Columns 2003

12/27/2003

After two weeks of pretty dreary weather, we’re seeing some beautiful days, and temperatures are warming up nicely. Yesterday was in the 50s, and the 60s are predicted for today. The little snowfall we had on the 18th was nicely seasonal, and it gave people a chance to get some winter photographs. It wasn’t much of a traffic problem, except on some of the ridge tops. It was pretty much business as usual on the major roads.

The deer still seem to be in the rut. The other day, I saw a very nice 8 point buck pursuing a doe in broad daylight just off the road at the base of Piney Mountain. He looked a little distracted, to say the least. I’ve also seen the mergansers that I occasionally see on Hemptown Creek several times. We’re about to enter the breeding period for great horned owls, but they have seemed a little rarer than usual around our place this year.

We had a very good year in the office in 2003, with our overall sales up over 40%. It’s been a little slow for the past couple of weeks, which I attribute more to the weather than the time of year, because the days leading up to the holidays were mostly cloudy and cold, not really suitable for showing view property.

At this point, I don’t have a firm prediction for the first quarter of the new year. Last year, we had the best first quarter ever, primarily because people were disgusted with the stock market. Whether that will play quite the same way this year remains to be seen, because there has been some very positive movement in the market lately. My best guess is that we will have more of a normal first quarter this year, which means that it should be a good time for bargain hunters and people who are looking for acreage. The past year was not particularly kind to people who wanted to sell acreage priced over $100,000, and it’s quite possible that there are some bargains to be had on acreage. In terms of cabins, as I’ve often said before, cabin owners in resort markets are rarely highly motivated, but if they are, the winter months are the time.

I still have one of the best view cabins in the county listed, MLS 92210. It’s listed at $239,900 and I can honestly say that I think it has to best view I’ve ever seen in the county, from the beginnings of the Nantahalas in North Carolina to almost the entire Cohutta Range in Tennessee and Georgia. It’s a chalet style, very open to the sun, and it has good privacy.

Local developer Tom Carroll has announced plans to build a 350 acre golf course development on the Toccoa River, just upstream from Curtis Switch. The development is sited on one mile of river frontage, and will be the first of its kind in Fannin County. If it’s done well, it will bring something to Fannin County that we haven’t been able to offer people to date. With this announcement, I expect the value of other large blocks of land in Fannin County that might host this type of development to increase in value. Speaking of land with development potential, I currently have 39 acres listed that adjoin My Mountain, one of our most prestigious developments. At $7900 an acre, it’s well priced (MLS 92705). I also have about 85 acres off Salem Road, with Hot House Creek frontage, at $8990 per acre (MLS 88003).

Don’t forget to check the calendar listings for a couple of options for New Year’s Eve, and we wish everyone a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!

12/8/2003

It’s been rather chilly in the morning lately. This morning was about 26º on the porch, but it warmed up to the mid-50s by afternoon. Yesterday was also a beautiful day that warmed up nicely, and there was considerable snow visible on the Big Frog, on Cowpen Mountain, and on Watson Mountain in North Carolina.

It’s well past time to winterize. If you’ve still got that to do, I’ve got pretty good instructions on my column for 10/28 (in the archives below).

We’re still fairly busy in the office, but it is definitely time for bargain hunters to come up and have a look. We had a great first quarter last year, because people were disgusted with the stock market. If that happens again, we’ll have a very brief window for bargain hunters before the new year starts.

It’s also time to come up and look at land. Sales this last half of the year on acreage listed over $100,000 have been slow, so it’s possible that we’ll have some motivated sellers with the prospect of winter coming. It’s the right time to look at land. When the leaves are off, you can really see and evaluate property because it’s easy to see exactly how the land lays.

I did a little research the other day on our land sales, and I discovered that the average sale price per acre in Fannin has been about $7333 for tracts of over ten acres. Of course, this is everything, from creek front to pasture, but it is a useful point of reference. In general, anything under $7000 per acre is getting to be something of a bargain, and under $6000 is becoming “dirt cheap.”

Our new courthouse is nearing completion, and the move is supposed to start on December 18 with offices open in the new facility on January 2. If there’s any doubt in your mind about the need for this new facility, I suggest you visit the old courthouse while you still can. It’s simply antiquated and very crowded. For those of us who are in the courthouse researching deeds and plats every day, it will be a welcome change. By the way, the plans are to move the deed books last, but it is still reasonable to assume that there may be some delays in title searches and thus closings in Blue Ridge during the period of the move.

As we gear up for the holidays in the mountains, we invite you all to come up and enjoy a little country fun and relaxation over the next few weeks. There isn’t much happening on the December calendar, but I’ll try to get it posted soon, along with a few suggestions for a real country New Year’s celebration or two.

11/25/2003

The weather Saturday and Sunday was beautiful, clear and warm. They were probably the nicest days we’ve had all season. Monday, it rained hard. Monday night, we had the first really hard frost, and Tuesday has been a beautiful day.

We’ve been getting really beautiful turnips (the whole plant) from Richard Mashburn of Blairsville, who has been selling them at the intersection of 515 and 60 (SW corner) on Saturdays. Just wash them well, cut the stem out of the greens, tear them up a little, and boil them for an hour or so on medium hear with a smoked ham hock (or some country ham) and fatback until tender to taste. Serve with vinegar and hot sauce. You start by first boiling the ham in a little water for a half hour. You could cut some of the turnips up into the greens, but if they’re all new, purple, and fresh like Mr. Mashburn’s, I usually make them into a cream soup. Last weekend, he wasn’t sure how long the season would last, but it’s sure worth a stop if he’s there.

If you haven’t winterized, it’s past time. The temperature was about 19º this morning. If you need a refresher, I’ve got pretty good instructions in my column for 10/28/03.

We continue to be very busy in the office. Year-to-date, our sales have been up over 40% over last year. One of the large closing attorneys in town stopped scheduling closings for the rest of the year several weeks ago, which is another index of the activity in the current market. It’s time for people to come up and look at view property, and it’s time for bargain hunters to come up and see what’s available. Resort markets typically don’t have very motivated sellers, but if we do, it’s during the winter months. Sellers on Lake Blue Ridge might feel particularly motivated, because with the lake at its lowest level in years, it’s in a pretty unattractive state. It might be possible to find a rare bargain out there this winter.

Speaking of the lake, I’ve gotten a little more information on the locomotive that’s supposed to be out there at the bottom of the lake. As I heard it from one of my listing customers the other day, the locomotive was used in the construction of the dam, and when they couldn’t get it out, they had to leave it there. Cynthia was out there the other day, and she actually got a picture of the tracks. But the lake wasn’t quite low enough to see the locomotive, and according to the information she got, it isn’t going to be lowered any more.

I’m told that with the fish so concentrated, fishing has been fantastic.

The Third Annual Christmas Tour of Homes will be held Sunday, December 7 form 1 to 6 PM. This tour benefits the Fannin County Empty Stocking Program. Tickets are a $20 donation. Contact the Empty Stocking people at 706.632.9262.

11/13/03

Today was the first really cool day in the mountains. It was about 36º on the porch this morning, and it is supposed to go down to the mid-twenties tonight. It’s really been our first beautiful, cool fall weather. It’s time to think about winterizing. If you need a reminder, I’ve got pretty good instructions in my last column, for 10/28/03.

The leaves are mostly off the trees, and it’s time to come up and look at view property. We’ll have a few more weeks of pedal-to-the-metal busy season (December is our biggest month for closings) and then things should start to quiet down some. Last year, we were pounded in the first quarter because people were disgusted with the stock market, but I don’t know if the same dynamic will play next year. I’m expecting more of a normal first quarter, which means that it may be time for bargain hunters to think about coming up and having a look. Sellers in resort markets are usually not highly motivated, but if we do see motivated sellers up here, it’s apt to be in the winter months, before the traditional start of the new season, the opening day of trout (last Saturday in March).

The annual Leonid meteor showers begin tonight, and should peak sometime next week. Fannin County is still one of the darkest areas of the state, and viewing opportunities should be wonderful.

It now seems all but certain that a permit will be issued to the Intertrade Corporation to resume sulfuric acid production at the old copper plant in Copperhill. While Intertrade will not confirm that they plan to do so, their application for a permit is certainly a strong indication. Copper production ceased at the plant in 1987, but sulfuric acid production continued until a few years ago. Obviously, this development has the potential to negatively impact commercial activities in the towns of Copperhill and McCaysville that are geared to the tourist trade. I don’t expect that very many Fannin County cabin properties will be affected, but buyers who are considering property in the northern parts of the county should be sure to evaluate that property for proximity to the old plant.

10/28/2003

FALL LEAF UPDATE!

I’m writing this update on All Saints/Halloween eve. At first, the weather was cooler this week, and we had some rain. But the past couple of days have been simply beautiful, with temperatures in the seventies on the porch. There is still some color in the woods, but I think it is fair to say that it’s fading. I was up in Tennessee around Tellico Plains on Thursday, and the color is maybe a little better up there. No doubt, we’ve seen better years for leaf color. But it’s still really beautiful. If you haven’t been up, it might be good to come up this weekend. I think most of the color will be gone, along with the leaves, before too long.

EITHER-SEX DEER DAY WARNING!

Saturday, November 1, is an either-sex deer hunting day in Fannin County. It is the only either-sex day in Fannin this year, and the first in a long time, if my memory serves. It is a safe bet that many hunters will be in the woods, including many kids who are eager to bag their first deer. It would be an excellent day to stay out of the woods. If you do want to go, I think the Cohutta and Cooper’s Creek Wildlife Management Areas are free of deer hunts this Saturday. To check WMA hunting days, follow the Georgia DNR link on my “For Your Safety” discussion under the “Activities” link on this site until you get to the listings of dates for specific WMAs (management areas have different hunting seasons).

LET’S TALK ABOUT WINTERIZING!

Our temperatures are still well above freezing, but if you are going to close up your cabin for a few weeks, it might be a good idea to think about winterizing.

First, locate your water box, called the “curb box” in the city. This is the place where you turn off the water. If it is the usual box in the ground, it is a good idea to insulate the box above the pipes and shutoff valves. The reason is that if the valve freezes while it is in the “off” position, it will break the valve, and you won’t be able to turn off the water to the house. In a pinch, a thick pack of newspapers wrapped in plastic will do, but the best idea is to get some foam (the kind people use for mattresses) and cut it to fit and fill the box. This won’t get soggy with rain, and will provide protection against freezing. Remember not to insulate below the pipe (it’s the ground that’s warm).

Leaving the heat on and hoping for the best:

Next, you have to decide whether to leave the heat on at the lowest setting in the hopes that the power won’t go off long enough to allow the pipes to freeze, or go all the way and drain the system.

If you are going to rely on the heat, you should at least turn the water off at the water box. Crack the drain value for a second or two to take the pressure off the system. That way, if your pipes do freeze, at least your house won’t fill with water while you’re gone.

It’s a good idea to leave the cabinets open under any sink that is close to an outside wall, so the warm air can reach the pipes.

