Sometimes called “America’s Best Idea,” the National Park Service is responsible for the protection and preservation of resources under their control, and they provide for the enjoyment of those resources by both present and future generations. Made up of over 410 units, some of the most scenic and natural landscapes in the United States are called to mind, but that’s not all the Park Service is responsible for. Each unit possesses a museum collection, and most have a museum to present the story of the lands they control.
Located on the edge of Macon, Georgia, Ocmulgee National Monument is one such site. Continuously occupied and used for over 17,000 years, this little park site is home to one of the largest archaeological collections in the Park system. Visitors can see four mounds, the reconstructed Earth Lodge, the site of an 18th-century trading post, and Civil War earthworks. On less than pleasant days, visitors can enjoy a short film and the small museum in the art deco style Visitor Center.
Ocmulgee was set aside as a park in 1936, and archaeological excavations done in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution commenced, in order to learn more about the mounds contained within the park’s boundaries, and the people who lived there. These early excavations, as well as the construction of the Visitor Center, provided steady work through the Civilian Conservation Corps. World War II paused construction and excavation, and the park was not completed until the late 1940s. Although archaeological excavations stopped in the 1960s, the park continues to interpret those early findings through their museum.
Upon entering the first exhibit, the visitor is warned in Muskoke and English that they are entering sacred land. This audio clip serves as a subtle reminder that although the land is currently a park, the descendants of the original inhabitants remain. This portion of the exhibit provides a sample of the artifacts in the collection, focusing primarily on ceramics and other vessels, and serves to interpret the history of the site to the end of the 18th century. In addition to the objects on display, three charmingly vintage dioramas (dating to the 1950s) depict the stories told through the text, illustrating moments from the past. For those unable to enter the Earth Lodge’s narrow hall, the floor is reproduced in the exhibit, as is a room depicting the interior of a Mississippian home. The visitor then enters the second exhibit, which brings them from the 19th century to the present.
Open daily, except for holidays, Ocmulgee National Monument is open between 9 AM and 5 PM. The Monument is free to enter, although the park does offer special events throughout the year for a small fee. These events can include the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration in September and the guided Lantern Light tours each winter. With six miles of trails, visitors are welcome to hike through the park, picnic in one of the designated areas, or wander through the museum and gift shop. Although there is usually not a crowd, field trips do occur seasonally, so plan accordingly. Parking is available by the Visitor Center, the Temple Mounds, and the Funerary Mound, and restrooms are only available in the Visitor Center.