Ancestral lands of the Muscogee in Georgia would become a national park under bills in Congress


ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's congressional delegation introduced legislation Wednesday to protect some of the ancestral lands of the Muscogee tribe as a national park and preserve.

The proposed Ocmulgee Mounds Park and Preserve would be Georgia's first national park. The area along the Ocmulgee River downstream from Macon in central Georgia includes mounds and other cultural or historic sites of significance to the Muscogee. About 700 acres surrounding seven mounds have been federally protected since 1936.

The proposed park and preserve would include many more miles (kilometers) of land along the river, much of it already under some level of government protection, and add cultural and historical interpretation in consultation with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, whose people were forcibly removed to Oklahoma roughly 200 years ago. It would be the first national park co-managed by a removed tribe.

“The Ocmulgee Mounds, Ocmulgee River, and all of middle Georgia hold historical significance to The Muscogee (Creek) Nation,” Principal Chief David W. Hill said in a news release. "We are ready to help preserve and co-manage the land which holds the rich cultural history, natural resources, and recreational opportunities that a National Park and Preserve will bring to Georgia.”

The legislation to create the national park follows a lengthy federal review and years of coalition building that eliminated any significant opposition to federal management of the land in the reliably Republican center of Georgia. Hunting and fishing will still be allowed, and although the National Park Service will manage the federally controlled land, Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources will still manage the state wildlife areas just outside the boundary.

The map submitted by Sen. Jon Ossoff shows a patchwork of state, federal and privately protected land, much of it alongside Robins Air Force Base. Among the many stakeholders, the military wants to prevent development that might restrict where its planes can fly.

And although the legislation rules out using eminent domain to bring in more privately held land, it authorizes the secretary of the interior to acquire more property within the boundary through a sale, donation or exchange.

“This bill reflects the voice of a multitude of Georgians who wish to elevate the Ocmulgee Mounds to its proper place as one of America’s National Parks," said Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Georgia Democrat who led the congressional effort with Republican Rep. Austin Scott and Ossoff.

Thirteen Georgia representatives, including conservative Republican firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene, are co-sponsoring the House bill.

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

The mounds, including the Earth Lodge, where indigenous people held council meetings for 1,000 years until their forced removal in the 1820s, were initially protected as a national monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Barack Obama in 2016 declared Bears Ears in Utah as a national monument, making it the first to be co-managed by tribes. National parks require congressional approval and generally provide for broader protections and more cultural and historical information to visitors.