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Sunday, October 20, 2002

By Rita Price


NEWARK, Ohio -- Unsure of his route, Randy Church stopped at a gas station yesterday for directions.

The member of the Native American Indian Center asked a man how to get to the Octagon Mound.

The man figured Church was confused.

"He said, 'No, you want the park.' '' Church recalled. "I said, 'No, I'm going to the mound. Today I'm going to Octagon Mound.' ''

Church doesn't know whether the man belongs to Moundbuilders Country Club, but the man understood that access to the Octagon earthworks -- a 1,650-year-old Hopewell Indian marvel -- usually is restricted to club members.

Yesterday, however, the emerald-green mound embraced its adoring public during a "golf-free'' day at Moundbuilders. No one had to gaze at the Octagon from a distant perch or feel confined to the park at Great Circle Earthworks.

"It's hard to explain, but you can almost feel the things that took place here so long ago,'' said Connie Foster, a Perry County woman of Cherokee descent.

"Native Americans never understood how the whites could go into a little building once a week -- a church -- to worship,'' she said. "Our lives are an open prayer throughout the day. And how could you ask for a more beautiful church than this?''

About 100 people formed a circle on the mound during an interfaith prayer led by local American Indian groups. For many, it was an opportunity not only to honor the sacredness of the site but also to support 73-year-old Barbara Crandell, an area Cherokee woman who was arrested June 26 while praying at the mound.

Her trial on charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing is set to begin Nov. 7, she said yesterday.

The case has reignited the long-simmering issue of public access to the earthworks, which Moundbuilders leases from the Ohio Historical Society.

Jim Strider, society spokesman, said club officials are among the roughly 30 people on a special committee that met for the first time last week to discuss a new management plan for the society's Newark-area earthworks.

The country club, which predates the society's 69-year ownership of the Octagon earthworks, has done a good job maintaining the site, Strider said.

"From a preservation standpoint, it works,'' he said. "From an access standpoint, there are restrictions.''

The event yesterday, which also included an open house at all the Newark Earthworks, was the last of four "golf-free'' afternoons at Moundbuilders. The public also is allowed to visit Octagon on Monday mornings, Strider said, and anytime outside golf season, between November and March.

But for many people, the tee flags that flutter on the fringes of hallowed mounds can never represent anything but sacrilege.

"I am glad to see so many people here on this land today. Not just the Indian people, but all people,'' said Barry Landeros-Thomas of Columbus.

"It does belong to everyone. It doesn't belong to a few people who pay money to the building back there.''

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