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Jun
20
2024
Land & Environmental

On Friday, June 7, Great Council State Park became Ohio’s newest and 76th state park. Located just six miles south of Yellow Springs at 1587 U.S. — the site of the now-demolished Tecumseh Motel — Great Council State Park features a sprawling native prairie as well as a 12,000-square-foot interpretive center modeled after a traditional Shawnee longhouse. The park highlights local indigenous and natural histories. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Great Council State Park now open

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Ohio’s newest state park is right in Yellow Springs’ backyard.

Centered around Shawnee and natural histories, Great Council State Park opens its doors to the public for the first time on Friday, June 7. It’s located at the site of the now-demolished Tecumseh Motel at 1587 U.S. 68 — about six miles south of the village — near Xenia.

After Friday’s opening, Great Council State Park will be free and open to the public every Wednesday through Sunday.

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Differing from the state’s other 75 parks, the highlight of Great Council is a three-story, 12,000-square-foot interpretive center modeled after a traditional Shawnee longhouse from the 1700s. In it are historic displays, a small theater, a rotating art gallery, a gift shop and hands-on exhibits and activities.

Behind the interpretive center are nearly 14 acres of reclaimed farmland that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or ODNR, is working to renativize into a prairie and wildlife habitat. A half-mile trail cuts through the prairie and terminates with a view of the Little Miami.

As Park Manager Tim Pritchard told the News earlier this week, the idea is for guests to stroll down the path to meditate on what they just learned in the interpretive center.

“Part of what we’re doing here is encouraging people to learn about the Shawnee people and reflect on the history of the land — and also what it is today,” Pritchard said.

The location of Great Council State Park is not insignificant. It’s situated in the area now known as Oldtown, one of the last locations of the Shawnee capital called Chillicothe or Calaakafi, from 1777 to 1780, before the Shawnee were forcibly removed from Ohio. For those three years, it was home to more than 1,000 Shawnee and other Native people — a population larger than many colonial British cities at that time.

Chillicothe hosted some well-known historical figures and leaders, such as Shawnee Chief Blackfish and Caesar — a Black man adopted by the Shawnee, Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton. Though some claim Chillicothe was the birthplace of Tecumseh, the famed Shawnee chief and warrior was born in 1768 before the settlement was established. Still, several of the park’s exhibits and artistic installations pay homage to Tecumseh: A large statue of the man greets guests by front doors and inside, a metallic panther stands ready to strike. Tecumseh’s name translates to “Panther-in-the-Sky” or “Panther-Leaping-at-Prey.”

Other notable historic displays in the interpretive center include an authentic wigwam on the second floor that contains typical items a Shawnee family would have possessed during the 18th century. Guests can also interact with art-making exhibits to create unique patterns on wampum belts, cattails and ribbons. 

The center’s pièce de résistance, though, is a 1,000-gallon “living stream” that is designed to mimic the Little Miami — the local river which has been called the “lifeblood” for the Shawnee settlement. The winding aquarium not only contains stones and aquatic flora found in the actual river, but around 10 species of fish native to the area.

According to Pritchard, guests may touch the living stream’s scaled inhabitants, “if they can.”

“There’s a low tank where touching is encouraged,” he said, “But the species that live there are pretty fast.”

Following Friday’s ceremonial ribbon cutting at 10 a.m., Great Council State Park will be free and open to the public Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursdays, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The park is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. 

To learn more about the new park’s occasional programming, such as free hour-long tours of the interpretive center, visit ODNR’s website at http://www.bit.ly/3x0LO3s.

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