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NPS National Trails High Potential Historic Sites and High Potential Route Segments Protocol

Jill Jensen is the Lead Planner for the National Park Service (NPS) National Trails office in Santa Fe, NM.  The National Trails office administers nine National Historic Trails spanning more than 25,000 miles across 24 states.  She has a BS in Anthropology from Utah State University and a MA in Anthropology from Sacramento State University.  She has worked in federal service for over 16 years as an archaeologist and planner for the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Energy, and the National Park Service.  The Planning program for the National Trails provides leadership for feasibility studies, the High Potential Sites and Segments protocol, and strategic plans.

Amy M. Kostine is the National Trails Program Coordinator/Historian for the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University. Throughout her 10 years in this position, she has overseen a variety of projects, many done in partnership with the National Trails office of the National Park Service, focusing on the preservation and interpretation of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. She received her A.S. in photography from Onondaga Community College, B.A. in history from Le Moyne College, and M.A. in history with an emphasis in public history and historic preservation from Middle Tennessee State University.  

The National Trails office is developing a protocol for identifying and documenting High Potential Sites and Segments (HPSS). The current list of HPSS resources for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail doesn’t capture all of the high potential resources along the trail, and it’s difficult to discern why some sites and segments are considered High Potential while others are not. Using the protocol in development by the National Trails office, Middle Tennessee State University and National Trails will document and evaluate up to 30 sites along or associated with TRTE throughout Tennessee and Kentucky. During the fieldwork phase MTSU will engage local trail partners in the site evaluation process.

Good morning, can you all hear me okay? Alright, I’m going to get us started here. My name is Amy Cin, I’m the National Trails Program Coordinator and Historian at the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University. Thank you all for spending a little part of your day with us to learn a little more about the National Park Services High Potential Sites and Segments Project that my office will be helping out with in Tennessee and Kentucky over the next year.

Some of you in the room today might not be familiar with our office and may be wondering why MTSU CHP is here and what we are doing. So, I’m going to start us off with a brief introduction of the CHP, highlights of what we’ve done on the Trail of Tears over the years, what we’re working on now, and then I’m going to pass it off to Jill, who is going to introduce this new project to y’all.

The CHP was established in 1984 and our mission is to work with communities to interpret and promote their heritage assets through education, research, and preservation. I think it’s important for you all to know that we don’t just work in Tennessee; we really work across the southeast and even into the west. We have some active projects right now going on as far away as New Mexico and Montana. We also train and mentor graduate students in our MA and PhD public history program. We have about 10 graduate research assistants on our staff right now.

I did bring one of them to the conference with me today, Alexis Matro. If you want to stand up and wave, she’s going to be working with me for the next few years on trail projects. As you can tell from some of the pictures on this first slide, we believe in a boots-on-the-ground method with a heavy fieldwork component. We travel all the time; most days of the week, one of our staff members or students are out somewhere doing fieldwork. We believe getting on the ground, seeing the resources, helps us understand the history better and what that resource needs. It lends to a more impactful understanding of the history.

Another thing you can tell from this slide is that we have a lot of programs. Those are all the logos across the top of the screen. We administer the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, which encompasses the entire state of Tennessee. We also administer the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources MTSU program, and they’ve hosted a number of Trail of Tears presentations and workshops over the years. Many of those have been in partnership with the East Tennessee Historical Society. I believe the president and CEO, Dr. Warren Doctor, and the Community Engagement Manager, Kelly Weatherly Sinclair, are in the audience today and have been attending the conference, so we thank them for their partnership.

