The age of exploration brought Europeans to the Cherokee Nation, and with them came disease. Small pox outbreaks reduced the population of Cherokee to just 25,000. The discovery of gold in the area and an increase of white settlers slowly pushed the Cherokee off their land. And with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, what Cherokee remained were forced to relocate to new territory in Oklahoma. The route of the exodus, which overlaps with the Unicoi Turnpike, has become known as the Trail of Tears, as an estimated 4,000 people died along the journey.

“Preserving historic sites such as this allows us to learn firsthand about our heritage and the people, events, and ideas that have shaped us as Americans.”

—U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander


In 2014, The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service completed an effort to protect 392 acres adjacent to Cherokee National Forest in Coker Creek, Tennessee, near the North Carolina border. This property contains a significant portion of the Unicoi Turnpike Trail and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, a 4,900-mile land and water trail that traces parts of the original Trail of Tears route through nine states and highlights other important locations during the removal.

The Conservation Fund purchased the entire property in 2013 and began transferring it to the Forest Service in phases, utilizing funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, America’s premier conservation program. The land will be managed in conjunction with the National Park Service, the Cherokee and Creek tribes and other state and local agencies and organizations.

“Natural lands like this connect us to our past, and their preservation gives us the opportunity to walk in the steps of America’s Native ancestors and experience the land much like they did.”

—Ralph Knoll, The Conservation Fund


The plight of the Native American is a shameful stain on our nation’s history, and it is not to be forgotten. We’re striving to honor the memory of the Cherokee people and other tribes by protecting key sites that help us understand their culture and their suffering. Hallowed ground like this offers an experiential way to learn about the past, while at the same time enjoying the great outdoors and nature’s abundant resources.