What are Blueway Trails? Blueway Trails are marked routes designated for recreational use on navigable waterways such as rivers, lakes, canals, and coastlines. Western North Carolina has hundreds of miles of established Blueways Trails. Portions of the Little Tennessee River, Nantahala, Tuckaseegee, and the Oconaluftee have been enjoyed by fishers, paddlers, and swimmers looking to relax in a mountain stream.
The Nikwasi Initiative, with grants from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, National Park Service, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, is planning a series of interpreted and culturally-significant river recreation trails located on the Little Tennessee and Oconaluftee Rivers. These will be sister trails that enhance interpretation and activity between the two riverways. The planning process includes expert consultation, partner and community engagement, visioning, asset mapping, resource assessment, and master plan development. The primary focus is on telling the story of Cherokee relationships with rivers and the importance of riverbank preservation.
Also on the Little Tennessee River, the Noquisiyi Cultural District is designed to introduce people to the authentic heritage of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Rivers can transport people toward deeper journeys and more advanced understanding. The Nikwasi Initiative recognizes that developing informative signs and experiential opportunities along established Blueways is a perfect complement to the Cultural District being developed in Franklin because it provides a more complete understanding of Cherokee culture and the Cherokee relationship with water.
Rivers are America’s main source of clean drinking water. It is important to understand rivers comprehensively, including their riparian zones, nutrient transport capacity, spiritual engagement, cleansing capacity, lifeforms, economic assets, and more. Spending time on a river opens new ideas for engagement and learning.
In 2021 EBCI inaugurated “Gunahita Asgaya - Honoring Long Man,” the first annual river celebration. There is recognition that people must return to their roots in flowing water known as "Long Man," with his/her head in the mountains and feet in the sea. We recognize that preserving culture must include the critical preservation of language, stories, dance, and traditions. It must also include awareness and oneness with natural resources. Rivers touch all natural resources. As Tribal leaders work with culture keepers and language keepers to preserve knowledge, tradition, and wisdom, we can all contribute by studying and caring for natural systems like riverine ecosystems.