U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop and Austin Scott, who re-introduced legislation last month that would create Georgia’s first National Historical Park in Macon, toured the Ocmulgee National Monument on Thursday.
The bill, the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act of 2015, would expand the boundaries from about 700 acres to more than 2,000 acres.
It would authorize a resources study to expand the park even farther and include additional opportunities for hunting, camping, fishing and other recreational activities.
It also would change the park’s name to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park to help increase name recognition and draw more visitors.
“Hopefully we’ll get it done,” Scott said at a meeting with local and park officials at the mounds’ museum.
Bishop said, “It’s something I think that will be a real win for our area, but more importantly it will preserve ... sacred ground.”
He called the park “a too-well-kept secret. We need to do what we can do to make sure that people all over the country know.”
Also Thursday, a private group including Macon lawyer Brian Adams won at auction 141 acres of property that was home to the now-closed Lakeside Park in east Bibb County. Lakeside Park was a popular swimming, boating and fishing area whose heyday came decades ago.
Adams, president of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative, did not disclose the amount of the winning bid, which came with a contingency that the land’s owner approve any plans for the land.
Adams said his group ultimately wants to see the 141 acres become part of a future Ocmulgee National Park, but he said for now he is happy the property will be protected.
“We’re excited about more things happening with this effort,” Adams said “It’s a step in the right direction.”
The site of the hoped-for expansion of the National Monument into a National Historical Park has a long history. Native Americans first came to the site during the Paleo-Indian period to hunt Ice Age mammals. Different cultures have occupied the property for thousands of years. The mounds and earth lodges that the Mississippians built to serve as formal council chambers when they arrived around 900 A.D. remain intact.
Bishop said he thinks the chance for the bill’s passage is “excellent.”
“I agree,” Scott said.
He added, “My main issue is making sure that we preserve the public’s right to access land in these federal areas. ... I feel good about what y’all are trying to do.”
Similar efforts to move forward on the effort last year fell short.
The Ocmulgee National Monument originally was authorized by Congress in 1934. The legislation envisioned a large park of about 2,000 acres, but residents could finance the acquisition of only 678 acres by the time it opened in 1936. Today, the Ocmulgee National Monument comprises 702 acres.
If the bill is enacted, the monument would be expanded to protect additional cultural and natural resources in the Ocmulgee Old Fields. Property also would be acquired from willing donors or sellers, subject to the availability of funding.
On Oct. 10, 2014, the measure was endorsed by the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole Nations), representing more than 500,000 Indian people across the United States.