Columns 2007

December 29, 2007

We got just a bit of sleet – the kind the ski bums call grapple – on Christmas day. That was it as far as hopes of snow on Christmas were concerned. Yesterday, we had a bit more than an inch of rain, which was very welcome, even though it was one of those basically miserable days that we get from time to time. The overall trend lately has been to have rainy days, but these are rainy days of drizzle, not rain. It’s an odd situation, because the clouds are obviously laden with moisture, but it doesn’t really rain. I’m beginning to incline toward the theory that the only rational explanation is that someone in Blue Ridge has offended the gods, and I have a likely candidate.

The Fannin County Election Commission has been reprimanded by the state for irregularities in the 2006 election cycle, mostly related to absentee ballots. For one thing, the Election Commission did not match up signatures on absentee ballots with the voter registration rolls, to determine whether absentee ballot voters were actually registered to vote. There is also an ongoing investigation, which is apparently related to the the liquor referendum held last November. If this also involves absentee ballots, it may be focused on the fact that Election Commission officials allegedly handed out absentee ballots at “Vote No” rallies. As I pointed out at the time, the absentee ballot totals looked suspicious to me, because I expected far more “yes” than “no” absentee votes. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out this week that it’s odd that Secretary of State Karen Handel continues to focus on the voter ID issue, when it is clear that absentee ballots – which require no ID – are much riper for abuse. Judging from the numerous mailings I received from the Sonny Perdue campaign in 2006 urging me to vote absentee – and enclosing actual absentee ballots – this appears to be the new frontier of election strategy.

In case you don’t know, the place to be on New Year’s Eve is the Possum Drop in Brasstown, North Carolina. You can catch up on this foolishness at, but basically … this is the one for country fun. You can get to Brasstown through Murphy, but from Blue Ridge, it’s much easier to follow the directions on my “Local Info” button. After you get to the Local Info page, select “Day Trips” and follow the directions to the John C. Campbell Folk School. Once you get to the Folk School, just keep going straight for another half mile or so. The festivities are at the gas station – Clay’s Corner – on the right.

December 19, 2007

We got about 7/10″ of rain at our place on Saturday, and we actually did get a few flurries last Sunday. The weather has been very cold for most of the week – lows in the 20s – but today is warmer with a scant rain.

This is a quiet time of the year for events, but the last Holiday Lights Night Train is December 21. See the details in my column below for December 7.

The deadline is January 4 for the 2008 Leadership Fannin Class. This program, which was developed in conjunction with the Fanning Leadership Institute at the University of Georgia, is a kind of crash course on Fannin County – government, development challenges, healthcare needs, etc. The program meets on alternate Wednesdays for a total of ten or twelve meetings. One of the aims of the program is to facilitate networking among classmates to develop leadership potential and respond to challenges facing the county. It is an excellent introduction to the community both for newcomers and people who have been here for a while and want to get involved. There is a nominal fee for the course, but scholarships are available. I’m a 2006 graduate, and I found the program very worthwhile. Contact Jan Hackett at the Chamber of Commerce, 706.632.5680, for more information.

December 14, 2007

After the absurdly warm temperatures last week, it’s a little more seasonal today, and the cold trend is supposed to continue through this weekend, with the first threat of flurries in the forecast.

There isn’t a lot going on at this time of year, in terms of events, but the Mineral Bluff Depot will be open tomorrow, December 15, from noon until 4 PM. The model trains will be running and refreshments will be served by the Tri-State Model Railroaders. The depot is in Mineral Bluff, on Railroad Avenue. From Blue Ridge, you would turn north on Hwy 60, and left on Railroad Avenue, just before Hemptown Creek.

December 7, 2007

It’s been dry, and unseasonably cold, although we’re supposed to see very warm weather this weekend, along with a few possible showers.

This is the time of year when those of us who live here tend to kick back and relax a little bit and enjoy the lower density in our developments. In the old days, the mountain season ended after Thanksgiving and didn’t crank back up again until the opening day of trout at the end of March. Blue Ridge reverted to being a sleepy mountain town, where everyone knew everyone else. Those days are gone, of course, but there is still a good bit less activity in the winter, which means it’s still a good time to enjoy the peace and quiet and take some long walks in the woods.

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is running the “Holiday Lights Night Train” tomorrow, December 8 at 6:30. It will also run December 15 and December 21. The cost is $20 plus tax, and reservations are recommended. That’s 1-800.934.1898 or 706.632.9833.

November 30, 2007

The weather has been cool in the mornings, and nicely warmer in the afternoons. Highs have been near sixty. Whether it feels warm or not depends a lot on whether you are in the sun or out of the wind.

There were a zillion people in town for Light Up Blue Ridge. Some estimates were as high as 6,000 people. It’s really become a big event. Tonight is the Light Up the Basin festival. See the column below for details.

It’s time to order tree seedlings from the Georgia Forestry Commission. In Fannin, the state forest service office is located on Old 76 in Lakewood – from Blue Ridge, you would go east toward Blairsville on the four lane, turn right on Hwy 60 south, then left at the “T” with the old highway, toward Morganton. The forest service office is right there, on the right. The way it works is that you fill out the order form, and send it with your check. If they have stock available, you will be notified when they have been delivered to the forest service office during the window you pick. Prices are very good. Ten select dogwoods or persimmons have been $20, for instance. Large quantities of pines can be bought very reasonably. The best time to plant here is during January and February, so it is the right time to order. You will probably have to water them through the first year, unless we have an unusually wet spring.

November 23, 2007

We had about 1-5/8″ rain Wednesday night, and the temperatures – which were in the high 60s or low 70s – have dropped again. Today, it is quite cool, with a chilly wind stirring.

Light up Blue Ridge is tomorrow, Saturday November 24. Festivities begin at 11 Am with “Tuba Christmas.” Santa arrives at 12:45. There are musical events all day, including the Gopher Broke Band at 1:30 and the Barker Brothers (excellent bluegrass) at 4:20. The Father Christmas Processional begins at 6:00 at the Blue Ridge United Methodist Church and the Lighting of the Tree is 7:00 – 8:00. The downtown shops will be open.

The Light up the Basin festival is next Friday, November 30, starting at 5:45 PM at the United Community Bank in McCaysville. Santa will arrive at the River Crossing Mall at 6:30 for free pictures, and shops will be open until 8 PM.

The Copperhill Kiwanis will begin their annual Christmas Parade on Saturday, December 1, at 2 PM.

November 15, 2007

We’ve had about 1-1/2″ of rain in the past few days. I think other areas of the county may have had more. It was needed. I have yet to talk to anyone who remembers the creeks and ponds being any lower, or even coming close to being as low as they are now.

The weather has bounced back warm, but the cold snap finally put some color into most of the oaks, and the woods look very pretty. The dominant shades are yellow and gold, but there are a few reds mixed in from the maples and the remaining sourwoods. If it doesn’t rain too hard tonight, I think this weekend will be very pretty for the leaves.

The county commission has held two of the three land use forums, “land use” being a code word for “zoning” in a county where the old guard thinks zoning is a communist plot to take away their property rights. The county commission decided to have these meetings because they did not like the results of the town hall meetings held by Fannin’s Future. There were too many communists making comments, apparently. Or, as the commissioners would have it, the “Fannin County Natives” and/or “long term property owners” were not adequately represented, so it is important to give them another chance to tell us all that growth will take care of itself and a man has a right to do anything he wants on his own property.

The first meeting was poorly attended, but the second meeting, in Morganton, drew about sixty participants. The third and final meeting will be held at Monday 11/19, 7:00 PM at Appalachian Community Bank. The bank is located on 515, across from the entrance to the Ingles Shopping Center. People who attend the meeting are asked to fill out a form listing their top five concerns about land use. The same form is available on the Fannin County website, for electronic submission. If you have an opinion you would like to express, you should do it immediately, as the comment period closes soon.

November 6, 2007

We had the first hard freeze last night. At our place, it was 30° on the porch this morning, and there does seem to be more color in the woods than there was last night.

Fannin County Election / Referendum Results and Vote Totals

The initiative to allow alcohol by the drink in Fannin County was defeated yesterday, with 3871 “no” votes to 3330 “yes” votes. These results are unofficial at this time. Total votes cast were 7,201 and the margin of victory was 541 votes. Oddly – and perhaps questionably – absentee ballots were 287 “no” and 265 “yes.” I would have expected many more “yes” than “no” absentee ballots.

Analysis: The total number of votes cast was about the same as in our last general election (about 7,500), which shows that people did care deeply about this issue and that both sides did a good job of getting their people out.

In the final analysis, this has been more about “who is master” – in the sense of who is in control of Fannin County and it’s future – than about the actual merits of the issue. This is especially true now that the county commission has voted to allow the Golf & River Club to obtain a liquor license directly from the state. That makes it less a matter of principle than a matter of favoritism, as the people fortunate enough to afford property in that development – many of whom are wealthy local business people who invested there – will be allowed to “tip a few back” from time to time.

