Heritage Center celebrates gala event

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By Stephanie Woodings
Blount Today

The Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center recently celebrated the fourth annual Traces of Tuckaleechee, the 2007
Heritage Happening fundraiser. The event showcased everything from Native American flute music, to a benefit dinner, to a fast and furious live auction.

The May 18 event also showcased the Heritage Center and the people it celebrates - the Native Americans who lived here originally and the pioneers who settled the area..

Organized by the volunteer 21-member Heritage Center Guild, the festivities took place at the Heritage Center. Despite a chill in the air, the benefit dinner and auction were hot. Guests were entertained by regional music including Cherokee sacred prayers played on a native flute by Randy McGinnis, as they dined on delicacies made by Tony McClanahan and his First Fruits Catering Company.

Items for the silent auction were displayed inside the Heritage Center. Ranging from framed paintings and photographs, to antiques, to goods and services provided by regional merchants, bidders pressed in to stake a claim for some of the donations.

Live auction items were displayed outside prior to being brought into the dining tent and sold off at lightning speed by auctioneer Bear Stevensen. Some of the impressive items on the block were a Pat Summitt collector's package which contained various items autographed by the Lady Vols coach, an oversized stuffed black bear brought in on the shoulders of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park director Dale Ditmanson, a handcrafted grandfathers clock, an all expense paid Thanksgiving trip to New York City, and a solid cherry 'Secretariat' corner cabinet.

The cabinet was made from wood off the farm of David and Marty Black of Rockford and handcrafted and donated by retired USMC General Bob Tiebout. Using 18th century techniques, it took the General over 350 hours to create.
To organize an event of this multitude, takes months of planning. Kathy Enos, president of the Guild, said brainstorming for next year's event will get under way sometime in September. "As soon as this (event) is over, we start all over." The goal of this event was to raise at least $85,000, and the monies generated from this event will be used in three ways. It will pay the salary of the curator, maintain and add to the exhibits, and it will help to educate the guides that accompany the visitors through the Center. The operating costs of the GSMHC for the last year ran right at $100,000 and revenue for this is culled from admission/memberships and donations from individuals and corporations.

It is because of these fundraisers and grants from the United States Department of Agriculture that allowed The Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center to open its doors in February of 2006. The 17,000 square foot building houses some of the artifacts unearthed by the University Of Tennessee's Archeological Department dig on 321 that started in 1999. It is also surrounded by ten historic outbuildings that were donated by individuals from the area, which were reassembled and restored on the Center's grounds. Eventually, the log cabin village will boast an operating saw mill and 500 pound still that worked for 87 years in the mountains.

Richard Way is president of the board of directors. Not only does the Center have authentic artifacts dating back hundreds of years ago, it also boasts of a Transportation Gallery. "It teaches you how the roads were built, how people were able to get across these mountains. It's amazing," Way said of the Gallery. Way was instrumental in securing four of the historic structures that were reconstructed on the Heritage Center grounds.

The Heritage Center is in the process of procuring furniture for the buildings so that every log cabin on the property will be "a hands-on" experience for its visitors, said Bob Patterson, Heritage Center executive director. "We're going to let you sit on the furniture, sit on the beds, open the corner cupboards, we're going to let you handle the dishes, so that the kids and adults will get a feel for what it was like in the beginning."

For the 9,000 school children who have visited in the past year, demonstrations of open hearth cooking took place. They also get to make Native American corncob darts and playing traditional mountain games.

Diane Headrick, a guild member and co-chair of the event said the guild's mission statement is to raise funds to support the children's program. " We want the children to understand their heritage," Headrick said. "The simple (activities) are what the children love. We also try to make sure they understand that there were no Kmarts or Wal-Marts or Krogers. Everything was made (by hand). They'll (ask) 'no computers?' No, no computers!"

Operational hours of the Heritage Center are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

The Heritage Center is closed on Mondays. Admission is free to children under the age of 6, $4.00 for ages 6-17, $6.00 for ages 18-59, and $4.00 for seniors age 60 and older. Yearly memberships to the Heritage Center are also available and range from $15.00 to $100.00. A membership entitles the bearer to unlimited visitations, discounts, the Heritage Center Newsletter and special event invitations. For more information, call the Heritage Center at 865-448-0044 for more information.

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