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Categories: COMMUNITY & NEWS, Home page, Muscogee (Creek)

Now in Congress: a bipartisan Ocmulgee Mounds bill to create Georgia’s first national park

By Sierra Stark Stevens


In a politically divided America, the aisle-crossing, intergovernmental push to create Ocmulgee Mounds National Park and Preserve is a chance to prove the positive power of unity – within Congress, across the state, between the United States government and tribal governments like the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and for everyone in the heart of Georgia.


The Ocmulgee Mounds Park and Preserve Establishment Act aims to establish the boundaries of the current Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park as well as surrounding Central Georgia areas into a National Park and Preserve, representing a major step forward in a decades-long campaign for National Park status and nearly a century of preservation advocacy for the site and its historic, cultural, economic, ecological, recreational, and military relevance.


The legislation was introduced to Congress on May 1, 2024, by U.S. Democratic Senators Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock, alongside Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., and Republican Congressman Austin Scott. It was co-sponsored by four Democrat and six Republican members of the Georgia congressional delegation. That’s the entire Georgia congressional delegation, minus one – and a near-even split across party lines.

In 2019, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation flag was permanently raised to fly above Macon-Bibb’s City Hall. Pictured at prayer during the flag-raising ceremony, from left to right: Sen. Austin Scott, Sen. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Muscogee (Creek) Principal Chief David Hill, Mayor Lester Miller, Mayor Pro Tem and ONPPI Executive Director Seth Clark, and Muscogee (Creek) Second Chief Del Beaver. Photo by Jessica Whitley.


Sen. Ossoff, the bill’s primary champion, told GPB News, “At a moment of such political division and even hatred, this is the tonic that Georgia needs right now – to see the entire delegation lining up, Republicans and Democrats, behind this initiative.”

Sen. Warnock (left) and Muscogee (Creek) citizen and Director of Advocacy for ONPPI Tracie Revis (right) climb the Great Temple Mound in November 2023. Photo by MM Staff.


“Ocmulgee Mounds is a living testament to our intertwined histories and a robust source of economic and cultural vitality, so I’m proud to support the bipartisan, bicameral efforts to establish Ocmulgee Mounds as Georgia’s first National Park and Preserve,” said Sen. Reverend Warnock in a news release. “I want to thank Congressmen Scott and Bishop for their yearslong efforts on this in the U.S. House, as well as Senator Ossoff for his leadership. Working together, we are proving what is possible when we put politics aside and center the people of Georgia.”


“The Ocmulgee Mounds are of invaluable cultural, communal, and economic significance to our state,” Sen. Scott said in the news release. “Designating them as the first National Park and Preserve in Georgia is a great bipartisan and intragovernmental effort.”


It also received government-to-government backing. The park, sited on the ancestral homelands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, would be the first national park to be co-managed by a removed tribal nation in the United States, marking a tangible commitment to greater equity between the U.S. and Indigenous citizens. “Through this legislation the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is offered the opportunity to be in full partnership to protect their own cultural and natural resources through co-management,” remarked Tracie Revis, citizen and former chief of staff of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Director of Advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative (ONPPI).


David W. Hill, Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, concurred. “The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has worked closely with Senators Ossoff and Warnock and Representatives Scott and Bishop to help develop and review the draft Ocmulgee Mounds National Park and Preserve Bill. … We are thrilled to see this bill introduced and stand ready to support this legislation every step of the way.”


Local officials and stakeholders, such as Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller, stand in equal solidarity. “This historic legislation … is one of the most consequential civic and economic development efforts in my lifetime. Like our efforts to protect this landscape and grow our economy locally, this legislation reflects a bipartisan commitment to stewardship, partnership, and reconciliation,” the mayor stated.


Currently, the national historical park spans roughly 2,800 acres. It represents over 12,000 years of continuous human history, including Muskogean earthworks such as the 55-foot-high Great Temple Mound and thousand-year-old Earth Lodge, making the Ocmulgee Mounds one of the most significant archeological sites in the nation. It is also a biodiversity hotspot, an opportunity for substantial environmental conservation, and a recreational resource for residents, hunters, anglers, and tourists alike.


The 2024 park map submitted to Congress by Sen. Jon Ossoff.

The expansion plan proposed in the bill could protect as many as 50,000 acres alongside the 50-mile Ocmulgee River Corridor, which runs from Macon to Hawkinsville, including the 6,500-acre Bond Swamp Wildlife Refuge and areas surrounding Robins Air Force Base. Representatives of the base have publicly supported the bill, citing increased quality of life for the nearly 24,000 civilians, contractors, and military members and ability to stave off encroachment into flight pattern areas, helping to fulfill national security missions. 


In November 2023, the National Park Service released a special resource study stating that the Ocmulgee River Corridor was suitable for federal protection due to its unique cultural and environmental significance, marking a key step forward in the long-fought campaign. The scope of the 2019 park proposal that the 2023 study had evaluated, however, led NPS to determine that the area did not meet economic feasibility criteria for National Park status, primarily due to land acquisition and management costs.


In response, the Ocmulgee Mounds Park and Preserve Establishment Act proposed to Congress this May includes strategies to mitigate this concern, including expansion stages. The new boundaries were proposed with feedback collected from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation; local elected officials; business, faith, agricultural, environmental, and community leaders; Robins Air Force Base; and more. Proponents of the bill are optimistic that now, after monumental efforts over several decades, the National Park and Preserve will come to pass in the 118th Congress.


The national park’s economic impact could be massive. An independent study conducted by the National Parks Conservation Association estimates that over the course of 15 years after being re-designated a National Park and Preserve, the region’s municipalities can expect a collective increase in tax revenue annually of $29.8 million because of the projected $206.7 million of total economic activity generated from the Park and Preserve. The study estimates that the region should prepare for an increase of 1.16 million visitors annually and for the roughly $76.5 million increase in annual labor income that could be generated by an influx of almost 3,000 jobs, explained Macon-Bibb Mayor Pro Tem and Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative Executive Director Seth Clark in a news release. “The impact and resulting expenditures will spur entrepreneurship, create jobs, and transform underserved areas of rural economies,” expressed Jessica Walden, President and CEO of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.


“Congress only acts in a bipartisan manner when an ideologically diverse constituency demands it. Middle Georgia is doing that, and we’re doing it together, despite the national trend of drifting apart. Working together in good faith despite disagreement is what will save America, and that’s what this legislation represents,” Clark told Macon Magazine. 


To read more about what it is about Ocmulgee Mounds that inspires such unity – from the counties it spans in Central Georgia, to Washington, D.C., to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and across ideological, racial, and historical divisions, read our ongoing coverage. Find more in the June/July issue of Macon Magazine.


Featured image: Sen. Jon Ossoff visiting the Ocmulgee Mounds. Photo courtesy of the Office of U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff.