The Oconaluftee River Trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - USA


Case Study Summary:

“Mountains. Spirituality, and the Cherokee”


A collaboration among the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve), the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and The Mountain Institute used bilingual wayside signs in English and Cherokee to link Cherokee spiritual and cultural traditions and stories to features of the natural environment – trees, river, mountain, birds - along the Oconaluftee River Trail that runs from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the edge of the Cherokee’s ancestral lands.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian selected submissions from contemporary Cherokee artists to illustrate the waysides. The designs were finalized by the US National Park Service and the text translated into Cherokee by the Office of Cultural Resources of the Eastern Band. A ceremony with Cherokee dancers celebrated the installation of the completed waysides and excited considerable public interest and media attention.  Since many Cherokees, both adults and children, walk this trail for exercise, the signs help them to pass on their traditions to the younger generation and reinforce the revival and teaching of the Cherokee language in their schools. The exhibits also enable them to reach the wider public.

The project provides an innovative model with exciting possibilities for inspiring similar collaborations and waysides elsewhere in the United States and around the world.

Contact: Edwin Bernbaum