An Internship on the Nantahala National Forest

I am a second year graduate student in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures focusing on Southeastern archaeology. I spent the last two months of this summer completing an internship with the U.S. Forest Service at the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. My work was based out the Tusquitee Ranger District in Murphy, North Carolina, but my work took me across the entirety of the forest and much of western North Carolina.

During the first week of my internship, Andrew Triplett, the Nantahala National Forest archaeologist took some time to introduce me to the forest. We drove to many beautiful areas of the forest, one of my favorites being the Cullasaja Gorge. The gorge is known for its many accessible waterfalls and natural swimming holes and is only a short drive from the tourist town of Highlands, NC. During this week, Andrew also introduced me to my assignment. One of my primary jobs as an intern for the forest was to conduct an archaeological survey of several areas of the forest which were going to be impacted by an upcoming timber sale.

IMG_6350 Falls in the Cullasaja Gorge, Nantahala National Forest

The second week of my internship, the Forest Service’s regional archaeology meeting was taking place in Asheville, NC. Andrew and Forest Archaeologist Rodney Snedeker arranged for me to attend the meeting. During this week, I was able to see some of the most beautiful and important places in the Appalachian Mountains. We visited places like the Cradle of Forestry, America’s first school of forestry, and many places of importance to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The most interesting part of the meeting for me, though, was sitting in on the discussions with representatives from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, including Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Russell Townsend. Through these discussions, I learned a lot about concerns that tribes have with the work that we do as archaeologists. Most importantly, I learned some of what tribes expect from archaeologists working in places with historical importance for the tribe. Fortunately, I was able to witness nothing but mutual respect between all Forest Service archaeologists and tribal members in attendance at these meetings. After a day of visiting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and sitting in on these talks, one of the highlights of this trip was being taken to Kituwah by Russell Townsend and being told about the historic and spiritual importance of the location, as it is regarded as the most important place for the Cherokee.

IMG_6249 Region 8 Forest Service archaeologists at Kituwah hearing from THPO, Russell Townsend

For the following six weeks, I worked on several different projects. Andrew Triplett and I worked on surveying several areas on the forest for an upcoming timber sale. Unfortunately for us, we received a significant amount of rainfall during this time and we were only able to complete a small portion of timber sale survey while I was there. During these rain days, I completed the state site forms for nine different intact sections of the Trail of Tears within the forest. Through the background research for the site forms, I learned a lot that I did not know about the removal of the Cherokee from western North Carolina. Andrew and I also went to many locations to monitor archaeological sites for vandalism and erosion. These were some of my favorite days as it provided me the opportunity to see many beautiful places on the forest.

IMG_6609 An early morning view from Albert Mountain fire tower

This internship has been a great experience for me. I was able to see a side of archaeology that I have not experienced before, a side of archaeology that I enjoyed immensely. Through meeting with the Cherokee, I have gained a better understanding of the importance of tribal relations. Overall, this experience has been amazing and has definitely benefitted my graduate education.

Kelsey Meer

Archaeology Graduate Student


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