Columns 2006

December 29, 2006

We never did get the little bit of snow that was forecast for Christmas, and it looks like we’ll have to wait until the new year to see any snow. The weather lately has bounced between cold and rainy and sunny and beautiful, typical winter weather in the mountains.

Blue Ridge has been full of people for the past three weeks, riding the train and shopping. Everyone seems to be having a good time, and I must admit that the town looks good in its holiday livery. We’re beginning to settle into our new downtown building. It’s fun to be here, within walking distance of the courthouse and the restaurants, because it gives us more of a sense of what’s going on in town than we ever got in the old location.

Real estate activity has been strong for this time of year, and I think it signals that we’re going to have a good year in 2007. There’s still much more good inventory than there usually is at this time of year, after the fall selling season, and I don’t expect prices to go any lower in the new year. So it’s a good time for bargain hunters, with lots of land and cabins for sale.

If you’re looking for something to do tonight, our local guitar store, Blue Ridge Mountain Music & Treasures, is hosting a bluegrass jam from 6:30 – 9:30 PM at the Kiwanis Club, 124 Jones Street. That’s south of the old highway, above the old downtown, in the vicinity of St. Luke’s Anglican Church. Call 706.258.2736 for more info. No cover charge.

We’re looking forward to our traditional neighborhood new year’s eve festivities, the huge bonfire hosted by folks in our neighborhood. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and prosperous 2007!

December 18, 2006

The weather has bounced back warm, and the last few days have been incredibly nice. It’s been almost 70° on the porch during late afternoon. In fact, I just had lunch in the downtown park in my shirtsleeves.

Real estate activity has been very strong lately, which is a bit surprising at this time of year. As a company, we’re finishing 2006 way ahead of where we were in 2004, but there’s no doubt that there’s been less activity than there was in 2005. At this point, I’m expecting a fairly normal first quarter, with the real estate market stabilizing and picking up as the year progresses. There are a whole lot more good listings out there than there usually are at this time of year, with the biggest bargains being in new construction over $300,000. We’ve seen some very significant price reductions in that range from builders who are hopeful of selling before spring. There are some good bargains at other price points, too. I expect January to offer the best opportunities for bargain hunters, so it’s probably time to come up and have a look if you’re in the market.

I’ve listed a very nice 3 bedroom, 3 bath cabin with an incredible view, paved roads all the way, for 398,900. It has one of the best views I’ve ever seen in Fannin County. You can look it up as MLS #140066.

The fishing has picked up a good deal on the lake with the cooler weather, and I see a lot of bass boats coming and going from the boat ramps. The next really big thrill on the lake is the walleye fishing, which starts to get good in late February and early March. The local fishing community is still elated by the TVA’s decision not to sell any more property, because the proposed resort on the lake would have inevitably led to more traffic and more jet skis. Most of the traffic on the lake in the winter comes from the dedicated fishermen, but it’s nice to know that there won’t be any more in the summer due to a major resort.

Other than that, it’s a fairly quiet time in the mountains. Many of the part-time residents and visitors have gone home for the winter months, and the slower pace in town reminds me of little of the way things were twenty years ago. It’s a good time for dinner with friends, or just for sitting in front of the fire and recharging the old batteries. There have been some very impressive meteor showers lately, and, speaking of the sky, the solstice occurs at 7:22 p.m. EST, on the 21st.

December 8, 2006

The weather has been clear and beautiful, but unusually cold. This morning we had 11° on the porch, which is pretty unusual. There’s a bit of a warming trend forecast for the weekend, and outdoor activities will probably be fine, so long as the wind doesn’t blow. The past few nights have also been very beautiful, with the full moon now setting a little more around to the north than during the summer.

Real estate activity is beginning to pick up quite a bit, which is unusual for this time of year. It may be a sign that that buyer sentiment is beginning to improve, or at least that there’s some “pent up demand” out there. I can only say that it’s probably the best time I can remember to buy property up here in the past five years. We’ve seen the prices on new construction fall sharply in contemplation of a couple more months of winter, and it’s certainly a fact that we’ve never had as many listings on the market as we do now.

Post-election euphoria continues among Fannin Democrats as they continue to celebrate Tommy Ledford’s election to the county commission.

December 6, 2006

Fannin County Runoff Election and Vote Totals

In a rare victory for Fannin County Democrats, Tommy Ledford defeated Randy Collins for Post 1 on the County Commission, 2,686 to 1,179. This represents 69.5% of the vote for Ledford. There were a total of 3,890 votes cast, or 29.24% of the registered voters.

November 30, 2006

Indian Summer finally came, with some beautiful, warm days last week. It’s switched over to rainy today, but Saturday is supposed to be sunny again. I really wasn’t expecting it to warm up to this extent, but it’s been great for getting some of the leftover yard work done.

The runoff election for Post 1 on the Fannin County Commission is Tuesday, December 5. Neither Randy Collins or Tommy Ledford won 50% of the vote because of the spoiler candidacy of Matt Claypool. Without getting overly partisan, I think it’s fair to say that Ledford is the more progressive candidate, especially on the issue of planning for growth. Randy has made it pretty clear that he thinks that growth will take care of itself. The person who is elected will be the “swing” vote on the county commission, so this is a crucial election for the future of Fannin County. I urge everyone to make the effort to vote. You can vote in advance at the courthouse if Tuesday is not a convenient date to go to the polls.

The DOT has placed two Fannin County projects back on the six year plan – the widening of Hwy 5, with a bypass of McCaysville to the west, and the widening of Spur 60, with a bypass of Mineral Bluff to the east. The Spur 60 project has priority. As proposed, the McCaysville bypass will start somewhere in the vicinity of the Village Barbecue – now Goodfellows Restaurant – and proceed west and north to Hwy 64 in Tennessee. This would be a major project, and there is some skepticism that it will ever be built. The Mineral Bluff bypass will take one of three possible routes: (1) up Hemptown Creek, between the bridge on Spur 60 and the bridge on Cutcane Road, (2) over Dean Road to Cutcane to Hwy 60, or (3) over Dean Road to Lowery Road to Loving Road to 515. Any of these routes will be a disaster for the many the residents of the area, and it seems likely that there will be a road fight, especially as there is no clear need for this road. Most of the pressure to build it seems to be coming from North Carolina, not Georgia. As usual, the DOT is busy pretending that nothing has been decided, and they have no idea where the bypass will go, but I have learned that one large property owner on Lowery Road has already been approached about ceding additional right-of-way.

The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported on December 1 that the TVA board has voted 8-1 not to sell any TVA land in the future, except in designated industrial parks. This would seem to sound the death knell for plans to build a resort and ecotourism center on Blue Ridge Lake. While many real estate people will no doubt be disappointed, this is very good news for those of us who use the lake, given that many of us feel that the addition of a couple hundred jet skis per day could possible mar the experience.

November 16, 2006

We’ve had some warm, beautiful days interspersed with some raw and rainy days, real “mountain weather” with fog and mist. This is one of the times I like the best. As the number of weekend visitors drops off sharply after Thanksgiving, it’s very relaxing to be in the mountains, just sitting by the fire and enjoying life. Even though we really have a year-round community now, it reminds me a little of the “good old days” before Blue Ridge was discovered. In those days, most folks closed up their cabins after Thanksgiving, and Blue Ridge went back to being an insular mountain town, where most everybody knew most everybody else in town.

Everybody keeps asking me about the market, so I’ll do my best to briefly explain what’s happening. Those of you who want the details can look back at what I’ve written in the past few weeks. The most important point – and this is what most folks miss – is that resort markets function differently. Most of the real estate news that you read in the newspapers is based on the normal, residential market that most people are already familiar with. But resort markets rarely have large numbers of distressed sellers, people who have to sell no matter what price they can get for their property. Especially in Blue Ridge, with the weekend rental opportunities available to sellers, most second home owners seem to be willing to wait to get the price they want for their property.

