Columns 2009

December 18, 2009

I probably won’t get a chance to post a column next week, so I want to take the opportunity to wish everyone a happy holiday. Obviously, it was a tough year in the real estate business again this year, but I suspect it was a tough year in almost any business.

They’ve been running the old dog pretty hard lately, so I haven’t had a chance to just sit back in front of the fire and take stock the way I sometimes do at this time of year. But I do know that I have a lot to be thankful for in many ways, and a hope that all of you have a little time off with family and friends this holiday season.

On a sad note, the Country Smokehouse, my favorite meat market in Blairsville, is closing their doors after December 23rd. The owner, Kenley Redditt, plans to do more country fairs and festivals and – beginning in the spring – sell some retail products through local stores. He also plans to offer Brasstown Beef – a high quality natural product raised locally – for quantity orders only (through his old phone number 706.781.6516). This is sad news for me because I enjoyed going in there, and I wish Kenley and the crew – Walter, David, Shirley – the best luck.

Although it’s a longer trek from Blue Ridge, from now on I’ll be shopping at the Corner Butcher Shop in Hayesville. It’s in the old downtown of Hayesville, 828.361.3364.

December 10, 2009

We’ve had about three inches of rain and some high winds, but the winds didn’t seem to get destructively strong in most areas. I was in Ellijay yesterday, and he winds down there were definitely stronger than they were in Blue Ridge. They would definitely have done more damage if the leaves had still been on the trees, because the ground was definitely saturated. I saw little creeks and “dry branches” running strong that are normally just a drip, and that continued for a full day after the rain stopped. Most of the creeks seemed to crest a few feet below flood stage.

It’s a fairly quiet weekend in town. The Christmas sale continues at the Arts Center in the old courthouse on West Main Street, Tuesday – Saturday until 4:00 pm.

Also, the Childern’s Christmas play opens tomorrow night (Friday) at the Blue Ridge Community Theater and will play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon for the next two weekends (December 11 – 20). It is “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus,” and was written by L. Frank Baum, the author of “The Wizard of Oz.”

December 4, 2009

There’s a threat of some snow after 1:00 AM this morning, but they have lessened the severity of the forecast since this morning, so it is hard to say if it will happen.

Light Up the Basin is tonight. Here’s the official description. “Copper Basin Residents, young and old are invited to help throw the switch to ‘Light Up the Basin’ for the holiday season. Local communities coordinate their Christmas Lighting Ceremonies in a single evening of celebration the night before the annual Kiwanis Christmas Parade. The evening begins at 6 pm, at the McCaysville Branch of United Community Bank, where Mayor Buddy Finch helps light McCaysville’s official Christmas Tree. A procession of Christmas carolers then parades by candlelight to the Copperhill Branch of the BB&T Bank, for another tree lighting ceremony. Participants then make their way to Copperhill City Hall, to help Mayor Herb Hood light Copperhill’s Yule tree. The crowd then moves back down Grande Avenue for the lighting of the wreath of the Old Steel Bridge. Following the tree lightings, celebrants warm up with free hot chocolate and cookies, at Rivers Crossing Mall. Santa Claus will pay a special visit at 6:30 pm, to listen to the wish lists of local youngsters. There are free candy canes for all children in attendance, and free pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus.”

There will also be a Christmas Village in Copperhill/McCaysville tomorrow, as well as the Kiwanis Christmas Parade in McCaysville.

Also Saturday, the Tri-State Model Railroaders Christmas Open House will be at the historic depot in Mineral Bluff.

And, for my hot, top secret tip, St. Catherine’s in Copperhill is having a “Christkindl Markt” where they will be selling (gasp) traditional Lebanese Meat Pies. (Copperhill has a strong Lebanese and Greek heritage, among others, and some of these ladies are fantastic cooks.) That’s from 9:00 – 5:00 tomorrow. To reach the Church: Turn right at the first light as you travel north. The Mexican restaurant will be on your left. Go up the hill, cross the tracks, and turn right.

