H.R. 482 / S. 1696

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act of 2016


JUNE 15, 2016

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s testimony regarding H.R. 482 and S. 1696, bills to redesignate Ocmulgee National Monument in the State of Georgia and revise its boundary, and for other purposes.

The Department supports S. 1696 and would support H.R. 482 if amended in accordance with this testimony.  This legislation has three components: it would redesignate the national monument, expand the monument’s boundaries, and authorize a special resource study of the Ocmulgee River corridor in Georgia from Macon to Hawkinsville.  With respect to the special resource study, the Department feels that priority should be given to the 24 previously authorized studies for potential units of the National Park System, potential new National Heritage Areas, and potential additions to the National Trails System and National Wild and Scenic River System that have not yet been transmitted to Congress.

Ocmulgee National Monument, authorized by Congress in 1934 and established by Presidential proclamation in 1936 after the purchase of lands by local citizens, encompasses 701 acres in two separate units.  The Main Unit (656 acres), includes seven prehistoric mounds, a funeral mound, a reconstructed earth lodge, prehistoric trenches, and numerous archeological features.  This unit also includes the site of a British colonial trading post dating to 1690 (which the Creek Indians frequented), the historic Dunlap House, an Art Moderne visitor center, Civil War earthworks, substantial urban green space, six miles of hiking trails, and a picnic area.  The smaller Lamar Mounds Unit (45 acres), named for a Late Mississippian agricultural society, is located about two and one-half miles southeast of the Main Unit.  Both sites are part of a larger archeological area known as the Ocmulgee Old Fields.

In 1999, the Ocmulgee Old Fields was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a “traditional cultural property,” the first location in the eastern United States to receive this designation.  The monument and surrounding area is the site of one of the largest archeological investigations in North American history.  The investigation and recovery of artifacts and information in this area was instrumental in the development of scientific archeology.  The traditional cultural property extends well beyond the current boundaries of the monument to encompass areas traditionally associated with the cultural beliefs and practices of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and related tribes.

H.R. 482 and S. 1696 would redesignate Ocmulgee National Monument as “Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park”, a more appropriate name for the site.  For generations, Middle Georgians have known Ocmulgee National Monument simply as “the Indian mounds.”  The addition of the word “mounds” to the name would not only clarify the identity of the site for residents of the region, it would also give all potential visitors a better idea of the principal resource of the site.  In addition, the title “National Historical Park” recognizes the complexity of the site and the fact that it is much more than a collection of Indian mounds.  The proposed title also provides better identification of the site as a unit of the National Park System.   

H.R. 482 and S. 1696 would also expand the boundary of the Ocmulgee National Monument consistent with the preferred alternative of a boundary study the National Park Service completed in 2014.  The study evaluated lands that were part of the Ocmulgee Old Fields and found that approximately 2,100 acres of these lands were suitable and feasible for inclusion in the monument.  These additional lands would link Ocmulgee’s Main Unit and the Lamar Unit and create a contiguous park unit of approximately 2,800 acres.  

Of the 2,100 acres proposed for inclusion in the monument, approximately 707 acres (34% of expansion area) would likely be acquired by donation.  The remaining lands, approximately 1,350 acres (66% of expansion area) would likely be acquired through purchase from willing sellers.  Based on tax assessments, the value of the private tracts that would be purchased is just under $2 million, but actual acquisition costs could be higher.  Costs would eventually be incurred to demolish non-historic structures.  Some relatively low-cost improvements for recreational enhancement are anticipated, such as trailhead kiosks, maintenance of old roadbeds for biking/hiking trails, and installation of canoe launching facilities.  Funding for these activities would be subject to the availability of appropriations.

The proposed boundary expansion enjoys strong community support.  Resolutions in favor of the expansion have been passed by the Board of Commissioners of Wilkinson County, the Macon-Bibb County Commission, the Historic Macon Foundation, Inc., the Georgia Small Business Lender Board of Directors, and the Hawkinsville-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.  Other organizations and governmental entities have also expressed support for the expansion, including Altamaha River Keeper, the Georgia Conservancy, Main Street Macon, New Town Macon, the Macon Chamber of Commerce, the Middle Georgia Regional Commission Council, the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Mayor and City Council for the City of Perry, the Georgia River Network, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Save our Rivers INC. and the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority.

H.R. 482 and S. 1696 would also authorize the Secretary to conduct a special resource study of the Ocmulgee River corridor between Macon and Hawkinsville, a distance of about 50 miles and an area encompassing approximately 70,000 acres.  Although the study area would be contiguous with Ocmulgee National Monument, the size of the area and the complexity of resources warrant the authorization of a special resource study, rather than another boundary study.  The study area would encompass a patchwork of privately and publicly owned land, including the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and two State of Georgia wildlife management areas.  It would also include much of the Ocmulgee Old Fields Traditional Cultural Property not already included in the national monument or the proposed expansion of the monument.  We estimate that this study would cost approximately $350,000 to $500,000.  Funding for this proposed study would need to be allocated from the set amount of funding that Congress appropriates for all special resource studies.

The Department supports S. 1696 as introduced and would support H.R. 482 as passed by the House if amended to conform to the language in S. 1696.  As passed by the House, H.R. 482 makes the establishment of the expanded boundary subject to the written consent of the owners of properties that would be included within the new boundary.  This places landowners, rather than Congress or the Administration, in the position of determining the boundary of a federal park, which we believe is inappropriate.  This provision has the potential to create legal and practical confusion over the boundary since it is possible that a landowner could give consent, then change his or her mind and withdraw consent or convey the property to another owner who withdraws consent.  If the intent of this language is to ensure that no land is included within the park boundary without the consent of the landowner, we recommend amending the bill to provide that the park boundary shall not be adjusted unless and until a specified property is acquired for the park.  By waiting to include land in the boundary until it is acquired by the federal government, this approach avoids entirely the potential problems we see with the approach used in the House bill.  Our recommended approach has precedent in other park laws.

H.R. 482 allows land acquisition by donation or exchange only, not purchase.  At this time, only about one third of the land in the proposed boundary adjustment area is anticipated to be donated.  We support allowing the purchase from a willing seller with donated or appropriated funds, as provided by S. 1696.  This language would also render unnecessary the prohibition on condemnation included in H.R. 482.

H.R. 482 also includes language that says that an activity outside the boundary shall not be precluded because it can be heard or seen inside the park boundary.  The Department has concerns about this language.  It is misleading, as it suggests that the NPS may have authority to preclude activities outside the boundaries, which it does not.  Of even greater concern, however, is that the language could discourage park managers from addressing threats to park resources from external sources.  Even though the NPS does not control what happens outside of its boundaries, park managers have a responsibility under the NPS Organic Act and other laws to work with owners of properties outside of park boundaries to resolve problems that could negatively impact the resources the NPS is responsible for protecting.

Finally, we note that S. 1696 as introduced has blank lines for references for a map that would depict the boundaries of the expanded and redesignated Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park.  The National Park Service has developed a map to accompany this bill and we would be happy to submit the map to the bill’s sponsor and the committee. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony.  I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have. 

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