The Ocmulgee National Monument’s bid to attain National Historical Park status got a boost Wednesday.
A $74,800 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will help pay for an economic impact study of the Ocmulgee River Corridor, according to a statement from the foundation.
The news was announced Wednesday night at a year-end celebration of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative, a community group working to expand the current site.
A bill was introduced in Washington, D.C., earlier this year that would have changed the name of the monument, but it has languished. But the proposal has the support of Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said Brian Adams, president of the Ocmulgee initiative.
“I think we’ve laid the right foundation,” Adams said before the meeting. “I feel very good about the ability to get the bill passed” in 2015.
Besides changing the park’s name, proposed legislation also would expand the park’s acreage from about 700 acres to more than 2,000 acres. It also would authorize a study about further expansion of the park between Macon and Hawkinsville that could increase its size to more than 40,000 acres if the results determine that land between the cities should be designated for the park.
Should that happen, Ocmulgee would become Georgia’s first national park.
For the next 12 months, the National Parks Conservation Association will work with researchers to measure the economic value of current recreation and tourism activities in the Ocmulgee River Corridor. The assessment also will include an analysis of the potential benefits that would result from connecting existing federal and state public lands between Macon and Hawkinsville as a national park and preserve.
“A national park and preserve designation for Ocmulgee could have far-ranging benefits for Macon and beyond; it carries with it the promise of new opportunities, economic vitality and recognition of the area’s rich cultural and historical legacy,” Beverly Blake, the Knight Foundation program director for Macon, said in a news release. “The hope is that the study will provide a clearer picture of the potential impact the designation could have on communities in the region, giving decision makers a powerful information tool.”
The monument’s history goes back that far, to when Native Americans migrated to the midstate during the Paleo-Indian period to hunt mammals. The 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.