I’m very surprised by the small margin of victory, as I was predicting that the initiative would fail by about 1,000 votes. The word from my sources at the courthouse is that the people opposing the measure were displeased by the small margin of victory. They should have been, because the results show that the hated outsiders are within shouting distance of prevailing on this issue, as well as having the votes in hand to elect the county commission.

Taking the long view, I think it was very foolish of the county commission to create this interesting test of outsider vote strength, as it can only encourage people who are not “Fannin County Natives” to run for county commission. Previously, the best wisdom available was that the votes just aren’t there to elect such a person. (I consider our previous County Chairman, Dr. Vollrath, an exception because Fannin has a history of electing medical doctors and the circumstances that led to his election victories were somewhat unique.)

With our present county commission mightily resisting growth planning and redoing the town hall meetings in an attempt to obtain results more palatable to the old guard, there is considerable resentment building about their continual playing of the “Fannin Native” card, with its clear implication that outsiders have no rights and are only there to be milked by the real people, the “Fannin County Natives.” I don’t find any support in the Constitution for the idea that people that are born in a certain place have superior rights, but this is asserted openly in just about every official meeting or interview of local officials. What it all amounts to for the second home buyers and retirees is taxation without representation, which – while it is an undeniably nice situation for the locals – may soon be a thing of the past.

November 5, 2007

We’re just back from a few days vacation. Thanks to all my loyal readers for your patience. I just have time for a few brief notes.

It has continued very dry and temperatures have been cooler. We’ve had about 40° in the morning, and it has been seasonally cool in the afternoons, with a fairly brisk breeze. It’s still very pretty, but I think the leaf color has peaked. It has been an odd year, because some of the trees turned and some are still green. Most of the color this year came from the sourwoods and the maples. The oaks didn’t seem to have their usual color, with a few exceptions.

Tomorrow is the vote on the Great Fannin Beer and Wine War.

I will report results and vote totals as soon as possible on Wednesday, I hope by noon.

The newspapers have been full of letters to the editor – mostly against – and the News Observer carried the amazing news last Friday that the county commission has voted to allow the Blue Ridge Golf and River Club to obtain a liquor license directly from the state! Steve Morris missed that vote, Howie Bruce admitted that he knew he was voting for a liquor license, and Tommy Ledford allowed as how he didn’t rightly recall anything about a license, just about getting the project “unstuck.” I’m sure there will be more spin to come on this exciting development, which will probably be perceived as special treatment for this upscale development.

October 18, 2007

It’s raining a little today, but not as much as we’d like to see. Actually, it needs to rain for about forty days and forty nights to get us back on track.

There is some color in the woods, mostly at the lower elevations. I think that’s because the nights have been calm, and when the wind doesn’t blow, the cold air tends to settle in the valleys. It’s always hard to tell when the color is going to peak. It’s possible that it will peak this weekend, but it’s also possible that there’s more to come.

The new Italian restaurant, Cucina Rustica, is open in the old Forge Mill location. For those of you who don’t remember the old place, Forge Mill Crossing is located about a mile east of Highway 60 on Hwy 515. It’s on the right as you drive toward Blairsville. They’re doing a soft opening – last night was their second night – with not all their dining rooms open, so a reservation is suggested. Their number is 706.374.7474. Brown bagging is permitted. The owner/chef, Isabella, and her husband have renovated the entire space beautifully. They have a wood fired oven and are featuring individual pizzas along with classic pasta dishes and entrees. At my table we had veal, fettuccine in red sauce, and crepes. All were good. Prices were reasonable, with individual pizzas $10-13, pasta dishes $12-15, and entrees $15-23.

If you scroll down to my column for September 22, you’ll see a list of local festivals, some of which are still going on. The Apple Festival in Ellijay has another weekend to run, and this weekend is the first weekend of the Fall Festival at the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market (next to the Swan Theater on the old highway). The Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee has one more weekend to run, and that would be my pick over the Apple Festival, because it isn’t anywhere near as congested.

In the ever-popular Fannin Follies, Commission Chairman Howie Bruce used his forum in the Fannin Sentinel to launch an amusing attack on the News Observer today.

Tensions continue to rise in the Great Fannin Wine and Beer War, which is to be settled on election day, November 6. Letters to the editor and various personal allegations have been flying fast and furious. One thing we’ve learned – and I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know this – is that alcohol wasn’t invented until 750 AD, so it is literally impossible that Jesus drank it. (Apparently, they aren’t teaching Plato’s “Symposium” in the local schools.) Anyway, it has gotten pretty nasty, but so far, there’s been no loss of human life traceable to the issue.

October 10, 2007

The temperature this morning was startlingly cooler. We had 42° on the deck and the wind made it seem a lot cooler. The leaves have started to turn, the black walnuts are falling pretty good, and this morning I heard migrating geese using the old quarry out on Cutcane Road. All in all, convincingly like fall. My fearless prediction is that since it has been so dry, the leaf season will come early and be over quickly – but how soon it is over depends a little on whether we get a heavy rain and wind. The way things are going, it may never rain again. It’s really shocking, when you get back in the woods, how low the streams and ponds are, even the ones that have never been low in the past.

In the column below, I mention most of the good festivals and doings for October. One that I didn’t mention is coming this weekend, The Quiltfest held by the Misty Mountain Quilt Guild in Blairsville. This will be October 12-13 at the North Georgia Technical College in Blairsville. As you approach Blairsville from the west, the college is on the left just before the first traffic light. It’s 9-5 on Friday and 9-4 on Sunday. The Guild has about 160 members and festivities will include a silent auction, ribbons and awards, a quilt raffle, and vendor booths.

The deadline has passed to register to vote in the Great Wine and Beer War, which is to be decided on election day, November 6. Voter registrations are up, especially as there have been reports that our Fannin County election officials have been attending the anti-alcohol rallies, registering voters and passing out absentee ballots like popcorn. I’m not sure if this is legal or not. But with Fannin County’s history of election fraud, somebody better make sure that the number of “no” votes don’t exceed the actual number of registered voters.

I attended a meeting in Ducktown yesterday, the first of four final “stakeholder meetings” on the Corridor K project, which is the construction of a four-lane highway between Asheville and Chattanooga. This has significant local import because the route will evidently have to either follow the existing two-lane through the Ocoee Gorge or the route of the existing forest service road through the Little Frog Wilderness, the so-called Kimsey Mountain Highway.

The other three meetings are Monday, October 15, 10AM – 12 noon, Tri-County Community College, McSwain Building Lecture Hall, Murphy, NC; Monday, October 15 (same day) 5:30-7:00 PM Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, 255 Keith Avenue, Cleveland, TN; Thursday, October 18, 11:00 – 1:00 PM, Chattanooga/Hamilton County Development Resource Center, 1250 Market Street, First Floor Conference Room, Chattanooga, TN 37402. RSVP requested to Frances Hall (865) 803.8994 or

The meeting featured a lengthy – and somewhat less than gripping – Powerpoint presentation by John Mettille, who was billed as “the green (highway) man.” I’m glad they told me he was famous, because otherwise I might have dismissed him as a TDOT flak. He repeatedly asserted the somewhat counterintuitive proposition that a four-lane highway could be built through a pristine national forest area – not only without degrading it – but actually leaving the environment better than it was before the highway was built. The evidence for this claim appeared to be two older two-lane projects built through rolling farmland elsewhere, which I did not find completely convincing.

Not everybody’s a licensed philosopher, of course, and I think it’s fair to say that the thirty or so Nashville functionaries, local officials, and chamber of commerce types – not one “environmentalist” bothered to attend – found it convincing, if profoundly unnecessary. Since the local boosters seem to be convinced that all it’s going to take to bring them instantaneous wealth and prosperity is a four-lane road, they probably wouldn’t care if it destroyed every living organism within thirty miles of the right of way. Actually, that might be a little unfair, because they were alert enough to note during the “focus group” portion of the proceedings that among our local treasures are – yes – the Ocoee Gorge and the Kimsey Mountain Highway.

As I said at greater length in my column for May 2 – please scroll down and read that if you are interested in what I think – there does need to be a better solution. Unfortunately, TDOT is evidently holding out for a four-lane road, and they are indulging in quite a bit of mystification to promote it. For instance, the officials at the meeting hotly denied that Corridor K has anything to do with I-3 (an odd assertion, since they obviously will cross, at the very least, and probably will share roadbed), that any “alignments” (that’s routes) have been decided on, and that previous cost estimates are relevant. In fact, they admitted that the money doesn’t exist to build the road, which will necessitate a “public-private partnership” (which is officialese for toll road).

My self-immolating role as an objective reporter requires me to note that the four-color, slick print brochure they handed out contained a number of “inaccuracies.” For instance, it claims that numerous rock slides have occurred on the River Road, necessitating lengthy detours for trucks and – horrors – school busses. Well, I remember this happening once, and if I were a mean-spirited sort of person, I would point out that this is a case of TDOT relying on their own negligence, because if they weren’t determined to keep the road dangerous and hazardous to bolster their case for a four-lane, they could have installed guardrails, widened the road at the tight spots, and trimmed back the overhanging rock outcroppings years ago, at a fraction of the cost.

