By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
I think Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary are some of the most extraordinary lands anywhere in the world. Millions of people each year come to our area to enjoy the great outdoors and some stop in to inquire about the history and culture of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They see the natural beauty of our home and they are in awe.
They also see the run-down buildings in our business district and the closed and dilapidated state of properties that have gone out of business long ago. They see what were once homes and now are disintegrating buildings and trailers that are only homes to rats, snakes, and other wildlife. They see the weeds going through cracked sidewalks and faded signs or billboards.
Our visitors are greeted by some of the most amazing wildlife experiences on the planet too. Herds of elk frequent the Boundary on a regular basis. They thrill locals and visitors alike, causing traffic snarls and frayed nerves. The elk resurgence has been responsible for an increase in tourism traffic and dollars for businesses on and off the Boundary. We also see the occasional deer, turkey, and, of course, all manner of ducks and geese.
Speaking of ducks, bird watchers can get an eyeful here. We have six state recognized birding trails on the Qualla Boundary. I enjoy watching spotting and learning the many varieties of finches, woodpeckers, and others that frequent our ancestral home. There were even rumors of an eagle making an appearance over the winter.
But, we also see stray dogs and feral cats roaming the “reservation”. Irresponsible people who haven’t spayed or neutered their pets will have litters and litters of unwanted animals that become a nuisance and a danger to all of us. Beyond the negatives for humans is the negatives for the animals. Domesticated animals do not fare well in the wild. They cannot compete with wild animals for food. They will not be accepted into packs and will not enjoy the protections of that environment. These stray animals will dig in garbage cans for food and dodge cars for as long as they can. Animal Control will remove many of these stray pets, but many of them will become another common sight on rural mountain roads-roadkill.
We need to continue efforts to improve the look of our homelands. As we know, the best look is the one the Creator provided. Every time mankind has tried to improve on what God created, it has always been made a little less than perfect.
We have been trying to improve the Oconaluftee Island Park for many years. We added “talking trees” which were posts with electronics in them to provide a prerecorded history lesson to anyone who came by to press the buttons. We built pavilions on the Island to add amenities, provided plumbing and electrical access. We built bridges and volleyball pits complete with white sand. And, just when one thinks things couldn’t be more improved on the Island, a nice big flood routinely submerges the Island Park and all the amenities thereof.
If you take a stroll on the Island in the Spring and Summer, many days you will find hundreds of people enjoying the grass, the rocks, and the water. Most of us enjoy nature, just the way the Creator intended and the way he made it. I’m not saying the manmade improvements are wrong or bad. I am saying that sometimes the easiest way to make an area attractive is to try to maintain it in the condition that the Creator provided it.
And, once we make changes to our naturally beautiful environment, it is our duty to maintain those areas to the best of our ability. Which means we should be, as a government and community, creating work groups and applying funds to the repair and beautification of our lands. Where we can replace or repaint, we should. We should be intentional at putting barriers up to hide anything that we cannot fix. We should be routinely maintaining our greenways and exploring ways to refurbish or replace the aging stock of buildings in the most prominent and visible areas of the Boundary.
If we want to entice visitors to our land for the purposes of economic growth, we need to be deliberate about these things. If we want our youth to be interested in staying and growing our community, we need to make home attractive for them, a place to build a great life. It is part of staying true to our values. Love of the land and of the inhabitants, mankind and animal, represent our harmony with the Creator. The health of our lands reflects the health of our people. Let’s work together to make our homelands a place that reflects the love we say that we have for it.