To date, we’ve seen some reductions in listing prices, but we still are not seeing a significant reduction in selling prices for existing cabins. What has happened lately is that we’ve seen a number of very significant price reductions on new construction between $325,000 and $500,000. I have no doubt this is because builders are contemplating the prospect of a long four months of loan payments before the traditional beginning of the mountain season in late March, when trout season comes in.

Unfortunately, there are very few new cabins listed below $225,000, which is where we seem to have the most buyer interest. That’s one of the reasons I’m always saying we are overbuilt on the high end. But those of you who may be interested in a bigger cabin probably need to come up and have a look, because builders are more negotiable now, at the start of the winter, than they will be when spring comes in sight. At that point, they will have already made the tough payments, and – you know – hope springs eternal in the builder’s breast. Because the new builder licensing requirements include mandatory workman’s comp, builder costs are expected to rise significantly in 2007. That means that when the good existing inventory is sold, I expect new construction prices to rise again, perhaps sharply.

Most of the fall festivals are over, but we still have a few fun things coming in November.

This Saturday, November 18, is the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association’s Holiday Art Show and Sale, at the old courthouse from 5:00 – 7:00 PM. Downtown shops should be open until 8:30 PM.

Santa’s Workshop is November 24 at the Appalachian Community Bank from 5:00 – 7:00 PM.

Light Up Blue Ridge is Saturday, November 25 from 11 AM – 8 PM. Santa arrives on the train at 1:30 PM for free photos with Santa from 1:45 – 6:00 PM at the Downtown Gazebo. Father Christmas appears at 6:00 and the Lighting of the Great Tree is at 6:30 PM. Shops should be open until 8:00 PM.

November 8, 2006

Fannin County Election Results and Vote Totals:

In a youth movement, Howie Bruce defeated Richard Vollrath for county chairman 4,620 to 2,515.

Randy Collins and Tommy Ledford are in a run-off for Post 1, Collins 3327 to Ledford’s 3510. Matt Claypool was the spoiler here, preventing Ledford from winning a clear majority and avoiding a runoff with his 319 write-in votes. The run-off election is December 5, and it is a crucial one for the future of Fannin County.

Steve Morris defeated Lane Bishop for Post 2, 3,953 to 3,104.

In the other contested races, Clarance Farmer defeated Terry Dillard for school board 3749 to 3209.

Harry Doss defeated Herman Clark for superior court udge, 3,918 to 3,016. Clark lost all three counties.

The turnout was 55.57% of registered voters on a rainy day in Fannin.

November 6, 2006

We had a very beautiful weekend. The full moon lit things up wonderfully Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, and temperatures were fairly moderate. We’re at the point in the cycle where whether it’s cold outside depends mostly on whether the wind is blowing. We’re on the north edge of the ridge, a situation that’s wonderful in the summer and somewhat trying in the winter, because there’s almost always a breeze coming up the mountains.

I would guess that about half of the leaves are off the trees. There’s still some color in various places, but I’ve found that the color is actually a whole lot better up in Tennessee and North Carolina than it is here in Georgia. It’s a good time to look at land, because with the leaves off, you can really evaluate the views and the lay of the land.

We’ve had a lot of discussion of the effect of builder licensing on new construction prices. As you may know, Georgia has not licensed builders in the past, and there has been a major political effort to implement – and delay – builder licensing in the past few years. The current deadline is the first of the year. Overall, I expect that this will be a very good thing for our area, and will have a direct effect on the quality of our construction. The kicker comes with the requirement for licensed builders to carry workman’s comp insurance. This is very expensive for construction workers, as opposed to office workers, because they get injured a lot, sometimes severely. The most credible information that I’ve received suggests that this may cost builders up to a third of their payroll. Opinions differ about how much effect this is going to have on new cabin cost, but log cabin construction is currently about $130 to $150 per square foot. Most people I’ve consulted feel that the implementation of builder licensing will add $20 to $30 per square foot. This may create a situation where existing construction will be considerably cheaper than new construction, at least until existing inventory is absorbed. Those of you who already own cabins should probably review your insurance, to make sure that their coverage is adequate given the current costs of new construction.

October 30, 2006

After an unseasonably cold fall, we’re finally getting a little bit of weather that’s reminiscent of Indian summer. The past few days have been very pretty, and it’s warmed up to the high sixties in most places. That’s after three heavy frosts in the valleys and one on top.

The leaves peaked last week, but they are still very pretty, heavy on the yellows and golds. I was in Tellico Plains recently, and it seems that they still have good color there. Different parts of the county seem to progress at different rates, and it may be that the leaves are a little closer to their peak out in the Cohuttas. I haven’t had a chance to take the traditional fall ride through the Cohuttas, but I’m going to try to do it in the next few days.

An awful lot of people have emailed to ask about how I see the current real estate market in the mountains. It’s a complex situation, because the dynamics of a resort market are a little different, but I’ll try to explain how I see things, in the hope that it will be helpful for people who are trying to decide whether to buy now or to wait.

It’s definitely a buyer’s market in some ways. There are currently about twice as many listings as there were last year, across the whole MLS. However, many of these new listings are land. Residential listings are up only about 60% over last year. Despite the profusion of listings, we still have not seen a significant decrease in the average selling price. As of last month, it was $162,568, including both cabins and land. So we don’t have the kind of seller’s market in which selling prices have significantly declined. That points out the fact that a resort market has a little different dynamic than an ordinary residential market.

The big difference is that in a resort market, you normally do not get many distressed sellers, people who must sell because they have been transferred or have lost their job. People are more apt to sell to realize profits from appreciation, or because they find that they aren’t using their cabin as much as they anticipated. Most of the people who own second homes in our market seem to be able to afford to let them sit until they get the price they want, and they can always put the property in a rental program if they begin to feel the pinch. Their psychology as sellers is pretty much, “Well, I know it would have sold for the price I want last year, so I’ll just want a year or two until I can sell it for what I want.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t bargains out there, because I think people are becoming a little more conservative about listing prices, and there are properties that I think are very reasonably priced. There just aren’t very many of them under $200,000. I’ve said for a long time that we’re overbuilt in the high 300s and 400s, and that is where I see the biggest bargains. The way construction loans work, builders do not start making the heavy payments until construction is complete, and I imagine that there are some builders out there who are not happy about the prospect of a long winter of big payments. So they may be more inclined to compromise than resellers.

I’m not sure how to answer the question, “How low do you think prices will go?” because if we’re talking about selling prices instead of listing prices, we haven’t seen them start to fall yet. We haven’t had the kind of fall selling season that we normally have, and I blame the cold weather for that, to a certain extent. That means there will be more good properties on the market after the first of the year than we usually see. In a normal fall, we’ll sell virtually all the good listings, and that isn’t going to happen this year. This may lead to some downward pressure on selling prices, but given the fact that most of our sellers don’t have to sell, it’s difficult to guess how much. My best prediction is that next year will be better than this year, and that prices will probably remain stable.

People are certainly still excited about Blue Ridge, as the recent full-page feature on Blue Ridge in the New York Times shows. In the long run, the fact that every baby boomer in America wants to buy a second home less than a day’s drive from their primary residence also points to a continuing upward trend.

All in all, I think it’s the best time to buy in our market that I’ve seen for a long time. There are a lot of properties to choose from than there usually are, and I think sellers are in a mood to be a little more reasonable. But they’re still not in a mood to accept some of the extreme lowball offers we’ve been getting from buyers who think sellers up here must be as desperate sellers in their home market in Florida.

For people who want to sell their property, the good news is that we’re still not seeing a significant increase in days on market or selling price for the properties that are selling. That says to me that if it’s priced right, it will sell in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable price.

I hope that’s somewhat helpful, and I’ll be glad to answer any questions if folks want to email me.

October 20, 2006

Just a quick update on the leaves. We’re having mountain weather today, cold and blustery, but tomorrow is supposed to be nice. I think that the leaves may peak this weekend. It’s always hard to tell, but I think we’ve probably got as much color as we’re going to get, which is quite a bit. See the two previous columns for things to do this weekend!

