Georgia’s Ocmulgee Mounds could be America’s next national park
A dash of ancient mounds of dirt dot the rolling hills of central Georgia, and soon this historic expanse could be in the national spotlight. Ocmulgee Mounds, a Macon forest park with 17,000 years of human history, is set to become the country’s next national park – and the first in Georgia – a feat that could happen as early as 2022.
Currently listed as a National Historic Park, the monument is essentially a 2,000-acre time capsule – it houses one of the National Park Service’s (NPS) largest archaeological collections with thousands of ancient finds dating back to the area’s earliest inhabitants. the last Ice Age, millennia before the Egyptians erected the pyramids of Giza.
And the park’s array of hillocks transports travelers to another important and more recent period: the Mississippian era. Built between 900 and 1100, these man-made mounds, made from earth and clay by builders in the Mississippian, were part of Native American villages, complete with public buildings, homes, and temples. From the top of the largest of the mounds, the 55-foot-tall Great Temple Mound, a masterpiece that required around 10 million baskets of soil, the leaders of the company kept watch over the village and its wooded and swampy surroundings. Today, a staircase allows visitors to have the same view, while trails in the park connect this site to other mounds and former gathering places.
While this rich history and distinct landscape have long drawn travelers to the Ocmulgee Mounds – in addition to a number of outdoor activities on offer – the push for national park status means the destination s ‘lingers in this great place: when new infrastructure and experiences are put in place, but the national park-sized crowds haven’t quite landed. Here’s what the coming months may hold, for the Ocmulgee Mounds and visitors.
Inside the proposed national park and reserve
As a National Historic Park, a designation given to preserve areas with deep American history, Ocmulgee Mounds currently encompasses 2,000 protected acres, which include sites like the Great Temple Mound and the Mississippian’s gathering place, the Earthlodge. But there’s more where it comes from, says Seth Clark, pro tempore mayor of Macon-Bibb and executive director of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative (ONPPI).
“There are historical markers and mounds all along this hallway, I mean dozens of them that haven’t been excavated and luckily have been protected by private landowners,” he says.
If Ocmulgee Mounds were to become a national park – the crown jewel status of the NPS – it could expand to protect 50,000 to 80,000 acres of land. Congress, which will ultimately determine the fate of the park, would draw the final boundaries. And they might have the chance to do so as early as mid-2022, after the final stage of the national park process, the NPS Special Resources Study, ends in March.
Something in favor of the initiative? Broad local support. ONPPI targets national park and preserve status, a title that allows hunting and fishing in parts of the park, satisfying virtually all recreation in the area, Clark says. This dual designation status is not new. Others like this include Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, Denali in Alaska, and the latest addition to the national park lineup: New River Gorge in West Virginia.