Going all the way and draining the system:

If you decide to go all the way, here’s what you do. First, be sure to turn off the breakers to your electric hot water heater. If you don’t, and you drain the water from the heater, the heating elements will immediately self-destruct. Second, turn off the water at the water box. Third, open up every sink and shower tap and every outside spigot. That will ensure that you don’t have an air lock anywhere in the pipes that would trap water. Flush the toilets. Fourth, attach a hose to the bottom tap of your hot water heater, and let it drain. Place about two cups of antifreeze in the toilets, a cup in the toilet tank (assuming you’ve flushed and there is only an inch or so of water there), and a cup in the sink and shower drains.

Remember that antifreeze is fatal to dogs. They drink it because it smells sweet to them, and it doesn’t take a lot to make them very sick. You can buy antifreeze that is supposed to be safer for them, but it costs about twice as much. If you’re using the regular stuff, be sure to close the lid and keep the dog away from it until you can flush the toilet on returning.

It’s best to leave the taps open until you return.

On returning:

Remember to keep the dogs away from the toilet until you can flush.

Remember to close up the taps and spigots again when you return. It’s best to leave them open while you’re gone, but not a good idea to forget to close them before turning the water on. A favorite trick of my own father was to forget to close the tap at the bottom of the hot water heater before turning the water back on, resulting in a mess in the crawl space.

Remember to allow time to let the water heater fill with water before cutting on the fuses. Make sure you are getting a flow through the hot water tap before turning the fuses back on.

Other precautions:

If you spray about 3 feet of the foundation and 6 feet of the dirt around the foundation with Diazinon, you can significantly reduce the number of creepy-crawly critters that get inside the house. They like to come in during the winter, because it’s warmer in there, even when the heat is off.

It’s a good idea to insulate the water pipe where it comes into the basement or crawl space, if it is close to an exterior wall. You can get crack-and-peel pipe insulation with glue already in place at the hardware store.

If your basement or crawl space vents open and close, it is a good idea to close the one closest to the place your water comes in from the yard.

When it gets really cold (fifteen or below), you can always run just a trickle of water at night to ensure that the pipes don’t freeze.

10/24/2003

FALL LEAF UPDATE!

We’ve had a string of absolutely beautiful fall days lately, but there’s no doubt the leaves are falling. It’s no secret that this year isn’t as colorful as some other years, but there is still a good bit of color in the woods. I’d recommend coming this weekend if you haven’t been up, because I think most of the leaves will be off in another week.

The color seems a little better out toward the Cohuttas, so I’d recommend taking a drive out Old Hwy 2. From our office (and the Blue Ridge McDonald’s), go north on Hwy 5 until you hit the first passing lane, up a long hill. Get in the left-hand lane, and turn left on Old 2 just at the top of the hill. You can turn left on Cashes Valley and explore out there, or go all the way past the end of the pavement to Watson Gap. At that point, you can turn either left or right, and ride around the rim of the Cohuttas. If you turn left, you’ll eventually end up near Ellijay, unless you continue to follow the signs to Lake Conasauga, which is over in the vicinity of Chatsworth. If you ride around the rim to the right, you’ll eventually come to the Sylco Campground, which is not too far from Hwy 64/74. At that point, you can ride back along the Ocoee River to Ducktown. Then you can make your way down to Copperhill and Hwy 5 again. You may have to ask directions to find you way back to civilization back there, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the ride.

This is the time for fall festivals. Be sure to check out the Blue Ridge Harvest Festival, at the old farmer’s market near the drive-in theater on the old highway. And check the other doings on my calendar listings on the “Local Info” button.

10/16/2003

FALL LEAF UPDATE!

Today (Thursday) is a banner day in the mountains. It started off at about 38º, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. There’s actually more color in the woods than appears on the webcam, and the sunsets have been beautiful with the light on the leaves. The colors are still mostly yellows and deep reds, and there has definitely been more color each day. It’s a very difficult year to predict what will happen with the leaves. Some of the old timers are predicting that we won’t have much of a peak color event, because it was too wet following a long dry spell. And it does seem that many leaves are falling from the trees without turning color. I think there’s a good chance that this weekend will show the most color, although it is also possible that there is yet more to come.

This is the time for fall festivals and mountain fun. Check my calendar listings under the “Local Information” button!

There have been more developments in the case of the person who is trying to block the river. From my information, I believe this is between Deep Hole and Dial. Apparently, he has placed cables across the river, along with various threats and promises. If you’re planning to run that section of the river, it might be well to be prepared for confrontation, especially on the weekends. If my information is correct, the river is still unobstructed from Dial to the Sandy Bottoms takeout point that the Forest Service just built and dedicated.

As I reported last week, the lake level is extremely low. Fishing is probably good, because the fish must be incredibly concentrated, but the scenery leaves a little to be desired. The best boat launch to use is probably the public one at the marina, although I’ve seen people continue to use the one at Morganton, which is now a long way from the water.

10/9/2003

FALL LEAF UPDATE!

People have been asking me what the leaf situation is this week. There is some color in the woods, mostly yellows and deep reds. There seems to be more color every day, but it’s difficult to tell when – or if – the leaves are going to peak this year. There are a lot of leaves falling to the ground brown or black, and the dogwoods don’t seem very spectacular this year. It’s possible that this weekend will show the best colors, or that they are yet to come next weekend, or even the weekend after.

This is the time for fall festivals and mountain fun. Check my calendar listings under the “Local Information” button!

The lake level is very low, and with the fish concentrated, I suspect the lake fishing is very good, even if it could be more beautiful. As I explain in previous newsletters, the TVA is in the middle of a deep drawdown to inspect the penstock, the pipe that carries water to the turbines.

10/3/2003

We’ve been having beautiful fall weather, but there’s no doubt it’s been cooler. I’ve been seeing 38º on the porch in the morning, and some folks in the county have had frost already. The leaves haven’t really started to turn yet, but with the cool weather, it probably won’t be long.

In terms of what’s happening in the woods, bow season is in. The bow hunters generally wear camouflage, paint their faces, and hunt from tree stands. I don’t worry as much about them as I do the gun hunters, because they generally have more woodcraft and their range is so short that they can generally readily identify their game. It can be startling to suddenly see them in a tree, and people should remember that if there is a pickup truck parked at the edge of the woods, there may be someone hunting nearby. The studies have shown that most hunters never go more than a half mile from their vehicle, so chances of encountering a hunter decrease markedly the further you go back in.

Primitive weapons season (black powder rifles) runs from October 11-17, and firearms season comes in on October 18. November 1 is an either sex day in Fannin, and it will be an excellent day to stay out of the woods. If you are unfamiliar with these rituals, please read my little essay on safety under the “Activities” button. There’s no reason to be unduly concerned, but it is a good idea to wear an orange hat in the woods, and to avoid the wilderness and wildlife management areas – like the Cohutta Wilderness – during the few days every year that they are open to big game hunts. The links and instructions on the page mentioned above will tell you how.

The annual river cleanup was generally a success, although it was impossible for people to do much below the dam, because the TVA could not be prevailed upon to turn off the water long enough for anyone to actually get in the river.

This is the time of fall festivals and mountain fun! Check my calendar listings for what’s happening, and don’t forget to get off the porch and enjoy some of what the mountain have to offer!

9/26/2003

It rained very hard on Monday, but otherwise, the fine fall weather has continued.

Squirrel season is in, so there’s a slight chance that there will be hunters in the woods. However, most folks don’t hunt squirrels until the first hard frost has come and gone, because the parasites – known as wolves – flourish in the warmer weather.

I’ve finally gotten the calendar up for what’s left of September and October, and I appreciate everyone’s patience. October is the time for fall festivals, and I’ve listed a number of good events. Don’t forget to get out and experience them!

We’ll probably have a good leaf season, because everyone says that it helps if there’s adequate rainfall, and we’ve certainly had that this year.

I covered most of the hard news in the last column, so I’ll just say that it looks like we’re gearing up for a great fall selling season. We’ve had strong sales all summer, so we could certainly use additional inventory. If anyone has a property they are thinking of selling, please give me a call. I’ll be glad to come out and tell you what your cabin or acreage is worth, and there’s no obligation!

9/16/2003

Ever since Labor Day, we’ve had beautiful fall weather. This morning, it was 54º on the porch, and it’s finally beginning to dry out some. We’ve had deep mist on the ridge tops, and I’d have to say that so far, it’s been a very early fall.

We’ve been very busy in the office, and it looks like we’re going to have a great fall selling season. In fact, we could use a bit more inventory, so if you have property that you want to sell, please give me a call. It looks like this fall will be a great time to sell mountain property.

The water is going out of the lake at a great rate for the deep drawdown. According to the TVA, they are going to take the lake down 47 feet below normal winter pool, which is quite a bit lower than full pool in the first place. This is necessary because the penstock – which carries water from the lake to the generating turbines – was damaged during its installation (around 1930). This has necessitated deep drawdowns every five years to inspect the penstock. This time, they are going to study the situation and determine what needs to be done to repair the penstock. The first time we heard this story, it seems to me that they were going to fix the penstock this time, which would eliminate the need for the deep drawdowns every five years. Now, according to the latest information I’ve received, they plan to do that at a later date, which will, of course, necessitate another deep drawdown in the future.

The practical effect of the deep drawdown is a more or less constant release of water from the dam, which spoils trout fishing below the dam. There may be some benefit for the walleye fishermen this winter, because the low lake level will concentrate the fish. However, it is going to be difficult to get a boat in there in order to fish. There’s been a lot of interesting speculation about what we may find at the bottom of the lake. I’ve heard stories about things like old locomotives and the like. It may be something of a bonanza for treasure hunters when the lake reaches its lowest point.

In other news, we still don’t have a billboard ordinance. The ordinance has apparently been sent back to the drawing board, in part because one of the local billboard providers has made it known that he didn’t feel like putting his lights at the top of the billboard rather than at the bottom, just to reduce light pollution. That’s pretty much how county government works here, and those who feel differently are well advised to participate vocally in the process.

The U.S. Forest Service recently opened the Sandy Bottoms canoe takeout, which is on the other side of the river from Aska Road, between the Shallowford Bridge and Dial. The easiest way to find it is to cross the river at the Shallowford Bridge and continue around to the right (upstream). At the “Y,” take the right turn (the left goes to the Tilley Church) and follow around upstream, past the river gage. You can make a good half day trip by putting in at Dial and floating down to Sandy Bottoms. You can make a longer trip by putting in at Deep Hole (off 60, between Morganton and Suches.) However, I have heard reports that a land owner recently called the police in an attempt to prevent people from traveling through his property on this stretch. I haven’t yet heard how – or if – this has been resolved, but I did talk to some folks who floated the route subsequently and reported no difficulties.

In more bad news, I learned on a trip to the Jones Cemetery yesterday that the forest service has placed a gate across the road that goes back past the cemetery (the Jones property is the largest private holding in the Cohuttas, directly west from Watson Gap, off Old Highway 2). The road now effectively ends at the turnoff to the cemetery, rendering the campgrounds and stream access unusable. I talked briefly about it to Herdis Jones, who said the traffic back there was creating silt problems in the creek. He also said the road was closed with the consent of the residents in the community. Based on my previous experience, I suspect they’ll open it up for big game hunts, to satisfy the deer hunters. But they won’t feel like going out there to open it up for anyone else, so another pretty little piece of the Cohuttas will be inaccessible to many of us. It’s too bad, because it was nice back there, and now it’s a little further out of reach for people with limited ability to hike long distances.

