Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Franklin’s town council held its first budget work session on May 15, and after hearing Town Manager Summer Woodard’s budget proposal, council members asked for $12,500 to be included to provide funding for the Nikwasi Initiative.
The Nikwasi Initiative is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that was established in 2016 to connect and redevelop the properties around the Nikwasi Mound to foster economic development and cultural tourism. The funding would be used as start-up funds to go toward planning for visitors’ amenities and improvement of the Mound property.
Since the initiative is a non-profit, some members of the board asked whether or not the Nikwasi Initiative’s request should come through the non-profit funding pool request. Mayor Bob Scott suggested funding the request over two budgets, but council member Joe Collins said if the board was going to fund it, they should fund it all at once.
“I think that what it would do for us besides making the project possible is create real moments,” said Franklin board member and co-chair of the Nikwasi Initiative, Barbara McRae. “Showing that the governmental agencies involved are really, really behind this, that will help us raise money from other sources.”
The Nikwasi Initiative has multi-agency support with representation from Franklin, Macon County, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Mainspring Conservation Trust, and MountainWest Partnership, a regional economic development whose mission is to promote the seven westernmost counties in North Carolina.
The board agreed to put the full funding request amount in the budget, possibly pulling from the town’s contingency fund as well as economic development line item which sits at $7,000, to pay for the one-time allocation.
The focus of the initiative will be to incorporate the properties around the Nikwasi Mound and redevelop the properties to enhance the mound. The initiative will also work to expand the tourism potential of the mound and surrounding properties such as the greenway and riverbank. The purpose of the corridor is to enhance and bring awareness to the Cherokee and pioneer sites with a focus on the local history of the Nikwasi area in East Franklin.
The project is a pilot initiative and is just getting off the ground. Volunteers want to design workable approaches to the development of other sites on the Nikwasi-Cherokee Cultural & Historic Corridor that extends from Cherokee along Highway 28 to Franklin and continues along Highway 441 to the Georgia border. According to McRae,the most significant point along the corridor is the Nikwasi Mound serving as the origin of the corridor in Franklin.