By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), the State of North Carolina, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are beginning to re-open phases of their operations and economy following nearly two months of closures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Some of these phases will begin on Friday, May 8.
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed announced in Executive Order # 11, on Tuesday, May 5, the beginning phases of re-opening for the EBCI. The main one will be the removal of all checkpoints at the three main entrances to the Qualla Boundary as well as all barricades on other smaller entrances on Friday, May 8 at 10 p.m. The curfew for the Qualla Boundary will also be lifted at this time.
“Our officers need a break,” Chief Sneed told the One Feather. “We have this drug epidemic happening at the same time as the pandemic. I need them to re-focus their resources there. And, this is really going to call for individual tribal citizens to exercise personal responsibility – the use of personal protection equipment, staying at home. Those are things that I can’t control…everyone of us, as individuals, it’s our responsibility to take care of ourselves and our families.”
Chief Sneed’s executive order is mandating that cloth face masks must be worn by everyone in “public spaces”, and the order allows church services to operate at 20 percent capacity with senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems being encouraged not to attend.
While the main checkpoints will be removed, a new one will be installed at the Food Lion shopping plaza so that the area can only be accessed by residents of the Qualla Boundary. “That will be the one place that you would be able to come into contact with somebody who is visiting or just passing through,” said Chief Sneed.
Several outdoor activities in Cherokee will open to the general public on Friday, May 15 including the Fire Mountain Trails, Cherokee Skate Park, and the Oconaluftee Island Park. Cherokee Enterprise Waters will open that day as well for fishing for people not enrolled with the EBCI.
Chief Sneed sent a memo to all EBCI tribal employees on the evening of May 5 outlining the Tribe’s plans for re-opening on Monday, May 18. His memo began, “The safety measures implemented for the EBCI tribal government workforce have helped the EBCI achieve the goal of preventing the surge of COVID-19 cases on the Qualla Boundary, which would have put a heavy burden on our health systems. I am grateful for everyone’s cooperation with the measures put in place to ensure our mutual safety, and now it is time for us to work together to carefully begin moving forward.”
Attached to the memo was an 11-page EBCI Workplace Guidance workbook detailing how tribal employees will operate going forward in the current COVID-19 environment. Social distancing is encouraged, and all tribal employees must wear a cloth face mask “to prevent asymptomatic spread of COVID-19”. Hand washing and office sanitizing procedures are included along with other safety measures.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will begin its phased re-opening on Saturday, May 9 when many of the major roads and trails will open. Campgrounds, visitor centers, picnic pavilions, and some smaller roads will remain closed and could re-open two weeks after the initial phase.
“We recognize this closure has been extremely difficult for our local residents as well as Park visitors from across the country who seek the Park as a special place for healing, exercise, recreation, and inspiration,” Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said in a statement. “We are approaching this phased re-opening with that in mind as we balance our responsibility to protect Park resources and the health and safety of everyone.”
According to information from the Park, the following will open on May 9:
Roads: Newfound Gap Road, Gatlinburg By-pass, Little River Road, Wear Cove Road, Laurel Creek Road, Cades Cove Loop Road, Cherokee Orchard Road, Lakeview Drive Road, Deep Creek Road and trailheads
Restrooms: Sugarlands Visitor Center, Newfound Gap, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Cades Cove Cable Mill, Abram Falls Trailhead, Rainbow Falls Trailhead, and picnic areas
Picnic Areas: Chimney Tops, Metcalf Bottoms, Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Collins Creek
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No. 138 on May 5 in which he outlined the phased re-opening for the state which is set to occur on May 8 at 5 p.m.
“COVID-19 is still a serious threat to our state, and Phase 1 is designed to be a limited easing of restrictions that can boost parts of our economy while keeping important safety rules in place,” Gov. Cooper said in a statement on May 5. “This is a careful and deliberate first step, guided by the data, and North Carolinians still must use caution while this virus is circulating.”
Some of the highlights of Gov. Cooper’s Phase 1 include:
* Lifts distinction between essential and non-essential businesses
* Retail businesses can re-open at 50 percent capacity
* Citizens are allowed to leave their homes to shop at open businesses
* Restaurants are still drive-thru, take-out, or delivery only
* Bars, personal care businesses, entertainment venues, and gyms remain closed
* Gatherings of more than 10 people are still not allowed
Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, said in a statement on May 5, “We must continue to protect our families and neighbors as we take this cautious step forward. When you leave you home, follow the three Ws: wear a face covering, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart.”