By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
This year marks the centennial of the National Park Service (NPS), and the most visited unit of the entire system is located less than a mile from the border of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The Blue Ridge Parkway, which stretches 469 miles from North Carolina into Virginia, attracts over 17 million annual recreational visitors according to the NPS.
A new program, whose idea was developed by EBCI tribal member Jean Bushyhead and Bryson City-based consultant Robbie Gring Campbell, will help those millions of visitors learn a little more about the town of Cherokee and the people of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Qualla Parkway Partners is a program for volunteers, 18 years of age and older, who will be stationed at the Lickstone Ridge Overlook near mile marker 459 within the Parkway and will provide information to visitors about the Tribe, the Parkway, and the adjacent Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“Any opportunity that we have to work with the Park and the Parkway, we want to broaden that relationship,” Vice Chief Richard G. Sneed said at a training and kick-off session for the Partners held at the Ken Blankenship Education Wing of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian on the night of Wednesday, Sept. 28. He went on to say that the new program will help visitors better understand the Tribe itself and the surrounding area.
Bushyhead commented, “This program is for people who want to be involved in celebrating the 100th anniversary for our National Park Service.”
She said the program is set to start in early October and will continue through at least mid-November with the exact closing date depending on the winter Parkway closing date. Each shift will last four hours (2-6pm) and will be on the weekends. It is hoped that the program will re-start in the spring of 2017 and continue throughout the centennial year which ends in August 2017.
“We’re going to have some young people hanging out there on Saturday and Sunday evenings to meet and greet any visitors that might be there, and this is just to make our young people aware of the centennial as well as touching base with some visitors that might come on into Cherokee,” Bushyhead noted.
Campbell said, “It’s a really great opportunity to get involved in the Park…the main job is to provide information to visitors about Cherokee.”
Prior to starting with the program, all Qualla Parkway Partners will be required to go through cultural training by the staff at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. On Wednesday night, Barbara Duncan, Ph.D., Museum education director, gave a brief overview of Cherokee history for the volunteers present. In addition to cultural training, the Partners will also be briefed on NPS regulations regarding “littering, disturbing wildlife, approaching wildlife, and removal of flora, fauna or rocks”.
The Qualla Parkway Partners are part of the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program at the Blue Ridge Parkway. To learn more about the VIP program and how to start your volunteering journey, visit: https://www.nps.gov/blri/getinvolved/volunteer.htm