published Monday, February 14th, 2011

Cherokee park's expansion aimed at boosting tourism

By Kimberly McMillian/Correspondent
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    Staff file photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Nate Smothers, 9, gets a look at a traditional club at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park near Birchwood, Tenn., in January.

BIRCHWOOD, Tenn. — For Birchwood residents and frequent visitors such as Joe Johnson and his daughter Shelby, coming to the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park means revisiting their heritage.

Johnson said his great-grandmother was a toddler when her family was forced to walk the Trail of Tears to what is now Oklahoma in 1838. He said he'd heard stories passed down over the years and that the Indians were treated "basically like animals."

He said he tries to visit the park monthly, and he brought his daughter along Friday "to see the artifacts."

Park manager Nancy Williams said people constantly ask her about a walking trail and picnic tables whenever they visit.

"There's no timeline," Williams said, but spring 2011 might be the possible start date for a trail that would encircle the park's more than 7- acre property.

According to a park brochure, development at the Blythe Ferry site in Birchwood began in 1998.

During former Meigs County Mayor Ken Jones' eight-year tenure, the county spent nearly $1.5 million to build the visitor center; the "history wall" that spotlights key people in the Cherokee Nation, such as Sequoyah; and the overlook, which has a boardwalk and wildlife viewing shelter.

Current Meigs Mayor Garland Lankford has pushed for the park's future development and recently invited U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., to become involved.

Further planned developments include a life-sized memorial containing the Cherokee Nation Census of 1835. Interpretive kiosks along the planned walking trail and near the ferry's pier also are under consideration, officials said.

Williams said Meigs County provides financial support for park maintenance and upkeep. Other partners include Friends of the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bellsouth.net

TO LEARN MORE

For more information about donations or involvement with the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, call 423- 339-2769 or visit www.cherokeeremoval.org.

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