October 12, 2006

The weather has continued to be beautiful, very seasonable, with cool mornings and afternoons around 70°. It’s always hard to tell about the fall leaves, but I’m not expecting a fantastic showing because it was so dry this summer. The dogwoods and some of the other early-turning trees have already turned, and we may have as much color now as we are going to get, although I’d bet that there will be a little more coming in the way of yellows and golds.

If you are voting in Fannin County this fall, you may want to attend the Candidate’s Forum on Tuesday, October 17th. It will probably be the last chance to see and hear the local candidates before the election. It will start at 6:00 PM at the Performing Arts Center, located on the High School campus.

There’s lots of fun things to do at this time of year.

This weekend, Saturday, October 14, the Ducktown Museum is having a yard sale to benefit the museum and its programs. The sale is from 8-2:00 at the Hoist House, on the museum grounds in Ducktown, TN. To reach Ducktown, you go north from Blue Ridge on either Hwy 5 or Hwy 60 and then continue north another three miles on Hwy 68 to Ducktown. The museum is on the right, just before the traffic light in Ducktown. Their number is 423.496.5778.

The Sorghum Festival is on in Blairsville this weekend, October 13-15. It continues during the the last two weekends of the month.

In Blue Ridge, the Mountain Harvest Sale is being held for two weekends, October 21-22 and October 28-29. That’s a great place to get things like preserves, wild nuts, quilts, honey, and mountain crafts. There are usually some food concessions. It’s held at the Farmer’s Market on the old highway, which is near the drive-in theater. From Atlanta, you would turn right at June Walker, and follow the old highway past the high school to the Farmer’s Market on the right. Watch for the drive-in theater sign.

On October 28th, the Stop I-3 Coalition is holding a “Run for the Dragon” at the famous Tail of the Dragon on Hwy 129 above Robbinsville, NC. This is eleven mile stretch of road with 318 turns, is beloved by motorcyclists. It will, of course, be totally destroyed if the costly boondoggle known as I-3 is built, along with countless acres of national forest. You can get the details at

October 2, 2006

The weather has been beautiful lately, very seasonable. We’ve had mornings starting in the high 50s and afternoons around 70°. I’m skeptical about the coming leaf season, because it was so very dry this summer, but I can report that we are already seeing some trees start to turn.

As many of you know, we just moved our office from our ancestral location across from the McDonald’s to our new restored building in the heart of the old downtown. For those of you who haven’t found us yet, we’re diagonally across from the old depot, across the street from the L&N Beanery. Everyone is invited to drop by and take a look at the building, which was built in 1895 as the L&N Railroad headquarters in town. We were able to save some of the brickwork, some of the old tin ceiling, and a number of other pretty neat features. We’ve had a lot of nice comments on it, and it should be a good home for us.

Fall is festival time in the mountains, and there’s always more to do than most of us can get around to doing. Here are a few favorites for the next few weekends.

The Folk School’s Fall Festival is this weekend, October 7-8. There are always a lot of concessions, classrooms are open, and there are lots of arts and crafts vendors. The gift shop is always worth a visit, as it contains the juried work of Folk School instructors, as well as instructional materials and some tools. It’s our favorite place for Christmas gifts. For directions to the Folk School from Blue Ridge, see the “Activities” link and then click on “Day Trips.”

Indian Summer Festival is also on this weekend in Suches, “the Valley Above the Clouds.” Suches is the smallest school district in Georgia, and it’s a beautiful ride down there from Blue Ridge. Allow about 45 minutes on a Saturday. To reach Suches, go east on 515 (toward Blairsville) and turn right on Hwy 60 south, just past the Ford and Dodge dealers. Follow 60 around to Morganton, and then turn south on 60 just past the post office. There’s a 10K and one mile run at 9 AM Saturday, and a Country Square Dance at 8 PM Saturday. The concessions feature barbecue, hot dogs, cotton candy, and funnel cakes. Lots of other things will be going on as well.

If you haven’t been to Suches before, you’ll want to continue through town and go up to Woody Gap to check out the view. The Appalachian Trail goes up to Blood Mountain from there. Most folks go up the long way (about seven miles from Woody Gap) and down the short way (about two miles to Unicoi Gap), because it’s a very steep hike to the top from Unicoi Gap. If you wanted to drive back a different way, you could continue south past Woody Gap on 60 and turn back north on 19/129, going through Unicoi Gap. There are a lot of good views on that route, and you can visit the old CCC complex at the gap, one building of which is now a forest service gift shop.

In Blairsville, the Sorghum Festival is on for the last three weekends in October, October 13-15, 20-22, and 27-29. Probably the best single day is the 21st, because the Good Neighbors car show takes place on that date. In addition to a lot of wonderful cars – last year, there was a Pinzgauer – that’s a fun family outing because the guys who organize that know how to have fun, with recorded classics from the 50s, hula hoop contests, and a lot of general foolishness. There are usually over 200 cars in attendance.

September 16, 2006

The weather has been beautiful lately, very seasonable, if a bit colder than I expected this early in the fall. Yesterday was one of those perfect fall days that started at 52° and finished at about 70°. Today is starting out a little warmer, but it’s the same beautiful, fall stuff.

Next weekend, Saturday and Sunday, the 23 and 24th, railcar rides are being offered at the Mineral Bluff depot. These are the little two-man cars that used to be used to repair the tracks. There are a number of hobbyists in the area who run these cars, and it should be a lot of fun to tag along for a ride or two. It’s first come first served, so it’s probably a good idea to arrive early. If you’re headed into Mineral Bluff from the four lane, you would turn left just before you cross Hemptown Creek. That’s Depot Street, and you can’t miss the depot on the right.

Today and tomorrow, in the downtown Blue Ridge Park, is the Wildlife Arts Festival. This important event is a local favorite, and it draws artists from throughout the southeast. It’s well worth a visit, and is usually a real crowd pleaser, especially for the kids.

And, in some happy news, the Los Angeles Times reported on September 3 that the Bush administration plan to sell 300,000 acres of national forest has been axed. Let’s give credit where credit it due. The NRA was among the opponents, and we all know that when the NRA talks, legislators listen. I’m sure this proposal will be back next year. My guess is that it was just too hot for an election year. Oddly, this story was not widely reported – not in the beginning, not in the middle, and not now that it’s over for the year. You expect to see these kind of things in the New York Times, but to my knowledge, it was never reported in that venue.

September 5, 2006

We had some nice rain over the weekend, and I think the rotten weather pattern we’ve been in for most of the summer – unseasonably hot and dry – is finally broken. The forecast calls for some lows in the 50s later on this week, and I’m hopeful that trend will continue. Ordinarily, I hate to see a summer go by, but this summer was a different story. I’ve yet to talk to anyone in the county who remembers one as miserably hot and dry.

I missed the Labor Day Barbecue on Monday, but I understand that it went well, despite the rain.

I’ve added a link to my links page, to Southern Sweetwater Anglers, www.SouthernSweetwater The owner, Garrett Brumit, has some good water on the Cartecay, and he also guides on other local water. As you can see from the photos on his site, he’s catching some nice trout.

This doesn’t happen often, but two significant Fannin County publications have just hit the street, both of them well worth reading.

The 2007 Blue Ridge Historical Calendar, has wonderful historic photographs chosen and introduced by Sonja Striker. There are some great old photos here, including the Lake Blue Ridge dam prior to filling the lake, several old buildings, and a few local personalities. My personal favorite has to be the reproduction of an advertisement in “Forest and Creel” from May, 1939, proclaiming Blue Ridge the “Switzerland of Georgia.” The pitch is primarily to fishermen, and that appeal is backed up by some photos of huge Muskellunge. Sonja’s notes and commentary amount to a capsule history of Blue Ridge and the county. The price is $9.95. You should be able to buy it around town, or at Sonja and Tom’s business, Blue Ridge Bird Seed, on Main Street in the old downtown.

