Calls To Expand Units Of The National Park Service Heard In Oregon And Georgia

Are units of the National Park System appropriate in size when they are first created? History shows us that's seldom the case. Just look at how Death Valley National Park has grown down through the years, and how recent land acquisitions or donations have grown Great Smoky Mountains and Virgin Islands national parks.

Now there are calls for both Oregon Caves National Monument in Oregon and Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia to increase in acreage.

In the case of the 488-acre Oregon Caves, a guest column to the The Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon, said expansion of the monument is due, if not overdue.

"From the time of its designation (in 1909 as a unit of the U.S. Forest Service), the monument protected only a fraction of the area’s caves and natural wonders. Since then, additional nearby caves have been discovered that are not protected by the monument," wrote Mary Maggs Warren, a retired school teacher. "In 1999, the National Park Service’s general management plan concluded that adding surrounding lands to the monument was necessary to provide 'better protection for cave ecology, surface and subsurface hydrology, public water supply, trails and views, and to establish a logical topographical boundary and enhance recreational opportunities.'"

Ms. Warren's letter was in support of legislation, the Oregon Caves Revitalization Act, that would add more than 4,000 acres to the monument.

This proposal did not arrive overnight, but has been in the works for at least several years. Part of the contention over the expansion, though, is that it would give to the Park Service lands now managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and in past years there have been concerns surround the question of hunting and trapping on the expansion lands, fire management, and whether the River Styx, which flows out of the cave and then is called Cave Creek, should be designated a "recreational river" under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Meanwhile, across the country in Georgia, the National Parks Conservation Association is supporting efforts by the National Park Service to gauge public interest in whether to enlarge Ocmulgee National Monument, a 701.5-acre site that preserves 17,000 years of continuous human occupation.

"A boundary expansion will ensure the preservation of a rich archaeological landscape, representing the history of the Southeast from the Ice Age to the era of Indian removal," writes Chris Watson, a program manager for NPCA's Southeastern office. "It includes one of the great Mississippian-era settlements in North America, sites sacred to contemporary Muscogee Creek people and elements of the stories of the American frontier, the Creek Civil War and Tecumseh’s Rebellion and the War of 1812."

Interestingly, there was talk three years ago about using stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to turn Ocmulgee into a "national park."

Will Congress agree with these two points of view? Stay tuned.

Comments

I've been to the Oregon site and it's a nice one. There's a little town called Cave Junction at the base of the mountains, which has tried to capitalize on tourism there, but the two times I've been through it was hardly booming.

Still, Oregon Caves NM isn't too far from the Redwood National Parks, so I'd think an expanded park might be attractive as part of a Northern-California/Southern-Oregon travel package for outdoor fans and families. A week-long trip could easily include Crater Lake and the Lava Beds, as well.

Proximity to other parks -- ala Southern Utah, with its string of beauties -- might make visits more likely. In fact, the variety from coast to cave to volcano is greater than the variety in the aforementioned Utah, and could prove attractive because it offers so many different diversions: "Hey, kids, you didn't like the big trees so much? Well, next we're going to explore a cave..."

Ocmulgee National Park? No. Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park? That might make sense.