Hopewell Culture
Administrative History
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Maintenance of Mounds and Park Infrastructure

Grounds Maintenance

Mowing the extensive turf areas of Mound City Group National Monument constituted the primary time-consuming maintenance task during Superintendent Clyde B. King's initial era of National Park Service administration. Using borrowed equipment from the Veteran's Administration hospital and the state for the 1946 growing season, the monument's first mowing tractor arrived in February 1947 and was immediately pressed into service removing dead and diseased elm trees. Maintenanceman James Sampson spanned this state-federal period of the 1940s, ensuring a smooth transition at Mound City Group. Following Sampson's transfer to Dayton, Adena State Memorial employee J. Vernon "Vern" Acton filled the position, entering on duty in September 1948, and continuing service for more than three decades.

Vern Acton paid special attention and care to the mound area, recalling "It was hard to maintain the mounds in those days. The kids made paths on them and, when it rained, the water washed out gullies which we had to patch." Grounds maintenance proved to be an arduous task, performed in typical Midwestern weather extremes. Acton later reflected, "When I started out, mowing was a continuous undertaking in the growing season. At that time, all the park site was mowed. We did the mounds with a sickle bar and trimmed the tops with a mowing scythe. The picnic area [and remaining areas were] done with a riding mower." [1]

One of the earliest park management goals envisioned reducing the time and expense of this maintenance burden through a reforestation program. The primary means to achieve this goal involved converting the once-cultivated, open landscape to its former, pre-contact, forested composition. Many held that a forested appearance naturally characterized the Scioto River Valley and would be more accurate to Hopewellian times, or at the very least, reflect the 1840s period of Squier and Davis' excavations.

Toward this end, the first professional National Park Service inspection of the monument's landscape came on October 24, 1946, when two foresters from the Region One Office met onsite with plant pathologist Roger Swingle of the Bureau of Plant Industry. The team recommendations included conducting heavy feeding of existing maples and prune those affected by wilt. Because many trees were crowded and in poor condition, the group advised developing a tree replacement plan. [2]

The first planting plan for the monument came in October 1947 for the superintendent's residence area. Designed primarily to beautify that part of the grounds, its contemporary design appropriate to a private home also served to differentiate it from the remainder of the monument. [3]

Public interest in the monument's landscape program afforded King an opportunity to explain the philosophy behind the "planting scheme." During the July 1948 picnic of "Mr. and Mrs. Garden Club of Chillicothe," King dismissed the possibility of large formal plantings of exotics, but explained three objectives as follows: "this area should present to the people as a whole a section of Ross County; that the presentation, except for residence area, should present that picture only; and that developments are limited to those with lowest maintenance costs." [4]

King's principal emphasis within the planting program was to erect natural screening, particularly around the mound enclosure, to obscure unsightly modern intrusions in adjacent areas. The sooner these natural barriers took root, the better, and to this end, Clyde King began making his management goals a reality. Impatient at the lack of funding for screen plantings, he began gathering seeds of native species during personal drives to view the fall colors through the countryside. On November 1, 1950, King wrote: "Using black locust stakes for markers I have been planting groups of seeds by species around these stakes. They are placed informally over the area to be planted. This planting has been limited to native species and in it the species either absent or in limited numbers have been stressed. Even persimmons have been included." King acknowledged three objectives: "To plant the area, to provide a number of species, and to provide food for various birds and forest animals. Incidentally, I have added over 20 native species to the planting already in the area." [5]

Superintendent James W. Coleman, Jr.
Figure 64: Superintendent James W. Coleman, Jr., presented jack-of-all-trades maintenance worker J. Vernon Acton with a special service award. (NPS/Lee Hanson, Jr., April 1967)

Mother Nature proved to be an uncooperative partner in King's zeal for healthy trees. As early as June 1948, he reported infestations of locust leaf minor turning entire trees brown and defoliating them. Those trees were automatically removed as were elms infested with phloem necrosis, or Dutch Elm Disease. An aggressive removal and burning of diseased elms began in September 1949 in a vain effort to halt further spread of the malady. [6]

In addition to insects, harsh weather conditions also wreaked havoc. Severe summer heat and drought in 1951 brought emergency conditions to southern Ohio, killing most of the seedlings King had planted. Undaunted, he pledged to continue his efforts. Two years later, the same conditions devastated another crop of young spring-planted trees. Climatic conditions in North America brought a return of dust bowl-like conditions reminiscent of the 1930s. While concentrated in the Great Plains, this climatic misery also impacted the larger Midwest and became known as the "Filthy Fifties."

