Woman claims historical area a part of federal land grab

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

The Mine Creek Battlefield State Historical Site is one of the featured sites in a national historical area (NHA) that includes much of eastern Kansas and western Missouri. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

MOUND CITY – A woman from Allen, Kan., spoke to the Linn County Commission on Monday, Aug. 2, urging the commission to opt the county out of the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. Calling the organization part of a land grab by the federal government, Angel Cushing said Linn County should also not take any grants from the organization.

But the executive director of the organization in an interview on Thursday, Aug. 6, said his organization had nothing to do with acquiring land, and in fact was prohibited from owning property. Speaking from the Freedom’s Frontier office in Lawrence, Jim Ogle said he was aware of Cushing’s campaign to discredit his organization as a front for land acquisition.

“We are prohibited by law from doing anything we’re accused of doing,” Ogle said.

He said Freedom’s Frontier, a tax-exempt non-profit organization, was a mechanism for a partnership of public and private sectors to promote education about history in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. It was established 15 years ago through federal legislation that was sponsored by former U.S. Rep. Jim Ryan from Kansas.

Legislation creating the National Heritage Area (NHA) program was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. It was created to promote heritage conservation, recreation, and economic development.

President Donald Trump signed bipartisan legislation in 2019 creating six new national historic areas, increasing the number of NHAs across the country to 55.

Ogle said that, like other counties when the Kansas-Missouri area was being formed, people from Linn County who were interested in history gave input and support to creating the historical area.

“We cover three significant parts of Kansas history,” he said. Those include the settlement of the frontier, the border conflict between pro-slavery and abolitionists on the Missouri-Kansas border, and the enduring struggle of freedom during and after the Civil War.

A map of the area covered by the NHA is available at this link.

“There are not a lot counties that have two state historic sites,” Ogle said, referring to the Mine Creek Civil War Battlefield State Historic Site south of Pleasanton and the Marais des Cygnes Massacre State Historic Site east of Trading Post. He added that representatives from Linn County were part of the group that worked to organize the historical area.

Jessica Cox, curator for the Trading Post Museum near the northern junction of Kansas Highway 52 and U.S. 69 Highway, said the representative from the museum helped in creating the historic area.

Likewise, representatives from the Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation also gave their input, said Wendy Morlan of Pleasanton, a member of that board.

The organization’s map, which outlines the 41 counties on both sides of the state line included in the program’s area, also notes points of interest in Pleasanton, Mound City and La Cygne.

Senate Bill 1942, introduced in May, proposes to require a standard for areas seeking the NHA designation. It also would establish a National Heritage Area System “through which the Department of the Interior would furnish technical and financial assistance to local coordinating entities to support the establishment, development, and continuity of the National Heritage Areas.”

NHA critic Cushing called S.B . 1942 a “bad bill” because she believes it gives the Interior Department control over those areas created by a federal boundary. Those areas could be used to fulfill President Joe Biden's commitment to conserving 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030 – called by some the “30 by 30” plan.

Cushing believes that the boundaries established by the NHA will be used by the Interior Department to further increase the federal government’s land holdings.

She also warned that some contracts for land enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), in which environmentally sensitive land is taken out of agricultural production to protect the soil, no longer had an end date.

The federal government owns about 300,000 acres in Kansas, according to ballotpedia.org. That is about 0.57 percent of the land in the state.

That includes the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Area’s 7,500 acres between U.S. 69 Highway and the Missouri border in Linn County purchased through negotiations with willing landowners. The wildlife area was established to preserve hardwood bottomland.

Cushing also said that all of the grant money received by Freedom’s Frontier organization goes to Lawrence and projects there.

But Ogle denies that claim. He said the organization regularly opens its grant applications for proposals on interpretive grants across the entire region. In the latest round, five organizations in the heritage area were awarded grants, and one went to Lawrence.

Ogle, who is well aware of Cushing’s activities, said the woman has been telling her audiences that the Freedom’s Frontier organization uses grants to convince county commissions to adopt zoning regulations favorable to his organization. He said that was absolutely not true, and that his organization was simply not involved in zoning.

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