September 22, 2007

The weather has continued beautiful, but very dry. I visited a pond yesterday that I’ve never seen more than a foot low in the past twenty years – it catches the runoff from a fairly big ridge – and it was almost dry. It was down at least ten feet, maybe more. This is a little pond that hosts ducks during the migration season, but at this point, it’s just a muddy hole filled with algae. The storm total from last week was about 3 inches, but at this point, it is as if it never happened.

The deadline is October 9 to register to vote in the Great Fannin County Beer and Wine War. See the column below for details on how to do it online.

October is festival time in the mountains. Here’s a selection of the best local festivals.

Fall Festival at the John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC, October 6-7, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM. If you haven’t been, this is a great time to go. Be sure to visit the gift shop. Over 200 craftspeople will be exhibiting this year. For the “secret directions” to the Folk School from Blue Ridge, see “Day Trips” on the “Activities” button.

Fall Festival at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee, October 12-21. Admission is $8, parking is $2 per car, and the music events are included. There is a three day pass for $20. Zillions of booths and permanent exhibits, including a one room school and antique farm equipment. Crystal Gayle October 12, Earl Thomas Conley October 13, The Spencers, Lewis Family, and Mark Trammell Trio October 14, John Conlee, Janie Fricke, and T.G. Sheppard October 15, John Anderson and Ryan Casper October 16, Marty Stuart and Gold Wing Express October 17, Phil Dirt and Denise Rains October 18, and the Official Georgia State Fiddler’s Convention with Fiddlin Howard Cunningham October 19. The Fiddler’s Convention continues on October 20, and Issacs, Diplomats, and Chuck Wagon Gang close the festival on October 21.

The Mountain Harvest Sale at the Farmer’s Market in Blue Ridge – next to the Swan Drive-in on the old Highway – Saturday and Sunday, October 20-21, 27-28. Your source for homemade preserves and pickles.

The Sorghum Festival in Blairsville, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the first three weekends in October. (If you’re not from the south, you need to keep sorghum on hand because you always substitute it for molasses in recipes.)

The Indian Summer Festival is at the Woody Gap School in Suches October 6-7. Antique car show, crafts, food and fun.

The Marble Festival in Jasper October 6-7. The Historic Tate Marble Quarry is open for tours.

The Cherry Log Festival is the first three weekends in October.

Heritage Days in Talking Rock, October 13-14.

The 36th Annual Apple Festival in Ellijay, October 13-21. Over 300 vendors. The Antique Car Show is at the Civic Center on the 13th, and the parade is the 20th.

Gold Rush Days in Dahlonega, 300 arts and crafts booths, October 20-21.

September 13, 2007

We had about 3/8″ rain on Tuesday, and the weather has continued a little cooler. Yesterday was a beautiful day, and it was 59° on the porch this morning. (Friday update: We’ve had about 1-3/4″ through noon today.)

A little additional information for those who may wish to vote on the Great Fannin County Beer and Wine Referendum. The election is November 6. The deadline to register to vote is October 9. Early voting is October 29 – November 2. You need a photo ID to vote in person. Absentee ballots do not require a photo ID. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is November 2, and the request can be submitted by fax. The ballot is then mailed to you. The county web site,, has both the application to register to vote and the application for an absentee ballot. Obviously, this is an important issue for the future of Fannin County, and I urge you to vote.

We finally got around to doing something that we’ve been meaning to do for some time, which is to visit the Amish Farmer’s Market in Delano, Tennessee. After our first visit, I don’t think they’re going to be able to keep me away. Even though the growing season is almost past, there was an incredible variety of great looking produce, and the prices were wonderful. I bought a half peck of red poblano peppers (I use them in tomato sauce) for $4, and three red bell peppers for $1 (ditto). Also collards, turnip greens, hot peppers, sweet potatoes, new potatoes, pickling cucumbers, okra, melons, squash, peas, bread and baked goods, sorghum, preserves, and more. The guy behind the cash register apologized because the market is better in the summer months, but I couldn’t have cared less.

The Amish are known for beautiful draft horses, and it was a treat to see several beautiful wagon teams. There was some comedy, too, like the lady who tried to pay with a check and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t take it. (By the way, they ask that dress be respectful. They probably don’t like shorts very much, but they tolerate them. But they really don’t like low necklines or halter tops. If you’re wearing them, it would probably be a good idea to take a long sleeved shirt to wear inside.)

The market is north of Benton, TN. From Blue Ridge, you would go to Ducktown, and then take 64/74 (the River Road/Old Copper Road) west toward Cleveland. The scenic way to go is turn off on 316/30 to Reliance (the Greasy Creek Road) and then follow 30 over to 411. If you’re doing that, the turnoff to the market is on the left, just after you turn north on 411. There’s a winery on the same road. The quicker way to go would be to continue toward Cleveland on 64/74 and take the road that cuts off to Benton. It’s not marked very well, but you’ll see other traffic bear off on the right fork after you’ve passed Parksville Lake. This turnoff is just before you cross the Ocoee River and the road turns to four lanes. If you miss it, it’s no big deal. Just continue on until you hit 411, and turn north. When you get north of Benton, watch for the spot where 30 comes in on the right from Reliance. The turnoff to the market is on the left just past that point. It would take about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there from Blue Ridge. The Delano Community Farmer’s Market is open six days, starting at 9 AM. They said they would close sometime around the first of November. Obviously, there’s no phone.

This weekend is the Wildlife Arts Festival in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. There’s usually a lot going on, and there will be a lot of vendors displaying original artwork.

Also, Saturday and Sunday is the “Ride the Rails Festival” at the historic Mineral Bluff Depot. Rides on the rail cars – the little motorized cars that used to be used for track maintenance – are from 9 AM – 4 PM. The rides go over the old iron bridge over the Toccoa to Murphy Junction and back. There’s already some neat looking rail cars in town.

Finally, I was talking to the trout stocking guy at Tammin Park the other day, and he said that the river below the dam was already way over it’s allotment of trout, because the other streams are too hot to stock. The stocking takes place at Tammin Park, just below the dam, at Curtis Switch, and at Horseshoe Bend Park.

September 7, 2007

We’ve had about three days of rain in the past week or so, totaling about 1-1/4″. It’s back to very dry, but the good news is that the rain knocked the temperature down about ten degrees. I actually had 62° on the porch on Wednesday, and someone at the MLS committee meeting I attended that morning reported that his porch temperature was 55°.

The Labor Day Barbecue was a massive success, despite the terrible threat to the patriarchy posed by the fact that the Presbyterian gal was allowed to preach at the interdenominational service and ice cream social. Prompt and vigilant action by certain local preachers prevented the contamination of their flocks, for which we give thanks. Some might have compromised their principles to support a 25-year-old charity event and local tradition, but these did not. They were steadfast in their witness.

Dino has finally retired from Dino’s Tavern – or “Dino’s Nut House” as the sign over the bar had it – and has handed the new owner the famous baseball bat, which was once necessary to keep order.

In the ever-amusing Fannin Follies, the new county commissioners have decided to redo the town hall meetings held by Fannin’s Future, because they didn’t like the results of the previous forums. They are going to hand pick a team, which will apparently be charged with reporting results more acceptable to the commission.

The fighting has already been fast and furious in the great wine and beer war, with letters to the editors of both newspapers, opinion pieces, pronouncements from the pulpit, and even – gasp – a full page ad in the Fannin Sentinel pointing out that East Ellijay has no property taxes. Those on the “pro” side of the issue are sneakily stressing economics, while those on the “con” side of the issue are citing tradition, crime, spousal abuse, drug addiction, degeneracy, and the transparent will of the almighty. For those of you who want to take sides, the referendum will be held on Election Day, November 6th. The last day to register to vote is October 9. The Fannin Election Commission is 706.632.7740.

It is a fact that the chickens have been trapped and deported from downtown Blue Ridge. They are reportedly sojourning at a private residence on Ballewtown Road. There had apparently been complaints from a few of the downtown merchants.

That’s about the news. And remember, folks – you can’t make this stuff up!

August 28, 2007

It has continued very dry. There have been some scattered showers, but nothing very widespread. We had about 1/4″ at our place on Sunday, but I was down in the woods, and basically nothing reached the forest floor. Apparently, we’re in the worst drought for 120 years (or so). I think we’re supposed to be 16 inches behind normal in rainfall. The woods look very sparse, and a lot of stuff is dying. The dogwoods in particular look very stressed, although they are budding out in an amazing fashion.

The deadline to register to vote – in case you want to cast your vote in the Great Fannin County Beer, Wine, and Liquor Referendum (November 6) – will be October 9th. The election office is on the third floor of the courthouse, 706.632.7740.

A short real estate sermon before the local event listings below: It’s a great time to buy property! We have a huge inventory of land and cabins! Prices are better than they have been in many years! As I’ve said before, prices rarely crash completely in a resort market, but there are lots of choices, and there are definitely some very good deals out there, especially in new construction.

Next weekend, the Labor Day Barbecue is scheduled for Monday, September 3 in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. Serving starts at 11:00 and they basically serve until the food runs out. It’s usually choice of chicken or ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, and home baked cookies and cupcakes and cakes for dessert. There will probably be some musical activities as well. It’s usually a pretty good time, and the barbecue is usually good.

