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Should Ocmulgee National Monument Be Transformed into a National Park By Stimulus Funds?


Should Ocmulgee National Monument, which preserves such vestiges of past cultures as this Earth Lodge, be renamed a national park? NPS photo.

While no decisions have been announced by the Interior Department as to how stimulus funds can best be used in the National Park System, there are plenty of suggestions being offered. One is to turn Omculgee National Monument into a national park.

It was back in 1934 when Ocmulgee National Monument, located in Macon, Georgia, was authorized to chronicle the connection between humans and nature going back more than 12,000 years. The monument, little more than 700 acres, contains traces of Southeastern culture starting with Ice Age residents to the historic Creek Confederacy. Within its borders you can find "massive temple mounds of a Mississippian Indian ceremonial complex that thrived between 900 and 1100 (AD) and many artifacts," notes the National Park Service.

Why should the monument be given "national park" status? Outwardly, says Richard Thorton, to bolster the economy in the Macon area. Beyond that, to honor earlier promises, he adds.

Mr. Thorton, an architect, city planner, and member of the Perdido Bay Muscogee (Creek) Tribe of Georgia and Florida, pointed out in an op-ed piece for the Macon Telegraph that it was in the 1930s, before the national monument designation was bestowed, that "civic leaders in Macon promoted the idea that the complex of Native American community sites on the south side of the Ocmulgee River should be acquired by the federal government and made into a national park" encompassing 2,000 acres.

"Once most of the land was acquired, an agreement was entered with the National Park Service by which if given the land by the people of Macon, a national park would be developed on the site. The donated land officially became federal property in 1936," he adds.

Well, on December 12, 1936, the land officially became part of the National Park System under the signature of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but as a "national monument," not a "national park."

As many have pointed out over the years, a "national monument" in theory is treated the same as a "national park" by the National Park Service. However, as many chambers of commerce will add, the "national park" appendage carries much more cachet when it comes to tourists. Mr. Thorton adds that the difference in designation also has cost the monument itself, and the Interior Department can right that wrong by changing the designation.

The “monument” designation has condemned Ocmulgee to chronic under-funding and under-exposure. For many years, there has not even been a professional archaeologist assigned to Ocmulgee National Monument. In recent years, books on Native American archaeology barely mention Ocmulgee or don’t mention it at all. Archaeologists from outside the Southeast repeatedly regurgitate the poorly researched assumptions made by Ocmulgee’s archaeologists in the 1930s, when little else was know about the Native American civilizations in the Southeast.

So why should the federal government invest money into expanding and improving Ocmulgee National Monument into a full-blown “park” when the nation’s economy is in such dismal circumstances?

The most compelling answer is economic development. The Macon area, and Georgia in general, badly need an economic shot in the arm. Macon is centrally located and at the intersection of several major transportation routes. Increased economic activity in Macon would benefit the heart of the state. That increased economic activity would be a direct result of improving a very important archaeological zone into a major educational and recreational destination for heritage tourism.

I said “a major archaeological zone.” Why do archaeologists elsewhere and federal bureaucrats not seem to consider Ocmulgee important? In recent years the archaeological community has been discovering what Creeks have been telling them all along: Ocmulgee was where advanced Native American culture began in the Eastern United States. The recent discovery that the big mound at Cahokia, Ill. (Monks Mound) was started a hundred years after the Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee goes a long way in proving that point. We also have been telling archaeologists forever — often to deaf ears — that the Creeks had contacts with the Mayas. We still have Maya and Totonac words in our language and Maya traditions in our heritage. We think Ocmulgee was founded by salt traders with Mesoamerican roots. In fact, hundreds of large ceramic brine drying trays (identical to those used by the Maya) were found at Ocmulgee in the 1930s.

Now, you can read the rest of his argument on this site. And, if you follow archaeology and historic and even prehistoric cultures, it's compelling.

But there are many other NPS properties that similar arguments no doubt can be made. For decades there have been efforts to change Dinosaur "National Monument" to Dinosaur National Park. The folks living near Cedar Breaks National Monument would prefer to have it called a national park. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants Golden Gate National Recreation Area transformed with the swish of a pen into Golden Gate National Parks (yes, plural).

The list goes on.

But the overriding question in the case at hand, as well as the other examples, is whether a redesignation of Ocmulgee National Monument to Ocmulgee National Park would be in the best interest of the National Park System as a whole? Already, with just 58 "national parks," the 391-unit system is far, far behind on its maintenance needs and obligations. Shouldn't the stimulus dollars that have been set aside for the National Park System try to erase some of that backlog, rather than adding to it?

And one would like to think the National Park Service could bolster the research mission of Ocmulgee National Monument without turning it into a "national park." Indeed, such a designation carries no magical power when it comes to obtaining the full potential of a unit of the National Park System. But if the monument were given the resources to transform itself into a regional research center of note, couldn't Mr. Thorton's goal be achieved just the same without a name change?

And while Mr. Thorton notes that Ocmulgee has no professional archaeologist on staff, he might find it interesting (or disappointing) that Grand Canyon National Park has no official staff geologist, that Mount Rainier National Park has no staff volcanologist, and that the Blue Ridge Parkway has no staff landscape architect.

There is no lack of needs around the National Park System. And while chambers of commerce across the nation no doubt would be thrilled to see the Park Service upgrade as many "national monuments" to "national parks" as possible, you have to ask whether the timing is right and the need worthy.



