COKER CREEK, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service is apologizing after destroying a portion of the Trail of Tears in the Appalachian Mountains, reopening wounds for Native Americans who consider the land sacred.
The Forest Service, in documents obtained by The Associated Press, has acknowledged that an employee approved the destruction of a ¾-mile section of the trail in eastern Tennessee without authorization.
Here are some key events from a Forest Service timeline:
— 2012: Nonprofit The Conservation Fund purchases a tract on the edge of the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee containing a segment of the Trail of Tears to hold in trust for the U.S. Forest Service.
— Jan. 25, 2013: The local Tellico District Forest Service ranger begins making inquiries about funding for an erosion control project on the parcel. The ranger tells another employee they don’t have to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act because the Forest Service does not own the property.
— July 9, 2013: A purchase order for $28,500 for the work is signed at the Cherokee National Forest supervisor’s office.
— Aug. 8, 2013: The Forest Service signs purchase option for the land with the Conservation Fund.
— Jan. 30, 2014: The Tellico District Forest Service ranger has given verbal permission to begin work, although there is no evidence of any notice given to The Conservation Fund.
— March 3-7, 2014: Thirty-two earthen berms are constructed along the Trail of Tears/Unicoi Tunrpike.
— June 6, 2014: A contractor repairing damage to an access gate builds three “tank traps” (trenches and berms) to keep vehicles out. The contractor later learns the gate was inadvertently damaged by Tennessee Valley Authority employees.
— Sept. 25, 2014: Trail of Tears land transferred to the Forest Service. Higher-ups who are still unaware of the damage extol the pristine nature and historical significance of the parcel.
— July 14, 2015: A group of government and tribal representatives participating in a design meeting for the trail and nearby Fort Armistead discover the destruction. According to the Forest Service timeline of events, “Most of the group is astounded and perplexed by the work that was done.”