Tom has also weighed in, along with local author and poet Robert Kimsey, with Birding Blue Ridge. This is a very useful, detailed guide to birding the area, along with maps, checklists, a guide to warbler identification, and a section on feeding and attracting birds. There is also a section on resources for birders. For me, the best thing about the guide is that Tom leads many, many bird walks, and he’s probably out and around in the county more than anybody. That makes his advice very specific. Many of his chosen sites are easily accessible to the public, and he gives quite detailed lists of what you can expect to see at which sites. For instance, in the section on Mercier Orchards, Tom notes the Buffleheads that have been using the ponds during fall migration, and he mentions that you can see Orchard Orioles in the big willow tree next to the parking lot. This one sells for $7.95, and you can get it at Blue Ridge Bird Seed. The phone number there is 706.258.2473 or Tom asks that you report what you see to him either by phone or email.

August 25, 2006

The weather has continued to be seasonal, and parts of the county have even had some rain. It’s that time of year when the yellow jackets tend to be a little touchy, so it’s best to keep an eye out when you’re in the woods, and watch where you step.

The lead article in today’s News Observer notes that this week’s Census Bureau Report shows Fannin County as ranking 14th nationally in housing growth from July 2004 to July 2005. The 7.1 increase was the second highest in Georgia, trailing only Paulding County. In all, six Georgia counties are in the top 25 nationally. While I’m a bit skeptical about these statistics – which are based on building permits – there’s no doubt that the county has been growing very quickly.

August 19, 2006

The weather has been much more seasonal after the rains, with morning temperatures at our place in the upper 60s and afternoon temperatures about 80°. The drought has been very hard on everyone, plants and animals included, but we continue to have some interesting sightings. Last night, we saw a luna moth, which was good, because we’ve read reports that the butterflies and moths have been very affected by the lack of rain.

The real estate market has picked up a bit, and it seems to me that we’re actually about as busy at this time of year as we always are, perhaps a little more so. There’s no doubt, however, that our numbers are down, compared to last year. Of course, you have to bear in mind that last year was unimaginably good, better than anyone ever could have anticipated. But the numbers show that we moved about half the properties this June that we moved last June. The interesting thing is that time on market – a critical measure in our fundamental analysis – has not increased for the properties that are selling. What that says to me is that we still have an awful lot of properties that are overpriced. The lesson for sellers is simply that it’s time to get real about listing prices. The lesson for buyers is that, for the first time in the past five years, we’re experiencing a price correction, and it’s a good time to buy.

Those of you who have been downtown have probably noticed that the renovation of our new downtown office is almost complete. Our scheduled move from the office across from McDonald’s is September 20. Our new building is being finished out with some very nice touches, including period molding on the window frames. I think we’re even going to be able to save some of the original tin ceiling. Some of us who have been with the company for a while are ambivalent about the move from the old trailer, because we’ve been in business here for something like 25 years. That nostalgia, however, is for the business, not the physical plant. It will be awfully nice to have some of the finer things in life, like hot water and indoor plumbing ….

August 14, 2006

Just a quick update. We had a very nice rain on Saturday, a good soaker with minimal runoff. It’s too late for some of the trees in my woods, but I was beginning to wonder if the weather was ever going to break this time. Temperatures for the past couple of days have been about ten degrees cooler than they have been for the past month or so.

August 11, 2006

It’s continued very hot and dry, although there has been a little rain in various places. It rained at my place this morning for about ten minutes, and there’s hope for more rain this afternoon. I actually saw a dead turtle yesterday, sitting by the side of the road with its neck and legs out of its shell, apparently dead of dehydration. I mentioned it to someone this morning, and she said she’d seen two others in the same condition. They can live for a long time without water, but I guess they’ve about reached their limit. Some of the dogwoods are already dropping their leaves, and all of the vegetation looks very stressed. I can’t remember anything remotely like this in the past twenty years, and I’m praying that it will come to an end soon.

The TVA is already beginning to drop the lake level. According to their figures, the whole region is 7.5″ below average rainfall for the year. They need to keep releasing water from the lake to help the rafters up in Tennessee, who pay them a hefty fee for each passenger, and – of course – for a lot of other good reasons.

The results of the county runoff election were as expected. Steve Morris defeated Howard Slaughter, who was reviled as a Democrat running as a Republican, and Howie Bruce defeated Bill Simonds. In the School Board runoff, Clarence Farmer defeated Vickie Lee Rhodes, the former school bus driver who was fired for allowing older students to assault a young boy on her bus. Her campaign ads assured us that it wasn’t about revenge, but apparently not everyone believed her.

The lineup for the election will be: Incumbent Richard Vollrath (I) vs. Howie Bruce (R) for County Chairman, Tommy Ledford (D) vs. incumbent Randy Collins (R) for Post 1, and Lane Bishop (D) vs. incumbent Steve Morris (R) for Post 2. In his first campaign ad in the News Observer this morning, Vollrath promises not to run a negative campaign, not to allow dirty tricks, and not to post campaign signs. Too bad we can’t get the same pledge from all the candidates!

The Kiwanis Rodeo is scheduled for August 18 & 19, at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds are located near St. Luke’s Anglican Church, off the old highway (East 1st Street), roughly south of the old downtown.

If you haven’t been to Pickin’ in the Park this summer, you probably need to go. The music continues to be excellent, and it’s become an important “meet and greet” for the local politicians and suchlike. It’s held every Thursday evening at the Ron Henry Horseshoe Bend Park. From Blue Ridge, you go north on Hwy 5 to McCaysville, cross the river, turn right on Hwy 60, then right on River Road (just before the tracks). The park is on the right, about a mile upstream. Things get started about 6 PM, and it’s best to come early, before the old boys head for home. Lawn chair and picnic are a good idea, too.

August 4, 2006

It has continued very hot and dry. I’ve talked to a number of the old boys, and none has admitted remembering any time in the past when it has been so hot, for so long. In my twenty years in the county, I can remember times when it was this hot for a few days at a time, but never for weeks at a time. We still haven’t exceeded 90° on our deck, which is at about 2000 feet. But it’s always a lot hotter in Blue Ridge, and people claim it’s been up to 97° downtown. It’s just very unusual, and with the drought continuing, the wells and vegetation are definitely stressed.

One bright spot is that the lake has continued at full pool. It always rains more out toward Dial than it does in the rest of the county. It actually has rained some out there over the past week or so, and it may be that’s what’s keeping the lake level up.

The runoff election for county and state officials is next Tuesday, August 8. As I’ve said before, this is essentially the county election, because the Republican candidates will very likely win all positions, with the possible exception of Commission Chairman. You do not need to have voted in the primary to vote in the runoff, but if you did vote in the primary, you must vote the same ballot (Republican or Democrat) that you voted in the primary.

The blackberry crop has been poor this year, no doubt because of the lack of rain. They seem to be more sensitive than you would expect, because last year the crop was also poor, and it rained constantly. We’ve only gotten about four cups this season, so I haven’t posted the famous Blackberry Margarita recipe. If you’re finding more than we are, you can find the recipe in archives for 7/1/2005.

We saw two doe with two fawns, one of them still spotted, just the other day. I guess that means that conditions are still livable for the deer, although it is pretty late in the season to be seeing them that young.

July 25, 2006

I hope my long-time readers will accept my apologies for having been silent so long. I’ve been distracted by a number of things, including inheriting a little aluminum fishing boat, which had to be retrieved from upstate New York.

The weather has continued very unseasonably hot, and rather dry. There have been a few dribs and drabs of local rain, but I continue to be worried about the big trees on my property. I found out a long time ago that the winter’s tree plantings wouldn’t make it through the summer without weekly watering, but there have only been a few years in the past twenty when I’ve worried about the oaks. Last winter, I planted ten persimmons that I got from the forest service (for twenty bucks). They were bare root seedlings, but they all have leaves and are doing great, except for infestation by aphids. The combination of the dry weather and the aphids sucking them dry has been a little concerning, which I have to add to the worry that I may not live long enough to see them bear fruit. The guys at the forest service said fifteen years before the first fruit, but then they really come!

I saw an immature merlin on my property the other day, no doubt hatched out of the nest down in the woods. It was perched on a bare limb looking out over the valley, and what drew my attention was the fact that it very clearly felt – in contrast to a falcon’s usual razor-sharp sense of self-possession – a little overwhelmed by it all.

