HOW TO HELP
Anyone wishing to make a tax-exempt donation to the monument may mail a check to Cherokee Removal Park/Blythe Ferry, P.O. Box 10, Birchwood, TN 37308.
DECATUR, Tenn. - The next work planned at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park is bringing the names of 9,000 people to the place where their lives changed forever.
The obstacle is $25,000.
Actually, it's $45,000, park manager Nancy Williams said. But an anonymous benefactor has agreed to match dollar for dollar whatever the Friends of the Park can raise, up to $20,000.
That money, in addition to about $180,000 left from the federal grant that allowed the park to be built and opened in 2009, would finance a monument large enough to carry all the names.
So on the weekend of Nov. 4-5, the fundraising begins with a public festival of music, dancing, food vendors, crafts and more. The hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days.
Park supporters hope to have the money they need by spring 2012, said Tom Morgan, president of the group.
Meanwhile, work continues on two other park projects.
"You can't know genealogy without knowing history," Williams said.
With that in mind, one of the current projects is organizing a history/genealogy room in the park's headquarters cabin.
And volunteers continue to add to a walking trail that eventually will circle through the park's 33 acres.
The park borders the Hiwassee River, on a shoreline bluff where the 9,000 Cherokee Indians waited with wagons and all their earthly goods to be ferried across. Already evicted from their homes, they started their journey to Oklahoma at the river.
"When you go up to the bluff, you can look straight down at the river," Morgan said.
Before a bridge was built across the river, a ferry carried cars and trucks across for many years. Now the old road stops at the river's edge and the memorial park.
A bicycle touring group from Oklahoma and a motorbike group stop by each year on their own Trail of Tears rides.
"We have some visitors who just accidentally find us," Williams said. "We also have groups from Oklahoma and Cherokee, N.C., that include us as a stop on their tour each year."
And with a growing number of people new to the region, she said, some just come to learn more about their new home.
The park was a dream for a decade before it became a reality. It opened in 2009 with plenty of help, said Shirley Lawrence, one of its promoters.
The land belongs to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which leased the park site to Meigs County.
Earlier this month, representatives of the National Park Service came here on a tour of historically significant locations in the region.
"They are building a sign to be erected here, at no cost to us," Lawrence said. "We didn't ask. They just volunteered."
The monument, its actual dimensions still unknown, will be large. It will be an "open book" design and include the names recorded in an 1835 census of the Cherokees, officials said. The marble pages of the "book" will open into the shape of a seven-pointed Cherokee star.