8/25/2003

Last weekend was beautiful, although the temperatures have crept up a little closer to what’s normal at this time of year. For one of the first times this summer, it’s actually dried out a little bit. As I said last week, it appears that the TVA is beginning to draw the lake down, so people need to get their recreational activities in before the lake level gets too low.

Things to do over the Labor Day weekend: Last week, I mentioned Camp Reggae, our local reggae festival, which is headlined by our own local band, the Natti Love Joys. They’re the real thing, and the festival should be a fun event. You can read more about it in last week’s newsletter, or visit www.campreggae.com.

On Labor Day itself, don’t forget the annual Labor Day barbecue, in the downtown city park. It’s chicken and ribs, and a good time is usually had by all. There will be live entertainment. For more information, check my calendar listings for August.

The final hearing on the billboard ordinance is tomorrow (Tuesday) at the court house at 7 PM. Everyone who cares about this important issue should attend. The entertainment value may also be high, because I have heard reports that a new billboard has sprouted in front of Sisson Log Homes, despite the moratorium.

Best wishes for a good Labor Day. Hope everybody stays safe, avoids the yellow jacket nests, and has a great time!

8/18/2003

The weather was very nice last weekend, although the temperatures have risen a bit closer to what’s normal for this time of year. The heat seems to be promoting something of a late afternoon thunderstorm pattern, which is also familiar for this time of year. One of the things I’ve noticed while swimming in the lake is that the lake hasn’t really warmed up a great deal, although I did notice some warming this weekend. Unfortunately, it appears that the TVA has already started pulling the lake down for the winter. If you’ve got plans involving the lake, it might be good to come up soon and get it in before the water levels get any lower.

People have been asking me how the real estate market is up here, and I can tell you that it’s nothing like Atlanta at this point. Our office made the Coldwell Banker Top 20 internationally for offices with 11-20 agents in July. That’s the second time this year, and it’s really incredible given that the other offices in there with us are in places like Cape May, NJ, San Francisco, and Hawaii, where the average transaction is much larger than ours. Last week, we averaged 513 visitors a day to our company website, which is up over our usual 330 or so. I’m also experiencing more than usual activity on my own websites. It looks like we’re gearing up for a great fall selling season.

It’s the time of year when the yellow jackets get very aggressive. It’s a good idea to keep away from their nests, or to destroy them if possible. I had an interesting case at home, where the yellow jackets had built a nest in some cross-tie stairs I had built. I couldn’t get the spray in there effectively, but I finally settled them down with expanding foam sealant (marketed as “Great Stuff” among other names). Unfortunately, the copperheads also get more aggressive at this time of year. Unlike rattlesnakes, these fellows don’t rattle and don’t try to avoid confrontation. They can be identified primarily by their triangular heads and their very aggressive attitude. Keep clear of them at all costs.

I had another case last week where the idiots were feeding the bears. Unfortunately, these idiots were in the rental right next to my cabin, and it turns out a dog was killed two lots away from the lot where they were feeding them, probably by a bear they attracted. Owners of rentals should be very strict about the no feeding rule, because the first thing one of these idiots is going to do if anything happens is to sue the owner of the property, whether they attracted the bears themselves or not. Once again, it’s a bad idea to leave your garbage out, and it’s an even worse idea to leave food out. Once a bear becomes a nuisance in this way, it usually has to be destroyed. Let’s all get together and “educate” some of these misguided people.

Looking ahead to the Labor Day weekend, you might want to check out the Reggae Fest at Camp Reggae. It’s hosted by our own Jati and Marla Allen and their band, the Natti Love Joys. They’re considered the best reggae band in Atlanta, but they really have an international reputation for their music. Jati is from Kingston, Jamaica and Marla is from England. This band is excellent, truly world-class. Visit their site at http://www.campreggae.com.

8/3/2003

We had a good weekend, although it’s raining on us today (Wednesday). The temperatures have continued unseasonably cool, and I can report from personal experience that the lake is still nicely cool for swimming.

We’ve been very busy in the office, and for the second time this year, we’ve ranked in the top 20 Coldwell Banker offices internationally for offices with 11-20 sales associates. This was for June, and we’re quite pleased with the ranking. Not only are we the only office in Georgia that ranked in the top 20, the other companies we are ranked in there with are in places like California and Hawaii, where the average sales are much higher than ours (our average sale is probably around $130,000-150,000).

According to U.S. Census statistics, Fannin County is fourth in Georgia in number of new homes built and percentage increase in housing. We are the only mountain county in the top 10, with a 6.3% rate of growth. Among our nearest neighbors, Gilmer had 4.3% and Union 3.5%. These statistics provide hard evidence of what I’ve been saying for some time now, that we’re the hottest second home market in the mountains.

At the public comment meeting about the new billboard ordinance, there was quite a public outcry, and the ordinance was sent back to the county attorney for revision. Those of you who are interested in this issue should continue to follow it closely. I’ve pasted to latest communication from Joe Webb below:

“To. Interested Parties from Joe Webb
RE: Billboard Ordinance – PUBLIC HEARING 8/12/03 at 5 PM at the Sr. Citizens Center

We have prevailed in the first round of Public Hearings! Thanks for turning out and speaking up. The Fannin County Commissioners have incorporated most of our suggestions: e.g.:
1. No more billboards anywhere in unincorporated Fannin County
2. All Billboards to be removed from the county in 5 years
3. All lighting form the top pointing down within 1 year.
4. No illumination allowed between 12:00 Midnight & 5 AM within 1 year.
While we now have a NO BILLBOARD ORDINANCE PROPOSED. It is still not passed. We need to again be at the PUBLIC HEARING & speak in favor of this option versus the Ordinance that we spoke against at the last pubic hearing.There has been a section added to control political signs – it perhaps needs some adjustment. We need to speak to this. The confusion that I see is political signs may only be up 30 days prior to an election, this would prevent one from putting a Presidential sign in one’s yard until October, while the Presidential campaign season is six months.
The major thing, we need to speak for is to add a commercial sign section to the ordinance. Currently, there are no restrictions on signs located on the property of a businesses as long as the sign advertises the co-located business. This would allow a private business to erect a Billboard on their property advertising their own Business. The city of Blue Ridge has an ordinance to control commercial signs within the city limits. It would be good to adopt a model compatible with the city of Blue Ridge and unify commercial sign control.
Hope to se you at the Public Hearing next week – Tuesday August 12, 2003 at 5 PM at Sr. Citizens Center. Your presence is important – the commissioners need to understand our citizen views. Again, thanks for your support on this issue. See you Tuesday. Sincerely, Joe Webb “
At this point, it appears that Fannin’s millage rate will remain unchanged.

Last week, I saw a fawn that was only several days old. I would have thought that it was too late in the year – I usually see them in the spring and early summer – but it has been an abnormal year. For those of you who may need a little refresher course in woodcraft, when fawns are born, they can neither walk nor run. For a critical period of a week or so, their only chance of survival is to hide in the woods, attended by their mother. People sometimes come across these little dears and assume that they have been abandoned. In an attempt to do the right thing, they may remove the fawn from the woods and take it to the vet. Unfortunately, this is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Even if the fawn is returned to the place where it was found, the mother may not accept it after it has been handled by humans. When you find a fawn in hiding, it is probably fine to admire it for a moment or two and then quietly take your leave. Rest assured that the mother is somewhere nearby, anxiously awaiting your departure. Please do not touch or handle the fawn, no matter how tempting. Be aware that they are so quiet when they are hiding that they may appear to be stillborn. It’s nature’s way. For those of you with a more practical turn of mind, remember that it is illegal to possess a live deer under any circumstances.

7/21/2003

It’s dried up considerably, and we had a beautiful weekend. I’m hearing from a number of people that the blackberry harvest has been disappointing so far, but it may be that a couple of days of sunshine will help. Apparently, the wet weather has not been good to them, but I’ve found some good berries in sunny spots. I think the key this year is probably to find places with as much sun as possible. Tomato plants in the ground also seem to be suffering, although the ones we have in containers seem to be doing fine.

I first noticed the katydids last Wednesday, but reliable reports indicate that they were first heard singing during the day on the 12th. According to the people who know about these things, if you figure three months forward from the first time you hear them singing during the day, that’s the first frost. For those of you who haven’t seen the little critters, katydids look like green grasshoppers (they aren’t cicadas). They make that noise by rubbing their hindlegs together. I suppose there must be people out there who find them annoying, but I like to hear them sing as I drift off to sleep. Their song seems to change as the night wears on, and it’s sweet to my ears.

I keep hearing from people who want to know if our market is as soft as the real estate market in Atlanta. The answer is no. The reason is that in a second home market, sellers are rarely highly motivated. If people can afford a second home to begin with, they likely can afford to wait until they get the price they want for it. Also, our weekend rental market is so strong, that people can always rent if they can’t sell. The end result is that we just don’t have very many classically distressed sellers, people who can’t make the payments and are going to lose the place if they don’t sell it fast.

I do think there has been a little downward pressure on prices in the past few months, although I don’t think there’s any consensus on this in the office. It just seems to me that I’m seeing more new construction come on the market below $179,000, which was pretty much our price point for a 2/2 with an unfinished basement, and more sales under $200,000 than at this time last year. In my opinion, we’ve still got a fairly strong seller’s market, but there are probably some bargains to be had, especially over $200,000.

In what’s probably a win for Fannin County, the Georgia Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from a lower court decision brought by the promoter of the plasma torch, a high temperature waste disposal process. The technology is apparently operational at only one location in Japan, and the effect on the environment is thus debatable. However, as the proposed facility was to be built on 515, near Loving Road, it would likely have had a negative effect on people’s perception of the county’s environment, as well as increasing truck traffic through Blue Ridge.

The Fannin County Commission is considering a billboard ordinance. The first public hearing will be held at 7 PM tomorrow, July 22, at the courthouse. Those of you who feel strongly about this issue may want to attend. I just received the following from Joe Webb, which provides a perspective not found in published reports:

“To Our Friends in Fannin County, As you know, I have actively tried to understand and to participate in Fannin County politics. My main concern is to create an open government – to create dialog.

This TUESDAY night, July 22, 2003, at the Court House at 7PM, there will be a Public Hearing to enable Billboards to be built on all county roads. While limiting billboards to one per mile, it would still allow 13 billboards to build on ASKA ROAD. It would allow them on Stanley Creek Road, Snake Nation Road etc, and every road in the WHOLE COUNTY.

This is an issue and I ask that each of you come to the court house to speak out and show support against this ordinance. Let’s say either NO MORE BILLBOARDS – period – or let’s limit them to the 4-lane divide highway. Thank you for your support. I hope to see you this Tues., 7PM at the Court House. PLEASE send this to you Fannin County Friends, if you fell it is appropriate.
Thanks, JOE WEBB”

7/7/2003

OK, I hear you! Everybody can stop calling and emailing! Here’s the recipe, and I hear it’s great, although we’ve never tested it ourselves, of course.