The runoff election for county and state officials is scheduled for August 8. As I’ve said in the past, given the Republican party’s majority in Fannin County, the primary is essentially the election, because most – likely all – of the Republican nominees will be elected in the fall. You do not need to have voted in the primary to vote in the runoff, but if you did vote in the primary, you will need to vote on the same ticket you voted in the primary (Republican or Democrat). In other words, Democrats who crossed over to vote in the Republican primary must vote in the Republican runoff.

The Georgia Mountain fair is going on this weekend and next. If you haven’t been, it’s definitely worth a visit – for the music, the food, and the exhibits.

June 26, 2006

We actually got some significant rain yesterday and today, the first in at least three weeks. I’m very glad to see it, because I was beginning to worry about the larger trees running out of water. It has not been a good summer thus far for the crops, but I did get a gift of Vidalia starts, cabbage, and potatoes from one of our local farmers.

Most of the festivities that are planned around the 4th – including the fireworks – will take place on Saturday the 1st. See the local paper for more information.

There is an important meeting of the Fannin County Commission tomorrow night, the 27th at 7 PM in the courthouse. Grading, landscaping, and lighting ordinances will be presented. If you are interested in these important issues, please plan to attend.

Update on the Highway 60 bridge project. The road is actually closed at the Chapel Branch, just before you reach Dave’s Road as you go south on 60. The official detour is on the old Highway, which the highway department is calling “Old 2.” It is more often referred to as Old 76, and it is the two-lane road that runs parallel to the four-lane, east of Morganton. The detour follows that route to Skeenah Gap Road, then down to 60. For folks in Blue Ridge, it is probably faster just to go out to the end of Aska Road, turn left on Newport, then right after crossing the river. That road also leads to 60, below Dave’s Road, but above Skeenah Gap Road.

June 13, 2006

The weather has been unseasonably warm lately, and it’s been very dry. The last two weeks have seen the trees and brush fill out to full summer proportions, and you can no longer see some of the smaller creeks.

June 19th – next Monday – is the last day to register to vote in the primary election on July 18th. If you are inclined to think that perhaps we should do something, anything, to plan for growth – like seriously considering zoning – you need to vote in this primary election. As I’ve said before, the only hope for more progressive government in Fannin County lies in the Republican primary on July 18th, because the Republican candidates, whoever they are, will likely win in November. Democrats should cross over and vote in the Republican primary and Republicans should make the effort to visit the polls. I think it is fair to say that Randy Collins and Steve Morris, the Republican incumbents, are happy with the status quo. Just to give you some idea, Randy’s answer at the last council meeting to Vollrath’s attempt to move the question of zoning was, “We’ve got all the laws we need.” That’s what the locals want to hear, and they are the people who elect the council. The most the rest of us can do at this point is to encourage people to register to vote here and attempt to influence the slate of Republican candidates in the primary. The county makes it easy to vote by absentee ballot. Since this is where many of us plan to spend the rest of our lives, it makes sense to vote here.

Due to a major bridge project, Hwy 60 south will be closed between June 17 and July 8 between Cruse’s Sawmill and Dave’s Road. This will be a long three weeks for those of us with business in the southern part of the county. The detour is over Skeenah Gap Road.

May 17, 2006

It’s been unseasonably cool lately, with mornings in the 40s. I actually had to break down on Monday and turn the heat back on, because it’s also been overcast and a little rainy. It’s been good weather for working in the yard, but it’s also seemed a little wintery for this time of year. Today, the sun is finally out, and it’s a welcome sight.

Still, it’s a fun time of year, because we’re seeing a lot of birds and young animals. It seems that late spring is the time when the young of all species are just a few weeks old, and the migrant birds are still coming through. I imagine that the trout fishing has also been very good with the cool weather.

In the local news, last night concluded the final “town hall meeting” to gather ideas and develop a consensus for future directions in the county. This is an election year for county commission, so this has been a closely watched process. One of the major issues has been the growth of East Ellijay’s “restaurant row” in the Wal-Mart shopping center. Fannin County has lost a lot of sales tax revenue to this center, although the advent of the Home Depot in Fannin has rescued us to some extent from what was a very sharp decline in our sales tax digest. All of the town hall meetings have revealed a desire for better restaurants, which is tied to beer and wine by the drink, because the upscale restaurants won’t locate here unless they can make money on the bar. Of course, there is still very strong local opposition to serving alcohol in local restaurants, so this is apt to be a major issue in the commission elections. Other often-mentioned items include land use planning (zoning), animal control, job creation, and preservation of our natural beauty.

As Fannin is a heavily Republican county, and always has been, the results of the Republican primary in June will likely determine the future direction of the county. Not to sound like a broken record, but I urge all second home owners to register to vote in Fannin County and vote in the Republican primary. It is easy to vote by absentee ballot, and it just makes sense to me, if this is where people intend to retire, that they participate in the political process that will shape the future direction of the county. I will make a fearless prediction that the next four years will be the most crucial in determining Fannin’s future. If we don’t succeed in electing county commissioners who understand the need to plan for and manage future growth this time, it may really be too late next time.

May 5, 2006

We’ve had some needed rain this week, and it’s feels like spring is nearly over. If that’s so, we’ve had a rather short and weak pollen season, and the flowering trees and shrubs were in bloom for a shorter period of time than usual. The lady slippers and trillium are still out, but most everything else has gone. I think that may be due to the fact that spring came to the mountains much later than usual this year. I could be wrong, but I think it’s probably time to wash the decks and screens, and get ready for a great summer.

This Saturday is Old Timer’s Day in Cades Cove, over in the Smoky Mountain National Park. Lots of the local musicians consider that the best bluegrass festival going.

Next weekend, May 12-13, is the Bluegrass Festival at the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee. If you haven’t been over there, you might want to go. The exhibits and vendors are worth the price of admission in themselves – we’re talking about things like authentic one-room schools, moonshine making, old farm implements – and then you’ve got the bluegrass festival to boot. You can also get a nice lunch of trout or barbecue.

In late breaking news, the Natti Love Joys, local residents and Atlanta’s top reggae group, are playing the Duff Tavern on the 12th. This is always a good time, and it’s likely to be outdoors if the weather is good. From Blue Ridge, you go up through Copperhill to Ducktown, then along the river road past Parkesville Lake. After you cross the river, start looking for the Duff and Lew’s on the left. It’s just before the road changes from two lane to four lane. It’s about 45 minutes from Blue Ridge.

Arts in the Park is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in the Blue Ridge downtown city park.

April 28, 2006

The weather has bounced back cold for the past few days. I had 46° on the deck this morning, which is the coldest it has been. The sunsets have been beautiful, and it’s warmed up quite a bit in the afternoon, do don’t let the cooler weather discourage you if you have a chance to come up, because we’re celebrating the last few weeks of spring. Most of the trees are in full leaf, the native wildflowers are out, and we’re seeing a lot of the spring songbirds. I’ve had a lot of mountain bluebirds, and one of my colleagues had an indigo bunting the other day. I’m about 80% sure that I saw a sandhill crane the other day, flying up Cutcane Creek. I only got a glimpse of it from above, but they’re pretty distinctive birds.

The real estate business is starting to pick up a little with the nice weather, and it remains a great time to list your property, because we’ve got a real shortage of listings at present. We’ve just had a couple of great selling years back-to-back, and simply put, we need inventory.

In a victory for local starwatchers, the Blue Ridge Mountain EMC has just started a program to provide shades for security lights at a modest cost. They can’t see their way clear to roll these out universally, but at least they are moving forward by offering them as an option. People seem to have become more and more aware that we enjoy the only dark area in the entire east, and it’s something that would be a shame to lose.

Spring Fest is going on at the Farmer’s Market in Blue Ridge, this weekend from 9:00 – 5:00. That’s crafts, food, and some entertainment. The Farmer’s Market is in the vicinity of the drive-in theater on the old highway. From Atlanta, you would turn right at the first light (at June Walker Chevrolet) and follow the highway toward town. The Farmer’s Market is on the right, just before the drive-in.

