The hardships of the Cherokee people were remembered when the U.S. Forest Service and The Conservation Fund on Oct. 6, 2014, completed the final phase of an effort to protect the original route of the historic Trail of Tears near the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
Approximately 222 acres was conveyed to the U.S. Forest Service from The Conservation Fund, providing protection for a significant portion of the National Historic Trail that traverses through the forested property.
The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail was designated by Congress in 2009 and runs along a section of Unicoi Turnpike, one of the oldest traces or trails in North America, having first been used by Native Americans as far back as prehistoric times.
Extending from Tennessee to South Carolina, the Turnpike was later used by European explorers and evolved into a popular trade and commerce route. Tragically, the section of the Unicoi Turnpike extending from present-day Hayesville, North Carolina, to Athens, Tennessee, was used as a principal route for the forcible relocation of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma after the enactment of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Nearly surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest, the relatively untouched forestland creates additional protection of land along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The trail traverses 4,900 miles over land and water in nine states and traces parts of the original Trail of Tears route, as well as highlights other important locations during the removal.
The Conservation Fund purchased the entire 392-acre property in early 2013 and conveyed 170 acres earlier this year to the Forest Service, which prioritized this project for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014 funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), America’s premier conservation program. The final transfer and permanent preservation of the remaining 222 acres occurred last week.
U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann (TN-3) have supported Tennessee’s requests for LWCF funding. LWCF is a bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to acquire critical lands and protect our country’s best natural resources for the last 50 years.
“Preserving historic sites such as this allows us to learn firsthand about our heritage and the people, events, and ideas that have shaped us as Americans,” said Alexander. “I’m pleased to see this key segment of the historic Trail of Tears being preserved, which will allow Tennesseans and visitors to learn about America’s history as they enjoy its great outdoors.”
“I’m pleased key segments of the historic Trail of Tears will be protected, and I thank the U.S. Forest Service and The Conservation Fund for their efforts to ensure this important piece of Tennessee history is appropriately recognized,” said Corker.
The newly-protected property will be managed by the Forest Service in conjunction with the National Park Service, the Cherokee and Creek tribes and other state and local agencies and organizations.
Cherokee National Forest Supervisor JaSal Morris said, “This acquisition is a big step toward ensuring that this important site is protected. Protecting the Trail of Tears and other significant sites in this area has been and will continue to be a priority for us. Support for land acquisitions related to these sites has been significant.”
“Natural lands like this connect us to our past, and their preservation gives us the opportunity to walk in the steps of America’s Native ancestors and experience the land much like they did,” said Ralph Knoll of The Conservation Fund. “We’re thankful to Senators Alexander and Corker and Representative Fleischmann for their continued support of LWCF, which is so critical to conservation in Tennessee, and to U.S. Forest Service for being good stewards of this land that gives us a chance to learn about our history and honor those that suffered along the Trail of Tears.”