Upcoming events of note are the Wildlife Arts Festival, hosted by Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association (BRMAA), September 15-16 in the downtown park. There will be about 60 artists on site, with lots of associated events.

Also, the third annual Ridge the Rails festival will be held at the old depot in Mineral Bluff from September 15-16. Rides begin at 9 AM and run until about 4 PM. The train ride goes over the railroad bridge over the Toccoa at Hogback Road, over to Murphy Junction, and back. This is held by the model railroaders, who will be showing off their two layouts inside the depot. There’s usually a hand car for the kids to try, but it’s the motorized cars that used to be used for track maintenance that are used for the ride over to Murphy Junction.

August 17, 2007

The heat wave continues, and it’s been very dry. Yesterday, we saw a bit over 90 on the porch, I think for the first time this summer. Things are drying up and dying in the woods, and it’s as dry as it ever has been. We had about 1/8″ of rain at our place last night, but I think it was just a little local thunderstorm. In any case, it was barely enough to settle the dust.

It was quite a county commission meeting last Tuesday. The commission finally got off the dime and created the oversight committee for animal control. Also, the commission voted to have a referendum on liquor by the drink (which would include beer and wine) in November. The date will be November 6.

At the previous meeting, it appeared that there would be a standoff on this issue, with Steve Morris absent, and Howie Bruce saying that he would not vote for beer and wine, but would support a referendum. The way I heard it, Tommy Ledford said that he would not support a referendum, because he didn’t want liquor.

At the meeting last Tuesday, Ledford made a motion to allow beer and wine, but received no second. Bruce then made a motion to have a referendum – which by law, must be on liquor – and it passed unanimously. I’d have to give the News Observer some credit, because the publisher editorialized strongly on the commission’s inaction on the issues facing the county.

Unfortunately, they still have not acted on the growth issues – the recommendations of the Growth Alliance – and they continue to stonewall the idea of creating a citizen’s committee to replace Fannin’s Future, which they essentially killed. Apparently, they have a problem with citizen’s groups trying to tell them what to do.

So, I guess it was a historic meeting. The result cannot have pleased the local Baptists, who remain unalterably opposed to any sort of alcohol by the drink in the county. In their minds, liquor is unspeakably worse than beer and wine, so in a way, it was the worst possible outcome from their point of view … unless they can defeat the proposition at the polls.

For those people who are not opposed to alcohol on religious grounds, the issue is mostly one of hoping to get some good restaurants, and a sense that the county is losing out to East Ellijay on tax revenues. Apparently, almost half of our tourists drive down to East Ellijay to eat, and the loss to Fannin County restaurants – and our tax digest – is considerable. There is also a sense that with the current slowdown in the real estate market, that we need it to restore the county’s competitiveness in the second home market.

This will be a bitterly fought campaign, and the success of the proposition depends on how many of our second home owners register to vote and actually vote in the referendum. I’ve urged my buyers to vote here for years, on the theory that if this is where you plan to spend the rest of your life, it makes sense to help solve some of the serious issues that are facing us – growth, land planning, and zoning, especially. The county makes it quite easy to vote by absentee ballot, so those of you who care about this issue should consider voting here in November. It is not likely that there will be another chance in the foreseeable future to move this proposition.

Seasoned political observers will recall that this proposition was narrowly defeated in Union County/Blairsville last year.

The Fannin County Election Commission’s office is in the courthouse, and the phone number is 706.632.7740.

August 7, 2007

We’re back to needing rain seriously. The woods are extremely dry, and many of the trees continue to look very stressed, including the dogwoods. We had almost an inch of rain in the past seven days, but at least where we are, it came in about five minutes and just ran off.

I’m still seeing a lot of spotted fawns, two to three weeks old, while I’m out showing property.

By the way, that market seems to have picked up significantly, which is unusual for this time of year.

Pickin’ in the Park continues every Thursday night, starting at 6 PM, at the Ron Henry Horseshoe Bend Park, on the River Road just upstream from McCaysville. From McCaysville, go north on Hwy 60 to a right turn just before the railroad tracks on River Road. The park is on the right. It’s best to bring lawn chairs and perhaps a picnic dinner.

In Copperhill news, the aldermen finally did the right thing – after considerable prodding by the News Observer – and changed the ordinance so Dino could sell his bar and retire. The new ordinance passed on its second reading Monday morning, and I can report personally that Dino is very pleased. He plans to be closing very soon, so don’t delay if you want to go have a drink in the old tavern – “Dino’s Nuthouse,” as the sign above the bar calls it. I expect that the new owners will be opening a considerably more upscale establishment, given that their New Yorker Restaurant next door is already sporting white tablecloths.

Unicoi State Park (near Helen) is hosting a Folk Life Festival August 11, from 10 AM to 4 PM. This involves demonstrations of the old mountain arts and crafts, followed by a bluegrass concert by the Possum Knockers.

August 11 is also “Be an Aquatic Biologist for a Day” on the beautiful Conasauga River. Some of you may have read the interesting report on snorkling in the Conasauga in last Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (8/5), written by their outdoor reporter, Charles Seabrook. The Conasauga actually has more native species than the Colorado (45 vs. 33) and Columbia (25) river systems, which is impressive, given that it’s a much smaller. The article is still available on the AJC website. If you are interested in this event, I’d suggest calling early for information 423.867.3474.

July 28, 2007

We’ve had about an inch of rain in the past week, and it’s much appreciated, even if it is too late to help the farmers much.

The local produce is starting to come in good quantities. We’ve had local corn, crookneck squash, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and zucchini in the past week.

For those of you who may be interested in Copperhill, the Financial Times (England) has just published an interesting article naming Copperhill an “up and coming” community. It’s available on their website at

The hassle continues in Copperhill over the transfer of Dino’s license to a new group of investors that includes John Blankenship. It seems there was an ordinance passed a few years ago prohibiting bars in the downtown area. Dino’s was already there, so it is in effect an non-conforming use. The group that has bought the building that houses Dino’s and the New Yorker wants to have a restaurant on one side and a bar on the other side, where Dino’s is currently located. They have a license for the restaurant side, but it is tied to a certain percentage of food sales, which they do not want to have to meet on the bar side. There appears to be a bit of newcomer vs. old timers here, with the Board of Alderman split 2-2 on the last vote. Dino, of course, is caught in the middle. He wants to retire, and he doesn’t want the liability of continuing to hold the license. At this point, both the investment group and Dino have threatened to sue. I’d have to say that this is one of those things that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from my vantage point a few miles away. There’s already a bar there, in fact there is more than one, and the city can only gain by an upgrading of one of them by new investors. Also, Dino is a good guy, and it seems a shame that his retirement is being held hostage to what looks a lot like a game of “who is master?”

July 20, 2007

There have been some showers around the county, but they have been scant and scattered. At least where we live, there hasn’t been much measurable rainfall, perhaps a little less than a half an inch. The rain has encouraged the weeds some, along with some of the alien wildflowers and a ton of evil-looking mushrooms.

If you haven’t been out for blackberries, it’s high time. I believe they have pretty much peaked. A note of caution from the old woodsman: If you’re going out for berries, remember to watch out for bears. If you see bear sign in the form of droppings that look like small patches or piles of blackberry preserve, you can be sure that the bears have been there, too. Remember that at this time of year, females are apt to be with their young and can be dangerous. If you actually see bears, I’d strongly advise you to pick elsewhere. In all cases, you should keep small children close when picking berries. Having said all that, you’re unlikely to encounter them during the day. Like most everyone else who lives in close proximity to man, they’ve become largely nocturnal. If you pick some berries, you might want to try the famous recipe below.

The Georgia Mountain Fair is underway in Hiawassee. If you haven’t been, it’s well worth going. There are a variety of musical events and admission to the concert hall is included in the price of admission to the fair. It’s still only $8. The fair itself involves concessions, food stands – trout dinner! – and exhibits. The exhibit halls have some amazing stuff – old printing presses, farm equipment, crafts. There’s an original one room schoolhouse, preserved intact, a moonshine demonstration, and so forth.

There’s something a little special in store for race fans, as the Sugar Creek Raceway is hosting the USCS winged sprint cars on July 27, along with their usual program of racing.

The Dillard Barbecue and Bluegrass Festival is scheduled for August 3-4, Friday 11 AM – 11 PM, Saturday 11 AM – 5 PM. This is a real barbecue contest, sanctioned by the KCBS. If you haven’t been before, I’d advise going Friday evening, because the teams can be a bit hung over and inhospitable by Saturday afternoon because they’ve been up all night. On the other hand, the Rabun County Farmer’s Market, which happens Saturday in downtown Clayton, was just named one of the Top 10 in the country, which might argue for a Saturday visit to the wilds of Rabun County.

July 11, 2007

We’ve had nice rain in the county over the past three days, and it is continuing today. At our place, we’ve had at least 2-1/2 inches. Some of it came as a hard downpour, but we’ve also had some nice soaking rain. We’re still way behind in terms of total rainfall, but this rain makes me feel a lot better about our big trees and shrubs, which have been really stressed.