2 cups berries
2 cups ice cubes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 cup white tequila
1/4 cup sugar

Buzz the berries in the blender. If you care about these things, strain out the seeds. Add the other ingredients. Either shake it with the cubes or serve on the rocks. It’s sometimes difficult to get it cold enough, so you may want to refrigerate the mixture for a bit. Enjoy!

We had a beautiful 4th, crisp and clear in the morning, then partly cloudy for the rest of the day. The 5th was also pretty nice, and we were swamped in the office on Saturday. Today (Monday afternoon) it’s back to rainy, and some are worried that we’re going to get spoiled with the cool temperatures this summer. I’m not too worried about that, but I wish we’d had more good swimming weather.

For those of you who are interested in barbecue, Forge Mill Restaurant has been reincarnated as Smoky Mountain Barbecue. No reliable reviews yet, but I did overhear some folks saying it was comparable to the Rib Ranch in Blairsville. The old Western Sizzling at the end of the Ingles shopping center has reportedly been bought by Tom Carroll for a barbecue restaurant. It is a fact that it has been gutted, and it looks like it is being readied for a dramatic log treatment on the exterior. Also, I understand that the owner of Bone’s Automotive & Custom Cycles in Morganton has been granted a business license to sell barbecue at the old campground on the way to Morganton Point. I haven’t tried it yet, but I did see a serious smoker there the other day.

We’ve seen a spike in interest in property lately, and with interest rates so low, people are finding that they can afford more house than they imagined. If you think you may be in the market, it’s a good time to look. We have a good inventory of property in all price ranges, and I want to remind everyone that I still have a very good lot in My Mountains / Meadowoods, MLS 81809, 2.2 nicely flat and very accessible acres in a great community for $32,900.

6/27/2003

We had a nice rain last night (Thursday), but it finally dried out enough last week for the farmers to begin haying. Unfortunately, when it happens this late, it takes quite a toll on the deer, who can’t be seen in the high grass and won’t move.

We’ve been very busy in the office, both for listing and selling, and the trend seems to be strengthening. We’re also experiencing some mismatched expectations, because the market in Atlanta is such a buyer’s market at this time that folks who come up from Atlanta expect the same to be going on up here. But the second home market is a different animal. If people can afford a second home, they can probably afford to wait until they get the price they want. In other words, they are rarely highly motivated, and almost never distressed. Our weekend rental market is so strong, that even if they move away, they can usually rent enough to defray expenses.

Cynthia and I ran the river last week (6/17), from just above Dial to just above the Shallowford Bridge. At this time of year, you usually need a little rain to get enough water to canoe, and we had a small thunderstorm the night before. The TVA reported the stream flow at 5 AM at 850 cfm, which I thought was just high enough. On this stretch, you run the river pretty consistently to the right, with a few notable exceptions. Depending on your skill level and motivation, it might be wise to take out just before the rapids and the small island in the river that precedes the Shallowford Bridge. I usually take on significant water there. If you do run it, it is usually best run on the left.

By the time we got into that area, the water level had dropped a little, and we had some problems clearing the rocks on the final stretch. The reading at the river gage was 2.29 at 11:30 AM, and the TVA reported 617 cfm at 1:00.

It was a little difficult because the river was stained because of the rain, and it was hard to see the rocks properly. But we had a good time watching the Kingfishers and ducklings, which were too small to fly but not too small to skid across the water at a high rate of speed. The peace and quiet on the weekday river, along with the wildlife, makes this a highly enjoyable trip.

Please remember to check the calendar for some fun things to do this weekend. I’ll try to get the July calendar up soon, because we’ve got some good stuff going on over the 4th.

6/16/2003

It’s dried out to a certain extent lately, and we’re still having fairly cool mornings. It was 62 on the porch this morning, and Saturday and Sunday were really beautiful. It’s always nice when the weather stays a little cool up here in the spring, rather than slamming directly into summer. This Monday afternoon, we got another thunderstorm.

The wet weather should set the pine beetles back a bit, because long-term droughts stress the trees and make them more susceptible to the beetle. It’s been good for the garden and the understory, which has gotten a little thin after the past couple of years. I noticed that two of the ten dogwoods we got from the state forest service last January already have leaves. That’s pretty amazing, because they were bare root seedlings. The blackberries are just starting to turn black, but I haven’t found any yet that have sweetened. Stay tuned for the famous blackberry margarita recipe, which I’ll print once again when the berries mature.

We’ve been very busy in the office lately, and things are looking good for a great summer selling season. I’ve recently listed some rare lots on the river, and I still have a great lot in My Mountain/Meadowoods. According to our broker, we had 470 unique visitors to our website on Sunday, with 5262 month-to-date. Our commission income is up an amazing 82 percent, year-to-date over last year. The fact that the market is soft in Atlanta has led some of our buyers to conclude that our market has shifted to a buyer’s market, but it’s still a seller’s market in the mountains.

According to the News Observer, the school board’s recently approved budget will require a $1.3 million tax increase, raising the millage to 14.25. Although they did not say so, this is necessary because our sales tax revenues have plummeted since the Home Depot opened in Blairsville, apparently to the great surprise of our elected officials. According to the tax office, the tax bill on an $100,000 assessment will increase by $52.

Cynthia and I took our first swim in the lake last week (6/10), and it was refreshing and not too cool. Unfortunately, the Forest Service appears to have discontinued the lifeguard service at Morganton Point.

If you’re planning to come up and fly fish, it’s time to come up while the streams are still fairly cool.

Speaking of fishing, the Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery staff just got an award from the White House for an innovative method of raising trout fry without the use of Formalyn, which is a carcinogen. Congratulations for this nice work!

The June calendar is up on the site. Don’t forget to get out and around and visit some of our local points of interest. The Chamber of Commerce, behind the United Community Bank across from the McDonald’s, also has a wealth of information on things to do in the area.

6/5/2003

For those of you who wondered, I’m still alive and kicking. I just did something a real estate agent should never do, which is to take a few days off to go to the Indy 500. I’ve been swamped ever since, and I’ve only got time for a brief update.

It’s finally dried up some, and we’ve been having beautiful, clear mornings in the low fifties and very nice afternoons. There’s some threat of rain in the forecast for this weekend, but the weather has been wonderful and I hope that trend continues.

It will probably be a day or so before I can get the June calendar posted, but some good weekend stuff is below:

Saturday is National Trails Day, with all trail fees waived by the forest service. Contact them at 706.632.3031.

The Georgia Wine Country Festival, June 7-8, in Dahlonega, 706.864.3711.

The Blue Ridge Community Theater is playing “Dearly Departed” by David Bottrell & Jesie Jones. Curtain is at 7:30 PM, Friday and Saturday and 3:00 PM Sunday. Tickets $12.50 at 706.632.9223 or www.blueridgecommunitytheater.com.

The Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association is having an opening reception for the Cherie Low and Arlene Egert Exhibit, June 7, reception from 5 PM to 6:30 PM, followed by the downtown gallery tour. 706.632.2144.

5/19/2003

After the recent earthquake, high winds, and near-flooding, it seemed rather uneventful in the mountains last week. The weather was warm and rainy in spots, with Saturday being nicer than Sunday. The rhododendron (which the local people call “mountain laurel”) is in beautiful bloom, and the young geese are about the size of a grouse. The blackberries are about the size of a small pea, and with all the rain, it should be a very good year for them.

Unfortunately, it’s shaping up to be a banner year for ticks, too. I don’t know whether it is because of all the rain, but I’ve seen a lot of ticks while walking property in the past few weeks. The ones I’m seeing are the larger, more familiar dog ticks (brown). I haven’t seen any of the smaller (sesame seed-sized) deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. It helps some to spray socks and trousers with repellent, and to avoid high grass. But the best thing is to take your clothes off and examine them immediately upon coming in from the field. If you have to pull them out of your skin, be gentle and try not to break off the head. It’s probably best not to use tweezers, because they have a tendency to break off the head. They can only be killed by burning them with a match or dropping them in a can of gasoline. Naturally, they are very apt to get on your dogs, and it may be worthwhile to treat them with one of the products that kills both ticks and fleas.

I spent most of last week playing one of my favorite games, “In Search of the Lost Lot.” The game starts when somebody wants to sell their property, but no longer knows how to find it. Some agents take the attitude “if they can’t tell me where it is I can’t list it” but I feel that lacks a certain spirit of adventure. After visits to the county deed room and the map room, I set forth with pith helmet, compass, and topo, often to spend a half-day fossicking around in a subdivision where the sunny optimism expressed by the developer and illustrated in the plat, with its visions of cleverly-named roads, recreational improvements, and common access areas, gives way to the realization that most of that never happened.

Last week, I was in several old subdivisions that seemed almost forgotten by time. I think my most amazing discovery was a confirmed sighting of the house on the island in the upper Toccoa, which I had heard about, but never seen. Sometime previously, I located the famous “Hoot & Holler,” a cabin off Flat Creek Circle on the far side of the river, accessible only by fording the river. Like the cabin at the confluence of the Jacks and the Consauga, where you have to drive 150 yards up the Jacks, dodging boulders twice the size of your head, you wonder who built these places and where the EPA was when it was all happening. I hope that someone, someday will somehow write the social history of second home development in the north Georgia mountains (I hope John Inscoe’s ambitious doctoral students at UGA are listening). Until then, it’s going to have to be an oral history, and I hope we get it soon, because many of the original second home pioneers – who came here before the McDonald’s and whose aesthetic was somewhat more hunting camp than tongue & groove with pickled pine interior and antler chandelier – are probably fixing to leave the county forever.

Be sure to check my calendar listing (on the “Local Info” button) for fun things to do this weekend. Don’t forget this weekend is Arts in the Park, a major event in Blue Ridge. A good time is usually had by mostly all, and there are some good opportunities for cabin decorations.

5/12/2003

The weather last week was rainy, and we’re starting off Monday clear and cool. Last Monday, about 4:00 PM, we had very high winds, and some beautiful, old trees are down. Thursday morning, the streams were very close to flood stage, and there was some flooding. Cutcane Creek flooded a bit, closing Lowery Road, and there were some other places in the county that were very damp. Fortunately, the rain backed off, because if we’d had any more, we would probably have had very bad flooding.

I’m still seeing lots of native wildflowers, and the rhododendron (mountain laurel) is starting to flower. We’re hearing lots of reports of bear sightings, so it is a good time to remind everyone that they are mostly attracted to garbage, and that your dog is no match for them. Some misguided people think it is fun to feed them, but that usually results in their becoming nuisances, and then they have to be destroyed. I think it’s great to have so many bears in the county, but they can be dangerous, especially to dogs.

The Cinco de Mayo Festival in McCaysville/Copperhill was a rainout last Monday, so it has been rescheduled for today, 5:00-7:00 PM, at the old iron bridge.

This is the time for mountain doings and festivals. Be sure to check my calendar listings (on the “Local Info” button) for fun things to do all week long.

The Georgia Mountain Classics Car Show in Blue Ridge last Saturday at the downtown park was very well attended. For me, the hit of the show was an original Cord, but I also saw several Shelby Cobras, and lots of beautifully restored pickup trucks. The fifties, sixties, and seventies were probably the best represented, but there were some older cars, like a Model T pickup truck.

