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About the WSIU Local Project

WSIU received an award from WETA Public Broadcasting in Washington D.C., to host community engagement surrounding the new Ken Burns documentary series, THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA, which will premier in September 2009.

WSIU's local initiative, Touch the Trail, focuses on our region's connection to the National Park Service, the National Trails System, and the National Historic Trail of Tears. WSIU will host events in partnership with the Shawnee National Forest and the Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. The public is invited to participate in several events planned for this initiative.

WSIU has a midwestern location in southern Illinois, and the while the Land of Lincoln certainly has a legacy of important historical sites, the state does not have a national park.  However, this area is included in the system of National Historic Trails, and we have our share of natural wonders in the Shawnee National Forest which traverses the entire southern portion of the state.

In contrast to the level, or gently rolling farm lands typical of most of Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest lies in the rough, unglaciated areas known as the Illinois Ozark and Shawnee Hills. The geology is spectacular and divergent, with numerous stone bluffs and overlooks transcending to lowland areas. In contrast to the virgin land of our nation's national parks, eastern forests were salvaged from overdeveloped land that had eroded into wastelands from excessive farming, logging and mining. Once called "the lands nobody wanted," they are becoming "the lands everyone wants," in high demand for a full spectrum of uses.

For these reasons, WSIU's initiative for The National Parks: America's Best Idea, seeks to localize the importance of our public lands, and trails, and to engender appreciation and preservation of them.

In the 1830s, 16,000 Cherokee and other southeastern Indians were forced by the U.S. Army to leave their homes for relocation in Oklahoma.  They marched through the Illinois segment of the 2,200 mile journey, during the severe winter of 1839-1839 and many lives were lost here.

Today, the tragedy of their journey is memorialized by the National Park Service as the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.   The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail commemorates the removal of the Cherokee and the paths that 17 Cherokee detachments followed westward.  The trail encompasses about 2,200 miles of land and water routes, starting in Georgia and North Carolina and continues through nine states to reach the eastern side of Oklahoma and the current home of Cherokee descendants, near Tahlequah.

The trail covers sixty miles in southern Illinois, from Golconda on the Ohio River to Union County, where they waited to cross the frozen Mississippi into Missouri.  Some of the trail that the Cherokee used to cross Illinois, is now located on the land in the Shawnee National Forest and other portions are located on private property.  Most recently the National Park Service dedicated the second Illinois site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail at the Crabb/Abbott farm near the Pope-Johnson county line.

WSIU and our partners will share this important story through our initiative.  Working with the Shawnee National Forest and the Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association, WSIU will create exciting opportunities to bring generations together to walk in the same places where the Cherokee experienced such hardship.   Their story will be shared to audiences throughout southern Illinois, and the surrounding area.

This partnership with the Trail of Tears Association and the Shawnee National Forest deepens the reach for this initiative, and complements our partners’ on-going commitment to enlightening the region about the Trail.  This initiative will encourage an attitude of stewardship for historic places, and an appreciation for all of the stories that comprise our American history.

The members of the Association have been working for the past few years to sponsor research and collect stories about the trail.  During this initiative, members of this group will travel with the museum exhibit to provide presentations to new audiences, and share the history of the trail.  The Shawnee National Forest has developed several ideas for a work plan that will showcase the history of the trail.  These plans will coincide with this initiative, and add an even greater dimension of awareness about the trail.

This initiative provides WSIU with the opportunity to reach new audiences with the message that our cultural resources are valuable, and deserve our continued vigilance.  This will echo the message from the Ken Burns’ National Parks documentary, at the local level.

Regional Sponsors

dept of forestry logo walgreens logo

National Sponsors

Bank of America Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr Fund Corporation for Public Broadcasting The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Park Foundation

National Park Foundation The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation The Pew Charitable TrustsGM


Florentine Films and WETA

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