Hard work being done to shine our oldest jewel

February 23, 2014 

There is a jewel in the heart of the city -- the original city of Macon. This jewel dates back thousands of years before the city’s founding in 1823. It’s the Ocmulgee National Monument.

The monument tells the story of this area from pre-9000 BC to present time. It is a area that was almost destroyed, first by a railroad cut that sliced through the Lesser Temple Mound in 1843. It suffered further damage from another railroad cut in 1874. Part of the McDougal Mound was destroyed when it was excavated for its fill dirt in the construction of Main Street. The Great Temple Mound that overlooks the city was desecrated by motorcycle riders who used the mound for hill climbing.

It wasn’t until concerned citizens brought in archaeologists from the Smithsonian Institute, who found a treasure trove of artifacts, that the mounds found protection. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a proclamation in 1936 to acquire 2,000 acres of “lands commonly known as the Old Ocmulgee Fields.” But the mounds and the monument were far from out of danger. The federal government was only able to acquire 679 acres, according to the monument’s website, because the government was short on money. But that was not the biggest threat to the monument. That threat rolled through in the 1960s with the construction of Interstate 16 that cut through the monument’s acreage.

Now there is an effort to expand the monument and deem it a National Park. And again, it’s private citizens who have come together. The nonprofit Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative teamed with the National Parks Conservation Association, along with economic development leaders to, work on expanding the monument from its current 702 acres to 2,000 acres. The new national park could stretch from Bibb County to Hawkinsville.

What will it take to make that happen? The first step has already occurred with the completion of a boundary study to see if expansion of the monument is appropriate, and how it would expand. The study has two alternatives. The preferred alternative could expand the park to 2,800 acres.

This is no imminent domain land grab. Land would be acquired only from willing donors or sellers. As it was in President Roosevelt’s day, money will decide how far-reaching the monument’s property would spread. But as in the latest acquisition, 679 acres of riverfront land near Bond Swamp, anything is possible.

However, there is another hurdle to jump before the monument can expand with the possibility of becoming a national park. Legislation would have to pass Congress. We can think of no better pièce de résistance to cap a wonderful career than for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss to propose such a measure. Even in this highly charged Washington, D.C. atmosphere, the respect he has on both sides of the aisle would sail such a measure through both houses of Congress.

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