The 17th Annual Blue Ridge Lake Cleanup will commence at 10:00 AM at Morganton Point on Saturday the 17th. All volunteers will be provided gloves and garbage bags, and the first fifty will receive a free T-shirt.

5/5/2003

The weather continued nice last week, with a little rain, and Sunday was a beautiful day. Today (Monday), we’re having thunderstorms and quite a bit of rain. At this point, most of the trees are fully in leaf, young, beautifully green leaves. The native lilies have been up for a week or more, and I’ve seen many Trillium and Lady Slippers in the quiet parts of the woods.

For those of you who haven’t been up this week, last week’s earthquake apparently caused very little damage in Fannin County. Diligent investigation by the News Observer revealed only one resident who complained of a cracked foundation. I slept through the whole thing, although it was apparently worse in other parts of the county. One of the people in our office who lives on the river said she awoke to a sound she thought was that of a hovercraft driving up the river. It might be a good idea for cabin owners to check their foundations and make sure there are no water leaks.

Today is Cinco de Mayo, and Copperhill is celebrating the event with its Fifth Cinco de Mayo festival at the old iron bridge, downtown Copperhill, 5:00 – 7:00 PM.

One of the big news stories of the past few weeks was that the plasma torch proposal was rejected in court, although an appeal has been filed. The plasma torch is a high-temperature technology used to burn solid and medical waste, and the county was being sued by an individual who had requested a permit to establish a facility on 515, near Loving Road (six miles east of Blue Ridge, near the entrance to the My Mountain development). This is a new technology, which is apparently in operation at only one location, in Japan. The lawsuit turned on whether Fannin has a land use ordinance sufficient to deny permitting. Profitable operation of the facility would apparently require the importation of considerable tonnages of medical waste into Fannin County.

Another environmental issue is being faced by the town of Copperhill. Over a year ago, all sulphuric acid production ceased at the old copper plant, and the last train rolled from the yard across from the plant. The CSX was persuaded to sell the rail line, which includes the historic and scenic Farner loop, by an organization named “The Old Line Coalition.” The Glenn Springs Holding Company made a low-interest loan of about $1.6 million for the purchase, which was made by the Tennessee Overhill organization. Ownership will pass to a rail authority when it is formed, but funding has not yet materialized. There has been a proposal, however, from an operator who will defray costs by restarting sulphuric acid production at the plant. Many residents of Copperhill, as well as those who have seen the transformation of Copperhill over the past few years, are opposed to this proposal because of the possible environmental consequences.

Next Saturday, May 10, the Georgia Mountain Classics Car Show will take place at the Downtown Park in Blue Ridge. The show starts at 9:00 and judging is at 4:00. Over 50 cars and trucks are expected.

The 17th Annual Blue Ridge Lake Cleanup will commence at 10:00 AM at Morganton Point on Saturday the 17th. All volunteers will be provided gloves and garbage bags, and the first fifty will receive a free T-shirt.

4/27/2003

The weather was a bit cooler last week, more seasonal, and we had a couple of days of rain. Saturday was a nice day, and Sunday is starting off beautifully. The dogwoods are still in bloom, but the native azaleas (flame azaleas) are looking a little peaked.

Update to wildflower lovers! I was out walking property yesterday (4/30) and the woods are thick with native lilies, including Trillium and Lady Slippers. With the rain (and hail) we had yesterday, I expect this weekend will be the peak time for many native species. (Walking property is one of the great parts of this job, because you have access to many areas of the county that would otherwise be off limits. The other day, I was behind a gate in the Cohuttas previewing a cabin near the confluence of the Jacks and the Consauga, and it was beautiful beyond description back there.)

Cynthia visited the Polk County Ramp Festival yesterday (see last week’s newsletter). She reported that it was much better attended this year than last, perhaps due to better advertising. I can report from personal experience that the ramps she brought home were rampy and good. There is supposed to be another ramp festival scheduled for Saturday at another location, but I have been unable to obtain information on it. There is another scheduled for May 4 in Waynesville, North Carolina (828.456.3517).

May is the time for spring festivals and fun things to do in the mountains. I’ve posted my May calendar of events (under “Local Info”). There are many good choices, starting this weekend. It’s a great time of year in the mountains, and a great chance to get out and have some fun and learn more about our beautiful area.

According to the News Observer, Representative Nathan Deal’s National Recreation Lakes Act remains alive in committee. This bill is an attempt to reshape management of federal lakes, including the TVA lakes, by making recreational use one of the top priorities (currently, they are flood management, river navigation, and electricity generation). If the bill comes out of the Transportation Committee and is passed, the payoff for us locally might be a later winter drawdown of Lake Blue Ridge and Lake Nottely. As it is now, the TVA usually begins to drain the lake in late July or early August. Even another month or so at full pool would be a great economic benefit to the area.

Marc O’Connor, the noted fiddle champion, jazz violinist, country music session man, and composer will play the Ellijay Elementary School Auditorium on Saturday, May 10. Tickets are $10, $25, $25, and $45 at 706.635.5605.

4/21/2003

The weather has continued unseasonably warm, and the weekend was very fine. We got a pretty good thunderstorm Monday morning, which washed some of the pollen out of the air. Last week, Cynthia and I heard the first Whippoorwills, and the puppy started chasing the blue-tailed lizards around the yard. (Those lizards are actually young Southern Five-lined Skinks to reptile enthusiasts.) The dogwoods are in beautiful, full bloom, and the mountains are looking very pretty.

We’ve seen our office activity picking up with the war in Iraq seeming to wind down, and my guess is that we’re headed into a period of good activity. The leaves are almost on the trees, but there still might be a window for a week or so for people who want to look at view property.

This weekend, there is a Bluegrass Festival at Sugar Creek Music Park (off Hwy 5 at Scenic Drive, follow the signs, 1224 Cox Road). This is a nice, old-fashioned venue with some camping, and the festival should be a high point for those of us who love the “high, lonesome sound.” Call Vida Cox for details at 706.632.2560.

One of my favorite annual events is coming up this Saturday, the Polk County Ramp Festival. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, ramps are wild onions or leeks. They are actually members of the lily family, and the leaves (usually two) look not unlike the leaves of a Trout Lily. The rest of the plant looks somewhat like a green onion. The size of the bulb depends on how mature they are, but it is usually about ½” to 1” in diameter. Ramps are famous in mountain folklore, mostly for making your breath strong, but I haven’t noticed anything unusual along those lines. People who are used to cooking with garlic or leeks will probably enjoy this mountain treat, which was a traditional sign of spring in the Southern Appalachians. For the folklore, you can consult Dabney’s cookbook (listed in the reference library section of this website). The basic preparation is to fry the ramps, leaves and all, in bacon grease and serve with eggs. But they can be used in any salad or other dish where leeks or onions would be appropriate. There is a small cookbook and history available at the festival. For more sophisticated preparations, you can consult www.earthydelights.com (a mail order source for fiddleheads, ramps, and morels).

The festival begins on Thursday, with the “ramp tramp,” usually a caravan over to the vicinity of Robbinsville, North Carolina to pick the ramps, which grow only above 3000 feet (or more often, 4000 feet). Those who want to participate in this part of the festival should call 423.338.4503 for directions to the pickup point. The festival continues on Friday night, with ramp cleaning and bluegrass music. The main day of the festival is Saturday morning, when a big country breakfast of bacon, fried potatoes, and scrambled eggs with ramps is served at about 10:00 AM. There is more bluegrass music and some low-key activity by Tennessee politicians, who generally attend this important grassroots event. This is your chance to get a gallon of Sassafras root tea (bring your own container) and buy a bag or two of ramps (usually $5 a bag).

The first Polk County Ramp Tramp was held on April 13, 1958, on Big Frog Mountain. When the Big Frog was taken into the Cohutta Wilderness, it was no longer accessible by car. One year, the supplies were helicoptered in, with the participants hiking up (no small hike!). Another year, it was held at Sylco Campground. Finally, in 1985, the festival found its present home at the Polk County 4-H camp. To reach the site from Blue Ridge, take Hwy 5 north to McCaysville and continue to Ducktown on TN 68. At Ducktown, turn left on Hwy 64/74, toward Cleveland, Tennessee. You travel past the Olympic Whitewater venue, along the river, on the “Old Copper Road.” In the vicinity of Parksville Lake, you take a right on Hwy 30/315 toward Reliance. There should be signs at this intersection for the festival. The camp is on the right, a few miles along Hwy 315. You should allow 45 minutes or an hour to reach the festival from Blue Ridge. For more information, call 423.338.4503.

4/14/2003

It was rainy all week, until the weekend. Then it cleared up beautifully for the Adventure Race on Saturday. It started out a little cool, but by mid-afternoon the weather was beautiful. Sunday was a great day, and Monday is starting out a lot like Sunday.

Those of you who love the Dogwoods need to get up soon. They started coming early last week, and I believe most of them are now in flower. Most, if not all, of the Sarvis is gone, and the ridges are showing nicely of Dogwoods. On last year’s calendar, I noted that the Lady Slippers came on 4/15. It’s been a little cooler this year, and I haven’t seen any yet this year.

The Adventure Race was a huge success again this year. With 90 four-person teams and their friends, this is a major event for tourism in Blue Ridge. Many of the teams come up before the race to practice, and the event has raised awareness of Blue Ridge quite a bit among Atlanta people and others who visit. There are permanent signs out on Aska Road designating the “Aska Adventure Area,” and that raises awareness of the event among people traveling down Aska Road.

There was a wonderful article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today, titled “Back from the brink: Newcomers revive quaint Blue Ridge,” by Norman Arey. If you missed it, please email me and I’ll email it down to you.

I want to mention that on Friday, April 18th, the Natti Love Joys are scheduled to play the Duff Tavern off Route 64, over toward Cleveland, Tennessee. The Natti Love Joys are an internationally known reggae band whose principals, Marla and Jati Allen, live in Blue Ridge. Jati is from Kingston, Jamaica, and Marla is from Brixton, England. They host Camp Reggae every Labor Day weekend, a music festival held in nearby Isabella, Tennessee. They’re one of my favorite bands, and they’re really world-class. You can visit them on the web at www.campreggae.com. To get to the Duff, you go to Copperhill (Hwy 5) and then Ducktown (TN 68) and then turn left on the four-lane, Hwy 64/74 toward Cleveland. This takes you along the Ocoee on “the Old Copper Road.” You go past Parksville Lake, then over the Ocoee as it passes under the road, and the Duff is on the left just before the four-lane begins again. It’s about 45 minutes from Blue Ridge. The Duff does not have a phone, but Charlie’s, next door, is 423.338.2408.

4/6/2003

The first part of the week was a bit chilly, but it got warmer as the week went on. We had a considerable thunderstorm Saturday morning, but the rest of the day was fine. Sunday turned out to be a little overcast with a drizzle in the late afternoon. The dogwoods seem about ready to blossom, and I’ve seen the first may apples down along Long Creek. I’m told that the turkeys have been gobbling good for a couple of weeks now. I heard my first gobble last night, but I haven’t had a lot of porch time lately.

