What are Blueway Trails? Blueway Trails are marked routes on navigable waterways such as rivers, lakes, canals, and coastlines designated for recreational use. 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 cool down in a mountain stream.
The Nikwasi Initiative, with a grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, is facilitating a planning process for the development of two interpreted and culturally-significant river paddling 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 consultant selection, partner and community engagement, visioning, asset mapping, resource assessment, and master plan development with a particular focus on telling the story of Cherokee relationships with riverways.
On the Little Tennesse River, the Noquisiyi Cultural District is designed to open a door. It introduces people to the authentic world of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)
members and once the door is open, it is important to amplify learning. Rivers can transport people toward deeper journeys and open more advanced understanding. They are America’s main source of clean drinking water, which makes them critical, it is also important to understand rivers comprehensively, including their riparian zones, nutrient transport capacity, spiritual engagement, cleansing capacity, lifeforms, economic assets, and more. Being attendant on a river opens a new pattern of 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 Long Man, with his/her head in the mountains and feet in the sea. Many recognize that preserving culture must include the critical need of preserving language, stories, dance, and traditions. It must also include awareness and oneness with natural resources, and rivers touch all natural resources. As culture keepers and language keepers are declining in number, accessible studies must emerge, and that can include the study of natural systems like riverine ecosystems.