll think about the great sacrifice that occurred on the grounds you are walking.”

Although the county historical commission has developed and operated a visitor center, at 1403 E. Elm Ave., on part of what was the original battlefield, the park service is planning to expand the site, add interpretive displays and otherwise enhance it.

The visitor center, open on a seasonal basis, long has been a stop for history buffs and school groups, who are entranced by the story of the battle, relics, dioramas and other interpretive materials. Under National Park Service ownership, it is to begin having regular hours year-round beginning this summer.

“Tremendous things have been done to this point, but much remains to fully achieve the persona of a national park,” he explained.

He’s been in the process of hiring initial staff as work continues to develop the park.

U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Dearborn, sponsored legislation that put the battlefield under the purview of the National Park Service, and suggests it will have valuable economic spinoffs for the area.

“The creation of the River Raisin National Battlefield Park could not come at a better time for the embattled hard working people of Michigan,” he said. “Significant economic and cultural value is added to a historic landmark when it is managed within the National Park System, and this impact is expected to intensify during the upcoming Bicentennial of the War of 1812.”

One estimate  is that the park might draw more than 40,000 visitors annually, spur visitor spending of nearly $4.5 million a year and create as many as 110 full-time and part-time jobs.

Mr. Bentley said the initial tasks ahead include acquiring critical battlefield and associated lands, restoring the cultural landscape, enhancing the approaches to the battlefield, obtaining more relics or period objects, constructing or developing a new visitor education center, creating new educational materials and products, developing interactive exhibits and connecting the battlefield to the area’s other historical resources.

The park service also is developing a long-term management plan to guide the operation of the park years into the future.

He said part of the task ahead is to link the park with other local historical assets, such as the Navarre-Anderson trading post complex and historical sites elsewhere around the county.

That goal was given a big boost with the completion and dedication last year of the River Raisin Heritage Trail, a bicycle/pedestrian pathway linking the battlefield visitor center with nearby Sterling State Park.

The trail created what is believed to be the nation’s only pedestrian trail linkage between a national park and a state park. Work is continuing to better tie the trail into the city’s existing system of pathways and sidewalks, creating a walkable, bikeable route that could extend as far west as Monroe County Community College.

The trail was created through the cooperation of the City of Monroe, the State of Michigan, the Monroe County Historical Society, the Community Foundation of Monroe County, the Kellogg Foundation and other groups. It cuts through natural areas and marshes, providing a free pedestrian entryway on the state park’s southwest corner and links with existing nature paths at the state park, eventually tying into the park’s mile-long Lake Erie beach.