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Wednesday, 26 August 2009 14:51

Coalition builds momentum for Nikwasi park

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A proposed park at the site of the Nikwasi mound in Franklin would provide a quiet place for residents to gather while beautifying downtown and educating passersby on the mound’s historical importance.

The Nikwasi mound, located near East Main Street and the Little Tennessee River, is the only remnant of a Cherokee town with the same name that once stood where Franklin is today. While the town owns the mound itself, the property surrounding the mound is in private hands. Two tracts around the mound have recently come on the market, sparking community efforts to buy the parcels for a park. While interest is widespread, the coalition must find funding for the purchase of the land.

The park would link up with the Little Tennessee River Greenway, a five-mile hiking and bicycling trail that winds along next to the river.

Those involved with the project hope the park would help accentuate one of the largest and most well-preserved mounds in the Southeast, a landmark that has become somewhat overshadowed by the buildings that have cropped up around it. For years, the mound had been the spiritual center of the Cherokee town, where councils, religious ceremonies and general meetings were held, according to the Macon County Historical Society.

Gordon Mercer, chair of the Nikwasi Planning Committee and a Western Carolina University political science professor, said if the park comes to fruition, there would be signage in both English and the Cherokee language, explaining the mound’s history.

A coalition that includes the planning committee, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Town of Franklin, Macon County Historical Society, Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Western Carolina University faculty, and The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee River has formed to get the ball rolling.

A national organization called the Trust for Public Land has taken up a leading role, while Congressman Heath Shuler (D-Waynesville) has also expressed an interest in getting involved.

Slade Gleaton, senior project manager with TPL, said the park project would fulfill a few of the organization’s overarching goals by protecting cultural, historical and recreational landscapes.

TPL will work on appraising the property around the mound that recently came on the market. Luckily for the coalition, both land owners have said they are interested in having a park created.

After appraising the 0.67-acre and 0.6-acre parcels, TPL will work specifics of the land purchase, including surveys, environmental work and title work.

Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said the vision for the park has existed for a couple of years, but the project still is far from the finish line.

“It’s not anywhere close to a done deal,” Collins said.

Collins, who has Cherokee lineage, said the town might also be willing to reconsider its ownership of the Nikwasi mound.

“At the end of the day, it may be that all the land gets put under the same trust ownership,” said Collins. “We don’t absolutely need to have it in our name.”

A meeting that is open to the public will b held at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at Franklin Town Hall.

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