Legislation passed by the U.S. Senate will expand three parks in Georgia, from the Atlanta suburbs, to Middle Georgia, to the coast.
The public lands package also creates new national monuments and secures funding for land acquisition in the future. And it’s popular: it passed the Senate 92-8, and is expected to pass the House.
The legislation adds 8 acres to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, including two historic sites from the Civil War. It allows Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island to expand its boundaries by 55 acres; Congress had previously limited the size of the national monument to 250 acres. And it changes Ocmulgee Mounds in Macon from a national monument to a national historic park and expands its boundaries by more than 2,000 acres.
“We’re going to have more accessible lands in Georgia. Accessible for people to learn about their state and their country, and it’ll be great,” said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who sponsored the bills to expand the parks, which ended up included in the broader public lands package.
The legislation would also make the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent. It’s a decades-old program that pays for public land with royalties from oil and gas leases, but Congress has had to renew it every few years, and there have been gaps in the past.
Bill Cox, the superintendent of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, said if the fund becomes permanent, it will be easier to plan ahead and add more land to the park.
“It is one of the main ways we buy conservation lands in this country, and we’re not spending tax dollars to do it,” he said. “It’s a great win for everybody.”
The fund has been used to add 450 acres to the recreation area in the past.