MACON, Ga. — The Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park got a little bigger this week as it moves toward national park status.
Macon-Bibb County donated 250 acres south of the park's current border to the National Park Service. To get to that next level, the grounds needed to expand. The donation is almost a half square mile along the Ocmulgee River.
Just last weekend, the park had its 30th Annual Indigenous Celebration. It's become tradition over the years, but next year, the festival will gain some ground, with 250 more acres to celebrate.
"In 2019, Congress charged this community and conservationists and the Muscogee Creek Nation, all the partners that are working to preserve this sacred land, with expanding the land. With this donation it's one step closer to us being able to keep that end of the bargain," said Seth Clark, Macon-Bibb County's mayor pro tem and national park initiative executive director.
Clark says the donation is a step forward in making amends to the Muscogee Creek Nation.
"To understand the process of learning what was there. It's an incredibly important piece not just ecologically, but culturally," Clark explained.
He says the land Macon sits on now was once a thriving capital of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Indigenous people lived and worked on the land for 17,000 years before they were sent to Oklahoma in the 1820s. Clark says this project is a sort of recovery effort.
"What this project is doing is piecing together those tracts that were split up after removal to preserve this cultural, this tribally significant land," Clark said.
He says this is a testament to Macon-Bibb's commitment to cultivating this partnership for years to come.
"We want to protect this land that is important to both of us," Clark said.
He says the park is about 700 acres now. If they keep gaining traction, it may eventually expand to include 50- to 80,000 acres between Macon and Hawkinsville. That expansion depends on whether congress signs off on making the park a national park this upcoming session. If the Ocmulgee Mounds gain that designation, the park service can work other nearby counties to grow the park's borders.