November 27, 2009

It’s a beautiful day today, clear and cold. At this point, most of the leaves are off the trees, and there are some beautiful views from our place. (We didn’t cut all the trees down, day one, so we have something to look forward to when the leaves come off. We did do a little cutting so we could see the Big Frog and Hemptop year round, and there was already a powerline cut that allows us to see the pasture below our place.)

I’m seeing some of the waterfowl come through. On the little pond near Loving Road and 515, where the RV park was built, I saw a flight of mergansers on Wednesday. There were five drakes and four hens. I’ve also seen some mallards and migrating geese. I haven’t been up to Mercier’s to check the retention pond, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the buffleheads were there soon. One of my colleagues reported that he heard a cuckoo last week, and Cynthia said that she thought she saw one on her walk the other day, so some of them must be coming through.

Tonight is the Christmas Village in Copperhill. That’s Santa Claus and some live entertainment. That’s from 6:00 – 10:00 PM.

Saturday is Light up Blue Ridge. Tuba Christmas is on the main stage at 11:00 AM. Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus arrive on the train at 12:30. Photos with Santa are free. There will be live reindeer, children’s trackless train rides, and other entertainment. The lighting of the Great Tree is at dusk. The downtown shops will also be open late.

November 18, 2009

It’s overcast today, but we’ve been having some beautiful fall weather, with morning temperatures around 40° and afternoon temperatures around 65°. The leaves have started to fall pretty good, and most, if not all of the fall color is gone from the woods.

It’s very strange being a real estate agent. By now, most of us are used to receiving and replying to daily email requests for information and never receiving an acknowledgement, much less a thanks, for the information. But I had a new one the other day. Someone emailed me through my website and asked how long Highway 64 will be closed, but didn’t include any contact information. In any case, Highway 64, through the Ocoee Gorge, will be closed for perhaps two months due to a major rock slide. Depending on where you are starting from, the detour would be either Highway 68 to Tellico Plains and then 30 & 310 to 411 at Etowah or Highway 76 from Ellijay to Highway 411 south of Chatsworth.

Needless to say, the proponents of the great boondoggle known as Corridor K have seized on this rockslide as “proof” that a four-lane road must be built through the middle of the Cherokee National Forest. This is completely irrational because Interstate 40 is currently closed by a rockslide northwest of Asheville, and it will likely be closed longer than Highway 64. There is absolutely nothing that makes four-lane roads immune from rock slides. In fact, since more rock is exposed, they may be more liable for rock slides. The Tennessee DOT recently admitted, to the Chattanooga Times, that they know of many sites of potential rock slides all over Tennessee but that they are too costly to remediate in advance of an actual slide. Of course, the people who will profit from building this road are ignoring this fact, as are the local boosters, who remain blinded by promises of instant prosperity. The truth is that while building a four-lane road through the Ocoee Gorge will probably bring a few more gas stations, fast food outlets, and motels to Ducktown, it will also completely destroy the tourism that is currently the economic base of the area. It seems self-evident that people will not come to Ducktown from all over the United States to see a four-lane road. After all, they have those at home.

I’ve been trying to establish a historical rainfall figure for Fannin County, so I can compare this year’s rainfall with historical norms. Everyone thinks that we’ve had an unusually rainy year, although my own feeling is that it is really more close to a normal year. I think that the four-year drought has just gotten us used to very little rainfall. In terms of a figure for historical norms, I’ve heard everything from 120 inches to 90 inches to 60 inches. The information on doesn’t seem reliable to me, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, since I’ve been watching it, they’ve changed the amount of average rainfall from 1961 to 1990. How can that change? They report yearly rainfall to date as 63.61, which is probably fairly accurate. Eddie Ayers, our extension agent, tells me that according to a Soil Conservation publication, the 1960 – 1990 average was 62 inches. If that’s so, we’re actually having a fairly average year this year, compared to historical norms. In other words, even though everyone thinks we’re having a very wet year, we aren’t really, just an average year. Based on my memories of the period from 1985 – 1995, I think that’s probably pretty close to correct.