Don’t forget the Adventure Race, which is next Saturday, April 12. Even if you aren’t especially interested in the race, the finish line at the park is a fun place to be as the race comes to an end. It’s probably best described as an exteme triathalon, with hiking, biking, and kayaking, along with some mystery events. The race starts at the Shallowford Bridge around 8:00 AM. The finish is usually between 2:00 and 4:00 PM in the downtown park. Some 90 four-person teams compete, and it’s a major event for tourism. The town will be full of people, and it’s a good time to mix and mingle. Visit the Chamber site, www.blueridgemountains.com, for details, or stop by the Chamber for a program (the Chamber is behind the United Community Bank, across from the McDonald’s).

I learned more about pine beetles last week than I ever wanted to know. The last time they flourished, about ten years ago, they didn’t quite reach my ridge. This time, they passed over it, and I thought they had missed me until I had a pine tree die suddenly about three weeks ago. I talked to Larry Benson, Senior Forester, and he said it was probably infected last winter, with the beetles remaining inactive until the warm weather. You see the needles turning brown, of course, but the characteristic mark is the dime-sized “pitch hole” where a bit of sap oozes out of a hole in the tree and turns white. When the tree is well and truly infected, you will see a number of these holes going up the trunk. The larval stage is a white worm about a half an inch long, and the beetles themselves are tiny.

According to the state forest service, there have been reports of pine beetle infestations in Georgia since the 1700s. They seem to flourish in periods of extended drought, because it weakens the trees. The beetles only eat the cambium layer of the tree, which is the tissue that carries the nutriments. Once they girdle the tree, the tree dies. They don’t have wings and they seem to spread by being borne on the wind. Their pattern is somewhat odd. They’ll hit one area and then move on to the next. The forest service recommends cutting all the trees in a circle about 1-1/2 lengths of the tallest affected tree. It’s been bad in Blue Ridge this time, but the devastation in Tennessee has been really incredible. Up in Tellico Plains, they’ve had to close many of their camp sites, and there are signs all over the national forest warning people from going into the woods when it is windy.

When you get them around your house, you need to cut them in the hopes of preventing their spreading. It’s best to have the tree man haul the chips and trunks off, or to burn them (call the forest service for a burn permit). It’s also not a bad idea to spray the stumps and remaining chips with insecticide. It isn’t practical to spray the trees, because you have to spray the whole thing, not just the first few feet of the trunk. The forest service recommends that you not do routine pruning of pines when the weather is warm, because the open wounds from cutting and climbing can be exploited by the beetle. The bottom line is that it is an expensive and somewhat heart-wrenching experience. I spent about $2000, and it isn’t at all clear that a lot more trees won’t die. I also had to cut a huge old pine that shaded my cabin from the morning sun, and I really miss that old tree and the habitat it provided for wildlife.

3/30/2003

Yesterday was the opening day of trout season, and while the weather didn’t completely cooperate, it seems to have been a pretty good day. The little bit of rain in the morning didn’t stain the streams too badly, and it was warm enough to fish, if a bit breezy. The opening day isn’t as big a deal as it used to be, because the river is now open year-round, but it is still a significant event. A lot of folks have their houses full with people who want to fish, and it’s a darn good excuse to have a little party. Traditionally, opening day began the mountain tourist season, but these days, we have people in town pretty much all winter long.

This morning (Sunday) it was about 32º on top, and there was a little dusting of snow on the cars. I couldn’t see Hemp Top, but there was a pretty good coating of snow on Watson Mountain (up on the North Carolina line) and some snow on Piney Mountain, off Hardscrabble Road. As I came into work this morning, it was still spitting a little grapple, or pebbly sleet. The streams still looked in pretty good shape, despite the drizzle last night.

The Ducktown Museum is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. Located on the site of the old Burra-Burra mine in Ducktown, the museum is well worth a visit for the historic photographs and the insight into the sociology and economy of the Copper Basin area. Visit them on the web at www.gamineral.org/commercial-burra-burra.htm . There are opportunities for collecting Garnet, Pyrite, Chalcopyrite, Pyrrhotite, and Actinolite (by appointment, as explained on the website).

The Mountain Scholar Bookshop has moved up the street from their old location next to Great Eats, to 679-A, East Main Street. They’ve got a great collection of books on things of local interest, cabins and cabin decoration, and nature. You can now sit by the fireplace and sip coffee while you browse the books and take in the local scene. Contact the bookstore at 706.632.1993.

While we are on the topic of books, the Fannin County Public Library needs volunteers and members. The library offers many services including Internet access, fax, and copy machine. You can also register to vote there. The Friends of the Library sponsors interesting events and publishes a quarterly newsletter. There are local author book signings scheduled for April 8th and April 10th at 3:00. George Woodruff (Miracle at St. Luke’s) and Elaine Jordan (Indian Trail Trees) are signing on the 8th. On the 10th, Claudia Staton, Jan Farley, and Bettie Sellers and others are signing. In order to build the new library (an architect’s rendering is on display at the library), $1 million must be raised locally. The land has already been donated. The library is located downtown at 105-A Mountain Street, and can be reached by email at fanninlibrary@hotmail.com or by phone at 706.632.5263.

3/26/2003

The weather has continued warm, with highs in the low 70s. The cherry trees are in bloom, and it’s been very nice. The pollen just started to be visible on cars, but we are nowhere near as far along as Atlanta. I’m told it’s still worse in Atlanta than in Canton, so the worst has not come our way yet.

We’ve seen a lot of wildlife lately. Cynthia saw an immature Barred Owl playing in the lane on her way home from an evening meeting (about 9 PM), and I saw the first woodchuck last weekend. I’ve seen a pair of Canada Geese on little Cutcane Creek, and this morning we saw a grouse wandering down the lane like he had his mind on something else. I’ve yet to hear the first turkey gobble, but it’s also fair to say that I haven’t had much porch time in the past few days.

I understand that the Gilmer County Courthouse has been condemned, and will be closed tomorrow. This may be related to District Attorney Roger Queen’s bad fall last week, which left him with a broken neck. In any case, if the courthouse remains closed, real estate closings in Gilmer County may be delayed indefinitely due to the inability to conduct title searches.

I’ll have a better assessment of our office activity this weekend, but I can say that our website hits fell dramatically during the first days of the war, and bounced back on the weekend. At this point, I believe we’re back to near normal levels.

Folks who are interested in view property need to get up before the leaves come on the trees, so they can see what they’re buying. It won’t be long before we’re back to our summer coat of green.

If you’re coming up for the opening day of trout on Saturday, at this point I can say that the streams are clear and they have plenty of water. If it doesn’t rain, it should be a good one.

3/16/2003

The weather was pretty nice last week, with a few spots of showers. The forsythia is blooming up on top, and Cynthia and I had our first dinner on the porch Sunday evening. I’m sure a lot of other people beat us to it, because we’re up on top of the ridge, and there is almost always a breeze up there that makes it a bit chillier than it is in more protected spots. My neighbor’s retriever took her first two swims in the lake yesterday, another sign that spring is coming.

If you haven’t been up in a while, you should probably make plans to visit soon. It’s been pretty wonderful lately, and the opening day of trout is March 29th. People who have seen Della’s Diner at the new theater report that it is a bang-up production, well worth seeing, and things are beginning to happen all over the mountains. See my calendar listings for details

I haven’t heard the first turkey gobble yet, but if the weather stays warm, I expect I’ll hear it soon. For those of you who need a little refresher in Woodcraft 101, the usually secretive and wily, wild male turkey loses all sense of decorum when the mating season comes, and you often find them talking their heads off on their roosts or wandering along the roads. Turkey season comes in next Saturday, March 22, and runs until May 15. Usually, it’s a little too cool in the mountains for the turkeys to go into the rut by opening day, but it may happen this year. In the Wildlife Management Areas, there are specific days for turkey hunting. For these, check specific areas at www.dnr.state.ga.us .

If you are out in the woods during turkey season, I recommend a blaze orange cap. You should definitely not wear purple. During mating season, turkeys will often gobble in response to things like crow calls and owl calls. If you are out in the woods and you hear these things, remember that it may be a turkey hunter making those calls. If, after listening for a while, it sounds real bogus, it’s definitely a turkey hunter. Turkey hunters also sometimes gobble in the hopes of attracting another male turkey who wants to fight. Be cautious if you hear these sounds. Female turkeys talk, but do not gobble. The male is most easily identified by the beard, which looks like a small bunch of horse hair protruding from the chest that grows to about four inches.

The best time to observe them is probably shortly before dusk, a time the turkey hunters call “flying up time.” When the shadows underneath the trees start to darken such that a fox might sneak up on them, the turkeys fly up to roost. The old gobbler will be with his harem, and he’ll generally be very talkative right after flying up. The jakes, yearling males, will position themselves on the fringes of the old gobbler’s territory, in the hopes of attracting one of his females. They generally stay pretty quiet, but you will usually hear them gobble once or twice just before dark. In the morning, after it’s light enough, the turkeys will fly down, and you’ll often hear quite a bit of turkey talk at this point, as the old gobbler pursues his females. The classic turkey hunting strategy is to locate the roost at night and return before light the next morning. The hunter sits with his back to a tree, and calls as a hen, hoping to attract the gobbler. You can also call as a gobbler, which often brings the old gobbler running, but it is a risky strategy, because other hunters may be in the woods.

Last week was the tenth anniversary of the great blizzard of 1993 (March 13). This was a genuine disaster that brought down many trees and left much of the county without power for up to three weeks. The wind was really savage. There’s an area just above the bridge over Hemptown Creek on Cutcane Road that is completely denuded of trees from that storm. Just to tell one story, the man whose cabin I have listed up on Picklesimer Mountain told me that he felt he had to go to his neighbor’s house, two lots down the lane, to get something. The snow was up to his thighs, and when he started back, he was afraid he wouldn’t make it.

I missed it myself. When I heard it was going to snow, I almost came up from Atlanta on a lark. If I had, I’d have probably been here for a couple of weeks, because a huge tree blew down across my driveway, and it took a couple of weeks for the roads to be cleared back in to where I live. I’ve heard that we had three feet of snow on My Mountain, and you know, our average annual snowfall is six inches, usually in dribs and drabs. A lot of the long-term residents remember how tough it was to get through that one, where they got water, and exactly how they coped. John Brown told me that he knew it was serious when he saw the National Guard in Hummers driving up Old Loving Road. Another man told me that because it was snowing pretty hard, his father asked him to drive him to work. After he got him there, he decided to it was best not to go to work himself. So he just went home to made preparations and get the supplies he figured he needed. In the end, he had thirteen people with him in his little cabin.

3/10/2003

It dried out quite a bit last week, and the weather has a definite spring-like feel. The oaks are budding up, and I saw daffodils on top of My Mountain this weekend. Saturday was a beautiful day that almost reached 70°, and Sunday was about the same, except for a bit of a breeze on top. Today (Monday) started out around 34°, and it’s a beautiful, bluebird day.

We weren’t quite as busy in the office this weekend as I anticipated. With the nice weather, my theory is that everybody had to stay home and mow the lawn. But there’s no doubt we’re on the cusp of the busy season. If you are thinking of selling your property, now is the time to list. If you are interested in seeing what bargains remain after the winter, now’s the time. Because the fall season was mostly a rainout, we still have a very good inventory of properties in all categories, except perhaps for new construction. As the weather continues to improve, we’ll see a number of new cabin starts, and we’ll begin to list these just as soon as the electric and plumbing is completed.