The blackberries are coming pretty good. The famous recipe is in the column below.

We’ve seen a lot more activity in the office lately, mostly investors who feel it is time to buy. There is not much doubt that it’s the best time to buy in Fannin County that we’ve seen for at least five years. There is more property on the market than we are used to seeing, and sellers seem are more negotiable than usual. Resort markets in general are more stable than conventional residential markets, because they typically have far fewer truly distressed sellers. Especially in our market, people who are able to afford a second home often seem willling to wait things out in order to get the price they want for their cabin. But, having said that, there are still an awful lot of bargains out there, especially when compared to the situation we’ve gotten used to over the past number of years.While there are bargains all across the spectrum, I think it’s fair to say that the biggest cabin bargains are in new construction, especially above $350,000. There are also a lot of bargains in lot and land offerings, which are in relatively greater oversupply.

In local news, the smokestack at the old copper plant in Copperhill has finally been removed, which is a historic event for the Copper Basin.

June 29, 2007

We had a little rain where we are last night, probably about 3/4″ to 1″. I think it was fairly widespread in the county, because one of our friends who lives out by the lake called and said she was having it, and I hear it rained even more in Cherry Log. It was your basic thunderstorm, but at least where we are, it didn’t rain too hard to soak in, so it was a much needed rain. We’re still way, way behind.

Tomorrow, June 30, is Old Timer’s Day in downtown Blue Ridge. It should be a lot of fun, with a parade, band, and all kinds of stuff. The band is the Feed and Seed Abominable Marching Band from Atlanta.

The Famous Blackberry Margarita Recipe

The blackberries are starting to come, although most of them seem to still need a little time to ripen. For those of you who may have “fallen off the wagon” as my home people used to say, here’s the recipe. I hear it’s great, although we’ve never tested it ourselves, of course. I just keep running it around this time of year, because I get swamped with email requests if I don’t!

2 cups berries
2 cups ice cubes
½ cup fresh lime juice
¾ cup white tequila
¼ cup sugar

Buzz the berries in the blender. It’s best if the berries have been washed and cooled in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Otherwise, it’s hard to get it cold enough to taste refreshing. It’s also a good idea to have the tequila in the freezer. Strain the seeds, if you care about these things (they tend to fall to the bottom of the glass, anyway). Add the other ingredients. Either buzz it again with the ice or serve it on the rocks. If it isn’t cold enough, you may want to refrigerate the mixture for a bit. Yes, it does need all that lime to taste like a margarita. Enjoy!

There are too many events scheduled for the next week or so to recount them all, but the News Observer has a full rundown on page 3 of today’s paper (Friday, June 29). It’s available from street boxes at various locations, including the grocery stores.

The fireworks are July 3, about 9:30, in McCaysville/Copperhill and June 4 at 9 PM at the Blue Ridge Marina. Morganton Point is probably the best place to view the Blue Ridge fireworks.

The Old Fashioned Fourth of July in Epworth is on the 4th from 10:30 to 3 PM. At noon, the North Georgia Shrine Club will be selling barbecue at the Blue Ridge Marina until the fireworks. Southern rock unit ESP will be performing at the marina starting at 4 PM.

June 20, 2007

Wild excitment! It rained pretty good two days in a row, and I think it covered pretty much the entire county. I’m confident this is the best rain we’ve had all year. That may not seem like much to get excited about, but it has been so incredibly dry that we’re worried about most of the trees and vegetation. I believe the storm total was about 1.5 inches.

June 13, 2007

The big news is that Intertrade is taking down the smokestack at the old copper plant. Work started yesterday and continues today.

This is a historic event for Copperhill, Tennessee, but it isn’t clear that it means the end of sulphuric acid production at the plant. It would be nice to think so, but a few years ago, Intertrade applied for and received a new sulphuric acid permit. Some of the old production equipment was recently sold to a Brazilian concern and removed. It was subsequently announced that Intertrade had surrendered the permit, but this has not been verified, and I believe they are probably still in possession of a valid permit for sulphuric acid.

In other Copperhill news, Dino, the long-time proprietor of the downtown tavern next to the New Yorker restaurant, has indicated that he will be closing soon, possibly this week. The New Yorker itself has already been sold to John Blankenship, or to a partnership in which he is a partner.

The Kiwanis Fair is set for June 20-24 in Blue Ridge at the Kiwanis Fairground. This is a sort of a carnival with rides, a midway, and snack booths. The fairgrounds are located south of the the old highway in the vicinity of the Anglican Church. There should be signs in the vicinity of the Blue Ridge City Hall pointing to the location.

June 6, 2007

Apologies to my loyal readers for not having an update for a couple of weeks. We snuck away on vacation, and then I had a small injury that kept me away from the office for a few days.

The weather has continued warm and dry. There have been some brief, local thunderstorms, but nothing like the soaker that we need.

The governor has signed a bill delaying builder licensing for yet another year. The new effective date is July 1, 2008. The grandfather exemption from testing for experienced builders has been extended until July 1, 2007 with all paperwork to be postmarked no later than July 2, according to the Home Builders Association of Georgia.

I’ve mentioned that the issue of Corridor K has come up recently, which affects Hwy 64 through the Ocoee Gorge (the “Old Copper Road). Local attorney Denny Mobbs is agitating a route utilizing the Kimsey Mountain Turnpike, which would be an environmental disaster, while TDOT seems to favor a major four-lane project in the gorge itself, another environmental disaster. Here’s a link to an interesting article on the subject:

The Georgia Mountain Fair’s Bluegrass Festival – now renamed the Roots & Music Festival is tonight and tomorrow at the Fairgrounds. Admission is to the fair itself, which is well worth visiting for the exhibits and vendor booths – $18 on Friday, $26 on Saturday, $12 on Sunday. The Friday show begins with Ducktown Station at 6 PM, followed by Dry Branch Fire Squad, The Grascals, and Cherryholmes. Saturday begins with the Greencards at 1 PM, followed by Hwy 76, Blue Ridge Grass, Lovell Sisters, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and the John Cowan Band. Sunday begins with Irons in the Fire at 1:30 followed by Shawn Mullins.More info at 706.896.4191.

Of course, the Cherokee Bluegrass Festival is also in progress over in Cherokee, NC this weekend.

The Riverbend Music Festival is also in progress over in Chattanooga.

In Blue Ridge doings, the Blue Ridge Mountain Storytellers will be storytelling at the Silk Road Traveler, 497 E. Main Street, Saturday June 9, at 6 PM. That’s just north of the train tracks in downtown Blue Ridge.

May 21, 2007

The weather has continued warm and beautiful, but very dry. Mornings have been in the upper 40s or lower 50s, with afternoons in the low 70s. Someone said the other day that it’s “the spring we never had,” and that feels about right, except for the lack of rain.

This weekend, May 26-27, is Arts in the Park. This is a very big event in the downtown Blue Ridge Park, which attracts some 20,000 visitors. It’s well worth attending, and there should be lots going on in addition to the art work.

May 10, 2007

The weather has been warm and beautiful. Most of the laurel is in bloom (not the mountain laurel or rhodendron), and I’m still seeing native azalea here and there in the county. The wildflowers should be in bloom, but I’m not seeing as many as I usually do, perhaps because it’s been so dry.

There’s an important public meeting regarding Corridor K and the river road through the Ocoee Gorge on the 15th. Details are below.

Pickin’ in the Park should be held as usual tonight (Thursday) at Ron Henry Park.

George Jones is playing the Anderson Music Hall at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds on Saturday the 12th.

The Georgia Mountain Classics car show is scheduled for downtown Blue Ridge on Saturday the 12th.

There’s a CCC Reunion at Vogel State Park on Saturday the 12th, with tours of the CCC Museum. There is a covered dish dinner being offered. RSVP is necessary, 706.745.2628.

May 5, 2007

We had a nice little rain last night and this morning, the first real good soaker in a very long time. I imagine that there will be some wildflowers that haven’t bloomed yet coming along with this rain.

Please see the columns below for important meetings regarding the river road and for local doings today.

May 2, 2007

I’ve talked about the progress of spring and the many things to do this weekend in my column below. This is a “special” to pass along some information I received from one of my readers.

There has been a lot of planning and discussion lately about the “river road,” also known as the Old Copper Road, that goes from Ducktown, Tennessee toward Cleveland, Tennessee, down the Ocoee Gorge. This is the area of the Olympic Whitewater Venue and is the location of a great deal of for-profit rafting. If you haven’t been on it, it’s extremely narrow and tight, and there are many, many places where there is no guardrail. Just in the past two weeks, a tanker overturned and there was a significant diesel spill. The main hazard, however, is that there are some very narrow passages through the rock, and if the car or truck in the other lane is fudging the lane at all, there is a possibility of a collision. Tractor trailers have been known to “trade mirrors” at these points, and it’s basically just a dangerous road. I don’t like to be on it at night or in the rain. From the local point of view, it’s simply something that’s been endangering local lives for years that’s been mostly ignored up in Nashville.

