By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has received a grant to help conserve the Hall Mountain Tract, a 108 acre tract located near Franklin. The grant was announced on Tuesday, Aug. 28 as part of the U.S. Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program.
“This tract of land will serve as an experimental research station similar to those of the Forest Service,” said Tommy Cabe, EBCI Environmental & Natural Resources. “Through the grant, it was decided to have it open to the community. Not just the Tribe’s community, but the community as a whole.”
He said the property will be open to students, 4-H clubs, Job Corps students, and other groups. “It’s a demonstration forest, a demonstration type area.”
Cabe the property will be a learning and research center and will be managed “to reach a certain goal that will be influenced by Cherokee culture and Cherokee reasoning.”
“This tract of land will serve as an area to where we can manage the tract but also have a trail system and a bike system where someone can stop and learn about what area is being managed, how it’s being managed and why,” he related.
Cabe said the area, once completed, will be similar in nature to the North Carolina Arboretum in that a minimal day usage fee will be charged, but that hasn’t been established yet. Arboretum staff will actually help the Tribe in conducting an inventory of native plants on the property.
The conservation of this property is a new thing. “This property was originally slated for a housing development so it has a roads system already in it with some house sites already on it. Those house sites could be used for greenhouses,” Cabe added. “They could be used for a campground setting for a little group to come and camp there for a week and learn about how we, as Cherokees, are starting to get into the 21st Century and manage our lands accordingly and preserve our culture as well.”
Cabe noted the Tribe hopes to have the gates open for the property in two to three years, maybe earlier.
He said it was interesting how the Tribe became involved in the property to begin with.
“We were approached by the Little Tennessee Land Trust, and they were concerned that this land was going to be developed. It also resides within the viewshed of the Cowee Mound off of Highway 28.”
“So, it was very significant to us, as a Tribe,” said Cabe, “to secure the viewshed first and and foremost. We didn’t necessarily think that having multi-million dollar homes looking down on a sacred and spiritual site was aesthetically pleasing.”
The grant made the securing of the property a reality. “I know that the Tribe is pretty excited about expanding its land base for conservation. We only have a little more than 5,000 acres here on the Boundary that is called tribal reserve.”
Cabe said conservation of the property is of the utmost importance. “Given that this land is adjacent to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission land, I think it gives us an opportunity to really get into wildlife management as well. Management is going to be the key to us on this piece of property as a Tribe.”
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) commented, “We must take steps to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy our forests and public lands. I’m pleased that the EBCI will reap the economic, environmental, and educational benefits of conserving Hall Mountain tract.”
She is the vice-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and co-sponsored the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2011 and the Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act.
Agriculture Undersecretary Harris Sherman related, “These truly are community forests: envisioned by a local community, supported by the local community and it is the local community who will reap the economic and environmental benefits. This program will give thousands of Americans better access to the great outdoors, while fostering the next generation of American conservationists.”
Other funded projects in the program include:
* Easton, NH and Sugar Hill, NM community forest
* Pilgrim Community Forest, Portage Township, Mich.
* Foy’s Community Forest, Kalispell, Mont.
* Mount Ascension Natural Park, Helena, Mont.
* Lincoln Community Forest, Lincoln, Wisc.
* North Kitsap Heritage Park, Kingston, Wash.
* Barre Town Forest, Washington County, Vt.
* Nine Times Community Forest, Pickens County, SC
* Indian Creek Community Forest, Kalispel Tribe of Indians
Information from the USFS states, “The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program provides financial assistance grants to local governments, tribes and qualified nonprofit organizations working to establish community forests with a focus on economic and environmental benefits, education, forest stewardship and recreation opportunities.”