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History of the Little Tennessee River Greenway-"Pride of Macon County"

by Hank Shuler, edited by Kay Coriell

Providing a cornucopia of wildflowers and wildlife, the Greenway cuts a meandering path of nearly five miles through Franklin. Reflecting the extraordinarily rich diversity of the Macon County landscape, visitors can experience wetlands, stroll through two railroad cuts left behind by the Tallulah Falls Railroad, wander alongside an old pasture, catch sight of the desert agave, and experience the upland woods.

This marvelous asset began as a dream. Many residents, including members of the Nantahala Hiking Club, looked at this long stretch of uninhabited land along side the river and pictured a place to preserve our landscape while offering expanded recreational opportunities for our community. Others saw it as a way to preserve our heritage and to bolster our economic development.

In 1997 Duke Power needed a powerline through Franklin. The unusable land along the river seemed to offer the most logical route. At that time Nantahala Power and Light, though owned by Duke, was still an intact company with leadership that was an integral part of our community and aware of the Dream.

Actually some of NP&L folks shared the Dream.

After the land was acquired, and the powerline built Duke was ready to deed the land. The Town of Franklin was the obvious recipient to the title of the land, but it didn't have the capacity to handle a project of this magnitude.

Macon County's leadership said “bring it on!”. Though not all of the Greenway lies in the transmission line easement, it represents almost 50% of the trail and became the catalyst that was needed to turn the Dream into a vision and ultimately into a reality.

Duke and NP&L donated their expertise in engineering, grant writing, web design, and getting-the-job-done. They created a blue ribblon steering committee of community leaders who added flesh to the Dream. The team included Ed Tucker, former president of NP&L: Tom Smitherman, former V-P of NP&L: former Mayor Ed Henson, Mayor Joe Collins, then County Manager Sam Greenwood, Peg Jones and Brian Hyder.

Barbara McRae, formerly with NP&L, wrote two major grants to bring in the cash to restore the riverbanks, build trails, picnic shelters and bridges across the river. These grants included a 3.8 million North Carolina Clean Water Trust Fund grant and a North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant for $250,000. She also designed a web site, created a powerpoint presentation and wrote press releases to keep people informed of progress.

The Parks and Recreation grant required matching funds of $250,000. F.P. (“Bodie”) Bodenheimer, II, owner and CEO of Zickgraf Industries came up with the matching funds. Thank you, Bodie, for your generous gift.

In 2000, a weaver, poet, artist and naturalist named Sally Kesler wasn't happy with the progress of the greenway. Things weren't happening as fast as she thought they should and she put a diminutive finger in Sam Greenwood's face and told him so. Sam told her to do something about it. As a result, Nikwasi Center, Ltd, an organization formed to build an amphitheater on the greenway was reorganized as Friends of the Greenway, Inc. (“FROGS”) in 2001. Frogs received their 501(c) 3 tax-free status and an agreement with the county to assist in the development, fund raising, and management of the Greenway.

Support of our County Commissioners over the years; in-kind services of Southwestern Community College; volunteers who came out to plant sweet pepper bushes and trees, pick up litter and help with fund raising; the Frog's Eyes who regularly patrol and mark, inventory and photograph plants; the many companies and individuals who have contributed money; our town alderman and mayors; our newspapers and radio stations; girl scouts and boy scouts who planted flowers and put up wood duck boxes; Terry Browning (who is responsible for trail maintenance and was wonderful in our Frog Quarters renovations); the Macon County maintenance crew,;present and past board members of FROGs; these and many more are what make the Little Tennessee River Greenway a project of Macon County and its citizens.

Surveys have shown monthly visits in summer exceed 20,000, so we think our Dream has been validated. The Greenway supports our economic development, heritage, recreation, health, environment, and a sense of community. Nothing in our community has garnered more pride than the Little Tennessee River Greenway, the envy of many communities.