A milestone was reached last Friday when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) assumed ownership of the Hall Mountain tract of land in the Cowee Community just north of Franklin. The 108 acres overlooks the Cowee Mound and will host a series of hiking trails in hopes that it may be used as an educational resource for schools in the area as well as the public. The celebration took place at 7339 Bryson City Road.
The project first began in 2005 with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and the Wilderness Society playing important roles in the project. The funding come from the USDA Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program.
Principal Chief Michell Hicks spoke at the event and prompted many in attendance to wonder about another prominent mound found in Macon County, Nikwasi that is located in the middle of Franklin.
“This is the right thing to do and our people are headed in a direction to reestablish ourselves," said Hicks. "We've all been blessed. I have a burden on my heart for this community. This is not the end of the land that needs to come back to our tribe. There is a mound in this town called Nikwasi mound that belongs to our people. It's not about ownership, but about protection and preservation of our people. The land needs to come back to our people."
In the near future, if the plans mentioned by the Chief were to begin to unfold, residents of Macon County and Franklin may see moves being made by the EBCI to purchase the property. Asked about the possibility of future transactions, Alderman Bob Scott spoke optimistically.
“I would have no problem with a joint town-tribe ownership of the mound,” he said. “As for the legalities, I am not sure that could be worked out but I am inclined to believe it could. I continue to believe that the town should bring back the Mound Committee to work out these things. The tribe's preservation organizations and the town could certainly make that a site everyone could be proud of.”
At moments in Franklin's not so distant past, great efforts were put forth to enhance the mound and to make it a site that would garner attention from the town’s people as well as visitors. With remnants of these memories still lingering, it could be a difficult deal to reach for the two parties.
“I am aware of how the people of Franklin rallied to save the mound in the 1940s,” said Scott. “It was a wonderful gesture but much has changed since those days and it is time to put that behind us and look to the future of the mound and what it means to the town and the tribe and to future generations.”
If the EBCI and the Town of Franklin were to decide on a course of action that included an outright of sale of the land, legal hurdles would have to be overcome before a transaction could be completed.
“Assuming the offer was made by the Eastern Band itself, and that the Town was interested in selling, the Town would have to follow the procedure in North Carolina General Statute 160A-269, whereby the Board of Aldermen would propose to accept an offer, and then would have to expose the property to an upset bid process,” said town attorney John Henning Jr.
An upset bid process means that there would need to be a public notice of each bid and then an opportunity would need to be given for anyone to make an upset bid.
“Depending on the exact entity that made the offer, the Town might be able to convey the property without an upset bid process pursuant to G.S. 160A-266, but we would need to be very careful with the details to pursue that method,” he said.
Additional information provided by Macon Media.