The US Forest Service has ripped up a portion of the Trail of Tears in the Appalachian Mountains, reopening wounds for Native Americans who consider sacred the land where thousands of their ancestors died during their forced migration westward. Manmade trenches and berms were discovered last summer, but details about how it happened and those responsible hadn't been publicly IDed. In documents obtained by the AP, the Forest Service acknowledged an employee-approved construction along a ¾-mile section of the trail in eastern Tennessee without authorization—embarrassing for an agency tasked with protecting the trail for future generations. When the Forest Service dug up portions of the trail in March and June 2014, it didn't even own the land, though it was planning to buy it.
The portion of the damaged trail lies near Fort Armistead, one of the stops where Cherokees were held during their forced migration in the 1830s. The Forest Service has apologized to the tribes for the damage, both physical and emotional, and is consulting with them over how to repair it. It's not clear what, if anything, happened to the employees who ignored the law; the Forest Service said it won't discuss personnel matters. The director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says that's not good enough. "This is one the most blatant official desecrations of a sacred site in modern American history," Jeff Ruch said in a statement. "Jaw-dropping incompetence mixed with abject dereliction of duty coated in an impenetrable mantle of bureaucratic self-preservation spawned this debacle."