A new bipartisan bill could help the Ocmulgee National Monument move significantly closer to becoming a national park.
The proposed legislation, called the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act of 2014, would expand the park’s acreage from about 700 acres to more than 2,000 acres and would change the name of the monument to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and Austin Scott, R-Ga.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill would authorize a study about further expansion of the park between Macon and Hawkinsville. Should the results of that study show that the land between the two cities should be designated for the park, it would increase the park’s size to more than 40,000 acres -- enough to make it Georgia’s first national park, said Jim David, the monument’s superintendent.
“This is the first step in basically the expansion of the park,” David said. “It’s been something a lot of people have been working on for many years to provide protection for unique and valuable archaeological resources. It’s a dream many people have had for many years.”
David said any land acquired for the park would be from willing donors or sellers.
In a news release, Scott and Bishop both highlighted the park’s cultural heritage.
“Georgia continues to have one of the richest cultural heritages of any state in the country,” Scott said. “By revising the boundaries of the Ocmulgee National Monument, we can continue to preserve our state’s history so future generations can learn about and enjoy the different cultures that have occupied our land over the years and have made us who we are today.”
Bishop said Georgia’s cultural and archeological heritage “runs deep in the red clay of our state.”
“Creation of Georgia’s first National Park here at Ocmulgee Mounds in the Macon-Bibb area will bolster the local economy with additional tourism and help preserve the important legacy of the original inhabitants of our great state,” Bishop said.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he is looking into a similar bill to introduce in the Senate, but it is still in the process of working out the details.
The monument’s history goes back 17,000 years when Native Americans migrated to the midstate during the Paleo-Indian period to hunt Ice Age mammals.
“This is another game-changing effort for Macon-Bibb County, and this time, it’s one that will provide decades of benefit for our region and the entire state of Georgia,” Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said in the news release. “This is our history, and it’s one that stretches back almost 17,000 years. To have a concerted effort locally get us to this point and then have our legislators work together on this bill is a testament to our shared community desire and need to protect that history.”
Brian Adams, president of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative board, said he and others traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to lobby lawmakers on the park’s behalf.
“We made the rounds on (Capitol) Hill, which was a really neat experience,” he said. “(The congressmen) have been really supportive of this effort. We left with the right amount of momentum.”
Adams said he hopes the bill is a universal consent bill -- a bill that passes without opposition -- and that President Barack Obama could sign it into law by the end of the year.
The study would then take about two years to complete, Adams said. If the study shows that the land between Macon and Hawkinsville should be part of the park, then a new bill would have to be introduced to make Ocmulgee a national park.
According to the National Park Service website, a national park is defined by containing a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.
By comparison, a national monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. It is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of attractions.
Should the Bishop-Scott bill pass, the name change to “national historic park,” which is not the same as a national park designation, is designed to attract more tourists and increase name recognition, the news release said.
Ocmulgee National Monument was originally authorized by Congress in 1934 to protect lands commonly known as the “Old Ocmulgee Fields,” where Indian mounds of great historical importance are located, according to the news release.
“This is a sweet day for all those people who have put in so much blood, sweat and tears into this over the years,” Adams said.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.