CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Erin Medley, the new park manager for the Red Clay State Historic Area, has big plans for the site.
"You're going to keep hearing about Red Clay, I promise you that," said Medley, a Cleveland native who has been a state park ranger since 1998.
During a recent reception at Red Clay, she announced goals and strategies for raising awareness of the park's significance in history, which includes serving as the seat of Cherokee government between 1832 and the forced removal of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma in 1838 -- the event known as the Trail of Tears.
"[Red Clay played] a very solemn and very significant role in that chapter in American history," said Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
On Aug. 3 and 4, the park will host "Honor and Remember," an event commemorating the 175th anniversary of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, Medley said. The heritage festival marks the end of the park's 30-year annual run of Cherokee Days of Recognition.
"We want to start something new," she said of the event, which has received support from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who provided traditional dancers, a stickball team and 15 artisans for programming.
"Honor and Remember" will include Cherokee foods and demonstrations of traditional Cherokee crafts, ranger-led hikes, a birds of prey program and lectures on a variety of topics related to the Trail of Tears.
The partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee is essential to Medley's long-range plans for Red Clay, she said.
"I know this is actually state land ... but to me, it still belongs to the Cherokee people," said Medley. "That's why I want to get them involved in some of the things we do here."
Hill praised Medley's initiatives to engage the public, citing a partnership with the Boy Scouts to fix up the park's amphitheater and providing Cherokee music concerts on weekends throughout July.
Another partnership, Hill said, has brought a temporary exhibit to the Red Clay visitor center from the Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery, in conjunction with the North Carolina Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association.
The exhibit, titled "Fewer Footprints and More Tears," offers a comprehensive review of the Trail of Tears event.
"I have no doubt in my mind that [Medley and the Red Clay staff] are going to elevate this site to a place that Bradley County and Cleveland and the whole of Southeastern Tennessee is going to be proud of," said Jeff Wells, director of interpretive programming and education for TDEC.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.