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Macon considers monument for Cherokee gravesite, funding request

Construction on the Parker Meadows sports complex is moving forward, but with some alterations to the original plan following the July discovery of a Cherokee gravesite in the midst of the future ballfields. At the Macon County commissioners’ November meeting, County Planner Matt Mason presented some sketches of what a memorial to the gravesite might look like. 

“There’s a center circle that’s basically a concrete block retaining wall four-and-a-half feet tall with stone veneer and a circular 7-foot sidewalk going around both sides of it,” Mason told commissioners as they looked at the sketch. “We’ve offset some benches and some seating areas to create a monument toward the burial ground, toward a place that in my personal opinion should be enhanced and preserved.”

The plan would include a planting of trees — red maple or Chinese elm — and a kiosk telling the story of the burial site, “the whole 9 yards,” Mason said. It would do far more than just comply with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ request to place a 10-foot circle of rebar on top to prevent vandalism. 

Certainly, the park-like memorial would be a much more attractive option than the second sketch Mason presented, a simple concrete sidewalk around the gravesite. 

But cost is a factor, and while neither of the plans has yet been priced out, the first would definitely be more expensive. 

“That first option is very nice, but there would be some significant cost with that,” pointed out Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin. 

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And it wouldn’t be the only cost associated with the discovery of the gravesite. After finding the grave, plans had to be changed to rotate the cloverleaf of baseball and softball fields so that they wouldn’t fall on top of the grave. That involved some concrete work and retaining walls to accommodate the topography, causing an increase of $103,000 to the county’s contract with Penland Grading. 

So, while Corbin commented at the meeting that he likes the new design for the park “better than the original design,” the county will approach the Eastern Band once it has some more solid numbers on the memorial options and request some help with paying for the memorial and site plan changes. Commissioners discussed having Commissioner Ronnie Beale, who also sits on the board of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, bringing the matter up at the board’s December meeting as well as presenting the cost information to Tribal Council. 

“We’re going to get a price on this, present that to the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, get a response from them and the tribe and start the discussion,” Corbin said. 

Beale said he’s hopeful about the response he’ll get from the Preservation Foundation, but commissioners didn’t comment on what proportion of cost-sharing they’re looking for. 

“I think when this first started, they [the Eastern Band] stood up and said any memorialization to the grave itself, they’d be very interested in,” Beale said. 

However, Corbin commented, it is looking like the cost of plan alterations following the gravesite discovery will be less than initially anticipated. 

“We had estimated $260,000 originally,” Corbin said. “I’m not sure it’s going to be quite that much, but whatever that figure it is we’re going to share with [the Eastern Band].”

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