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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 hate this movement to change monuments to parks. We now have Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park. The monument designation made sense for those two parks, but the names were changed for political reasons. If we're going to negate the monument designation, then we'd might as well rename them all.

I'm sure the Congressman from Macon would love to get this Indian mound site designated into a national park (making it the first one in Georgia) because it would surely help bring more tourists into his district. Win, win!

If this particular unit is worthy of national park status then I definitely think Cumberland Island is also. I say let these funds "stimulate" two new national parks into existence for the Peach State and everyone will be happy.

Ain't Washington politics fun? We all win and no one loses. All we have to do is just keep those printing presses rolling and we can all have as many national parks as we want! The free lunch party is just beginning!

According to the Earth Lodge Historic Structure Report from 2005 its reconstruction in the 1930s and the subsequent activities were faulty and while the lodge is spectacular for the visitors it is not historically accurate. Most probably it was not covered in earth, but only the walls were earthen.

The most important features of Ocmulgee are the early mounds.

The proposal to redesignate Ocmulgee seems ill reasoned: As others mentioned, NPS units which are designated National Park are not necessarily appropriately funded. If the site is not mentioned in scientific or popular literature on Native Americans in the south east, it most probably is not because the site is a National Monument, but because the Earth Lodge does not fit in with anything elsewhere - and we know why by now.

Aww come on MRC don't be such a spoil sport. The more national parks the merrier. Why let such minor details as authenticity and actual significance get in the way of the federal spending party?

Since most of you out there in NPT-land desire continued federal governance of the national park system you should be more than ready and willing to take all of the booty you can while the gettin' is good.

National parks for everyone! Have another round on we the taxpayers!

I mean, after all, this is a serious proposal by someone in power in Washington, DC. It sure sounds legitimate. Why look a gift horse in the mouth?

This is what a "stimulus" package is all about my friend. Overpasses, public housing projects, agriculture subsidies, Mafia museums and national parks. Dig in. Enjoy. It's all about saving our country.

Don't be a such spoil sport! You really should try and be a little more patriotic.


Is it after 5 p.m. where you are? I think you're reaching with your latest comments. More isn't necessarily the merrier. Indeed, from where the Traveler is sitting, the NPS has more than enough on its plate right now. That's been our view for quite some time, and I reiterated it in the post above.

At least OCMU sits in a relatively accessible place - it's a perfect place to stop for people en route to/from Florida on I-75. Perhaps some more money spent on outreach?

Kurt---the stimulus money. The stimulus money! The more the merrier. Stimulus! National emergency! The Feds to the rescue!

The NPT and its readers have been welcoming this manna from heaven as a source of much needed cash for the underfunded and financially strapped park system ever since this program was first proposed months ago. Now that the federal politicians are ready to start throwing around this freshly minted (and mostly worthless) paper in every conceivable direction it seems that there are now some among us who are beginning to get a bit huffy about how it should be spent. This is a "stimulus" package my good friends. The more the merrier! If some of it gets spent on creating what you consider to be "unworthy" parks so be it. That is the way of the politician. That is the way of Washington. It is the way the parks are already run for the most part. It's certainly nothing out of the ordinary. A multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog is not created by wise and motivated managers, whether they are on Capitol Hill or walking in the labyrinth halls of the Department of the Interior building.

This is about "stimulating" things by spending vast amounts of borrowed, printed and inflated money. The park system is just one of many avenues of putting it into circulation and maybe getting some political mileage out of it for select members of the ruling elite.

It is also about who runs the show, who dispenses the pork and who owns the parks, namely: the federal gummit. You know, the ones who continue to bail out AIG and GM. Rewarding failure is in their blood.

Sit back and watch them fill the trough. Ocmulgee National Park. It does have a nice ring to it, now doesn't it?

Kurt, you asked: "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?"

The editors and some frequenters of NPT don't question the proposition of a stimulus; most criticism comes when stimulus isn't or might not be spent some think it ought to be (on the maintenance backlog). I think looking to the government for answers is like howling at the moon; "stimulus" is the best these guys--who are, by the way, the same guys that helped get us into this mess--can do. The federal government is nothing but a long string of broken promises, and American Indians can attest to that. I can't believe that anyone still has any faith in the government to do what's right for national parks. Each successive administration--with the exception of Obama, who, for the most part, has ignored the issue--has promised, usually during a campaign, to eliminate the backlog. Heck, Bush pledged several times to eliminate the back log, and it was supposed to be gone by 2005. Well, here we are having the same old debate, and once again we've forgotten the [s]lies[/s] broken promises. This time, it's throw us a stimulus bone so we can feed the monster (that monster being the leviathan infrastructure), but the "new" government is pretty much the same as the old government, probably much to the chagrin of those who proclaimed that all national parks needed was a Democratic administration to fix everything. Well, it ain't happening. The government is bankrupting the nation and national parks will suffer for it.

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