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New Nikwasi Mound Plans Focus On Early Cherokee Agriculture

Courtesy of The Nikwasi Initiative
This image shows a conceptual drawing of the updated plans. "Nothing is in its determined place," explains Elaine Eisenbraun in an email.

The nonprofit that took control of the sacred Nikwasi Mound in Franklin two years ago is releasing more details about its plans for the site.

The Nikwasi Initiative is made up of representatives from Macon County, the town of Franklin, Eastern Band of Cherokee(EBCI) and Mainspring Conservation Trust.

Elaine Eisenbraun is its new director. She recently updated the Macon County Commissioners and the Franklin Town Council that the initiative wants to focus on the agricultural history of the site.

“It just seemed like there was a thread running through all of this and it revolved around agriculture because Nikwasi was an agricultural community,” said Eisenbraun. She became the director of the initiative in April 2020.

The plan is to show how the mound looked when early Cherokee lived there. At some point, the initiative hopes this will include a market, a small farm for demonstrations, a learning center and a restaurant of traditional Cherokee food, as well as other features. This is a departure from the original pitch by the Eastern Band to build a branch of the Cherokee Indian museum near the Nikwasi Mound site. The tribe purchased the .59 acres for a museum near the mound in August 2017.

“It is all conceptual, the things I showed at the county[commissioners meeting], like the drawings and such are conceptual drawings and what I sent you they may or may not look like that,” said Eisenbraun.

Some drawings show the new plan as bigger than the current .79 acre parcel owned by the Nikwasi Initiative, stoking concerns that the plans include land that the initiative doesn’t own. Eisenbraun explains those drawings weren’t done to scale. She says they will work with the land they have.

Credit Courtesy of The Franklin Press
This conceptual drawing was submitted to The Franklin Press in a February issue. Eisenbraun says all of these elements will hopefully be a part of the Nikwasi Initiative's work in the future but that these elements will probably not all be around the mound.

“I take full responsibility for that being in any way, confusing to people, but please understand that we're working with the space that we have available to us,” said Eisenbraun.

In total, Eisenbraun says the land near the mound owned by the organizations that are part of the initiative are as followed: EBCI: .59 acres , Town of Franklin: about 1 acre, and Mainspring: .67 acres.

In August of last year, the initiative broke ground on a kiosk at the Mound. It’s the second kiosk for the Cultural Corridor that will run along the Little Tennessee River from North Georgia to Cherokee.  Eisenbraun says that the next kiosk will be located in Cherokee. The kiosk panels are currently being translated and will be ready soon.

Part of the plan for the mound also now includes an apple orchard trail to honor Barbara McRae – vice mayor of Franklin and co-chair of the initiative board – who passed away this month. The trail will be a part of the nearby Greenway, which McRae loved as an avid naturalist and birder.

“Barbara has enriched all of our lives. She led by example, encouraged good citizenship through practice, and was always teaching us about the world we live in and the the people we live among. We would all do well in this life to follow her lead,” said Bob McCollum, new board co-chair in a statement.

Eisenbraun says McRae shared the apple’s history with the initiative: the Spanish bought apples to the region when they first came to North Carolina about 450 years ago. The early Cherokee began to cultivate their own apple varieties but when the tribe was removed from the region on the Trail of Tears… 

“They lost their beloved apple trees and their investment in that. And so what we're trying to do is to be able to tell the world where some of these apples came and what kind of a contribution was made by native peoples to our cuisine or nutrition and such,” said Eisenbraun.  

The ‘Barbara McRae Cherokee Heritage Apple Trail’ will be located on the Greenway about a quarter mile downstream from the Big Bear Pavilion.  

I will listen for my dear friend’s spirit, which will surely be drifting throughout this orchard, waiting for us,” said Juanita Wilson, a member of the EBCI and board co-chair in a statement.

Eisenbraun says they hope to have the strategic plan for the mound done by the end of next year.   

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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