Georgia’s Ocmulgee Mounds could be America’s next national park

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The Muscogee (Creek), ancestors of the Mississippian mound builders behind the park’s historic attractions, were forced to leave their homeland in the Southeastern United States, including the sacred area of ​​the Ocmulgee Mounds, as part of the ‘Indian Removal Act of the 1800s.

They now live in Oklahoma, but former Muscogee Chief James Floyd, who retired in 2019, said hundreds of Muscogees make pilgrimages to the park each year “so they can feel the feeling of return to our homeland, ”he said. Leaders like Floyd have worked closely with ONPPI to protect this precious land.

Under Floyd’s administration, the Muscogee Nation purchased land near the park “to begin to have a more formal presence of the Muscogee Nation and people, [for] show our culture and expose the ways we live in the present time, ”he says.

“Part of the goal is to let people know that we still respect these sites; it wasn’t that we just volunteered to get up and go, ”he says, noting that this is a common misconception. “We still keep our culture, and this culture is linked to the southeast.”

Protect a vast mosaic of flora and fauna

Expanding the park’s boundaries also means preserving central Georgia’s abundance of wildlife. The move could link the many natural resources of the Ocmulgee River corridor, such as the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, with a southern terminus at Hawkinsville. The final product? A protected patchwork of biodiversity.

“Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park has more species of amphibians than Congaree, more birds than Mammoth Cave, more reptiles than Shenandoah, more mammals than Biscayne, and it’s not expanding,” says Heather Bowman Cutway, professor of biology at Mercer University in Georgia.

The region is also home to the isolated bear population of central Georgia, as well as the endangered suckerfish Redhorse, a species thought to be extinct for over 100 years before being rediscovered in the state in 1991.

The road ahead

The transition of the Ocmulgee Mounds from a national monument to a national historic park, a feat achieved in 2019, is a solid sign of progress. Obtaining national park and reserve status, which requires legislation from Congress, is no small feat, but Clark is optimistic.

Comments on the public comment portion of the NPS Special Resource Study, which analyzes the region’s suitability as a national park and reserve, have been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

The proposal also aligns with the Biden administration’s emphasis on elevating indigenous voices in the management of public lands, as exemplified by the recent appointment of Charles F. Sams III, a tribal citizen of the Confederate Tribes of ‘Umatilla, as director of the NPS.

“Next year is the possibility of achieving that, ”said Clark, noting that if 2022 did not happen, the park and reserve could be created in the following years. But he’s optimistic that 2022 will be the year Georgia hosts its first national park: “I’m not sure the stars can align more strongly.”

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