April 20, 2006

High spring has arrived in the mountains. Most of the dogwoods are in bloom, and the native azalea is starting to come. We had a little rain on Wednesday, and that helped things considerably. The trees are beginning to leaf out, and the pollen is nearing its peak. We saw an immature scarlet tanager yesterday, singing in the top of one of our tallest oaks, and there are lots of eastern bluebirds moving through.

The Polk County Ramp Festival is this Saturday. It’s one of my favorite events, and it’s your chance to buy some ramps and sassafras root tea while hobnobing with the Tennessee politicians, who will be out in force because it’s an election year. Festivities start at 10:00 AM, and there will be bluegrass music all day. The emergence of the ramps was a big festival of spring for the old mountaineers, and it still brings out a lot of the old timers for a bit of fun and fellowship. Breakfast will be the usual scrambled eggs with ramps, bacon, white beans, and cornbread. For directions to the festival, see the archives for my column from 4/21/03.

There are several other good events coming soon, including Old Timer’s Day at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains Park (first Saturday in May). Also the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee is coming May 12-13, featuring their spring bluegrass festival. It looks like an interesting lineup for the bluegrass festival this year, and the fair will feature the usual exhibits and attractions.

I learned something I didn’t know the other day, which is that some of the carpenter bees – the ones with a white cross on their face – do not have stingers. The ones with a purely black face surely do, and their sting packs a punch. These guys are swarming at this time of year, and I’ve noticed that they much prefer to reoccupy old holes than to drill new ones. One of the obvious strategies is to calk up their holes on a cool night. If you are seriously infested with them, it might be a good idea to call your termite man.

Other spring insect-related chores, for those who practice chemical control, are spraying the foundation and a couple yards of the dirt around the foundation with diazanon. It significantly cuts down on creepy-crawly things – like scorpions – in the house. Also, wasp spray works pretty good for tent caterpillars, if you catch them early.

April 13, 2006

The weather has been very warm, and the pollen has started. We aren’t seeing pine pollen yet, but there’s plenty of oak pollen out there. The dogwoods are starting to bloom, and I expect the next two weekends will be the peak for them. I’m not sure they’ll all be in bloom this weekend, but there will be a good number in bloom. The big thunderstorm last Friday night knocked most of the blooms off the sarvis, and the native azalea hasn’t come yet. I’ve seen several fawns just old enough to walk, and I heard the first whippoorwill last night, so spring seems to be moving along on schedule.

The Adventure Race was a big success this year, even though the weather didn’t cooperate, and there’s talk that Blue Ridge might even host the nationals in the next few years.

The real estate market is starting to pick up with the nice weather. I think it’s fair to say that prices have never been higher and that there’s never been such a shortage of good listings. If you’re a seller, that’s all to the good. If you’re a buyer, all I can say is that rates continue to creep up and prices continue to rise sharply. I don’t foresee a price correction any time soon, so it’s probably still a good time to buy, before interest rates go any higher.

The train has started to run again, and the downtown is buzzing with activity. If you haven’t been up yet this spring, this weekend should be a good one. Hope to see you in town!

April 3, 2006

The sarvis bloomed last week. It comes before the dogwood, and a lot of people seem to mistake it for dogwood. It blossoms every spring, but it very rarely fruits. It’s one of my favorites, and I’m always glad when it comes in the spring. It seems to me that there’s less and less of it every year, so folks need to take care of what they have on their property. I used to see dozens of them when I looked out across to North Carolina, but these days, I only see a few.

On the subject of bad tree news, I was locked up for the Graduate Realtor Institute all last week at the Brasstown Valley Resort, and one of my colleagues noticed that a lot of their hemlocks are diseased. He went to the trouble of finding the man in charge of the trees, who told him that they couldn’t afford to treat them and if the state didn’t feel like doing it, they’d just have to die. It seems outrageous to me that that outfit can’t find it in their hearts to spend a few bucks to save the hemlocks around the lodge, at least, because there’s a very good possibility that every hemlock in the southeast is going to die, except for the ones that are monitored and treated. I plan to begin screaming about this as soon as I get caught up, but I invite anyone out there to help who may have influence with the state.

Several people have asked me what’s so important about the Graduate Realtor Institute that I would spend a week of my life doing it. It’s actually three one-week sessions, with an additional half day for the exam. It’s a grind, of course, and they really are very strict about attendance. For instance, if you have to visit the men’s room, they confiscate your cell phone. But all told, it’s the best thing going for in-depth exposure to the finer points of the real estate business, and I think it’s worth it. This business has gotten so complex that you basically can’t get enough training, and the GRI is acknowledged to be the best training out there.

The market is beginning to wake up a little after a first quarter slumber. The dogwoods will bring a lot of tourists in the next few weeks, and I expect that things will start to move fairly quickly. Bargain hunters should come up as soon as possible, before things get back to normal. Obviously, it’s a great time to list, if you’ve been thinking about selling. We need listings. Desperately. I’ve never seen this market with such a scarcity of good listings.

The Aska Adventure Race is Saturday. It’s usually a lot of fun, just to watch, especially at the finish line.

March 24, 2006

Quick update for the big weekend (trout and turkey come in together on Saturday): We did not get the snow that was predicted, and despite the rain, the streams I’ve been able to check – Hemptown and the Toccoa above the dam – are running fishably clear. If we do get more rain, remember that the tailrace of the dam can be a trip saver when the other streams are stained.

Various inanities have kept me out of the woods, so I can’t give a personal report on the state of the turkey mating season. We had some unseasonably warm weather earlier, which has been followed by unseasonably cold weather this week, so I’m not sure where we stand. I’d call it a late spring, except for the very warm weather we’ve had in spells. The forsythia has mostly come and gone, and the maples are budding out, even on top of the ridge. So it’s definitely spring. Whether the turkey are in the rut or not, I’m not sure.

Remember that if you’re out in the woods and you hear crow calls, owl calls, or turkey calls that those calls are very likely being made by a hunter.

March 17, 2006

Just a quick note about the progress of spring. We’ve been having some warm afternoons, along with both warm and cool mornings, anywhere between 30 and 60°. The hardwoods are beginning to bud out, especially down in the valleys. The wild cherry trees are starting to bloom, and most of the pear trees are in full bloom. The sarvis hasn’t come yet. In a normal year, we’re about three weeks behind north Atlanta, and that seems to be about right this year. The pollen is starting, but hasn’t gotten noticeable yet, as it is down in Canton.

My friend in northern Indiana reports that he’s seen the first woodcock mating dance, so it’s certainly happening in Georgia as well.

I still haven’t heard the first turkey gobble, but I haven’t been out in the woods as much as I usually am at this time of year, so it may be happening already. I think it probably is, with the warm afternoons we’ve been having. Trout and turkey season come in together next Saturday, the 25th. Remember to be cautious if you’re out in the woods, especially in the morning. The main thing to remember is that if you hear owl calls, crow calls, or turkey calls, it’s probably a turkey hunter. If you need to brush up on your woodcraft, I talk a little about turkey hunting and turkey behavior in my column for 3/16/2003 (on the archive button).

March 6, 2006

The weather was just beautiful this past weekend, with mostly clear skies and very warm temperatures, especially on Sunday. It’s officially spring, as far as I’m concerned, because I’ve seen the first Mourning Cloak (butterfly). I’ve seen them as early as February 1st, so by my signs, this is a fairly late spring. I also saw the first Southern Five Lined Skink, which is a blue-tailed lizard to most of us. I still haven’t heard the first confirmed turkey gobble, but I’m expecting that soon.

According to my lakeside sources in northern Indiana, the early waterfowl migrants are passing back through, with the recent population including Common Golden Eye, Hooded Merganser, Ring-Necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Canvasback, Mallard, Coot, Mute Swan, Pied-Billed Grebe, Herring Gull, Forsters Tern, Canada Goose. This would be a pretty good indication that some of these species are passing through Georgia now. I have seen a lot of ducks on the local potholes and ponds, and I continue to hear the geese trading up and down Cutcane Road from the old quarry.