There have been a number of proposals for dealing with the situation, from widening the existing roadbed to bypassing it. There is a real difference of opinion and perspective between the local citizens who travel the road daily to get to work, and the people who use the road primarily for recreational access to the river and national forest. The local people are much more inclined to get it fixed at any cost, while the recreational users are much more interested in preserving the beauty of the gorge.

I think what the recreational users need to understand is that lots of us have to use this road rain or shine, ice or snow, night and day – not just when the sun is shining and it’s a good day for an outing. I think what the “never met a road they didn’t like” people need to understand is that the beauty of the Ocoee Gorge is important, and that if the beauty of our area is destroyed, it won’t lead to economic development, it will lead to economic disaster. It’s called “killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” and a lot of people are simply determined not to get it.

My own personal opinion is that a great deal could be done to improve the existing roadbed without too much difficulty, namely cutting away the rock at several points and adding guardrails. The Tennessee Department of Transportation seems to be holding out for a four-lane solution, and they have recently tried to acquire right-of-way by eminent domain, which has affected property and business owners in the vicinity of Ocoee, where the four-lane stops just before crossing the river from the west. Among others, Ms. Be, the owner of the Purple Bus, has been very vocal in protesting these actions, which she feels will put her out of business.

The solution that is currently in official favor for Corridor K seems to be a four-lane up the gorge with several tunnels and bridges. Needless to say, the environmentally inclined feel this will harm the beauty of the gorge. Lately, Denny Mobbs, a local lawyer, has been promoting the idea of using the route of the Kimsey Mountain Highway to bypass the existing roadbed. Despite it’s name, this is no highway, it’s a forest service road that passes by many pristine streams and mountain vistas, on the edge of the Little Frog Wilderness and the Cherokee National Forest. I, for one, would hate to see this happen, because this is a very beautiful and unspoiled area.

There is a public meeting scheduled for the Ocoee Whitewater Center on Tuesday, May 15 at 11:00 AM. If this is something you care about, it would be good to attend this meeting. You reach the Whitewater Center from Blue Ridge by taking Hwy 5 to McCaysville, crossing the river, and turning left on Hwy 68. You go north past the old copper plant a few miles to a left on Hwy 64 at Ducktown. The Whitewater Center is on the left about ten miles west of Ducktown. Driving time from Blue Ridge would be about 30 minutes. The organizers are planning a free light lunch, so if you are interested in lunch, they ask that you RSVP to Frances Hall at (865) 803.8994 or

There is also a meeting on Tuesday, May 15 at 5:30 PM at Southwestern Community College, 447 College Drive, Sylva, NC.

There is another meeting in Polk County on Thursday May 17 at the Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland, TN at 5:30 PM.

RSVP for these meetings is the same as above.

Jennifer Osborne from the Tennessee Department of Transportation seems to be the contact person. That’s or 423.595.3476.

April 30, 2007

The weather has been very nice, a touch on the warm side for this kind of year. (It was 86° on my porch!) We had a significant rain last Thursday, not a downpour, but enough to make a difference in what has been a dry spring. On the strength of that rain, the native azaleas (flame azaleas) are in bloom, and the laurel (not the rhodendron or mountain laurel) is poised to bloom. Some of the trees that were hard hit by the early freeze have recovered to some extent and are putting out new leaves. Others appear to be dead, with black, lifeless leaves. The grass has started to grow, and it’s probably time for folks to come up and put their yards in shape, if they haven’t already.

Pickin’ in the Park begins Thursday at about 6 PM, and should be held every Thursday through the end of September. This is one of the best things we have going, and I recommend it. It brings out some amazing bluegrass musicians, both young and old. It’s probably best to take a lawn chair, and picnicing is allowed. The easiest way to find Horseshoe Bend Park is to go north on Hwy 5 to McCaysville, cross the river, and turn right on Hwy 60. You go a few blocks, and just before the railroad tracks, turn right on the river road. Ron Henry Park is on the right.

There are lots of things going on May 5.

Paws in the Park, a pet event, is being held in the downtown Blue Ridge Park on May 5th. Gathering is 10:30, parade at 11:00, blessing of the animals at noon.

The high school is having a barbecue at Ron Henry Park at 10 AM. Advance tickets, 706.632.2013 or tickets at the barbecue while they last.

There’s a kid’s fishing tournament from 9-1 at the Blue Ridge Marina. Sign in is at 8:30, entry is $20. More information 706.492.2813, 706.492.5521, or 706.492.2797.

There’s a shape note singing convention at Harmony Baptist Church, across from the Ace, at 7 PM.

There’s also the opening of the Kevin Nickell photography exhibit at the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, 4-6 PM, with music by the Boomers.

I believe it is also Tommy Irwin Appreciation Day, and there’s a rabies clinic!

April 21, 2007

The weather has been very beautiful lately, with mornings about 50° and afternoons up around 70°. The pollen is also very high. A lot of the trees took a real beating from the three day freeze we had after a week of temperatures in the 80s. My redbuds are definitely stressed, and I think my persimmons are gone. The crabapple and dogwood seem a little better off than the redbuds, but they are definitely done blooming. According to Bill Mercier, the founder of Mercier Orchards, it was the worst spring freeze since 1955. They report that they should have enough apples for the market, but were pretty hard hit.

The information that I’ve been able to get suggests that the best way to help trees in your yard is to keep them well watered, and not to fertilize until December. We seem to be headed into another drought, with stricter state watering restrictions taking effect last week, and it makes sense that trees that are already stressed do not need to be further stressed by drought.

Next week is one of my favorite events, the Polk County Ramp Festival. For the old settlers, the coming of the ramps was a welcome sign of spring, and many mountain communities have ramp festivals, from West Virginia to Georgia. Thursday is ramp digging up in North Carolina, Friday is cleaning of the ramps, and Saturday is the ramp festival, with country breakfast and bluegrass. If you have time, it’s a great experience to help dig the ramps, and it helps you understand the spirit of the festival. The diggers usually meet at the Hardees in Tellico Plains for breakfast before the dig, but you should call 423.338.4503 for last minute confirmation of plans. The festival itself is a good place to mix with the local politicians and old boys, get some ramps, boiled peanuts, and sassafras root tea, and generally enjoy life in the mountains. The spring wildflowers are usually pretty good in the area of the festival, too. For more information and directions from Blue Ridge, see my column for 4/21/03 (on the archives link above) or visit

There have been some interesting migrants lately. We have a pair of Northern Harriers visiting our property, and I can’t recall ever seeing them in the mountains before.

The Adventure Race ran last Saturday, with the rain holding off long enough to get the race in. The winning team, Enduraventure, annihilated the opposition, finishing in 5:36:27. The second place team came in at 7:06:07, a full hour and a half later. As usual, the Natti Love Joys sounded great. Their contract called for them to start playing at noon, and they did, even though they played Knoxville the night before. It’s a three hour drive from Knoxville, so those guys must be made of steel.

There’s a new newspaper in Fannin County, the Fannin Sentinel. This is a chain with their next nearest newspaper in Blairsville. There have been two issues so far, and they haven’t amounted to much, because there has been virtually no Fannin County coverage – just stories recycled from their other papers. They carry Bill O’Reilly’s column, so they seem set to try to run to the right of the News Observer, if that’s possible. The Blairsville paper – the Union Sentinel – is one of those small town newspapers where one person writes almost all the stories. We’ll have to see whether the Fannin paper improves, but no doubt people with all kinds of causes are licking their lips in anticipation of playing the two papers off against one another.

April 10, 2007

I forgot to mention that the music at the Adventure Race Finish in the downtown Blue Ridge Park on Saturday will be by the Natti Love Joys. They are an internationally known reggae band, and well worth hearing. The expectation is that the awards ceremony will take place around 5:00 PM, but the first teams will probably cross the finish line a few hours before that time.

If you are opposed to the I-3 boondoggle, there is a very short window to take some very meaningful action. There is a possiblity that the project will be de-funded. Comments must be received by our public officials by April 18. See for details.

April 9, 2007

It was much colder than I expected this last weekend – a little below 20° – and I’m afraid there was some damage to the trees that are in leaf. I have some young persimmons that were in leaf, and now the leaves are black and shriveled. The redbuds are not quite as bad, but they don’t look happy. The dogwood leaves seem to be in better shape, but it’s hard to say whether they will continue to bloom. I estimate that about half of them were in bloom before the cold snap. Their leaves look OK, but their blossoms have shrunk considerably. My crab apples aren’t happy, but they aren’t dead, either. The oaks and maples seem to be all right.

The Blue Ridge Adventure Race is on for this Saturday. As usual, it will end in the downtown park, sometime in the afternoon. We’re a major sponsor again this year, and we will have a booth in the park. If you haven’t attended the race before, it’s usually a pretty good time at the finish line, when the teams are done for the day.

April 3, 2007

We’re supposed to have cold mornings this coming weekend, but I think we will probably still see the dogwoods peak. There are a good number of them already in bloom, on the slopes that get the most sun.

