CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Sixty representatives from five state chapters of the Trail of Tears Association recently attended a workshop at the Museum Center at Five Points to brainstorm on how to preserve sites tied to the forced relocation of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma.
The purpose of the two-day workshop was to "get wheels turning," said Amy Kostine, Trail of Tears project historian for Middle Tennessee State University's Center for Historic Preservation, one of the event's facilitators.
Identifying and preserving historical sites are critical to telling the story of the Cherokee removal that occurred between 1838 and 1839, said Jeff Bishop, president of the Georgia chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. He also serves on the national board for the organization.
"Structures, roads and ferry sites are powerful, immediate and visceral ways to do this," Bishop said. "The question is how to preserve them. What strategies are needed to find the ways and means to register the sites?"
Georgia chapter officials said they have been working hard to certify a number of the 14 temporary forts and camps used to round up and expel 8,000 Georgia Cherokees during the period.
Not all attendees represented Trail of Tears Association chapters.
Tony Harris, a member of the Cherokee Nation who relocated from the Midwest to Marietta, Ga., said he wanted to know more about the place he grew up referring to as "the homeland" and to be involved with its historical preservation.
Presentations by Trail of Tears Association chapters from Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama and Illinois touched on problems with identifying historical sites and funding their preservation and interpretation.
Documentation on the Cherokee removal is neither exhaustive nor easy to find, said Olivia Cox, a member of the Alabama chapter.
"Whenever we know someone is going to Washington to research the National Archives, we ask them to look up certain names of people and places," she said.
Despite frustrations, she finds the research very rewarding and addictive, Cox said.
Some sites are problematic because they are privately owned, said Kostine, who recommended chapters consider how to approach owners about plans for the sites and public access to them.
In the last 25 years, the number of "high potential" sites has grown from 35 to 40 locations to at least 150, said Frank Norris, a Historic Trails officials with the National Park Service.
Norris urged anyone with information about sites and structures associated with the Cherokee removal to contact the Trail of Tears organizations.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.