I just got an interesting reply from Rob Strangia, who says he has a degree in Geography and is a GIS Professional (but not a professional meterologist). Here’s what he has to say on the question of annual rainfall: “I read your column regularly & can answer some of your questions about the average rainfall in the mountains. Yearly rainfall in Blue Ridge (the city) is just over 60 inches per year. With a year-to-date total of over 63 inches, we are well above normal for the year because we still have half of Nov. & all of Dec. to add to these totals. Rainfall averages of over 80 inches that you cite, only occur in a few isolated high elevation locations in Georgia. These are mainly located in extreme Northeast Georgia. Rain fall in the mountains is highly elevation and slope exposure dependent. Generally the higher elevation, the more rainfall. Especially on mountains southern and eastern exposures. While the elevation of Blue Ridge is about 1800 feet, many of the mountains in the Cohuttas and in the southern part of the county are near 4000 feet. These highest peaks likely have yearly rainfall averages of 70-80 inches. Interesting, the Northwestern slopes of these mountains recieve the most snow. I’ve been hiking in knee deep snow up on Big Frog when there was just a dusting in McCaysville.”

November 11, 2009

We had about four inches of rain at our place yesterday. Not a downpour, just mostly steady rain. The high winds that were predicted have not materialized as of 5:00 PM. That’s good. If they do come, we will probably have a lot of trees come down, because the ground is so saturated.

There is still some color in the woods. The yellows and golds are gone, but we have a lot of reds. Some are bright reds, but most are kind of rusty reds. Still, it’s very pretty when the sun comes out.

November 5, 2009

We’ve been having some wonderful fall weather this week, a welcome change from the rain we had last Saturday. It didn’t spoil the Halloween Safe Zone festivities, but it did make them a little cold and rainy.

Donna Whitener defeated Robert Greene for Mayor of Blue Ridge in Tuesday’s election. The turnout was fairly low, less than half of the registered voters, and the margin of victory was 29 votes. Whitener received 169 and Greene 140. Mayor Greene has been in office for twenty-five years, and Blue Ridge voters have obviously been obviously pleased with his performance over the years. On the other hand, the downtown merchants often felt misunderstood and neglected during his term in office, and the election of Whitener should improve things on that front, as she is herself a retailer in Blue Ridge. (She owns Town & Country Furniture on the Orrin Lance Connector.) In the Blue Ridge councilman elections, both incumbents were defeated, with Rhonda Thomas and Harold Herndon winning those seats.

October 28, 2009

The leaves are peaking. At this point I don’t expect any more color. We’ve had a very good display of yellow and gold, with some reds from the sourwoods and dogwoods, but we didn’t get many deep reds from the oaks. Still, it has been very beautiful hereabouts. Today was a beautiful fall day, and we’re expecting a few more in the next week.

This weekend the Halloween Safe Zones are in Copperhill Friday evening and in Blue Ridge Saturday evening. This is a lot of fun for the kids, and the grownups usually have a pretty good time, too.

The rescheduled Rivers Alive Cleanup is set for Saturday, November 7. There are three work stations planned, Shallowford Bridge, Horseshoe Bend Park, and Tammin Park. If you are planning to volunteer for the first time, I’d recommend going to Tammin Park, just off 515 immediately to the east of Blue Ridge. They will have supplies and will get you started. The original date was a rainout due to the heavy rains and rising water.

October 23, 2009

The leaves seem to have turned overnight. All of a sudden, the woods are full of yellow and gold colors. The sourwoods and dogwoods had already turned red, but the hickories and maples just turned. There are still a lot of oaks that are green, so I imagine more color is to come, but it was very pretty this morning.

This is the last weekend for the Harvest Festival in Blue Ridge. See the entry below for details.