I have been working to expand the Ocmulgee National Monument to a National Park for about twenty years. You are right that 700 acres or even 2,000 acres is too small for that status. If archaeology were the only value, I would also agree that it is insignificant to change the status. Ocmulgee is a major multiple mound site, which has been inhabited from Clovis to historic Creek times. Many more mounds and sites lie downriver, in an area which has been recognized as the third wildest area in Georgia, with one of the State's only three black bear habitats. Only one road crosses this fifty mile stretch of river and half of the landmass is already owned by a multitude of State, federal and local governments. The Ocmulgee Monument is Macon's number one tourism attraction and the Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Authority are pushing and funding the local share of a NPS boundary expansion study. The adjacent land being proposed to expand the Monument has already been donated or is already permanently preserved as wetland's mitigation or is county-owned. No Stimulus money is needed for this expansion. However, the larger vision is to create a 60,000 acre, 46 mile long National Park, by acquiring land to link the 47% of the existing river corridor, which is already preserved, yet under utilized. Since 90% is floodplain wetlands, the cost should range from $42 to $62 million. The benefits of unifying these lands and managing and promoting them for wildlife, cultural education and preservation, tourism, recreation and as a buffer zone for adjacent Robins Air Force Base, Georgia's largest employer, can be maximized by designating them as a national park.
If we don't save this area now, the archaeological sites will continue to be looted, the bears will gradually disappear and we will lose a last opportunity to save a unique portion of our natural and cultural heritage.
A new, local courthouse is estimated to cost $80 million and a new 5 mile, four-lane highway is estimated to cost $120 million. Where is the better, long-term value?
Please judge Ocmulgee on its own value. Not everything that has value has been saved and why not brand it for the highest economic return? We do want to get the most out of our public resources.

John Wilson
Macon, GA

Frank, I'm starting to feel like I'm herding cats. Thanks for your cooperation and understanding.

* The authors of posts take responsibility for their words.

I like this one. It absolves those at the Traveler from liability or need to act.

* Abusive comments and personal attacks will not be tolerated and will be deleted.

Another good policy on personal attacks, buy I have seen some ad hominem attacks slip through, particularly on the gun posts. I think "abusive comments" is a bit vague. Certainly, ideas and logic are up for attack, right? Even vociferously if needed I would hope. "Nice" is also vague. Someone who has their logic checked might feel offended. Anyway, I agree that the guidelines do help regulate discussion.

As for Anonymous' comments, the first two sentences seem to engage in the appeal to ridicule logical fallacy. The third sentence engages not only in the hasty generalization fallacy, but also uses argumentum ad populum--the appeal to the majority--"where a proposition is claimed to be true solely because many people believe it to be true."

So I think it's fair, but perhaps not nice, to say that Anonymous' argument is largely fallacious and hardly even worth all the ruckus.

Finally, attacking another person's thinking, reasoning, logic--or lack thereof--should not be construed as an ad hominem. Attacking someone's grammar? Of course that's up to those at the Traveler to make that call, but grammar and writing do shine a light on a person's intellect and, indirectly, their ability to form logical arguments.

Kurt, your absolutely right...civility with the pen! Beamis, perhaps my literary and written skills are not as brilliant as yours. However, I do cherish the fact that I can put in my two cents worth of garble on NPT. It's a privilege to participate even if doesn't meet your expertise or critique as a notable piece of information. Besides, continuous whining with the pen begins to sound more like never ending soap opera.

OK, OK, before things get, ahem, too unruly here, let me remind one and all of this site's Code of Conduct, and point out some of the key points:

* The authors of posts take responsibility for their words.

* Abusive comments and personal attacks will not be tolerated and will be deleted.

* Those behind abusive comments and personal attacks will be contacted privately and asked to be more constructive in their comments. If the comments and attacks persist, the author will be blocked from the site.

* Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.

* If a subject of a post feels they have been wronged or simply wishes to respond in a post as opposed to a comment, that will be allowed.


In general, we at the Traveler are pretty tolerant of comments. We do not want to sanitize this forum, nor do we want to create the impression that it tilts one way or the other politically or philosophically. Yet there is a line, one that should not be crossed, in the common decency of civil discourse.

In other words, let's play nice.

I'm not sure what you said exactly but am certain that your use of "there" for "their" speaks volumes about a basic lack of grammatical awareness. Your naivety concerning the use of borrowed and printed (inflated) money would not surprise me too greatly either.

What's "constructive" about this federal spending frenzy, that our great-great grandchildren will be still paying for, is open to debate but your critique of my concerns needs to be couched in a more concise and focused manner. Your language skills convey that you are a novice in such matters and immediately call into question your overall understanding of macroeconomics.

Nuff said?

If I sound like an intellectual snob, well I suppose I am.

Long live Austrian economics!

Geez Beamis, stop whining! You sound like the whining party of "NO" to everything that President Obama's administration constructively wishes to do. Most prominent economic experts will agree that the stimulus package is a god send to many of the outer national parks towns and small cities. Such as adding more economic impetus to there lagging commercial markets that supply many of visitors with goods and supplies...and to the national parks. I assure you Beamis, in time you will see a more dynamic approach in re-tooling the national parks economies in a more transparent system in how they handle there expenditures with more accountability on resource management. That's something that the Bush & Cheney administration dare not do...and it's no guess why.

Anon----I never made any such assertion.

All I'm saying is that the pork is about to flow like lava from Vesuvius. Figuring out where it will go based on the intentions of Washington politicians is a fools game at best. It would be wise to just take these pennies from heaven and be glad a few drops hit your favorite piece of turf. That's the stimulus game. They tell us that we're all going to emerge stronger and healthier when the trillions of spending is finally done. Let's not quibble about why it got spent on Ocmulgee instead of the Everglades. Instead just be grateful.

If you're expecting informed and precise decision making based on research and balanced judgment you're not facing up to the stark reality of who is in charge here. Any continued faith that remains for these wizards of pork to show the slightest consideration beyond the immediate goal of political gain shows an ignorance of the system that is frankly dangerous. Wise up and get ready to be "stimulated".

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