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Cherokee fly fishing museum sets opening day, fundraising dinner

fr flyfishingIt’s been two years since Alen Baker, the self-described “instigator” of the effort to create the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, sent an unsolicited pitch to the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. But now, the building is renovated and the chamber has moved its offices into part of it. Opening day is slated for May 1, and the museum will hold its first annual fundraising dinner Nov. 1 to gather funds to purchase and display fly-fishing memorabilia from across the region. 

“We’re pretty much working around the clock at this point, trying to get ready,” said Amy Parker, executive director of the chamber.

The goal of the dinner is to raise $25,000 to create the museum’s first round of exhibits. The chamber aims for a half dozen to start out with, but the list of exhibit concepts that the group of volunteer anglers fueling the effort has cooked up includes 80 separate ideas. The plan is to add on to the museum each year, installing more permanent exhibits, as well as some changing ones, to keep visitors flowing in. 

“If we can do somewhere around a dozen a year, we’ll have a good established set of stories for people to see,” Baker said. “We’ve got a lot of room. Hopefully we can get them in there and keep them.”

The group has located the first drift boat used for fly fishing in the Southeast, and they’re currently negotiating to acquire it. There will be displays of rods and reels and flies, both historic and modern, and a live trout exhibit as well. According to the museum, “Southern Appalachian” means anything from West Virginia south, so that includes eight states and a nearly limitless supply of stories to tell and artifacts to display. 

And the exhibits won’t all focus on long-gone history. The museum will also budget space for new stuff: submissions by anglers who tie flies, make rods or otherwise celebrate the art of fly fishing. 

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“It doesn’t have to be old to be part of the story,” Baker said. 

The museum will also focus on fishing and its importance to Cherokee culture. 

“The whole history of the area and how they gathered and harvested fish will be included,” Parker said. “Fly fishing is part of our heritage in Cherokee.”

As well as celebrating an important part of Cherokee culture, Parker hopes the museum will serve as a draw to bring tourists to Cherokee and keep them there for a while. Many people come through town as part of a day trip, but Parker would like to seem them make Cherokee a longer stop on their journey. And for anglers who come up to the Smokies on their own, she’d like to see the museum encourage them to bring their families too. 

“If we can give a reason for them to bring their families when they come, that just creates further interest in Cherokee,” Parker said. 

The museum, located in the former Tee Pee Restaurant building, will share space with the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has already moved into its new digs and will run the museum once it opens. In April, Cherokee Tribal Council upheld the museum’s contract to lease the building from the tribe for 25 years at $1 per year. 

Plagued with mold, mildew and asbestos, the renovations took some time and money, but Parker said everything went quite smoothly, thanks to help from volunteers and funding from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  

“We’ve been very fortunate, and the building as far as the asbestos and the mold and all that has been almost completely gutted and redone,” she said. “The tribe has been generous to help us in certain areas.”

While achieving that May 1 opening could be “challenging,” Baker said, both he and Parker say they’re on track to make that happen. So next summer, anglers will be able to see the beginning of the story of fly fishing instead of just living the ending of it.

“The most fun anglers have is getting together and telling the stories,” Baker said, “so that’s what it’s all about.”

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