By Coreen Donnelly
This trail development project in Tennessee's David Crockett State Park on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail was truly an amazing experience with unforgettable partners, and it all started with an idea and a little initiative to go after an Active Trails Grant in 2013. Our office had never received funding from this source before, and it seemed like the perfect match for this small trail development project. With the help and support of park manager John Bass, our office received the grant, and partnered with the park to develop a 2.5 mile Trail of Tears NHT retracement trail that weaves in and out of the historic route of the trail.
Over the course of a year, I worked with the park and many volunteers to turn this idea into a reality. What once was a forgotten history within the park’s boundaries became a cherished trail where visitors from across the nation could come to walk in the footsteps of the Cherokee and learn about the stories and history of those who walked it before them.
Fast forward to 2017, and this interpretive trail has become one of the most popular trails in the park with an annual estimated 30,000 trail visitors. There is also an annual Trail of Tears commemorative walk held here by partners. The park also received a couple of state awards for this project, including the Historical Commission Certificates of Merit in the Book/Public Programming category for the Trail of Tears Retracement Trail kiosk and wayside exhibits.
As for myself, I will always remember walking and laying out the alignment of the trail before it was built, and later getting my hands dirty with partners actually building it. (I forgot how back breaking trail construction can be!) It was the first section of national historic trail I developed as a team member at NTIR, and it, along with the partners I worked with, will always hold a special place in my heart.
Coreen Donnelly is a Landscape Architect with the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region.