According to the reports I’ve received, the opening weekend of trout was quite good. I suspect that the opening day of turkey was also good, because I’ve heard a lot of turkey talk around the county. If you’re out in the woods, remember that hunters may be present, too, especially in the early morning hours. For those of you who may be interested, there’s a few words about turkey hunting in my March 16, 2003 column (on the archive button).

I’ve been locked up for the past week for Graduate Realtor Training (GRI). This is a bit of a grind, and it’s difficult catching up afterwards, but it’s still the best educational program we have, and in today’s environment, I feel that you just can’t get too much training. A lot of people ask me why I do it, and that’s why.

There has been no official resolution of the situation with Fannin’s Future, but it is obvious that the program is indeed dead, killed by the new county commission. This is disappointing to those of us who hoped that the new commission would be proactive in addressing the issues raised by growth. Instead, it has become increasingly apparent that it will be business as usual in Fannin County for the next two years. The commissioners are floating the explanation that “we’re not killing it, we’re just trying to take it to the next level.” That leaves me pretty much speechless, so I’ll quote the immortal words of former Copperhill Police Chief Frank Payne, which were spoken in a slightly different context: “America is an educated society. Most people, I believe to be good and intelligent enough to see through the bull that a chosen few has insulted our intelligence by hoping we believe.”

If you haven’t been up lately, you need to visit, or you’ll miss spring in the mountains. Hope to see you in town!

March 22, 2007

It’s high spring in the mountains. The early ornamentals are in bloom, and this morning, my sarvis started to bloom. It’s the first of the natives to come, usually a week or more before the dogwood. My redbuds are starting to show color, and we had our first reading of 70° on the porch yesterday afternoon.

I first noticed the tree pollen on my car on Tuesday.

If you have sarvis – also called service berry or june berry – on your property, please do what you can to protect it. It’s a beautiful native, and it seems that every year I see less and less of it. I used to be able to stand on my porch and look out toward North Carolina and see dozens of trees. These days, I see only a few. I’m not sure what’s happening to them, but they’re definitely worth saving where they prosper. Most often, they appear as a small tree, but they can grow to a considerable size. There’s one near my cabin that is probably sixty feet tall and eight or twelve inches thick.

In a normal year, we’re about three weeks behind north Atlanta and four weeks behind Virginia Highlands. I haven’t had a chance to visit Atlanta recently, so I don’t know if we’re true to form this year, but that’s a good rule of thumb.

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad has started to run again, so foot traffic downtown has started to pick up.

The shocking local news is that Fannin’s Future, the citizen’s organization that has been responsible for initiating planning for growth and many other good things, is being shut down by the people responsible for running it. The word on the street is that the new county commission, which everyone thought would be progressive, is refusing to support it or work with it. This is very unexpected news, and it’s still a developing story.

The next county commission meeting, which will be held next Tuesday 3/27 at 6:00 PM on the third floor of the courthouse, promises to be a crucial one for the future of Fannin County.

So far, our commissioners have not had anything to say for themselves, but we have heard from various people that a citizens group like Fannin’s Future has “no right to tell elected officials what to do.” I’m not sure which civics text they found that one in, but folks, I just report the news, I don’t make it up. In this particular case, I couldn’t have!

As someone who has spent several long years serving on the “Growth Alliance,” the committee charged with promoting planning for growth, I have to say that the Fannin’s Future organization has been one of the most positive things that has ever happened in Fannin County.

March 16, 2007

Just time for a quick report on the progress of spring. It has been very warm, and we had a little rain yesterday and today. The weather is expected to turn colder, but I think with the rain, we’ll begin to see some things in bloom. At this point, the maples are budding out pretty well, and I’ve seen some ornamentals in bloom in yards, but the sarvis hasn’t come yet. That’s usually the first wild tree to bloom, and the wild cherry trees usually aren’t too far behind. Then, after a week or so, the dogwoods come.

March 5, 2007

The weather bounced back cold last week, but it seems to be more seasonal this week, with mornings in the forties and afternoons near sixty. We had a very hard, driving rain Thursday night, and it left a lot of local roads in poor shape. As most of you have found out the hard way, once a gravel road gets channelized, it begins to deteriorate very quickly. It rained harder than it’s rained in a long time, and I’ve seen a good bit of road damage around the county.

It still feels like spring, but nothing is in bloom yet except for daffodils. I’ve already heard the peepers, and I’ve seen wild fowl and songbirds moving back through. After the rain, there were wood ducks and mallards in the farmer’s field below my cabin, and I’ve been seeing them in increasing numbers in various parts of the county.

The real estate market has picked up a little with the nice weather. We’re beginning to see more buyers than we have in the past few months, and my feeling is that the coming year will be a fairly good one. There is still a lot of unsold inventory, and bargain hunters should probably come up and see what’s available before the spring selling season gets started in earnest. I still have a wonderful cabin with one of the best views I’ve seen in Fannin County – you can see all the way to Brasstown Bald – for under $400,000. I also have a good lake lot on Campbell Cove Lake (no gasoline motors!), a fantastic whitewater lot on Fightingtown, a 2/2 with creek and lake view, and a nice 12 acre tract that’s ideal for a private estate, with very nice views. It even has a trail tree. I also have a nice My Mountain lot with a waterfall (unique for My Mountain). I haven’t gone too crazy with listings lately, but these were all much too good to pass up.

The opening day of trout is that last Saturday of the month (3/31), and turkey season is coming in the Saturday before (3/24). It’s always a painful dilemma for outdoors people who want to do both when they come in on the same day, so it’s good that they are separated by a week this year. For those who don’t hunt, make a mental note that hunters will be in the woods for a few weeks. Remember that if you hear owl or crow or turkey calls, that they may be being made by a hunter. As always, it’s best to wear a blaze orange hat. You should not wear purple during turkey season.

February 27, 2007

We’ve had some warmer weather this week. It feels like the year has finally turned, and spring is on the way. This is rather late, by my reckoning. I’ve seen the first signs of spring on February 1, many times. In any case, we’ve had afternoons in the sixties, and we’ve had some decent porch time for the first time in several months. The eastern bluebirds are passing through, and although I haven’t seen the first mourning cloak, I expect that to happen soon, if the weather stays mild.

OK, that’s the good news. The bad news is that the wonderful folks at the forest service are back with their plan to sell our public land to their developer buddies. I would have thought the reception this received last year showed that people aren’t enthusiastic about this idea, to say the least, but … it’s back. In case you missed it the first time, these are pieces that are allegedly “hard to manage” but are somehow also perfect for development. (As I’ve said before, I don’t get the “hard to manage” bit, because I’ve never seen a forest service employee any further than five miles from the office – and that’s been at the beach, which they recently outsourced, so they wouldn’t have to go out there to empty the trash cans.) As far as I can tell, it’s the same pieces in Fannin, Gilmer, Polk, and Monroe that were on the table last year, 300,000 acres in all, with 3,000 in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. The piece in Fannin – which is off Newport Road in Dial – is allegedly being offered because the forest service “does not have legal access” to it. (Given that land owners cannot be landlocked in Georgia and this is the federal government we’re talking about, this seems more than a little dubious.) So, they’ve tried to sweeten the deal this time. In addition to payments to counties for schools – “it’s for the kids!” – they propose to spend some of the money for “national forest purposes,” which seems to boil down to creating slush funds for governors in affected states. Governors usually have some buddies who need public assistance, so they may indeed get some support this way. I don’t think it has a snowball’s chance of getting through the new Congress. But still … it’s an insultingly venal and stupid proposal, which the public has already spoken unequivocally against. In view of that, would it surprise you to know that there will be no public comment this time?

In other news, it was widely noted with teary sadness that legislator Charlie Norwood has passed. I didn’t know him personally, but he was apparently a heck of a guy. He was also the prime mover in the I-3 boondoggle, a welfare project for Georgia contractors that will create a hideous swath of destruction through the mountains between Savannah and Knoxville, taking all of a dozen miles off the existing interstate and destroying – among other things – thousands of acres of national forest and the famous Tail of the Dragon on the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In case you’re wondering, it’s essential for national defense. I guess that’s in case Savannah is invaded, and we happen to have a whole bunch of troops up in Knoxville. If you don’t know this story already, you can catch up at Anyway, what a wonderful legacy.

February 19, 2007

It has continued very cold, and we had about an inch of snow Saturday night. Unlike the last snow, this one was very dry, and most of it stayed on the ground until early afternoon, making for some very pretty scenes. We got up early and took a little hike first thing, and we had it all to ourselves, because there really was a biting wind. I noticed from the tracks in the snow that our resident red fox was out and about long before we were, but everyone else seemed to be still in bed. Except for getting up and down from some of the ridges, there were no real travel difficulties this morning. The forecast calls for a warming trend as the week goes on, and most folks are ready for it.

The biggest local news is that Blue Ridge has voted to annex the 515 corridor from the Gilmer County line to Hwy 60. This is being done primarily to gain revenue from speeding tickets, but also so the city can annex anything they want that touches 515. This is apparently legal and even customary in Georgia, but it must be ratified by the state legislature. It does not seem to be especially good news for property owners. For one thing, if they don’t live on the property that is annexed, they will not have the right to vote in city elections. For another, it is unclear that the city’s desire for governing is equal to its desire for revenue. From the county’s point of view, I imagine it will result in a loss of revenue from speeding tickets, putting further pressure on property taxes to generate income.

