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Cherokee history on display at Red Clay State Park

Johnny Molloy • Jan 30, 2014 at 10:05 AM

It is no accident that Red Clay State Park is just on the Tennessee side of the Tennessee/Georgia state line. Red Clay became the site of the Cherokee government in the year 1832, after the state of Georgia made it illegal for the Cherokee to hold any type of meeting, effectively asphyxiating their government. Previously, the Cherokee capital was New Echota, Ga., south of Red Clay.Being forced to move their capital was the beginning of the end, really the beginning of what became known as The Trail of Tears. Red Clay was the Cherokee capital for a mere six years before they were forcibly removed to what became Oklahoma.Today, Red Clay is preserved as a council ground and historic site with additional Cherokee interpretive information stretching over five centuries. You will not only appreciate the natural beauty of the 630-acre site but also appreciate the historical significance here. Set aside time to hike and time to learn Cherokee history.A fine walk here traverses hills and hollows on the Council of Trees Trail. Come to the Blue Hole, a deep, crystalline spring around which Cherokee Indians met. Pick up an interpretive trail, passing by a replica Cherokee farm, sleeping huts and a council house. The hike nears the park’s visitor center, full of Cherokee interpretive material. A short walk from there returns you to the trailhead.The hike has a few hills yet is suitable for families or those desiring a less demanding trek. A natural surface path enters hardwoods of oaks, maple, black gum and sourwood. Scattered cedars and pines add evergreen coloration to the pale rock-pocked terrain.At .5 miles, the trail turns south, hemmed in by the park boundaries. The Cherokee knew a thing or two about boundaries, as Red Clay literally touches the Georgia border but is in Tennessee. Back in the 1830s, coming to Tennessee freed them from the Peach State law forbidding the natives from assembling.By .8 miles, you have topped out on Suits Hill. Look for sinkholes, wooded depressions in the ground through which water drains. At .9 miles, meet the built-up stone block overlook rising from the forest. Views open south into Georgia, which is less than 500 feet distant through the trees.By 1.3 miles, the trail has dropped off the slope of Suits Hill. Here, the Council of Trees Trail keeps straight to reach the park amphitheater, near the picnic area. You, however, turn right joining the Blue Hole Nature Trail. Emerge at Blue Hole Spring, also known as Council Spring. The cobalt aqua emerges from a visible vent, forming a 20-foot wide pool that begins flowing to meet Mills Creek beyond the park boundaries. The crystalline water was the natural draw for the Cherokee to relocate their capital here, with the artificially drawn state lines being the political concern.The walk then takes you to a Cherokee demonstration farm. By the 1820s, the Cherokee were living much as the white man who had settled Southern Appalachian bottomlands, dwelling in log homes, working productive farms and planting family roots.Shortly you will come to the park visitor center. Head in for historical education. Consider timing your visit with some of the half dozen annual special park events centered on the Cherokee and their history. For more information, call 423-478-0339 or visit ww.tnstateparks.com.

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