In the last two weeks, the United States Congress has taken significant strides towards creation of the Ocmulgee National Historical Park. On Friday, January 13, 2017, Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue joined Georgia Congressmen Sanford Bishop and Austin Scott to reintroduce legislation creating Georgia’s first national historical park.
On Monday evening January 30th, by a vote of 396 to 8, the United States House of Representatives passed the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act (HR 538). Companion legislation awaits action in the Senate.
During the 114th Congress, an identical version of this legislation passed unanimously through the US House Natural Resources Committee and was passed by the full House of Representatives. The previous Senate version passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and though positioned for passage, was not voted upon by the full Senate before Congress adjourned for the year.
Designated in 1934, the 702-acre Ocmulgee National Monument is considered sacred to members of the Muscogee Creek Nation as well as to five additional native tribes. Located on the Ocmulgee River near Macon, GA, the Ocmulgee National Monument was home to Native Americans for more than 17,000 years. The national monument contains multiple ceremonial mounds and earthworks dating from the Mississippian period, including the only spiral staircase mound known to exist in North America.
The Muscogee Creek recognize these lands to be their culture’s place of origin, describing lands which adjoin the course of the Ocmulgee River as “the place where we first sat down” – meaning the place where their ancestors first became a settled agricultural society. Encompassing roughly 85,000 acres of contiguous swamp, and representing the largest block of forested habitat in Georgia’s upper Coastal Plain, the State of Georgia has identified Ocmulgee’s 50-mile river corridor as among the state’s highest priorities for landscape conservation.
The Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act (HR 538) captures these concerns, seeking to rename the current national monument the “Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park” while expanding the current monument’s landmass from 702 acres to 2,800 acres. Perhaps most importantly, passage of this legislation authorizes the National Park Service to undertake a resources study, an exploration of culturally affiliated lands to determine if the boundaries of the newly established national park could be expanded to create the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve. Establishment of the park and preserve would protect additional lands considered sacred to the Muscogee while creating new opportunities in Middle Georgia for recreational hunting, fishing, and camping.
“Ensuring that the Ocmulgee Mounds receive the national park status and historic recognition they deserve will have a lasting positive economic and cultural impact in Middle Georgia,” stated Congressman Austin Scott. “It is for our constituents in Middle Georgia that we come together in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to reintroduce this legislation that will preserve our state’s history for future generations.” The National Trust could not agree more.