Town officials in Fort Gibson, Okla., and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are close to agreeing on a plan to rehabilitate Clinkenbeard River Park despite Native American gravesites believed to be there. However, the scale of the project is likely to be much smaller than originally proposed, the Muskogee Phoenix reported.
The eastern Oklahoma town received a $150,000 grant in May 2010 to clean up and resurface about a mile of the historic Jean Pierre Chouteau National Recreational Trail, which begins in the east end of the park. Additionally, plans were to add RV pads, electric hookups, new bathrooms, a fish cleaning station and more parking.
The Corps of Engineers is asking the town to forgo the RV pads, electric hookups and extra parking.
An 1898 federal map of the area indicates Native American burials in the park — though with a changing landscape, none are certain where the burials actually were, said Michelle Horn, an archaeologist in the Corps of Engineers who has been charged with ensuring all interested parties are satisfied with the town’s plans before final approval for the project is given.
“We’re doing our best to let the project move forward in some manner, but still take everyone’s concerns into account and ensure we are making a responsible decision out there — because the last thing we want to do is impact burials or sacred areas on our land,” Horn said.
According to the National Historical Preservation Act, Horn made contact with all interested tribes to open a discussion of the park plans.
“The additional construction that was proposed in the park itself was discussed in consultation with all of the tribes that have been concerned with the potential burials in the area,” Horn said. “We discussed the problem that we don’t know where the burials are exactly located, and during the discussions with the town, (Town Manager) Kathy Carson proposed reducing the scale of the project to help get it through consultation quicker.”
The Board of Trustees of the Town of Fort Gibson discussed the verbal proposal by the Corps of Engineers at its most recent town meeting. No action was taken, as the town is waiting on a written proposal, Carson said.
The Corps of Engineers is suggesting the RV and electrical work, as well as the parking lot be left out of the project.
“Any of the items that would cause serious ground disturbance on the southwestern end of the park near where the burials are suspected to be,” Horn said. “The restrooms, fish cleaning station and boat ramp project have enough low-impact potential that we feel like we could begin to move forward.”
However, the Corps of Engineers will require the town to employ an archeological ground monitor to monitor the construction process, Horn said.
Lisa LaRue, the historic preservation officer of the United Keetoowah Band, could not be reached Wednesday for comment, but said in December the tribe is not against improvements at the park.
“We are confident no sacred sites will be disturbed,” she said.
The town has until May 24 to begin work, unless an extension is granted on the deadline.