Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Friends of the Greenway, or FROGs, which is a volunteer organization overseen by a board of directors, presented plans, projects, and needs of the Little Tennessee Greenway for the foreseeable future to Macon County commissioners at their March 9 meeting. The current state of the Greenway was also conveyed.
“This past year’s been very difficult, with projects and plans being on hold, so we’re working to jump in for 2021,” said Rita St. Clair, FROG board’s secretary.
FROG’s 2021 goals for the Little Tennessee Greenway, which winds along the river and past wetlands, meadows, woodlands, gardens, and more, include:
1. To hold two arts and crafts fairs as fund raising events
2. To establish the Delores “Dee” Beamish Garden at FROG Quarters
3. To add educational signage to explain the history of the Tassee, Nickajack, and Nonah bridges on the Greenway
4. To secure the boundary of the Cartoogechaye Creek Bluff, designated as a North Carolina Natural Heritage Program Natural Area, and provide educational signage
5. To implement the American Hops Project
6. To partner with Nikwasi Initiative with the Heritage Apple Project
St. Clair elaborated on the 2021 schedule of activities.
“We had such a successful arts and crafts fair last November, which included some food sales as well, that we decided to host two this year, one on May 8 and another in the fall. Hopefully, we will make additional funds at these fairs to use toward our projects,” she said.
The Delores “Dee” Beamish Garden will be located behind the FROG Quarters at 573 E. Main Street.
“It will allow people to sit a while, look down the river, and enjoy some quiet time,” said St. Clair. “We are interested in maintaining the continuation of the area’s beautification, especially since Mainspring Conservation Trust is right next door. And in this East Franklin area … a lot is happening, so we want to partner with folks to beautify the area.”
Three bridges exist along the extensive Greenway paths, and FROG members explained to commissioners that it behooves the public to understand why the bridges are there and how they came about – just as it is important for Greenway users to be provided information about how the Greenway was developed.
“Additional signage will be going up along the Greenway to provide more information,” explained St. Clair.
New signage will also call attention to the area behind the Macon County Public Library.
“It is a natural heritage area because there are plants there that are unusual,” said St. Clair.
One of FROG’s two main projects, American Hops was initiated by Barbara McRae, Town of Franklin vice mayor, who passed away on March 2.
“Barbara discovered wild hops growing in a section going south beyond the butterfly garden, so this project is important to us,” said St. Clair. “Stan Polanski, who writes plant-related articles … has been working with contacts to send samples of the plants to verify they are American hops. We want to fence that area off for cultivating and demonstrating the history of hops growth. So Stan and Jim Clink, chairman of the FROG board, have been working on the area to identify hops that are coming up. It would be fun to eventually work with a local brewery, if there is enough hops to initiate a beer named after the Little Tennessee Greenway.”
The other main project, Heritage Apple, will involve Nikwasi Initiative and will be located, according to St. Clair, “halfway between Big Bear and Suli Marsh on the north end of the Greenway.”
“Elaine Eisenbraun, executive director of Nikwasi Initiative, is spearheading the project and we will provide volunteer assistance,” said St. Clair. “There will eventually be memorial signage in honor of Barbara McRae because she was also involved in this idea and she was part of the original group of FROG.” In fact, McRae, according to Little Tennessee River history “wrote two major grants to bring in the cash to restore the riverbanks, build trails, picnic shelters, and bridges across the river.”
“Yes, we will call the area the Barbara McRae Cherokee Heritage Apple Trail,” said Eisenbraun. “We will plant at least 20 heritage Cherokee apple trees, which is a variety originally cultivated by the Cherokee before the Trail of Tears, so we are working with the ECBI to get the trees.”
She said volunteers will be needed to prepare the site and plant the seedlings, and donated funds and monies from grants, especially from Blue Ridge National Heritage Association and Ferebee Endowment, are covering the cost of the project. When the trees produce fruit in a few years, it will be collected and several ideas are being discussed about what to do with the apples.
St. Clair said members were “excited” to learn that plans are underway to continue the trail under the Main Street bridge, and make it handicap accessible, so that people walking and biking on the trail do not have to cross the busy roads to continue from the Big Bear portion of the Greenway to the Shops at Riverwalk Greenway segment by the butterfly garden.
“We are hoping this will bring more people to stop at FROG Quarters Wednesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.”
The under-the-bridge trail is “happening soon,” added St. Clair. She also noted that interaction with Macon County Commissioners, with Gary Shields as a liaison, is win-win in that, “We continue to function as an independent nonprofit, but we provide commissioners with information about issues and concerns, such as erosion along the river, for the benefit of anyone using the Greenway.”
Plus, three area Rotary Club groups have taken on the project of repairing the dilapidated shelter, which is located by the butterfly garden, taped off for many months due to its condition.
Franklin Rotary Daybreak club is taking the lead on the project, but two other clubs are assisting as well: Rotary Club of Franklin and Franklin Rotary Satellite club. Rotary clubs paid for the construction of the shelter originally.
“But it now has rotten planks and the trees have overtaken the shelter,” said Luke Smith, a Rotarian and the owner of Highlander Roofing. “We hope to replace all the decking, wash the roof and railings, cut the overhanging branches to let in sunlight. In about four weeks, Highlander Roofing will be taking the heavy lifting lead on the tree removal, deck replacement, and cleaning with hopefully material funding by Rotary clubs.”
Smith said Rotary members will help with debris clean up. He added, “We hope the improvements will make people feel better about using the shelter for picnics and small events.”