On April 19th, the National Park Service held scoping meetings at the Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia, to receive public input and answer questions about an ongoing study to determine whether lands near the monument are appropriate for inclusion within the park. These meetings represent the first steps in a process that could expand the monument’s size, as well as its economic impact on surrounding communities.
Congress authorized the creation of Ocmulgee National Monument in 1934 to protect lands recording 17,000 years of human activity in the Ocmulgee River valley, including the region’s beloved Indian Mounds. Unfortunately, when officially designated in 1936, the Park Service acquired only 675 acres. Since then, only a few acres have been added; the park’s story remains incomplete.
A boundary expansion would ensure preservation of a rich archaeological landscape representing the history of the southeast from the Ice Age to the era of Indian Removal, including one of the great Mississippian-era settlements in North America, sites sacred to contemporary Muscogee Creek people, and elements of the stories of the American frontier, the Creek Civil War, Tecumseh’s Rebellion, and the War of 1812. Any future land acquisitions would have to come from willing sellers.
Today, the Ocmulgee National Monument is middle Georgia’s most popular tourist destination, attracting 109,000 visitors and adding $5.4 million to the economy in 2010. In fact, America’s national parks are significant economic engines for their local communities. The parks receive only 1/13th of one percent of the federal budget, or roughly $2.9 billion annually, yet park-based visitor spending adds $31 billion to the national economy--a ten-to-one return on investment. In the case of the Ocmulgee National Monument, current economic impacts could grow substantially if the monument is expanded and linked to other public lands along the river, including the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Oaky Woods, and Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Areas to the south. The true value of the Monument to the region’s recreation and heritage tourism economy has yet to be realized.
Additionally, as Georgia’s urban population continues to grow, the need for park land, open space, and recreational amenities is also increasing. The Macon and Warner Robins metro areas have a population of almost 400,000, while most of metro-Atlanta’s 5 million people are within a two-hour drive of the monument.
This growing desire for outdoor recreation opportunities is reflected in the recent formation of a multi-county partnership to establish an Ocmulgee River Blueway paddle trail. Eleven counties have passed resolutions supporting the Blueway and the establishment of new public access points for river-based recreation. An expanded national monument would serve as a key northernmost piece of the Blueway, providing additional publicly owned river frontage and the potential for new recreational features such as put-ins, trails, and camping facilities. It would also enhance the river’s scenic quality and help to build the case for designating Ocmulgee as part of the National Water Trails System.
For all of these reasons, NPCA supports the expansion of the Ocmulgee National Monument. In the coming months, concerned citizens will have additional opportunities to weigh in on the process. Over the summer, the Park Service will be developing a set of management alternatives. In the fall, the Park Service will release a draft version of the study, and provide interested citizens with opportunities to comment and to discuss the proposal at public meetings.
The study is expected to be finalized in early 2013, at which time legislation could be introduced in Congress to formally expand the monument boundary. NPCA will be fully engaged in this process, so stay tuned for further details as they emerge.