Thanks to a collaboration between National Park Service and Forest Service People, nature lovers now have better access to a 1.5-mile segment of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail near Hamburg Hill in Illinois.
“The historic ruts at Hamburg Hill are nearly 20 feet deep and surrounded by a forest setting nearly unchanged from what the Cherokee witnessed in 1838,” said Steve Burns, Landscape Architect for the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region. “With this work, people can more easily retrace this important episode in our nation’s history.”
Recent improvements made slightly south of Jonesboro include a visitor parking area and restroom. Restoration work will continue next year with the installment of new interpretive signs.
The Trail of Tears commemorates the forcible removal of more than 16,000 Cherokee, black slaves and other tribes from their homelands (in northwest Georgia and adjacent Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina) to Oklahoma in 1838 and 1839. This move had a devastating impact on these groups. Thousands perished from the consequences of relocation.
The portion of the trail that is in Illinois was one of the most harrowing. Cherokee were trapped for weeks because they had to wait for the Mississippi River to thaw before they could cross it. One person wrote at the time:
“The days and weeks spent in crossing southern Illinois were the most brutal for the Cherokee Nation. Many landowners would not allow the Cherokee to camp on their land or cut firewood for warmth and hot food. Only adding to the Cherokee’s misery, the Mississippi was frozen solid far out from the river bank and in the center were blocks of ice as big as houses. As the water flowed, the huge ice blocks crashed down the current, rear on edge and crash down with mighty shocks. This fearful noise went on day and night for a month as the Cherokee watched the mighty Mississippi in awed wonder as they waited to cross into Missouri.”
In 1987, Congress created the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail that is administered by the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region in partnership with other private and public entities. The three federally-recognized Cherokee Tribes — Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — declared the trail a Sacred Site in 2016 because of its spiritual values and connections that are a part of this landscape. Since 2009, a number of storms have damaged Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Unauthorized all-terrain vehicles also damaged the area.
Next spring, a variety of public volunteer opportunities will be hosted by Shawnee National Forest. The work the volunteers do on the trail will be done with great care, per the request of the Cherokee Nation. Volunteers will have the opportunity to use hand tools and perhaps work alongside mules or other stock animals to restore damage along the trail. Past participants say they gained a greater appreciation for cultural or natural resources.
For more information and how to access the new parking area near Hamburg Hill, contact the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District at (618) 833-8576. Hunters who plan to use the Hamburg Hill area should be aware that there may be more forest visitors in that vicinity because of the parking and facility improvements.
This work is being completed, in part, through National Park Service Connect Trails to Parks funding.
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