Cherokee County, North Carolina: Watershed Highlights 2015

Little-known tributary of Hiwassee vaults to gaming fame

Murphy, N.C., Feb. 19, 2016 – The Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition is the sole entity I know of that’s working on cleaning up the Valley River. Near here along the river’s banks, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened its Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel on Oct. 1, 2015.

Now the stunning math: The casino/hotel’s paid out over $300 million (this is verbatim) in game winnings and prizes to guests, according to the eighth paragraph of an article Feb. 3 in the Cherokee Scout weekly of Murphy — and then on Feb. 17, according to the seventh paragraph of an article in the Cherokee One Feather tribal newspaper. That’s certainly some understated reporting on how the casino and hotel became, by my reckoning, the most successful commercial enterprise in Cherokee County history.

Or at least it is the most successful in a century, since the logging companies from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Europe did their take-outs of timber from 1890 to 1920, as described by historians.

There’s an important water-quality aspect of what’s happening. Implicit in the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act signed by President Reagan is the principle that the tribes will be good stewards of the environment. (Recall if you will the Crying Indian public-service messages on TV featuring Iron Eyes Cody paddling a canoe on a garbage-strewn river.) So tribal details about how success by the Valley River is going to benefit that river’s water quality are awaited.

HRWC’s extensive cleanup program is as follows:

-Stream and aquatic habitat restoration at four locations in the Valley River watershed;
-Completion of the 1,214-linear foot Morgan Creek Stream Restoration Project;
-Securing of approximately $250,000 for restoration along the Valley River at the confluence with Taylor Creek in 2016;
-Working to develop a stormwater management plan for the Town of Andrews; and
-Monitoring E. coli at 14 stations on the Valley River and developing a plan for reducing sources of bacteriological contamination.

As Towns County, Ga. government announced plans to establish a county park on the 18 acres atop scarred Bell Mountain in that county, the historical association there released its study of how three Murphy, N.C. men created the mining gap on Bell Bald sometime in 1960-63. The three investors went after quartzite though studies warned flatly there was no market.

The best-known of the three was Dr. William A. Hoover (1905-1978), who was a beloved surgeon and obstetrician. The Hoover Bridge over the Hiwassee River in the center of Murphy is named for him, according to N.C. Dept. of Transportation records. His and others’ Bell Mountain mining decades ago — and four-wheeler abuse still raging on a road to its top — do great harm to Lake Chatuge, which is directly below the mountain and is an impoundment of the Hiwassee River.

THE FALL OF 2016 is the latest target date for U.S. Forest Service release of a draft 15-year plan for the Nantahala National Forest, as required by federal law. What amount of wildlife management and what new wilderness areas will be envisioned?

Tom Bennett of the Martins Creek community near Murphy, N.C., is a retired newsman, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition member/volunteer and winner of the 2015 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award. E-mail him at