We can have a national park in midstate, if we demand it

July 17, 2013 

Did you know that Georgia is one of only a handful of states without a national park? We do have national forests and national monuments but no national park.

Several years ago, there was a movement to establish a national park in Middle Georgia, but eventually supporters gave up their fight. That movement had the backing of Macon and Bibb County as well as its chamber of commerce. Sadly, support from other Middle Georgia communities was hardly present.

A national park in Middle Georgia could well bring in millions of dollars in sales taxes and hotel room taxes to fund local governments. Moreover, it might well be expected to create thousands of jobs.

Where could such a park find its home? Start with the Ocmulgee National Monument, Brown’s Mount and the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and travel southward along the Ocmulgee River. There are many archeological sites to be found and excavated to reveal the rich history of the Mississippian peoples that occupied so much of the region.

Brown’s Mount is adjacent to the refuge and used to have pre-historic walls and ditches encircling it. It also had an earth lodge like the one at the Ocmulgee National Monument. Brown’s Mount was a Woodland Era (pre-900 A.D.) and Mississippian site like the Ocmulgee mounds. Originally, it was desired to have Brown’s Mount incorporated as part of the Ocmulgee Monument, but it was then privately owned. It has since been purchased via a Peyton Anderson Foundation donation and given to the Museum of Arts and Sciences, who sold it to the state.

Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge consists of about 7,500 acres on both sides of the river. Additionally, there are about 1,000 acres of state land on the west side of the river.

Let’s not forget the rich flora and fauna species, many of which are found only in the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area. Oaky Woods is also habitat to a large black bear population. Hunting in the Oaky Woods WMA is important to many in our communities and can still be permitted if the WMA is established as a national wildlife preserve when included in a proposed national park. Moreover, legislation creating the national park can be written to guarantee future hunting activities should Oaky Woods be included in the national park.

Without a doubt, there are numerous challenges to creating the park and providing tourist attractions to bring travelers to our communities. Those can be overcome if we join together to make it happen. What are the challenges?

First, I understand that the Ocmulgee River sometimes floods its banks. Therefore, any facilities built for tourists to enjoy and explore would need to be built high and dry.

Second, not all the land adjoining the river’s banks are owned by the public. An attempt to purchase all the privately owned lands could be expensive. On the other hand, if private owners gave rights of way to be used by the park, purchase might not be necessary.

Third, all Middle Georgia local governments would need to join along with business interests, chambers of commerce and other interested groups to move the process forward.

Fourth, private investment, with perhaps some tax incentives, would be necessary to provide additional recreational activities for visiting tourists. My vision consists of parks and theaters on a scale similar to what many of you have seen at Pigeon Forge.

I understand there is an Ocmulgee Blue Water Partnership project that might also be incorporated into the park and could provide access to the coast.

There is much more to be addressed, but I am short of the space needed. However, consider the millions of dollars in tax revenue and business enterprises to be had. I have not even addressed the potential of thousands of jobs for our citizens. A national park would also benefit Robins Air Force Base by clearing encroachment zones for aircraft activity. But nothing will happen unless we get off the couch, talk with local government officials and development authorities and chambers of commerce to make it happen.

Whether we can have a national park here in Middle Georgia is up to you. If you want it, demand it! Contact local government authorities, development authorities and chambers of commerce. Call your congressman and both U.S. Senators.

Those who worked so long previously attempting to reach this goal are still available and may be interested working the project again. They need to hear from you. If you want it, write a letter to this paper and express your interest.

David Wittenberg resides in Kathleen. Contact him at dkw460@yahoo.com.

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