Denver Service Center
Attn: Ocmulgee River Corridor SRS
12795 West Alameda Parkway
PO Box 25287
Denver, CO 80225-0287
Feb. 21, 2021
Dear National Park Service,
Thank you for your meticulous and efficient study of the movement to create Ocmulgee National Park in central Georgia, with Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park at its heart. Thank you for allowing the public, including myself, the chance to comment.
I am a nature writer, the author of six books, mostly about Southern nature. I have been an environmentalist, naturalist, and environmental activist for 25 years, and I have been fortunate in my life to witness the major impact that public land and wild land can have on a region, a species, young people, disadvantaged communities, and other populations that you represent in your work. I am a native Georgian and know well this area of the Ocmulgee. I live about two hours south of Macon.
The concern that I am going to address first is the need for more federal public land in the South. The South was already highly impacted by settlement and development when the national park idea manifested with the purchase of Yellowstone. Because all eyes were on the wild west and because the landscape painters were focused there, that’s where most of the land was protected. Yet, the most visited--indeed, overvisited—national park in the entire U.S. is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; therefore this region of the country proves that its citizens are interested in, will support, and desperately need public lands. To accommodate the growing numbers of visitors at parks everywhere, we need more.
In addition, by the time Yellowstone was preserved, the South had battled against its own country and lost, in many ways becoming a colony itself. Southern lands, thus, have been valued for resource extraction and not for inherent beauty or ecological significance or cultural integrity. To have so few national parks in the South—especially Georgia—is to say that the South, or very little of it, is nationally significant. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
As an environmentalist, the heft of my comments must deal with the reasons we people of the United States need desperately to save central Georgia’s wild land:
- habitat for wild populations, especially the black bear
- endangered species like the fringed campion
- forests that store carbon (as the climate crisis breaks over our heads)
- rare ecosystems like blackland prairies
- lowland systems that will regulate floods and droughts
- signature forests such as cypress sloughs
- hiking, biking, horse, and canoe trails for outdoorspeople like myself to recreate.
Lastly, I would like to speak on behalf of the Muscogee Creek Nation. I am not Muscogee. In fact, my European ancestors were those who pushed to remove the Creeks from these lands. What happened to our native brothers and sisters in the Southeastern U.S. were acts of violence, apartheid, and holocaust. I do not use those terms lightly. Employing such tactics as violence and threat of violence, imprisonment, trickery, broken treaties, and division of the Nation—resulting in forced removal of people from their homes and land—white settlers wrongly and unfairly took this region. The details are easily traceable via historical documents, and the impacts are easily traceable in the intergenerational traumas, struggling economics, and compromised health of many native peoples.
In order for our country to move forward into the collaborations that will be required of us, it is important to acknowledge our transgressions and our oppressions, and to proceed with the restitutions that we can accomplish. Ocmulgee National Park is an easy one. The land is there (yes, it will require multi-agency management), the support is there, the political will is there, the need is there, the feasibility is there, the national significance is there.
The “national park” brand is important—an act of forgiveness and of restitution, of truth and reconciliation—to prove our nation’s determination to acknowledge the past wrongdoings and move forward into a new and inclusive future.
Thank you for recognizing that this initiative enjoys widespread and enthusiastic support not only from the Muscogee Creek Nation, but also from business owners, downtown development officials, area newspapers, local politicians, numerous college communities in the area, residents of nearby low-income neighborhoods, and outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, and naturalists not only from central Georgia but from across the world. Economic feasibility studies have shown how Ocmulgee National Park will be a major economic driver for the entire region.
Please throw your wholehearted support behind Ocmulgee National Park.
Thank you for your time and attention.