We also administer the Tennessee Century Farms program, which started way back in 1957 and recognizes families who have owned and farmed the same land for at least 100 years. We also have a heritage center in downtown Murfreesboro, which is really a learning lab for students to work on exhibits and give tours. We’ve actually hosted some Trail of Tears events there over the years. We’ve worked closely with the National Trails Office of the National Park Service for over a decade, along with many other partners on various projects related to the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

Real quick, I’m just going to highlight a few of those projects. One of them is the Tennessee Trail of Tears brochure, printed in 2013, and I think we just finished our third printing of the brochure, which is available at our table in the main room. We’re probably best known for our building survey we did on the Trail of Tears. This was a three-year survey to identify buildings associated with the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and I think we came up with about 200 buildings and structures. I still update that database as needed. We don’t want it to become obsolete, and there have been changes over the years. We’ve lost some buildings, added some, and did more research on ones we weren’t sure of. We were able to confirm whether or not they were associated.

We’ve also done some guides and booklets, such as restoration guides for both log and brick buildings for property owners on the Trail of Tears. Most recently, we did a Rivers, Rails, and Roads booklet about the different transportation methods the Cherokee used on the Trail of Tears. That’s also available at our CHP table in the main room. We’ve done loads of National Register nominations. Our two most recent ones were the State Road Hill Cemetery Segment in Caldwell County, Kentucky, and the Georgetown Road in Meigs County, Tennessee. We’ve also done exhibits, most recently the Hiwassee River Heritage Center’s “Voices of the Trail” and the second phase of their interior exhibits. We finished exhibits at Red Clay State Park recently, with the first phase in 2015, and Dr. Danielle Shelton, now the Heritage Programs Manager at the Cherokee National Forest, was my former graduate research assistant. For her dissertation and residency, she completed all the exhibits there, so what you see today is a lot of her work.

I think it’s important to note that none of these projects get completed without the help of the Trail of Tears Association and its members sharing information with us. Y’all are the reason we can complete projects like this, and we appreciate your help. As far as current and upcoming projects, we have a few on the table. We’ve been working on a Trail of Tears interpretive plan for the state of Missouri in partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council and the National Trail of Tears Association Missouri chapter. We’ve enjoyed working with them, visiting sites, and seeing the huge potential to tell the Trail of Tears story in Missouri. We also have an upcoming project in partnership with the Cherokee National Forest, which will be a multimedia “lessons learned” project about the damage done to the Trail of Tears years ago in the Cherokee National Forest. We haven’t had a kickoff meeting yet, but the contract was just signed this week, so that’s coming through the pipeline.

Lastly, of course, is why I’m here today: the High Potential Sites and Segments Project we’re working with the National Park Service on. I’m excited about this project because it’s going to give us an opportunity to look at some of these Trail of Tears sites that I’ve come to know over the last decade through a new lens, thinking about how people experience the trail today. With that, I’m going to hand it off to Jill, who will get us thinking about the importance of some of these Trail of Tears sites and how it connects.


Thank you, Amy. I’m Jill Jensen, the Lead Planner for the National Trails Office. One of the things I do in my position is manage the High Potential Sites and Segments Program. High potential sites and segments are the heart of the trail experience. They are the only thing in the legislation that the trail administrator has exclusive purview over, so it’s something we really work with the association to ensure we’re identifying those experiences properly and not leaving anything out. The Trail of Tears is one of the oldest national historic trails designated by Congress, and the information we have about high potential sites and segments is very outdated. I think it was over 30 years ago that the list was created, and you all have done a tremendous amount of research between then and now, and we need to get that captured.

You’ve heard a lot of people talk to you today, yesterday, and the day before, so this is going to be a really interactive meeting. I want to start with a little round-robin of introductions. Let me know what chapter you’re with, if you’re with a chapter, and then if you have a special place on the trail, I’d love to hear what that special place is. If you’re not familiar with the Trail of Tears enough to share that or if you don’t feel comfortable, that’s fine, but I want you to think about a spot on the trail that means something to you. Amy will kick us off on the spot.


(Amy and other participants share their experiences and favorite spots on the trail.)


Thank you, everyone, for sharing all of that. It’s very personal and gets at the heart of what the High Potential Sites and Segments Project is. Everything you all just mentioned—your feelings, experiences

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