From Waynesville to Cherokee, North Carolina, U.S. Highway 19 weaves between fog-draped chasms and tree-capped peaks. But often on this Smoky Mountain route, man-made tackiness interrupts the natural beauty.
For more than 20 miles along the winding and sometimes steep grade highway, roadside shacks hawk everything from moccasins to souvenir tee shirts, to ceramic plates, to pottery, to Indian rugs, to costume jewelry. Masquerading as antiques, rusted tools and farm implements clutter unkempt lawns and gravel driveways. Countless items are available for sale, brazenly advertised in big letters on barns, cinder-block walls, and billboards.
Barbecue stands, casual restaurants, neat little single-story motels, and bed and breakfast inns compete with the vendors for prime highway exposure. The number of roadside establishments overwhelms, prompting travelers to dart their eyes from side to side, if only to investigate this tourist driven panorama.
At Cherokee, North Carolina’s gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and home to the Cherokee Indian Reservation, Native Americans beneath headdress and feathered garb sit beside tepees pitched on the asphalt parking lots of decrepit gift shops. Acting as bait for the heavy tourist trade, they agree to pose for cameras—for a fee—before directing visitors toward the merchandise. Undoubtedly, an emphasis on commercialism has enhanced Cherokee’s economy. But the profit-geared street side displays overshadow the town’s true Native American heritage.
A bold message posted on one billboard facing U.S. 19 might serve as the official motto for area merchants. It reads, “Stop By, Cause I Need Your Money.”