Latest push for ‘Ocmulgee National Park’ could come too late for superintendent

Ocmulgee National Monument superintendent Jim David has another shot at fulfilling his career bucket list to create Georgia’s second national park.

Time is running out for David, who has already postponed his retirement once for this goal, but lawmakers are resetting the clock.

Tuesday, Congressmen Sanford Bishop, D, and Austin Scott, R, reintroduced their bipartisan legislation to expand the park boundaries from 702 to 2,800 acres and change the name to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park.

The bill also authorizes a study to include recreational activities such as hunting, fishing and camping on site.

The effort began in earnest more than eight years ago and legislation originally was introduced in both houses of Congress in 2014.

Bishop and Scott continued their efforts with bills submitted in the 114th Congress in 2015-2016 and the 115th Congress in 2017-2018.

The bills passed the House of Representatives both times.

“We have always had luck on the house side,” David said.

In January of 2017, the bill passed the house within days of the start of that congressional term.

David is optimistic lawmakers will move swiftly this year so he can set his retirement date.

He initially thought he’d finish out his career in early January, but wanted to stay on in case lawmakers approved the measure in last year’s lame duck session.

The House version of the bill has not passed the U.S. Senate but the Ocmulgee proposal was included in a multifaceted public lands package that was not voted on by the end of the 115th Congress last month.

“It bothered me a great deal,” said David, who is beginning to wonder whether he’ll see the measure pass during his tenure.

Brian Adams, president of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative, said it has been tough to stay optimistic.

“We were depressed about the end of the last session, but they promised like every other time that they would push it hard the next session,” Adams said. “We’re more cautious about getting optimistic about it until we see some movement forward.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also reintroduced her bipartisan Natural Resources Management Act on Tuesday and kept the Ocmulgee provision in the bill that includes more than 100 public lands, natural resources and water bills.

The measure already has been placed on the Senate calendar due to an agreement Murkowski forged with leadership last year and will be brought up for “expedited consideration” early in this Congress, according to a news release from Murkowski’s office.

Bishop calls the Ocmulgee Mounds a “true cultural and archaeological treasure.”

“I am confident that this important bipartisan legislation will soon get across the finish line so that it will strengthen the current Ocmulgee National Monument and bolster the economy and cultural life of Georgia and beyond,” Bishop stated in a news release.

Scott added: “Ensuring that the Ocmulgee Mounds receive the historical recognition they deserve will have a lasting positive economic and cultural impact in Middle Georgia.”

In 2015, both lawmakers issued similar statements as they were expecting the bill to pass by the end of that year, also.

Local support from the community remained strong through the final months of 2018 and Macon-Bibb County commissioners passed a resolution trying to address concerns over blighted properties in the expansion zone.

“Our people are all in support,” said Chris Floore, Macon-Bibb County assistant to the county manager for public affairs.

Information from The Telegraph archives contributed to this report.

Liz Jarvis Fabian has reported public safety issues in Middle Georgia for over 36 years. The former storm chaser and news anchor for The Weather Channel has won numerous awards including McClatchy President’s Awards for breaking news team coverage. Fabian was named Georgia AP’s best beat reporter in 2017.