The Ocmulgee National Monuments expansion bid has cleared another hurdle.
The National Park Services Southeast regional director has approved the Ocmulgee Old Fields Boundary Study, which would add about 2,100 acres to the monuments current 702 acres.
Now, any further action on expansion would have to come through the legislative process, said Jim David, the monuments superintendent. The monument is trying to attain national park status.
If any of Georgias representatives or senators in Washington are interested in pursuing legislation, our legislative office is prepared to assist them in the effort, David said.
He said he already has put in a request for the fiscal 2016 federal budget to buy land. But Ocmulgee also competes with other sites across the country for such funding.
The study resulted in a finding of no significant impact, a result of more than two years of work to determine if the Ocmulgee boundary should be changed.
A draft of the study was released in February, and a public meeting was held to discuss the findings in March. The monument received more than 3,200 comments from individuals, groups and governmental entities about the findings, and all but one of them favored the expansion.
We were surprised and pleased by the overwhelming support for the study, David said. In the past, the most comments we had ever received on a study was a little over 100, so this was very impressive.
Among those commenting were representatives of U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop and Sen. Johnny Isakson, so its possible they could champion the needed legislation.
Several hundreds acres in play are owned by different groups or agencies. The Archaeological Conservancy has been holding 300 preserved acres to donate to the monument for about 20 years, David said. Bibb County also owns about 100 acres, and the state Department of Transportation owns from 40 to 80 acres that it might be willing to donate at some point.
At almost 3,000 acres, the Ocmulgee National Monument would be the smallest national park in the country, should it reach that designation. David said its possible the monument could attain national historic park status. The National Park Service has more than 20 such designations.
Parks with a national park designation, the traveling public does recognize that more readily, David said. When it says national park, it brings more attention to a site.