Local efforts to expand the Ocmulgee National Monument were delayed last year, but they appear to be gaining steam.
The monument preserves huge earthen mounds where an ancient civilization flourished, eventually giving birth to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
If enlarged sufficiently, the park could graduate from a national monument to a national park, likely attracting more visitors.
At the end of 2008, the Macon-Bibb County Development Authority pledged $50,000 toward the estimated $150,000 cost of a boundary survey, the first step in expansion. At the time, economic development officials expected the money to be released in early 2009 and the survey to be completed by the end of last year.
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Chip Cherry, president of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, said the $50,000 was a local match for a Department of Commerce “capacity-building” grant of almost $100,000. The funding became available to help with economic development, in this case tourism, after the Mother’s Day tornado of 2008, he said.
Although the Economic Development Administration under the Commerce Department was “very interested” in the proposal, Cherry said, it has requested more information about the number of direct jobs an expansion would create and whether the there is a reasonable chance the additional land can be acquired.
U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall’s office is writing a letter to express confidence in acquiring the land, Cherry said, and monument Superintendent Jim David is working on the staffing estimate.
Cherry added that the local share may have to increase a bit, “But I feel confident that if we need to come up with another $10,000, we can find that.”
The boundary survey would evaluate whether there is other property of national significance worthy of being included in the park, David said.
Three-hundred acres of it were donated for the park, but they have been held by the Archaeological Conservancy for 15 years because the National Park Service would not accept it while the route of the Eisenhower Parkway Extension was undecided. Original road designs would have put the road’s path through the Archaeological Conservancy land.
But during the years, changes in leadership both locally and at the National Park Service caused both to reverse their positions.
And the Eisenhower Extension project is in limbo. Several years ago it basically lost most local support, and its status as an active project with the state Department of Transportation.
In the end, expansion would require congressional approval, which could come with or without federal funding.
David said, “I think the park service would recommend (expansion) to Congress,” he said. “I think the Obama administration is interested in adding more parks.”
Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report.
To contact S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.