Another tip for returning cabin owners: If you have turned off the water and drained the system down, be sure to remember to turn on the water and let the hot water tank fill up before turning on the fuses to the hot water heater (if you have electric hot water). If the fuses are turned on when the tank is empty, the heating elements self-destruct almost instantly. Open the hot water tap and let it stay open until you have a good flow of water. At that point, the tank should be filled, and it should be safe to turn the fuses back on. If you’ve put antifreeze in the commodes, remember that it is fatally attractive to dogs, who will drink it because of its sweet smell. Be sure to keep the dogs away from the toilets or keep the lids down until you can flush them thoroughly.

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is ready to start its sixth season March 14. The trains should be running Friday and Saturday through June. Trains depart from the old depot in downtown Blue Ridge. The trip is a leisurely run along the river to Copperhill, Tennessee. If the water level is low enough (if they aren’t releasing from the dam) you can see the old Cherokee fish trap along the way. There is time for lunch and visiting the shops in Copperhill before the return to Blue Ridge. The trip is a great favorite with kids, who seem to love the blue line separating Tennessee from Georgia. For more information, call 706.632.9833 or 800.934.1898. Or visit the website at www.brscenic.com.

3/3/2003

It was rainy and warmer for most of last week. The roads took yet another beating, and the streams were stained and a foot or two below flood stage. The rain tapered off toward the weekend, and things are somewhat dried out at this point. This morning (Monday) was a beautiful clear day that started out at about 25°. It was so nice that I couldn’t resist taking a short hike before going into work. I expect we will see almost 60° by late afternoon.

We were fairly busy in the office, despite the rain. I believe things are gearing up for a big spring selling season, and the time has come for people who want to sell their property to get it listed and on the market before the opening day of trout (March 29th).

People who haven’t been up for a while probably should make plans to get up soon to check their cabins. It’s been very rainy, and a number of people have told me that they’ve discovered roof leaks and other problems due to the rain. It’s also time for folks to get together on road maintenance issues. Since it’s been so dry for the past four years, we haven’t had to do much. But, believe me, after this winter, there are road issues.

People with allergies should start thinking about getting the yard work done before the trees pollinate. I generally figure that we are about three weeks behind Atlanta in a normal year. My notes for last year say that I noticed the first symptoms on March 15, and that allergy conditions were really bad by April 15. There are a few items on my personal chore list that I try to get done before it all starts, in addition to the general yardwork. First, I spray the foundation, three feet up the wall and three feet of the dirt, with Diazinon. That reduces the number of creepy crawly things in the house considerably. (If you have pets, keep them inside until it is very well dried.) Second, I restock the woodpile. (The old rule was one year on the ground, to dry out the wood so it doesn’t spark and pop and burn holes in your floor in front of the fireplace.) It’s best to get it off the ground. I use concrete blocks, but the News Observer usually has palettes free for the asking. If you aren’t going to barbecue with it, you can spray the woodpile, too. It keeps the boring beetles down, and should be OK as long as you aren’t burning it in the fireplace anytime soon. Finally, when I figure the trees are starting to put out new roots, I treat the septic tank with root destroyer (copper sulfate). That kills back the roots to some extent and helps avoid the need to have it rooted by a plumber periodically.

The Blue Ridge Community Theater is ready to show off their new performance space, a 132-seat theater in the revitalized Hampton Square that was built mostly with volunteer labor. Della’s Diner, directed by well-known playwright Dan Pruitt, runs from March 14-16, 21-23, 28-30. You can find Hampton Square by going down the hill from McDonald’s and the United Community Bank and turning left at the bottom of the hill, then left again. Tickets start at $12.50. Call 706.632.9223 or visit www.blueridgecommunitytheater.com. We have a very strong theater group, and I think you’ll be very pleased with the new performance space. Everyone who contributed to this important project deserves our thanks!

The Epworth General store continues to have a great selection of outdoor clothing at half price. I’ve picked up some nice Field & Stream mesh back fishing shirts and some other items. Call Mr. & Mrs. Jeans at 706.492.7662.

Finally, Fannin-Gilmer Habitat For Humanity is building their first house in Blue Ridge. The land was donated by A.L. Stepp, the former county commissioner and developer, and last week, the United Community Bank donated $1,000 and the Appalachian Community Bank donated $2500. Shortly before he died, Mr. Stepp challenged other local developers to match his contribution by donating land in their developments, and it would be wonderful if they did. As the project moves into the construction phase, there will be a need for people who know how to swing a hammer. If you want to volunteer or contribute to this very worthy project, please call Sharon Bush at 706.632.6337.

2/23/2003

The weather has been bouncing around a little, as it always does this time of year. Most of last week was warmer, and we had a very hard rain Thursday night. Friday evening, I heard the peepers for the first time, and it reached almost 60º on Saturday. Sunday morning, we had about an inch of snow up on top, and the temperature was right on the freeze. The ground was so warm that it didn’t stick on the roads, and it wasn’t a problem getting to the office. By the way, I still heard the peepers this morning; they’re tough little fellows.

We’ve been nicely busy for this time of year, and I think things are beginning to gear up for the spring. It’s high time for bargain hunters to come up and have a look before we get into the busy season. As I’ve said before, because we had a very rainy fall, we still have a very good inventory for this time of year.

A couple of numbers may make our level of activity clearer. We averaged 370 visitors a day to our company website for the first 17 days of the month, and our gross commission income for the first six weeks of 2003 was up a whopping 66% over the same period in 2002. I attribute this increase to people seeking investment property as an alternative to the stock market. It might also be worth mentioning that the 2002 numbers are in, and we more than doubled our nearest competitor in Fannin County with a total volume of $44,277,928 versus their $22,027,490.

The next shot has been fired in the great beer and wine by the drink war. The three restaurants who initially requested pouring licenses, Mama Rosa’s, Forge Mill, and the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant filed suit last week against Fannin county for, among other things, denial of due process of law.

Some of you may be interested to know that we have a new Chinese restaurant in Blue Ridge, next to the Food Lion. Seating is limited, but they do allow takeout of their buffet and they have a fairly large menu. Initial “reviews” have been very positive. I tried the Moo Shu Pork the other day, and found Chinese food good. It’s called China 1, and the number for takeout is 706.258.3658.

The Fannin Chamber Chamber of Commerce has the first issue of their new promotional magazine out. It’s called “Visit for a Lifetime” and it features various aspects of Fannin County and our attractions. It is designed both to promote our tourism and second-home industry and to help in recruiting business and industry to the area. It’s been very nicely done. Copies are available at the Chamber Office, which is located behind the United Community Bank, across from the McDonald’s. If you haven’t been to the Chamber, it’s worth a visit to browse through the information on recreational opportunities in the county.

2/17/2003

The ice storm that was forecast for last night (Sunday) never came. The middle part of the week had a spring-like feel, with Wednesday and Thursday being very nice. The weekend was rainy and cool, and the colder trend seems likely to continue into next week.

We’ve had some activity in the office, but with the rainy weather, not as much as last weekend. It’s getting time for the bargain hunters to come up and see what’s available, because we’ll likely see a sharp upturn in activity when trout season starts at the end of March.

There were a couple of interesting items in the press this last week. According to the February 12th issue of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the TVA is proposing to raise residential rates 8.1% this fall, to pay for a major cleanup of their fleet of eleven coal burning power plants. The TVA has no coal burning plants in Georgia. They do, however, have seven in Tennessee, and these plants are thought to be responsible for much of the acid rain and ozone problems in the Smoky Mountains and the rest of the Tennessee Valley. As Tim Homans says in his book on hiking in North Carolina (in the part on hiking up to the Hangover), the blue distance (over toward the Smokies) is getting browner all the time. The conservationists quoted in the article are generally pleased, although there was some grousing that the TVA is blaming the rate hike on the coal plants, when they are going to spend just as much on repair of the Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant.

The same issue of the Times Free Press carried a fire-breathing lead editorial condemning Republican Congressional leaders for adding sneaky riders to the omnibus appropriations bill that would, among other things, open up the Cherokee National Forest to increased logging without any environmental review. Apparently there have been some modifications to this bill in the meantime, but I haven’t yet been able to determine the precise extent of the compromises. Those of you who like to write your congressmen about environmental issues might consider doing it again.

I wanted to mention that the Epworth General Store is liquidating their stock of outdoor clothing (on the second floor). I’ve picked up some nice Field & Stream mesh-backed fishing shirts, and they have some Carhartt items as well. I believe everything is half price, and the last time I was out there, they still had a fairly good stock. To get to Epworth, take Hwy. 5 north from the Blue Ridge McDonald’s to a left just past Abernathy’s. Take the second right, Madola Road, to the four-way stop in Epworth. The Epworth General Store is on the right. You can call the proprietors, Mr. & Mrs. Jeans, at the store, 706.492.7662.

Finally, a word of thanks to new Eagle Scout Lew Ayers, who built a set of stairs down into the river at Tammin Park as his service project. This will make it easier for people to access this popular fishing spot, and it looks like a job well done.

2/9/2003

The weather bounced back toward cold this week, and we had a little snow Thursday afternoon and early evening. Where I am, a few miles east of Blue Ridge, it switched over to rain during the late evening, and the temperatures stayed right around the freeze. By morning, it hadn’t frozen and the roads were pretty clear. I understand that along the river and over toward the Cohuttas, it didn’t switch over to rain, and some people out Old State Road 2 had up to four inches, with some power outages. It was a very wet snow, which loads the pine branches down and makes them susceptible to breakage, especially in the wind, so it was good that it rained where it did. Saturday was a beautiful, clear day, but it remained cold.

We were surprisingly busy in the office on Saturday. It’s still a good time for bargain hunters to come and see what’s out there before the season begins, and that was probably at least some of the activity we saw on Saturday.

There was a letter to the editor of the News Observer that raised an interesting issue. The writer, John C. Kies, observed that the second home market in Fannin County was a good arrangement for the permanent residents because it provides “a captive tax base which cannot make any real demands on the county via the electoral process.” I’ve heard other people say “they’re taking our money and spending it on themselves.” It is a fact that second-home owners, despite the fact that they have been an economic boon to the county, do not really have a voice in its government, because they do not vote in local elections. There’s an interesting case in the New York court system, brought by a man who lives in the city and also owns property in the Hamptons. The basic argument of the suit is that you should be able to vote in local elections anywhere and everywhere that you own property. This case might have some merit, because of the long-standing principle that ownership of property confers voting rights. There is also the traditional American aversion to “taxation without representation.” Should this case succeed in New York and be upheld on appeal to the Supreme Court, it might have a considerable effect on elections in places like Fannin County.

Unless and until that happens, second-home owners will not have a real voice in the government of this county unless they choose to register to vote in Fannin, instead of where they presently vote. For most people, this would mean voting by absentee ballot. The county election officials will accept applications for absentee ballots by fax, which does makes it easier to vote in elections when one cannot attend in person. People who feel that their long-term interests lie in Fannin County rather than where they presently reside might consider this alternative.

