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   This story appeared in The Times on Saturday, April 18, 1998.

Indian leaders come back to Bend park

By Judy Walton
The Chattanooga Times

There's a certain irony in American Indian leaders coming to Chattanooga to urge federal protection for Moccasin Bend.

After all, it was the federal government that threw them out of the area 160 years ago so white settlers could move in.

But leaders from eight Cherokee and Creek nations will be present Monday to offer support when the latest and last round of discussion opens on whether the historic Bend should become a national park.

Not since the Trail of Tears removal in 1838 have representatives from both native peoples been represented in Chattanooga at the same time, say members of the Friends of Moccasin Bend, a group backing park status for the area.

"This is an important spiritual and cultural site for the Muscogee People (of the Creek Nation) and the other Native American nations are showing support," says Don Drennon-Gala, a member of the Friends and the Chattanooga Intertribal Association who organized the trip of the Creek and Cherokee representatives.

"What we have is solidarity. That's the theme of this whole thing, solidarity between the parties that support the effort to make Moccasin Bend part of that national park system."

The visit is another bit of history to add to the layers accumulated at Moccasin Bend.

The depth and breadth of those layers stretching back 10,000 years and more, from Civil War battles past American Indian cultures to prehistoric peoples. They are unique and precious, supporters say, and deserve the very highest protection.

The task is to convince Congress, and that's why a study team from the National Park Service will hold the hearings Monday and Tuesday to draft alternatives for Moccasin Bend.

The questions to be answered are:

Who should manage the site, 956 acres at the tip of the Bend? The study team will consider proposals such as local management, public-private partnerships or administration by a land trust or other nonprofit entity.

What level of protection does it deserve? Some want to preserve, explore and even restore Civil War sites, American Indian villages and graves; others want native areas closed off and left alone.

How much development/public access? Choices range from leaving the whole area undeveloped and unmarked to full-scale facilities development and historic interpretation.

National park status has the support of area community and political leaders, including Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga, and many others.

But Congress will have a range of options, park service officials say -- and some frankly concede that local commitment is the key to possibly unlocking federal dollars to fund a park.

Information from Monday's event and previous public hearings will go into draft form and be discussed on Tuesday night. Congress will consider the alternatives later in the year.

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