King's spring 1954 inventory of seedlings revealed forty-one still alive. That same season he proudly announced planting of one hundred more trees by his fifteen-year-old son as a scouting project and expressed hope that this might complete the planting project. Unfortunately, another severe summer drought browned much of the grass and again killed the young trees. Only a few were saved by hand-watering. In late 1955, King secured the services of an entire scout troop to plant trees. A return to normal rainfall patterns in 1958 brought King's relieved report in July that "The entire area is really green and trees planted this spring are doing very well. Too, it is probable that certain parts of the area will begin to reforest with silver maple, sugar maple, green and white ash, sycamore, and cottonwood." [7]

The few trees allowed to grow within the mound enclosure area required care and occasional removal. In October 1953, two large Hackberry trees were removed from one of the mounds. Anticipating construction of the visitor center, Maintenanceman Acton began clearing away trees and other "accumulated growth" in the northeast corner of the mounds. King directed the work in order to open the area and make it visible from the proposed museum building. The concentrated vegetation had been encouraged to grow in order to screen out the Veterans Administration's incinerator and access road. Recommendations from Philadelphia brought the advice to wait until the visitor center neared completion before removing the screening. In 1959, a declining White Mulberry, which protruded from the earthworks enclosure wall, required a tractor to pull out each of its six trunks. [8]

Abandonment of the access road to the incinerator brought about the obliteration of that intrusive linear feature in 1960 by seeding and mulching the former roadbed. Allowed to grow tall with only infrequent mowing, the treatment disguised its former appearance so well that foot and vehicle trespass to access that part of the monument virtually ceased within a few months. [9]

Yet more reforestation took place in 1963 through the Accelerated Public Works program, particularly in the visitor center vicinity. When larvae and flat-headed worms infesting these trees turned out to be flat-headed apple tree borers, spraying with a DDT-solution occurred in the summer of 1966. By 1969, with passage of strict environmental laws, pesticide use changed to a Malathion spray, and instead of aerial application, individual trees and shrubs were treated. [10] Malathion proved ineffective against a Japanese Beetle infestation in 1972. A special application of Methoxychlor ended this defoliation of ornamental trees. [11]

A 1963 report peripherally treating the grounds pledged no changes to the monument's extensive grass- and tree-growing regimen. [12]

The MISSION 66 developments of the late 1950s and early 1960s at Mound City Group National Monument substantially burdened its maintenance staff. As late as 1967, Vern Acton remained the only permanent maintenanceman, assisted by only one additional seasonal worker. Designed plantings and intensive turf maintenance around the visitor center required increased attention, and plans to increase the monument's size by adding adjacent surplus federal land promised to overwhelm the park's capabilities. Northeast Region horticulturalist David L. Moffitt recommended the staff be increased by another seasonal position, stating, "Until the extensive plantings in the visitor center area reach maturity and require less maintenance, this area will have a difficult time keeping up with the workload." In response to safety concerns at the residence caused by escaped mental patients hiding in the overgrown shrubbery, Moffitt suggested extensive trimming to eliminate potential hiding places for both psychiatric patients and prison inmates.

In addition to recommending an annual fertilization program, Moffitt proposed a unique means of reducing labor costs in the park's mowing operations. Moffitt suggested using a growth retardant on one-half of the mound area, particularly on those mounds hardest to mow, in order to judge the product's effectiveness. [13] Actual testing with a growth retardant came in late 1973, and yielded inconclusive results. Applied with the same results in 1974, the experiment ended and previous maintenance practices resumed. [14]

Keeping the grass maintained within the mound enclosure proved time-consuming, labor-intensive, and a safety concern. Park Archeologist Lee Hanson later recalled that Maintenanceman Acton had a "tractor with a gang mower and a sickle bar.... The tractor had a counterweight on one side and he used to make a run at the mounds, even the high one in the center, and, using centrifugal force, mow a swath up over one side of the mound. He would keep circling in this manner at top speed until the mound was mowed. To my knowledge, he never turned the tractor over." [15] Presenting the mounds to visitors with a green, uniformly-mowed, and typically park-like appearance could not only be dangerous, but was a spectacle to behold. By the late 1960s, the aforementioned daredevil antics were discontinued in favor of hand-powered mowers on steep slopes. [16]