I attended a very interesting training session over in Blairsville the other day. Every year, the Georgia Association of Realtors revises the contracts to address the problems that have cropped up in the previous year, and this year the changes were pretty significant. As you probably know, real estate agents cannot practice law in Georgia. All we can legally do is fill in the blanks on contracts that are drafted by attorneys, and that’s where these forms come into play. I try never to miss this particular session, because it’s taught by Greg Dunn, who is on the committee that revises the forms. This year, he’s the chairman of that committee, so he’s pretty much the horse’s mouth on contract changes.

This year, there are two major changes that affect buyers. First, the termite letter, which is usually a $75 expense in our market, is now the responsibility of the buyer. While this seems unfair at first, it is actually a good thing, because we had a bad problem under the old contract, where the seller was responsible for providing the termite letter. We often received the termite letter at closing, after the time limit had passed for requesting repairs. In that case, if there was termite damage, the buyer was stuck with it. We have also had some problems with the seller influencing the findings of the termite inspector. Every once in a while, they actually found the famous “blind termite inspector.” While it is an additional expense, it makes much more sense for the buyer to hire his or her own termite inspector, who is liable to the buyer – not the seller – for any errors or omissions. In the past, I’ve sometimes recommended that buyers have their own termite inspection anyway, just for peace of mind. This way, buyers can choose a termite inspector that they have confidence in, without having to accept the findings of someone they’ve never met. So, all in all, I think this is a very positive change in the contract.

The other change presents more problems for buyers. Under the old contract, if the buyer made an offer with a loan contingency, the buyer got his or her earnest money back if the loan wasn’t approved, right up to the time of the closing. In turn, this meant that the loan companies rarely gave final approval of a loan until the day of closing, as they had no incentive to work faster. This wasn’t so good for sellers, because many times, they would take their property off the market for a month or more, and then find out at the last minute that the loan wasn’t approved and the property wasn’t going to sell. In some cases, the seller had actually moved out of the house by this time, in order to give possession at closing. The new contract tries to make things more fair to the seller by giving the buyer a negotiated period of time in which to get unconditional loan approval. After that specified period of time has passed, if the buyer does not get loan approval, he or she would be obligated to buy the property anyway or lose the earnest money. This is much better for sellers, but it is going to put a lot of pressure on buyers to work with reputable loan people, who will deliver what they say, when they say. It will also make it much more important for real estate agents to know what they are doing so that they can protect their buyers against the loss of their earnest money.

February 12, 2007

The weather has continued very cold this past week, with a bit of a warming trend Sunday and Monday. I was out and around on Big Creek Road this past Friday, and there was still some snow by the side of the road. In most other parts of the county, it’s been gone for several days.

February 2, 2007

We had about four inches of snow on the ground yesterday morning, and temperatures stayed near the freeze for most of the morning. There was also a little freezing rain. It was a very wet snow, especially after it had been rained on. There were some travel difficulties, especially in the morning, but I have not heard any reports of power outages. This morning, Friday, it is mostly melted, because temperatures stayed above the freeze last night. Some of the outlying areas still have some snow, and it is probably necessary to use caution coming down from the ridgetops. Otherwise, I’ve heard no reports of travel difficulties. Tonight will freeze, but hopefully most of the roads will be fairly dry at that point.

January 26, 2007

The temperatures have been pretty cold lately. I had 20° on the deck this morning. Whether it’s cold or not depends mostly on the wind. Yesterday, the wind blew pretty hard, and it was cold all day. Today, the wind is calm, and it was warm enough to eat lunch in the park. The forecast for Saturday is for a nice day.

The “transfer facility” at the dump on Tom Boyd Road has lost their lease, and they are proposing to move it to Hwy 60, at the existing “convenience station.” According to the News Observer, our new commissioners were enthusiastic about the proposal, saying that it would reduce congestion of Hwy 5. That’s undoubtedly true, but it’s going to increase congestion on Hwy 60 incredibly.

If you’re interested in the cranes, you should mark your calendar for February 3-4. That’s the 15th Annual Cherokee Indian Heritage and Sandhill Crane Viewing Days at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Hiwassee Wildlife Refugee. The thrill this year is the presence of three whooping cranes, along with approximately 15,000 sandhill cranes. The whooping cranes are the most endangered crane in the world. Bill Leshman of Operation Migration is the keynote speaker. The refuge is near Birchwood, which is south of Dayton and north of Cleveland, Tennessee. For more information contact Saundra Gilmore at (931) 484.9571 or visit

Update: We visited the refuge on Saturday, and were happy to get very good looks at a Whooping Crane, one of about 200 left in the world. It’s about an hour and a half from Blue Ridge. You would go Highway 5 to McCaysville, cross the river, and turn left. At Ducktown, you would take Hwy 64 west (The Old Copper Road). When you get in the vicinity of Cleveland, TN, take Hwy 60 north, which runs with the bypass until you cross over 75. When you get to Brichwood, go a mile or so further north on 60 and watch for the sign marking the right turn to the refuge. Follow the signs from there to the refuge.

January 15, 2007

The weather has been bouncing around like crazy, acting more like early March than January. We had a few incredibly cold days last week, but this morning it was back to 60° at sunrise. It’s more or less the usual winter in the mountains, but a lot warmer than is usually the case.

The new county commission has met for the first time, and things seem to be off to a good start. The voters wanted change this time, with only one of three incumbents reelected. It seems likely that the new commissioners will work better together than the last ones did, and I think they are apt to tackle some of the issues relating to growth that the previous commission seemed to be gridlocked on. That’s good news for the county. With the Chairman and Post 1 being only two year terms this time, the commissioners will have to move decisively to produce results … and make a credible case for their reelection.

The real estate market seems to be picking up a little, but so far, we’re definitely not experiencing a record setting first quarter. But I wasn’t expecting one, because in my experience, that only happens when investors are so unhappy with their stock market performance that they decide to shift into real estate. All things considered, it’s a good market for buyers, with more inventory available than usual at this time of year. It’s a fairly good market for sellers, so long as their listings are realistically priced. It’s not a good market for sellers who want to “go fishing” at unrealistic prices, because they are not getting either showings or sales. There’s simply too much available that is priced right at this point for that tactic to succeed.

There’s been a lot of talk about what’s going in next to the Home Depot, and the short answer is that we don’t know yet. It seems that Wal-Mart was considering the site, but is now also thinking about going to Blairsville instead. According to my best information, that decision hasn’t been made yet. The owner of the property hasn’t commented on that, but according to the News Observer, he has allowed that he has had conversations with a major grocery chain. So, the bottom line is, we’re still waiting to see what’s going to happen. There is a new pet supply store, a pizza place, a feed store, and a Subway on the site, up behind the car wash.

The state has heard the uproar about removing 400 small towns from the official road map, and has agreed to put them back on the next edition of the map. That’s good news for our little area, because some of the places that were dropped were hard enough to find when they were on the map!

As always, feel free to email me if you have specific questions. I’ll be glad to help if I can. Until then, I hope you can come up and visit. It’s a very peaceful time to be in the mountains.

January 4, 2007

We’ve had a couple of beautiful days with beautiful sunsets, and now we’re apparently set for a few rainy days. Saturday is supposed to be nice, and then it looks like we’re back to rain. In other words, we’re having normal winter mountain weather, with temperatures more moderate than usual.

The town was pretty quiet this week, with everyone seeming to want to prolong the holidays a bit. John Daly, at the take-out cart, said he’d had the slowest two weeks since he’s been here, and he’s a pretty good indicator of activity. With the train idle for the next little while, there’s been more parking available in town, but there’s still a lot of people downtown, visiting the shops.

The Possum Drop was held over at Clay Corners as usual, this year with a live possum. The proper permits were obtained – four in all – and so the tradition (such as it is) was preserved. The guy who owns the place is a genius at that sly country wit that is often misconstrued in the blue states as stupidity … but that’s the point, after all. You can check it out at

We’re starting to see a lot of listings come in, partly new year’s resolutions and partly recognition that it’s a new year and a new selling season. If you’re thinking of listing your property, it’s a good time. 2006 wasn’t has good as 2005, but it was better than 2004, so rumors of the demise of the mountain real estate market are greatly exaggerated. I’m not expecting a first quarter boom, because that is usually triggered by a poor stock market year, but I am expecting a good first quarter and a year of stronger sales. My best guess is that prices will stabilize in 2007, and that we’ll see the normal yearly cycle, with sales stronger in the early spring and fall than at other times of the year.

If you live in Atlanta, you’ve probably seen coverage in the AJC of the new state road map, which has dropped some of the smaller towns around the state. In our area, we’ve lost a few. I’m shocked to see that Cherry Log and Epworth have been dropped. That’s going to be a problem for real estate listings, because there are a lot in those two areas. I’m less shocked to see Hemp and Higdon go by the wayside. In all some 500 towns were dropped from the map.So if you live in those places, you’re hereby informed – you no longer exist!