SPRINGFIELD — A section of the Trail of Tears where thousands of American Indians died in the 1830s is being turned into a hiking/biking trail in southwest Missouri, but volunteers promise to honor the trail's historic significance.
The Ozark Greenways group is clearing an overgrown railroad bed in southwest Springfield that was part of a northern route that American Indians used when they were forced off their eastern lands and made to walk to what is now Oklahoma, The Springfield News-Leader reported.
Ozark Greenways hopes to have the recreational trail through southwest Springfield and Greene County completed by the end of the year.
Ozark Greenways officials said signs will be posted along the trail to explain its historic significance.
"There are not many sections of the Trail of Tears that look and feel the way it did when the people walked it," said Jack Shryock, a member of the southeastern Cherokee of Georgia who helped clear the trail this week.
"This is something that's very meaningful to us, to be able to walk these grounds that our people walked on many years ago and the suffering that they went through," he said. "We're feeling some of that as we stand on these trails and paths. We just want to do everything we can to bring this to the attention of everybody who has the heart to feel this is important to them, as it is to us."
Eventually the Trail of Tears Greenway will run from the city of Battlefield to just south of Nathanael Greene Park, connecting with the South Creek Greenway on its way east through Springfield.
Terry Whaley, executive director of Ozark Greenways, said the history of the trail will be respected.
"This is an opportunity to interpret the cultural experience that happened here," Whaley said. "Over time, we've already disfigured the actual route of the Trail of Tears, with railroads and subdivisions. We hope this trail will be the closest representation of where the Cherokee walked and will give us a chance to tell the story of the Trail of Tears to a whole new generation of people."
After the trail is completed, Whaley said Cherokee Nation leaders will be invited to dedicate it.
Historians estimate more than 13,000 Cherokee passed through the Ozarks from their lands in the Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia mountains to the designated Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. At least 4,500 Cherokee died.