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With title, Nikwasi Initiative can move forward

The volunteer board members of the nonprofit Nikwasi Initiative are appreciative of the public’s interest in our mission and role in development of a cultural corridor extending from south Macon County to the Qualla Boundary. We would like to take this opportunity to go into more detail about the Initiative.

In 2013, a group of community members from the Town of Franklin, Macon County and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians were brought together through the efforts of the nonprofit Mainspring Conservation Trust, whose mission includes conservation of cultural heritage. Since all community members were asked to serve as volunteers, Mainspring received initial grant funding from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina to hire Asheville-based consulting firm Catalpa Partners to lead the process.  The community members named themselves Mountain Partners in recognition of their willingness to mend relations between EBCI and the Town of Franklin and move beyond together — as regional partners. 

After months of meetings, Mountain Partners realized that a regional cultural corridor could highlight our nationally significant area in a way that builds understanding and appreciation for all of us, young and old.

In order to move forward with this concept, Mountain Partners created a formal, nonprofit entity, Nikwasi Initiative. The Nikwasi Initiative board consists of citizens from the Town of Franklin, Macon County, EBCI and representatives of Mainspring. With financial support from these four entities, we continue to contract with Catalpa Partners consultants, who help with grant writing and administration in the nonprofit. 

Since 2017, Nikwasi Initiative partners have invested in the project in their own ways — the EBCI has purchased the empty building adjacent to Nikwasi Mound and is currently studying the feasibility of a museum at that site. Mainspring has purchased two contaminated brownfield properties near the Mound and spent more than $500,000 in grant funds for the successful cleanup of the first site, with the second site cleanup pending future funding.

Together, EBCI and Mainspring investments in improvements inside the town of Franklin have exceeded $1.5 million to date.

Simultaneously, funding was secured for three informational kiosks, the first currently being constructed at a viewing site overlooking the Little Tennessee River to Cowee Mound, the second in the area of Nikwasi Mound, and the third in Cherokee. 

Many people have asked why Nikwasi Initiative is seeking the title to the mound. Previous efforts of cooperation between Franklin and EBCI around maintenance and ownership of the mound have not been successful. With ownership of the mound in the nonprofit’s name, the Initiative will be able to demonstrate the tangible contribution from the town to this regional partnership. This shows a level of trust that will lead to further investments inside Franklin by grant funders, Mainspring and the EBCI.

If transferred to the Nikwasi Initiative, the mound will be protected in perpetuity. Public access will not only be guaranteed, but enhanced by its surroundings. Our intent is to create a welcoming space with educational opportunities that tells our shared mountain history, including the conservation of the mound by citizens of the Town of Franklin in 1946.

Franklin’s Town Council, EBCI leaders, local business leaders and others embrace and understand the critical role of Nikwasi Initiative in development of a cultural corridor. We honor their confidence and look forward to working together to bring economic benefit to the area while highlighting and protecting its significant cultural resources.

This column was submitted by the members of the Nikwasi Initiative Board, which includes Juanita Wilson, Barbara McRae, Hope Huskey, Ben Laseter, Kim Smith, Stacy Guffey and Bob McCollum. For more information visit www.nikwasi-initiative.org.

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