This weekend is also Paws in the Park from 10:00 – 3:00 in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. The activities include a pet parade, the blessing of the pets, costume contest, exhibitions, rabies clinic, microchipping, and more. For more information call 706.455.2860. The parade begins at 10:00 at the corner of East Main and Summit. Pets must be on leash.

The Friends of the Library will have a book sale on Saturday from 9:00 – 5:00 at the Blue Ridge United Methodist Church fellowship hall. That’s in downtown Blue Ridge, across from the park, close to our office and next to the fire station. Paperbacks are fifty cents, and hardbacks are $2 to $5. There is a special “bag sale” from 4:00 – 5:00.

October 19, 2009

We had a pretty good frost last night. I don’t think it was a really hard frost or a hard freeze, but it was close. We had 32° on the deck this morning. I imagine it was colder down in the valley, because the wind stopped blowing and the cold had a chance to settle. The past couple of days were very unseasonably cold, with a biting wind. The next few days are supposed to be beautiful, cold in the morning, but warming nicely in the afternoon. Today is one of the most beautiful fall days we’ve had all year.

The Forest Supervisor has closed the Upper Tellico OHV area permanently, primarily because sediment was getting into the river. The road from Allen Gap to the state line will remain open and will be improved, with more pavement near the river to correct the existing sedimentation problems (FS 420-1).

This coming weekend, Saturday and Sunday (October 24th and 25th) from 9:00 – 5:00, is the final weekend of the Mountain Harvest Arts and Crafts Sale. This is held at the Farmer’s Market off the old highway, close to the Swan Drive-in Theater. For recorded information, 706.374.2335. This is a good place to get mountain crafts, traditional canned goods and relishes, and other items. There are also usually some good food vendors. Admission and parking is free.

October 8, 2009

We’ve had about two inches of rain this week, but today is a beautiful, fall day that started at 48°. I’m starting to see a little fall color in the dogwoods, and I’m still expecting a good leaf season because of the rain.

This weekend starts the Fall Festival at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, which runs from October 9 – 18. Here’s the official announcement: “Arts, crafts & exhibits. Clogging, singing, authentic mountain demonstrations, pioneer village, kiddie rides and a new show, Kay Rosaires Big Cat Encounter. Regional food and lots of fun for the whole family. Also included in this is the Ole Time Fiddlers Convention. Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, 706-896-4191.” If you have never been, this is well worth attending. The exhibit halls alone are worth the price of admission, and there is a complete restored one-room school.

Fannin County has purchased an old quarry to use for future water supply and storage, a hopeful first step toward a countywide water system. It was tested for water quality and replenishment rate, and is thought capable of producing 77,000 gallons of water per day, or up to 210,000 gallons with supplemental wells. Our county officials should be congratulated for this move, which indicates an emphasis on planning for the future that hasn’t always been our strong point. The purchase price was a modest $360,000 for the twenty acres that include the quarry.

While we are on the subject of water, I’ve written before that our area historically has received about 120 inches of rain annually. While this is the accepted figure for the southern Appalachians as a whole, the data on tells a different story. According to this site, the annual average rainfall for Fannin County was 49.43 inches from 1961 – 1990. The total for 2007 was 27.68 and for 2008 37.39. The totals for 2006 and 2007 are not available on this site. Year to date, we have had 52.96 inches. (For recent years, the weather station has been located at Mercier’s Orchards.) This means that we are experiencing a normal year after four years of severe drought. I wish I could say that the trees and shrubs are happy, but I continue to see trees dying in the woods. Perhaps they were already dying due to the drought, or perhaps after trying to adapt to the drought, this year was simply too wet. Unfortunately, many of the dead trees I see are mature dogwoods, but they are not the only ones that are affected.

October 1, 2009

We’ve had some beautiful fall weather this week, the kind that makes you glad to be alive. Mornings around 50° and afternoons around 60°. The Hunter’s Moon is Sunday, but it’s already shining like a spotlight in the woods. It’s prime time in the mountains, and I hope you plan to come up soon to experience it. See the mid-week column below for my best pick for this weekend.

