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Franklin sprays ancient Indian mound with weed killer

The use of weed killer to temporarily denude an ancient Indian mound in Franklin has some critics accusing the town of cultural insensitivity.

Nikwasi Indian Mound, which is located within Franklin’s town limits and is tended to and maintained by town crews, is one of the largest intact mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. Large earthen mounds were built to mark the spiritual and civic center of American Indian towns that once dotted the Little Tennessee River Valley through Macon County and the region. Scholars note that while its precise age is uncertain Nikwasi Mound pre-dates even the Cherokee.

“I think it is totally disrespectful and terrible for them to be so cheap that they won’t just cut the grass,” said Lamar Marshall, a local historian on Cherokee sites and places. “They are always bellyaching about having to mow the grass on it.”

It takes a town crew of four workers about half a day once each week during spring, summer and fall to take care of Nikwasi Mound. Or rather, it used take that amount of time — Town Manager Sam Greenwood explained the intent of last week’s herbicide application is to eventually replant Nikwasi Mound with “Eco-Grass.” Town Mayor Joe Collins defended his town manager’s decision to apply herbicide.

“We are looking at a way to basically be able to not mow it during grass-growing season,” Collins said. “It is very labor intensive and it keeps a lot of traffic on the mound.”

Collins said the new grass essentially stops growing at about six inches tall, removing the need to mow each week.

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The mound is approximately 6,000-square-feet in size. The town does not have an exact cost yet on how much money it will pay for hydroseeding, but the cost of the Eco-Grass comes to $32 per 1,000 square feet, Greenwood said.

The town manager said the herbicide application was a one-time thing to kill off existing grass and weeds to pave the way for planting the Eco-grass. In two weeks, crews will rough up the mound using rakes and the Eco-Grass seed will be sprayed onto the mound, he said.

“It’s not very expensive or intrusive, and it will keep the mowers and the mowers’ smoke off the mound. It’s a very conservative approach, and once (the seed) gets applied, it will look very close to what it was,” the mayor said. “This is going to mean less traffic and reduce impact on the mound.”

Greenwood said the town also plans to institute a town law that would allow police officers to enforce rules keeping people off the mound, and an informational kiosk about it will be placed there to help visitors understand the significance of the site. Nikwasi Mound in 1980 was designated an archaeological site on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marshall, however, believes the herbicide was inappropriate despite the long-term goal of getting out of the mound-mowing business. Marshall pointed to the human and environmental risks of weed killers.

“The safe poisons today are banned tomorrow when there is enough time to research them,” Marshall said.

Marshall said the town does not fully appreciate the importance and heritage of Nikwasi Mound.

“It could be the centerpiece of the entire town,” Marshall said. “It’s a waste of a valuable local resource.”

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