Supporters of making Ocmulgee National Monument a national park scored a major new victory when the U.S. Senate for the first time approved the designation.
Bills that would create the park have twice passed the House only to fall in the Senate, but this time a bill went through the Senate first and passed by a 92-8 vote on Tuesday. It was part of a larger bill, called the Natural Resources Management Act, that protects 2 million acres of land nationwide. Ocmulgee is one of two new national parks in the bill.
The bill still needs to pass the House and get signed by President Donald Trump to become law, but supporters are optimistic that the long-time goal is now within reach.
Jim David, superintendent of the Ocmulgee National Monument, postponed his retirement to see the designation get final approval.
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“I’m very pleased to see that major step achieved,” David said. “We just have to keep our fingers crossed to see what happens next.”
The designation will expand the park from its current 702 acres to 2,800 acres, and the name would change to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park. David said the historic significance of the expansion is that the current mound area preserved in the monument was occupied only by the leaders of the Indians that lived there, while a much larger number lived by the river. That area will be part of the expansion.
The expansion does not require federal funds. The land will be acquired through private donations, and hundreds of acres are already in conservancy set to be turned over as soon as the bill gets final approval. Other property owners in the past have expressed support and a willingness to sell, David said, and no one will be forced to sell through condemnation.
Brian Adams, a Macon attorney, is president of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative, which has lobbied members of Congress nationwide to support the designation.
“I’m elated,” he said. “We’ve been working on this project for, gosh, 15 years. We’ve spent hundreds of hours writing letters and calling people.”
Although final passage is not certain, Adams said the word he has gotten from Washington is that passage is now likely.
“It’s been a bi-partisan effort,” he said. “I’m just so thankful.”