Ohio State University's Ross County Cooperative Extension Service evaluated the monument's groundcover of Kentucky bluegrass mixed with creeping red fescue in 1965. In dry spells during the summertime, the turf typically turned pale green to yellow indicating poor root development. Soil experts recommended a sustained treatment of 10-6-4 fertilizer for turf vitality and growth during spring and summer, with aeration in compacted areas exacerbated by heavy foot traffic. Such annual treatments first began in May 1965 and concentrated in the mound and visitor center areas. [17]

Perceived inattention or lack of punctual grounds maintenance could yield angry public complaints. By 1969, park interpreters succeeded in changing the golf course-like appearance of the mounds. No longer mowing the entire earthworks, a few of the larger mounds were left in higher grass and occasionally trimmed using a sickle bar mower. Paths of short grass helped to direct visitors from one interpretive stop to another through the mound enclosure. When the entire area appeared overgrown on Independence Day 1969 because of broken mowing equipment, a contrite George F. Schesventer explained the situation to Philadelphia superiors in anticipation of a promised visitor complaint to Interior Secretary Walter Hickel. [18]

Phillip Egan
Figure 65: On steep-sloped earthworks, special care was required while using heavy mowing equipment. Phillip Egan used a tractor with a safety roll-bar. (NPS/July 1988)

Leaving the grass to grow long in problem maintenance areas changed with each new superintendent adding to or subtracting from such areas. A 1976 operations evaluation identified grass mowing as the single maintenance activity requiring the most man-hours. The report called for re-evaluating mowing techniques and a "landscape planting plan" from the regional landscape architect to provide windbreaks, shade, and screening. Turf issues for the Mound City Group earthworks were subsequently deferred for resolution in the park's resources management plan developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. [19] (For a discussion on reestablishing a prehistoric landscape, see Chapter 9).

The Omaha-developed landscape plan slowly emerged by 1980, but went beyond what was needed and had to be scaled back. The monument supported planting large trees for screening, and recommended more be placed to block views and audible intrusions of State Highway 104 from the mounds. The park review of the plan rejected proposed extensive planting of small species of viburnum and dogwood around the visitor center, a design that negated the goal of presenting a more natural scene and easing the maintenance workload. [20] Four years later, a contractor implemented the planting plan, which also included installing trees for screening along Portsmouth Road and near the park residence. Maintenance allowed the quarter's front yard to revert to natural conditions with plantings in the northeast corner added for additional screening for the mounds. [21]

Two modern intrusions were removed from the mound area in 1983. Maintenance workers relocated a bench intended for weary visitors to a spot near the handicapped parking area. They also moved a trash receptacle to the interpretive trail. [22]

Agricultural land added north of the monument required little effort for park maintenance upkeep. In 1987, the thirty-five-acre field came under the historic property leasing program, leased to Harold Sanford to continue caring for the alfalfa crop cultivated there through 1988. Lease income went toward sowing native grasses in order to protect subsurface archeological resources. Subsequent annual income from the haying crop under the program went toward maintaining the grasses, fence, treeline maintenance, and perimeter mowing. [23]

Maintenance of turf grasses
Figure 65a: Maintenance of turf grasses concentrated not only in the mound area, but the expansive visitor center lawn fronting on Highway 104. (NPS/John C. W. Riddle, September 1962)

When turf grasses continued to fail in 1988 along two connector trails from the earthwall's southeast side leading to the Scioto River trail, workers laid down a base of heavy mulch. As heavy foot traffic continued to erode dirt and grass atop the river trail steps, concrete pads were installed there as well as at each interpretive sign. The stone deck at the Scioto audio station also gave way to concrete for safety and aesthetic reasons. Putting practice into written guidelines, the following year saw preparation of separate management plans for turf, earthworks, and integrated pest control. [24]

Mound City Group participated in 1990 along with community groups and businesses to launch a three-year tree-planting program. As many as three hundred trees were planted along State Route 104, also known as "Camp Sherman Memorial Highway," at 100-foot intervals for four miles between U.S. Highway 35 and State Route 207. Local prison inmates planted sugar maples and ash trees in conjunction with Earth Day and the Department of the Interior's "Take Pride in America" campaign. Superintendent Bill Gibson played a pivotal role in the effort, calling attention to environmental issues and community pride in restoring the scenic roadway setting reminiscent of the World War I Camp Sherman era. [25]

Growing archeological evidence that Hopewellian geometric earthworks were sited in pre-existing native prairie openings led to efforts to restore significant areas of native prairie beginning in 1997.


Last Updated: 04-Dec-2000