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Millennials Learn About Nikwasi Mound And Land Trusts

Lilly Knoepp
The waterfront of the Little Tenneessee River along Needmore Road is just one of the areas that has been conserved through a land trust.

  There are over 20 land trusts in North Carolina.  BPR sought to find out what a land trust does at an event intended to teach millennials the answer.


A group of millennials get on a bus - that sounds like the beginning of a bad joke - but on this day for two non-profits this is a chance to teach a younger generations about what a land trust does.  Mainspring Conservation Trust operates across the 7 westernmost counties of North Carolina, the Qualla Boundary and Rabun County, Georgia. It received a grant to share what they do with the next generation.


“Really that’s what our job was today was to get people to look at land, and clean water and our cultural heritage in a different way.”


That’s Molly Phillips. She is the communication coordinator at Mainspring. She says almost 70 percent of their funding comes from private donations - mostly from older generations.


Most of the millennials on the bus work at Drake Software and Tektone in Macon County  or are from Cherokee. The day-long field trip went to three ancient Cherokee mounds in the region: Kituwah, Nikwasi and Cowee. Cultural sites are a part of the over 25,000 conserved acres that Mainspring maintains, says Phillips.


“You cannot save any land along the water without it being a cultural heritage site because 100 years ago, 200 years ago and 10,000 years ago that is where people lived,” says Phillips.


The majority of participants weren’t aware of the mounds or land trust before the trip. Nick Sprinkle, who is a software engineer at TekTone, says he only knew about the Nikwasi Mound and he wasn’t sure what a land trust or Main Spring was.


“I thought they were a group that had some dealing with the Greenway. But eh, I was pretty wrong in that,” says Sprinkle. The majority of the people on the tour had lived in Macon County for more than 20 years.


A land trust is a nonprofit which applies conservation easements to purchased or donated land in order to protect it from development. Like any nonprofit, each land trust has a different mission statement, focus and different programs.


Mainspring applied for this grant last year and planned out the program long before the current discussion about ownership of the Nikwasi Mound began. MainSpring is one of the partners of the Nikwasi Initiative - the nonprofit that the town of Franklin is considering giving the mound to.   


Sprinkle says that curiosity about the issue was one of the reasons he attended the field trip.


“I’ve seen a lot of Facebook posts and controversy about the mound. It seems like every few years something flares up,” explains Sprinkle. "So I wondered what was the significance of the mounds and the cultural significance to the Cherokee - I figured this would be a good way to be informed.”


The group heard from Cherokee storyteller Tom Belt, Nikwasi Initiative co-chair Barbara McRae, MainSpring founder Paul Carson and others about how the cultural history of Western North Carolina is a part of conservation.


This Franklin Town Council will vote to give the deed of the Nikwasi Mound to the Nikwasi Initiative on Monday.


Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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