The county has issued an outside burning ban until further notice, after a rash of wildfires this past weekend.

All in all, it’s a sweet time of year in the mountains. If you haven’t been up lately, you probably need plans to come.

March 3, 2006

As usual during spring in the mountains, the weather has been bouncing around like crazy. Yesterday, it was 70° on the deck, and this morning it was about 36° and blowing like crazy. Saturday is supposed to be nice, but there’s a chance of rain on Sunday. I’ve been listening for the first turkey gobble, and I may have heard it, but I’m not sure. I also heard some kids in the same general area, and they may have been practicing their calling. I’d say it’s still a little bit early, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it soon. If you haven’t been up for a while, you probably need to make plans to come. The last winter sunsets have been really beautiful, and the woods are beginning to wake up and come alive.

It’s been a bad week for conservationists. The TVA gave their final approval for the transfer of a large tract on Nickajack Lake to a developer, and the forest service is proceeding with their plan to sell public land in 33 states.

The Fannin County tract is 117 acres in the Aska Road area. If you go about halfway out Newport Road to Doublehead Gap, and draw a line over to Doublehead Gap Road to the east, the line goes through Rall Mountain. The tract is on the south side of Rall Mountain. The forest service claims it does not have legal access to the tract, which seems to be a bogus argument, because you cannot be landlocked in Georgia. They are also selling Owltown Mountain in the Rich Mountain Wildlife Management area and 218 acres west of Fort Mountain. Needless to say, if these sales are approved by Congress, it will set off a land rush to sell even more of our public lands to developers.

In the Fannin Follies, the county commission has sent a resolution to the state legislature in an attempt to delay, defeat, or co-opt the requirements for builders to be licensed by 2007. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, it is unlikely to be successful.

February 23, 2006

It’s been rainy this past week. The feeling has been very much “spring in the mountains” with the mists rising and the tree peepers singing. The wild geese are passing back through; I hear them coming and going from the old quarry out Cutcane Road. I still haven’t heard the first turkey gobble, signaling the beginning of the mating season, but that may happen if we get some warmer weather this weekend.

The real estate market has been pretty sleepy lately, probably due to the bad weather and the time of year. It’s probably a good time for bargain hunters to come up and see what’s out there before the mountain season revs up with the opening day of trout (last Saturday in March).

The bad news is that the Bush administration plans to sell some national forest land in Fannin County, as well as in adjacent Polk County and Monroe County, Tennessee (Tellico Plains). The plan includes North Carolina and 31 other states. According to the forest service, these tracts are remote and “hard to manage.” (I’ve never seen a forest service employee anywhere near the big woods, so it’s difficult for me to grasp how they can be any harder to manage than anything else in their portfolio.) Since this land is going to be sold for development, there are only two alternatives. Either these pieces really are remote, which will require building roads to reach them, or they aren’t remote, just ideal for development. This story has not been widely reported. As far as I can determine, even the New York Times missed it. However, maps of the tracts are to be released on February 28. At that point, we may be able to determine what’s really in store. Although there will be a meaningless public comment period, the forest service has already announced that the Secretary of the Interior will forward the recommendation to sell to Congress in 30 days.

The “feasibility study” for the proposed I-3 from Savannah to Knoxville has been funded. See for details.

February 18, 2006

It’s raining pretty steadily this morning (Saturday) and the forecast is for freezing rain this afternoon and evening, so February in the mountains continues, after a few nice days with temperatures in the 60s. As I’ve said before, one of my main signs of spring is the emergence of the tree peepers. On Wednesday, they emerged on the slopes to the west of us, which get the afternoon sun. Then on Thursday, they emerged in the valley below our cabin. They’re pretty tough little fellows. Chances are, they’ll survive the rough weather.

I had forgotten that the TVA’s 9.95% rate hike, which will take effect almost immediately, is right on the heels of a 7.5% increase last July. In the “good old days,” which were not so long ago, power was cheap in the mountains. I guess those days are gone. It’s too bad they aren’t planning to use any of this money to modernize their coal burning plants, which they fought hard to have exempted from stricter clean air standards. Unfortunately, they’re the major source of pollution in the region.

The Blue Ridge City Council has signed the lease with Wilds Pierce, the operator of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad. I’m told that the lease is for five years, with an option to renew for an additional five years. That’s a big relief to the downtown merchants, as well as anyone concerned with tourism in our county.

In the Fannin Follies, county councilman Randy Collins announced his bid for reelection at the monthly meeting of the Fannin Builders Association. While he allowed that some people have been upset with him for voting for building inspections – up until recently, Fannin was one of only four counties in Georgia not to enforce the Southern Building Code – he defended himself by saying that he wanted to do it while he was in office, to ensure that it was done in a way that fellow builders could live with. In reference to the upcoming state requirement for builders to be certified, he said that, although he was only one of three commissioners, he did not plan to have the county inspectors check for licenses. Then, he outlined how the requirement for licenses could be circumvented, by having the customers pull the required permits themselves, in behalf of their (unlicensed) builders.

Speaking of the upcoming county elections, there are quite a number of announced candidates. Fannin County has a three person commission, with the Chairman serving full-time as the day-to-day chief executive officer of the county. The other two commissioners serve part-time. All three positions are elected at large. Fannin has always been a strongly Republican county – although the locals have forgotten why – and most of the candidates are running as Republicans. This means that the primary election during the summer will be of central importance in deciding the future of the county.

The only non-Republican candidates at this point are Richard Vollrath, the current Chairman, Lane Bishop, the surveyor, who is running for Post 2, and Tommy Ledford, who is running for Post 1. Bishop is running as a Democrat, and Vollrath and Ledford are running as Independents, as the Association of County Commissioners recommends. I would say that Vollrath has a chance of being reelected, and that Lane Bishop has a chance of being elected. I’m not sure about Tommy Ledford. But most elected officials in the county are Republicans, and it is very difficult for a Democrat or Independent to win election to any office, including the School Board. That means those of you who are interested in the future of the county need to consider voting in the Republican primary, because there is a very good chance that the candidates who are nominated by the Republicans will be the people who will lead the county for the next few years, which will be crucial.

As I’ve said before, the central issue facing the county is planning for future growth. While the good old boy contingent continues to portray this as a commie plot to take away their rights, most of us now realize that we are beginning to experience truly explosive growth, and that if we don’t take some steps to plan for it, we will surely be sorry for the rest of our lives. Since this is where a lot of us plan to spend that rest of our life, it makes sense to do some planning. As my father used to say, “Poor planning beats no planning.” Which one we have for the next few years will depend almost entirely on the results of the next election, and probably, on the results of the next primary election.

February 13, 2006

We’ve had pretty serious snow the past three days. At our place, which is over toward North Carolina, I’ll bet we had six inches. The sun has been strong this afternoon (Monday) and there are few travel difficulties on the main roads. The next few days should see a warming trend that should clear up the remaining difficulties. I wouldn’t be surprised if winter were over for the year, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it, either.

Today, the TVA board approved an across the board increase of 9.95% – that’s almost 10% – in wholesale rates. Look for your power bill to increase proportionately in the coming year.

February 5, 2006

After a very warm, beautiful Friday, today (Sunday) is cold as the dickens, with a nasty wind chill. We’re expecting the first real sticking snow of the season tonight, although the amount is still up in the air. There was some snow at my place on Saturday, and Hemptop was beautiful this morning, but it last long. Oddly, there was no snow on Watson Mountain in North Carolina, which is only a few miles east of Hemptop. We were at the folk school in Brasstown, and it didn’t snow there, either, so it must have been a fairly local snow.

There’s some good news, which is that a verbal deal has been struck to keep the train for another five years, with a five-year option to renew. The News Observer reported in their Friday edition that the last minute deal was worked out with the help of a lot of people, and credited our broker, June Slusser, with an instrumental role. That makes us feel good, of course, and it’s great that something was apparently worked out. While I’m somewhat skeptical that all our good fortune has been due to the railroad, there’s no doubt that a lot of it has been. And there’s no absolutely doubt that losing the train would have hit Copperhill and McCaysville very hard, because those towns have just gotten back on their feet with something of a tourism economy after some very hard years. With the downtown sewer project already begun, this is very good news for the county and the city.

