An old growth trail marker tree, one of hundreds
documented by the Mountain Stewards Trail Tree Project. Visit
Where these trails today remain natural and un-obliterated, old beech
trees with carvings and trail marker trees might still be found nearby. Abandoned segments meander though
fields and forests, and loops that followed the natural contours of the land can be found veering off of paved highways.
Today, it is not uncommon to find abandoned road banks that are 10 or 15 feet deep.
A principal example is the Natchez Trace in Tennessee and Mississippi, yet there are perhaps thousands of remnants and hundreds
of miles of preserved trails in the backwoods of Appalachia.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation estimates that only a small
slice of about 2 million "cultural resources" that sit on 193 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest
Service have been properly preserved. Yet many Indian trails on national forests, instead of being inventoried and studied, have
been turned into collector roads for timber harvesting. These trails are a living nexus of cultural landmarks,
and these trail-beds, along with their arborglyphs, rock cairns, bluff shelters, and ecological context must be preserved and studied.
North Carolina and other states with significant quantities of public land in national forests contain the corridors and remnants of
Indian trails. The historical corridors and remnants of these trails and roads should be identified, mapped, recorded, and their
history preserved as a valuable element of Native American heritage. The historical landmarks of our ancestors are
priceless and they are being eradicated even before we can identify them.
Hundreds of arborglyphs, or tree carvings, have been found in old growth beech trees along old Indian
The cultural heritage department of
Wild South, a non-profit conservation organization, is partnering with the Mountain Stewards and the Southeastern
Anthropological Institute to work with the Eastern Band of the Cherokees to
document the Cherokee Indian trail and road system. The project includes
research, mapping, and the production of a comprehensive database with historical documentation integrated into Google Earth.
The Cherokee country of the 18th century was a magnificent mosaic of
fully-functioning ecosystems that served as pharmacy, hardware, and grocery store. These diverse ecosystems with their
thousands of various plants, animals, and birds were veined with trails that were used not only for general travel,
but for hunting, gathering food and medicine, for fishing and warring. The Southeastern Indian Trail System is a standing
monument to the old ways, and should be preserved for future generations.
Lamar Marshall is Cultural Heritage Director for Wild South