County briefed on Nikwasi Initiative proposal

The Nikwasi Indian Mound in East Franklin is the subject of a proposal to transfer its ownership from the Town to a nonprofit initiative supported by the Town of Franklin, Macon County, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, and Mainspring Conservation Trust. Photo by Vickie Carpenter

Abraham Mahshie – Contributing Writer

Town Vice-Mayor Barbara McRae sat front row, left, her closed smile broad, as she waited her turn to brief the Macon County Board of Commissioners on her town council proposal to deed the Nikwasi Mound to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI) through the nonprofit Nikwasi Initiative. 

McRae had already proposed the idea to the Town Council a week prior and received tacit approval to move forward with preparing a legal document for approval in April that would add the Initiative to the town as owners of the ancient ceremonial mound located in East Franklin. The gesture is “long overdue,” she reminded the commissioners, as she did the council.

“I see these developments, including the transfer of the mound, as life changing for East Franklin,” said McRae, who serves as cochair for the community development organization known as the Nikwasi Initiative.

An October 6, 2014, resolution passed by the Town of Franklin opens, “Whereas, the ownership of Nikwasi Mound shall remain with the Town of Franklin.” The second line again repeats that the deed as recorded in October 1946, when citizens raised $1,500 to buy the property and prevent the mound’s demolition, “shall be preserved for the citizens of the Town of Franklin and Macon County.”

The resolution concludes that the Town Board is open to discussion over maintenance of Nikwasi Mound by the EBCI.

In McRae’s plan, the town and EBCI would provide maintenance, and joint-ownership would complement the adjacent properties already purchased by the EBCI to construct a visitor’s center and annex to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. 

McRae said the property would also benefit the Women’s History Trail, where she also serves as co-leader, and could be the future site of a park. The vice mayor gave commissioners copies of a March 12 Charlotte Observer article, which describes the deeding of the mound as a forgone conclusion.

“We’re not giving the mound away, as some people have suggested. We’re just sharing it,” McRae clarified to the commissioners, noting that the mound has stood there for 1,000 years and was a site of interaction between colonists and the Cherokee for 260 years.

“We, the white people, took it away from them 200 years ago and this year we have the chance to give it back,” McRae said, referring to the 1819 treaty where the Cherokee lost the property.

Commissioner Ronnie Beale asked about next steps including design of the visitor center, the former Dan’s Auto Parts and Goodyear store. McRae said a design firm was considering whether the building was usable and how much further investment would be required by the tribe. She noted that the tribe had already spent $500,000 to acquire adjacent property.

The town is expected to vote on deeding the property to the Nikwasi Initiative, of which the EBCI is a member, at its April meeting.

Sheriff’s office authorized to file lawsuit

Late in the evening, board members emerged from nearly an hour of closed session deliberation with county lawyer Chester Jones to authorize the Macon County Sheriff’s Office to launch a lawsuit against three individuals related to a nuisance claim on their Fred Dalton Road property.

Randy Collins, William Stephen Sheppard and Dusty Collins were the three named individuals who will be targets of the suit. The State Bureau of Investigation will also be involved.

“We do anticipate this to be resolved,” Jones said after the announcement, declining to provide further information as to the nature of the nuisance.

Tentative nod to school fitness and safety program

Commissioners heard a lengthy presentation from Safe Routes to School Coordinator Jackie Moore, who described how a program designed to encourage elementary and middle school children to walk and cycle more has had marked follow-on benefits in Western North Carolina.

“You guys are rockin’ it over in Macon County,” Moore said, noting that Macon places third in the eight westernmost counties for ongoing participation in the program, which translates to children maintaining walking exercise on a weekly basis after the program’s launch.

Moore said to continue, the federal grant program requires a 20 percent local match. She sought a $5,000 yearly commitment for three years to keep it going in the four western counties of Macon, Jackson, Swain and Haywood. The $15,000 total commitment would focus attention on bicycle safety programs, including helmet giveaways, physical education teacher training, and healthy lifestyle skills for children to combat childhood obesity.

Town Planner Justin Setser, who accompanied Moore for the presentation, noted that more than 200 students at East Franklin Elementary participated in Walk to School day, a day that saw no office referrals to the principal. Moore showed a slide demonstrating how increased brain activity in children is associated with physical movement and said research showed better math and English grades in active students.

Commissioners voted to authorize the commitment contingent on School Board approval.

Iotla Valley, Nantahala and Cartoogechaye elementary schools also participated in the past two years. Commissioner Jim Tate promised to grease the wheels for an approval at Highlands Elementary, which has so far demurred.

Cooperative Extension impact report discussed

NC Cooperative Extension director Allen Durden stood before the podium to rattle off a litany of statistics showing the high level of community participation in extension activities in Macon County before allowing staff members in livestock and foraging pastures, health and nutrition and family and consumer programs to chime in.

Durden said that Macon County Center held 209 education-related meetings, workshops, demonstrations, lectures and tours. In all, 4,919 people attended 960 hours of classroom and field instruction.

Thirteen local 4-H clubs focus on shooting sports, livestock, small animals, sewing, chess, cooking, crafts, woodworking and leadership skills for children. More than $23,000 in community donations from businesses and individuals supported these activities, which sought to teach life skills and community service values to young Maconians.

Other beneficial programs included a pesticide disposal day, which collected 3,493 pounds of unwanted pesticide that may have otherwise ended up in local waterways. Durden said phones rang off the hook for free radon test kits, whose poisoning can lead to illnesses affecting the lungs.

Commissioner Karl Gillespie acknowledged that extension has changed over the years as the county has become less of a farming community. “It still bridges that gap from the farm to the table.”

Commissioners also approved bylaws for the Macon County Community Funding Pool, which awards $75,000 in competitive grants to local nonprofit organizations.

Community member Sandra Swisher was the only speaker during the public comment period, imploring commissioners to address several “areas of concern” along Highway 441, NC Route 28, Lyle Downs Road and the entrance to Cowee Valley on Mica City Road.

“We have vacant buildings, closed motels with mattresses outside – that’s a beautiful area,” she said before continuing to describe junkyards, abandoned vehicles, long-vacant shopping malls and urban clutter along the county’s scenic byways. “I live here, I breathe here, and this is my county, and this is my state.”

Commissioner Tate dutifully thanked her before continuing with a busy Tuesday night agenda.