February is probably the best month to plant tree seedlings, which are available from the state forest service. The prices are very reasonable. As best I recall, twenty select dogwoods are $25, and fifty pine seedlings are about the same price. For about twenty dollars more, you can get 500 pine seedlings. These are bare root seedlings, which basically remain dormant for a year after they are planted. The pines are best planted with a dibble bar, which can be borrowed from the forest service (with a $50 deposit). The dogwoods are a little bigger, and generally require a shovel. The cutoff for ordering is usually about this time of year, but I notice that the forest service office (on Old 76 at Highway 60 south) still has their sign up saying they are available. You can call the Fannin office of the Georgia Forestry Commission at 706.374.6232.

2/3/2003

Over the years, I’ve usually seen the first signs of spring on February 1st. According to my journal, I’ve seen the first Mourning Cloaks several times on that date. It isn’t quite like that this year, but you could make a case that the year has turned, based on the very heavy, spring-like rain we had on Thursday. The creeks were stained and swollen, and there are bad mudholes on some of the dirt roads, especially where some people don’t know that the biggest sin in the mountains is tearing up somebody else’s road. Today (Sunday) is a beautiful, sunny day that started around 40°. The first red wasps of the season are buzzing sleepily around, and we might even see 60° by late afternoon.

The sunsets have been really spectacular lately, and I hope we can get a few pictures that we can share of the sun going down behind the Cohuttas.

I was locked in the box for training Friday and Saturday again this week, so I don’t know what the general level of activity was going into the weekend. I suspect that we’re at normal winter levels, and that it’s still a good time for bargain hunters to come and see what’s out there before the tourist season starts.

The aftershocks of the great beer and wine debate continue to be felt, especially in aggrieved letters to the editor from both sides of the question. According to the News Observer, minutes of the county commission meeting reveal that Richard Vollrath, our County Chairman, voted against, along with the other two commissioners.

As we head into February, the war talk has many local residents in a somber mood, in part because many people hereabouts have children in the military. As I said in my column just before Christmas, it hasn’t been a very good year for our working people anyway, because of the closing of the Levis factory and other negative economic events. At the same time, it’s fair to say that the locals, who are staunchly Republican, were buoyed by the recent election, and in particular by the ousting of the turncoat Barnes. It’s going to be interesting to see how the new Governor resolves the flag dilemma, although his recent statements indicate that he’s in no hurry to slice through this particular knot.

When we had the first snowfall of the season, the snow came in so fast and furious that the schools had trouble getting the students home. Last week, there was a little happening at the Village Restaurant (which has a great breakfast bar) honoring the school bus drivers for their service and dedication. I hear it was very nice, with special invitations and everything, and probably the first of its kind. Kudos to Sandra Mercier, our new superintendent, for initiating this event.

Well, it’s my first day off in a long time, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do a few house chores and sit on the deck, maybe even watch the sunset. If you don’t have anything better to do, check it out on the webcam. I’ll bet it’s going to be a good one.

1/27/2003

“The Sin of Brown Bagging”

Last week’s weather was very cold, and we about another inch of snow Thursday morning. It was so cold that the snow wasn’t much of a problem. Instead of melting and making things slick, it tended to just blow off the roads. I saw zero on the porch thermometer twice last week, which is unusual, and the wind chills were sharp. This morning (Sunday), we had another inch of snow, with temperatures in the twenties and (thankfully) no wind. It wasn’t bad on the main roads, but it was a challenge getting down off the mountain this morning.

I was locked in the box for required training all day Friday and Saturday, so I’m not sure what the level of office activity was for the weekend. I had two sales this week, but my general impression is that we’re at normal activity levels for this time of year, and that the snow and cold have discouraged some buyers from visiting. It’s probably a good time for bargain hunters to see what’s out there.

I’ve been asked for my take on the great “beer and wine by the drink” war. Basically what happened is that the county held the second of two public hearings. The attorney for the three restaurants that have requested pouring licenses was allowed to speak. No others were allowed to speak. The commissioners retired into a closed session, and when they came out of closed session, they voted against beer and wine licenses. According to the News Observer, Commission Chairman Richard Vollrath refused to say how he voted. Randy Collins and Steve Morris voted against pouring licenses.

At the same time, the Blue Ridge City Council approved an ordinance that not only refuses beer and wine licenses to restaurants but also attempts to make brown bagging and the sort of wine and cheese parties sponsored by the Arts Association and the Chamber of Commerce illegal. It explicitly names a number of types of downtown businesses suspected of being sympathetic to the wets, including art galleries, framing shops, and so forth. These regulations, if legal, would apply only inside the city limits. Two of the three restaurants who requested licenses (and currently allow brown bagging) are clearly outside the city limits. I’m not sure whether Mama Rosa’s is in the city of Blue Ridge, because I’m not clear about the status of the annexation of their location.

This is, of course, a holy war for the local Baptists. For most of the people who are in favor, it is simply a matter of maybe getting some more decent restaurants. One man told me that when he wanted to eat out, he goes “down to Exit 20.” That’s Canton, where you find some of the national chains.

I’ll admit I was surprised by the County Commission’s action. Vollrath ran on a platform of keeping Fannin moving forward, but the heat from the local holy men was indeed intense, so much so that I’m sure that some who were convicted of their sins were unsure whether that burning sensation underneath their shirt collars was real fire and brimstone, or only the rhetorical kind. It’s possible that the commission acted cynically, knowing that the threatened lawsuit would succeed. I’m not sure about the actual merits of that lawsuit, which seem to rest on certain provisions of state law that allegedly mandate the issuance of pouring licenses in the absence of regulation to the contrary. Since the commission’s action was taken after such request, it may be open to challenge on those grounds, or on the grounds that it discriminates against specific businesses. The city ordinance seems to me to be on shaky ground, because it defines businesses like framing shops as places of public accommodations when they do not in fact offer public accommodations.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has given any thought to where the city ordinance leaves the two downtown catholic churches. As I am writing on a Sunday morning, I’m pretty sure they are both flagrantly breaking the law at this very moment. In fact, I’ve heard that the newspaper has stationed a photographer in the bushes outside the Anglican Church, in the hopes of getting a shot of Victor Morgan being led away in handcuffs. If this actually happens, no doubt the police report will state that the officers broke up a wine and cheese party in progress.

All in all, it’s been rather glorious, and if you missed it shame on you. It’s all part of the romance of the mountains. Y’all come see us, hear?

1/20/2003

We had about two inches of snow Thursday. At least, that’s the story up on top of the ridge where I live (about 2000 feet). It started about 1:30 PM, and it came in faster than anything I’ve seen for a long time. I was showing property on My Mountain when it started to snow hard, and by the time I got back to the office to drop off my customer, it was all I could do to get home. I think we got about an inch and a half of that snow in about an hour.

It’s remained fairly cold. The porch temperature was 4° Saturday morning, but the sky was clear and it was warm enough to take a nice hike by early afternoon. There was a good deal of melting from the sun, but there is still snow in the shady areas. By late Saturday, all the main roads were fine, although there were still icy patches on some of the side roads. Getting to higher locations was still dicey. I imagine there are still some people up on top of the ridges who haven’t been able to get out yet. It’s sunny and somewhat warmer today (Sunday). We’re expecting temperatures above freezing on Monday, which should lead to more melting (followed, of course, by freeze-up after dark).

We’ve had some interesting bird sightings lately. Cynthia saw Buffleheads about a week ago on the river at Horseshoe Bend Park, and I saw three Hooded Mergansers (a drake and two hens) on Hemptown Creek a few days ago. These are not our usual ducks, and there have also been quite a few Mallards on the river. Some of this is probably due to the freeze-up of some of the smaller ponds, and perhaps to colder temperatures in Tennessee causing the ducks to ferry a little further south.

We had an incredible burst of activity at the office in the week after New Year’s. Almost all of the folks I saw were looking for investment property, and most of my colleagues had the same report. I expect the activity to level out to more normal winter levels for the next few weeks, especially with the cold weather. It might be a good time for bargain hunters to take advantage of relatively slow time in our market. As I’ve discussed in previous newsletters, disenchantment with the stock market continues to be a common theme with our buyers.

Hope everyone stayed safe and warm during the snowfall. I know of at least one kid who experienced her first snow, and there was definitely some sledding and snowboarding going on during the warm part of Saturday afternoon.

1/10/2003

Well, the column for this week is a little late, because we’ve really been slammed in the office since New Year’s. The past nine days have probably been busier than any two-week period during the last two months. We’re hearing a lot of talk about rentals and investments, which indicates to me that we’re still seeing people who want to invest in property rather than in the stock market. We were slow all fall because of the rain, so we still have a pretty good inventory of property, especially for this time of year.

The weather has been variable, but we’ve had some beautiful days. Yesterday was sunny and almost 60°. Despite the fact that we’ve been busy, I left the office at about 3:30 to sit on the deck and enjoy a little sunshine.

The talk of the town continues to be the public hearings over beer and wine by the drink in Fannin County. We’ve already had one public hearing on the subject, and another is scheduled for Tuesday (1/14) at 5:00 at the Senior Center. It should be another very interesting meeting.

There was an interesting article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reporting on home sales in Atlanta. The news is mixed. Compared to 2000 (not last year, which was atypical because of the 9-11 attack), the inventory of houses for sale is up 10,000 homes. This would seem to indicate a sluggish market. On the other hand, “Historically low interest rates have turned renters into first-time home buyers, spurred new construction, initiated a wave of refinancing and encouraged growing families to move into larger quarters.” The softest spot in the market is the high-end, above $700,000.

If you read my column of 12/23, you will remember that the New York Times concluded, mostly on anecdotal evidence, that sales of resort homes over $1 million were soft. However, they also pointed out that the second-home market was a strange one, because sellers are rarely very motivated and are often willing to wait until market conditions improve. Some light is shed on this by a recent study sponsored by the National Association of Realtors, the first major stand-alone study of the second home market. Among their findings was that the second-home market accounts for roughly six percent of all homes sold annually and that the median age of the typical second home buyer is 61. (This is a marked difference with our market, because our typical demographic is 35-55.) The study also found that recent buyers were motivated by a desire to diversify their portfolio assets, which is in accord to what we’re seeing with our buyers.

The real shocker, however, is that the median price of a second property rose nearly 27 percent between 1999 and 2001, vs. 7-8 percent in the primary home market. This goes a long way toward explaining the kind of appreciation we’ve been seeing in our area, and it’s interesting to us to know that it’s been a nationwide phenomenon. Perhaps the many people who we’re seeing recently who want to buy mountain property as an investment are paying attention to these trends. As I say in my article in the “Inside Mountain Real Estate” section on “When is the bubble is going to burst,” our prices are also supported by a very strong rental market, which does not seem to have been affected by the events of 9-11 or by other economic events. All I can say, from the perspective of this office, is that we haven’t seen a downturn in our market yet.

In real estate news, I still have three great lots listed on My Mountain, one of the most desirable addresses in the mountains. We also still have Kingfisher Lodge available, probably the premier property on Lake Blue Ridge. For those who want a little seclusion along with great mountain views, I recently listed two fantastic lots and a home with detached garage on Picklesimer Mountain. Finally, for all of you who wanted a lot in the sold-out Phase I of Riverwalk on the Toccoa, I just listed a good lot in this river-access development. If we haven’t gotten these last three on the website yet, please call me for details.