February 2, 2006

The weather has been bouncing around like mad, as it always does when we approach spring. We had a few very warm days last week, and I actually saw a freshly hatched katydid in my woods on Saturday. The very next day, it was back cold, so I don’t know how the little fellow fared. I’m more inclined to think that the warm weather has confused them than that spring will be early this year. In an ordinary year, I expect to hear the tree peepers first and then the wild turkey gobbling at the start of mating season, and there’s been no sign of the peepers yet.

The flap over the railroad has escalated into a real tussle. The deadline has passed, and the mayor has been either ineffectual in reaching a solution or disingenuous in stating his intentions. It has been revealed that three of our city council members, Brenda Queen, Tony Lindsey, and John Pearson, believe that “we’d be better off without the train,” and they refused to attend a public meeting called to discuss the issue on the 31st, the day the current lease expired. It’s hard to imagine a sense in which we’d be better off without the train, unless you’re nostalgic for the days when there were approximately six businesses still operating on a bombed-out main street. It’s an unavoidable and irreducible fact that the only way to influence the Blue Ridge City government is to live and vote downtown, and I know of only one person whose business is tied to the tourist economy who actually lives in Blue Ridge. The overwhelming majority of the downtown business owners live someplace else in the county, creating a situation beloved of the locals, taxation without representation. The county and the Chamber of Commerce have offered to make up the difference between the amount the city is demanding and the amount the franchisee is willing to pay, an offer that has been refused by the city.

A lot of people have asked me whether I was kidding about the local school system refusing to contribute to the library. That’s a nice tribute to my sense of humor, but it’s all true. To support this prime piece of local idiocy, the school board’s attorney has developed the amazing argument that it is unconstitutional for the system to contribute to the library. That seems unlikely, given that over 100 Georgia school boards contribute to their local libraries and that our school system has the right to name three members to our library board. Given how things usually work around here, this is much more likely a payback for the hectoring a certain person has subjected the school board to in an effort to get them toincrease their contribution to the library. But no matter how you slice it, the fact is that our school officials are going to force our library to close so they can spend that $50,000 – which represents something like 1/16 of 1% of their budget – on themselves.

If this gets any worse, I’m going to have to stop calling it the “Fannin Follies.”

January 21, 2006

We’re having some typical mountain weather today (Saturday). Yesterday was such a beautiful warm day that I actually got a sunburn doing a little fishing, and today it’s so rainy and raw that I don’t want to go out. It’s been a fairly cold winter as our winters go, and we’ve probably had average precipitation, but we still haven’t had a day on which it’s been difficult to get to work.

The real estate market has definitely settled into a normal first quarter pattern. That means some buyer activity, but no frantic feeding frenzy. Most of us in the office are trying to rebuild our listing inventory, which is something we sorely need, because I can’t recall a time when we’ve had so few listings.

There’s a meeting of the Stop I-3 Coalition on January 23 – this coming Monday – at the Lumpkin County Park and Recreation Building on Riley Road in Dahlonega. Food is being served at 6 PM and the meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 and conclude at 8:30. There’s more information at For those of you who haven’t followed this issue, the highway bill passed by Congress last year funded a study for a new interstate, which is to take a “mystery route” from Savannah to Knoxville/Oak Ridge. The route will likely follow the existing 515/76 corridor across the northern tier from east to west, turning north to Robbinsville, NC at a point between Young Harris and Blairsville. This will destroy the “Tail of the Dragon” at the western edge of the Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as a bunch of national forest in between. Call it what it is, a welfare project for the road contractors and their political allies.

Here locally, we continue to experience the joy of having a U.S. Forest Service office much more interested in itself than in serving the public. The latest is that they are letting contracts for running the local campgrounds, boat ramps, and beaches to private businesses, freeing them to do essentially nothing. Although they haven’t admitted this yet, this is undoubtedly part of their master plan to eliminate the Blue Ridge office. It’s just wonderful that our precious forest resources, which are already managed basically to benefit a handful of loggers, are going to be squeezed further and uglified for profit.

There’s been a blowup in Blue Ridge over the excursion train, which the Blue Ridge City Council has asked to collect a $1 per ticket use fee. (The city is having difficulty meeting its budget, and is in need of additional revenue.) The owner of the concession has essentially told the city to jump in the lake, that he’ll simply close the attraction, which – it is thought – would be a disaster for the downtown merchants. If my information is correct, he holds a lease on the right-of-way for the next ten years, so no one else could step in with another operation if he withdraws. One can only hope that cooler heads will prevail.

In the ever-popular “Fannin Follies,” the school board has refused to donate to the library this year, no doubt reasoning that since they aren’t teaching their students to read anyway, there just ain’t no need for a local library.

And people ask me why I think they should vote in Fannin County ….

January 8, 2006

Well, we weathered another year, and another change of website server. The 2005 archives have been moved to the archive button, and I’m back on track with the ability to post newsletters. I apologize to my loyal readers for being silent for most of the month of December. Now that the problems are ironed out, I’ll try to do a better job of keeping everything up to date.

We’ve had a cold winter so far, but we haven’t had much in terms of ice and snow. We had a little sleet on Friday, and the Big Frog was white on the peak through Saturday afternoon, but there hasn’t been a day so far when it has been difficult to get to work. We’ve had some beautiful clear days lately, ideal for hiking, winter yard work, and bonfires. At night, the fireplaces have been busy, and the sweet smell of burning oak has scented the crisp air all around our cabin.

In terms of real estate, our first quarter market seems to be driven mostly by how people feel about their stock market investments at year-end. So far, it seems to be a normal January, with normal seasonal activity but no frantic feeding frenzy. We continue to see very good appreciation in prices, with our preliminary numbers showing an average increase of 15% in our company’s average selling prices, 2005 over 2004. Since 2004 was already a very good year, this counts as very significant appreciation. Our strong seller’s market continues, with what can only be called a real shortage of listings. With all the selling activity in our market, we just haven’t had time to rebuild our listing inventory from the effects of several straight years of great selling. We all know that we have to do it, but nobody has time to actually do it. It has to be a great time to list your property, because the number of comparable properties on the market is significantly lower than any time I can remember.

This would be somewhat grim news for buyers, except for the fact that interest rates remain so low that the real cost of second home ownership is still reasonable, when you take the long view. I’ll have more to say about all this as our year-end numbers continue to come in, as there are some very interesting trends in our preliminary numbers.

County politics are heating up, as the deadline nears for declaring for county office in the fall elections. There are currently several declared candidates for commission chairman, and the word on the street is that Richard Vollrath, the current county chairman, will run again, despite his previous statements to the contrary. This will be a pivotal election for the future of the county, and – as always – I urge second home owners to consider registering to vote here rather than at home for this election. The county makes it easy to vote by absentee, and we really are at a crossroads in terms of our future direction. We are beginning to experience explosive growth, and if we do not take reasonable steps to preserve what is special about this county to begin with, we will surely regret it for the rest of our lives. Since this is where many of us plan to spend the rest of our lives, it makes sense to get involved. Unfortunately, some of the local politicians just don’t get it, and if we can’t get people with more vision in office, we may be in serious difficulty very soon.

That’s pretty serious stuff, but – as usual – we have the “Fannin Follies” for comic relief. Lately, that’s taken the form of a war of words over Pete Thomas’ sign criticizing the President and the war in Iraq. If you haven’t seen it, it’s just up Hwy 5 on the right before you get to Mercier’s, and, despite the fact that it clearly upsets some people considerably, I doubt Pete is going to take it down anytime soon. With vets on both sides of the issue exchanging stuff like “if you don’t like it, try ripping the medals off my chest,” you just have to give thanks that we live in America. And, maybe, that we’re off Garrison Keillor’s radar.

That’s about the news. Hope to see you in town!