By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Thanks to a new program, children will now be able to learn about wildlife and nature and Cherokee culture all while getting in a nice walk for exercise.
The Oconaluftee Track Trail officially opened on Saturday, Oct. 4 and offers youth hikers a chance to learn from four different pamphlets provided at the trailhead including: “Animal Athletes”, “Nature’s Hide & Seek”, “The Power of Plants: Herbal secrets of the Cherokee” and The Need for Trees and Cherokee Remedies”.
Each pamphlet contains information on various local wildlife and how Cherokee people have used plants and communed with nature for centuries. Cherokee syllabary is used throughout each pamphlet.
The Oconaluftee Track Trail is a partnership between the Kids in Parks program, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Choices and EBCI Health and Medical Division. Founding partners of Kids in Parks include the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, National Park Service, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.
Sheena Kanott, Cherokee Choices program manager, said her program has been doing the Healthy Roots program for several years in an effort to get Cherokee people back to eating traditional, healthy foods. She said partnering with the Kids in Parks program on the Track Trail was a perfect fit.
“They have been wonderful partners in every aspect of the project, and I am thrilled that this Track Trail has come to completion. It is our hope that this Track Trail’s adventures will encourage children to get outside more and become more active thereby increasing the likelihood of being active later in life.”
Kids in Parks is based in Asheville and has opened over 30 track trails in North Carolina, Virginia, South Dakota and Washington, DC. The program will soon open track trails in Elkin, Black Mountain and Stone Mountain State Park in Georgia.
“We are very pleased to be partnering with Cherokee on this trail,” said Tony Geiger, Kids in Parks program graphic artist/naturalist. “It is one of my favorite trails that I’ve worked on because it is the first bi-lingual track trail.”
He said the Kids in Parks program was originally started in 2009 with the goal of combating childhood obesity.
“When they hike, they get prizes as an incentive to continue exploring nature and getting outdoors.”
Following the official ribbon-cutting on Saturday, Geiger led an hour-long nature hike on the Track Trail.
To learn more about the Kids in Parks program, visit www.kidsinparks.com. Look for the pamphlet information at the trailhead to the Oconaluftee Track Trail just across the street from the Cherokee Welcome sign near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.