Land surrounding the Ocmulgee mounds near Macon, first settled by Native Americans 17,000 years ago, has just been designated a National Treasure.
In a ceremony Friday morning at the visitors center near the mounds, David J. Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, described the 702-acre park as “a wonderfully rich place, full of untold stories that deserve to be heard, understood and honored.”
The Ocmulgee National Monument is only the second site in Georgia to earn designation as a National Treasure. (The first was the Sweet Auburn District in downtown Atlanta.)
Classified as the Ocmulgee National Monument in 1934, the land is significant to the Muscogee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes, according to the National Trust. The monument contains multiple ceremonial mounds from the Mississippian period of 1,000 years ago, including the only spiral staircase mound known to exist in North America.
The Muscogee Creek define the region as “the place where we first sat down,” meaning the place where their ancestors first became a settled agricultural society.
“By working to save the landscape of the Ocmulgee River corridor, we will help to revive the long-forgotten narrative of the many different Tribal Nations that consider these lands sacred and are critical to understanding the broad American story,” said Brown.
The National Trust, working with such local groups as the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative and the Historic Macon Foundation, hopes to designate the area as the Ocmulgee National Historical Park, with the plan to expand the park from 702 acres to approximately 2,800 acres.
Its boundary would extend southward along the Ocmulgee River to include the Lamar Mounds, which are currently not contiguous to the park.
The move would protect the wildlife and archaeological sites along this corridor from the threat of commercial and residential development, but would require Congressional approval. Legislation introduced last year has passed a Senate subcommittee and has the support of Georgia’s delegation, plus 3,000 letters of approval from stakeholders, Brown said.
Yet time is tight. “We’re trying to get it through this session this month and signed by the president and moved forward,” said Brown. Otherwise, “we will have to start all over.”
The Ocmulgee National Monument is an important archaeological site. More than 2.5 million items have been excavated from the area, and many are on display at the park’s headquarters and museum. The site includes an earth lodge, a 1,000-year-old ceremonial meeting place with the original clay floor and earthen stools.
The Ocmulgee National Monument is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; 1207 Emery Hwy, Macon, Ga. 478-752-8257, extension 222; www.nps.gov/ocmu/index.htm