September 28, 2009

The good news is that we didn’t get much flooding. We had a little more than five inches of rain over the past week or so, and it was heavy at times, but we didn’t get hit anywhere near as hard as they did in Atlanta. I understand that Silver Fox Trail, out in Dial, was closed briefly due to flooding, but that is about the extent of it. Apparently, the watershed of both the Toccoa and the Hiwassee did get a lot of rain, and the TVA is letting water out of the dams at a huge rate. I’ve never seen the Hiwassee as high as it was last week.

I have to apologize again for not getting my column up on schedule. It was a case of attempted vacation, and I forgot to do it before I left the office. Thanks to everyone who emailed to remind me. It makes me feel good that so many people look forward to reading it.

One local event was postponed due to high water, the Rivers Alive cleanup. It has been rescheduled for November 7.

The weather has felt distinctly like early fall, with noticeably cooler temperatures. Some leaves are starting to fall, and the katydids are decreasing in numbers. I’ve seen the first migratory waterfowl in the county, and the fall warblers are still coming through. I’m the worst on identifying warblers, but I was able to identify a beautiful mature male Hooded Warbler on Sunday. He was hanging out in the the oak trees in my yard, so he wasn’t far from the field guide.

On the subject of birds, I’ve been puzzled for years by a call I’ve heard occasionally in the spring and late summer. I heard it last around August 10th. This time, I was able to record it decently on my Blackberry, and I emailed it to Giff Beaton, an expert on Georgia birds. He was able to identify it as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which should have been obvious to me, except that the rare times I’ve been able to observe calling cuckoos, they weren’t making that call. Instead, they were making a much softer, if reasonably similar, call. After years of chasing around and trying to get a decent look at the bird, it’s nice to finally be able to match the bird with the call. I believe that the birds I hear calling are transients, rather than summer-long residents, because I only seem to hear them occasionally.

The Moving Wall, the 1/3 scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, is coming to Murphy October 8-12. I’ve never seen it before, so I plan to go. For those you you who haven’t explored Murphy, it is about a half hour from Blue Ridge.

Also, this weekend, October 3-4 (Saturday and Sunday) is the Fall Festival at the John C. Campbell Folk School from 10:00-5:00. This is one of our best festivals, with over 200 crafts vendors, craft-making demonstrations, exhibitions on traditional mountain arts, kid’s activities, and live music all day long. You can get to the Folk School through either Murphy or Young Harris, but for the best directions from Blue Ridge, see my “Day Trips” section on this website.

September 12, 2009

We had about an inch of rain last week, and the weather has continued to seem a bit like fall. I’m beginning to see some of the fall warblers come through, but no great quantity of migrating waterfowl.

Let’s do the real estate news first, and then the local events. In real estate news, we are continuing to see the market improve, with more buyer activity than we have enjoyed in quite some time. The last two months were the best we’ve had in a year and a half. We feel pretty certain that we have finally bottomed out and are beginning to climb back out of the hole. Our fall activity will tell us more, because the fall is our traditional selling season. Obviously, there is a lot of inventory still out there to be absorbed. But most of the foreclosures that were any good are gone, and we’re pretty much into the stuff that isn’t going to sell until the local banks decide to get a lot more real about prices. That’s good news for people who want to sell their cabin. It’s time for them to get back in the market, so long as they are willing to place an aggressive price on their property. In our current market, price is still the great driver, and the expectation on the part of the buyers is that they are going to get a very good deal. But we are beginning to sell places that are priced correctly in all price ranges.

Unfortunately, those people who are clinging to the idea that their place is worth what it was worth in 2005, the year prices peaked, are going to have to settle in for the long haul. Not only will it take a number of years to fully recover from the current economic disaster, but there may be considerable downward pressure on prices of existing cabins from the new “green” alternatives that are beginning to appear in our marketplace. If this movement catches hold, it will tend to make existing cabins in our market functionally obsolete, because the vast majority of them were not built with any attention to energy efficiency.

The federal first time home buyer tax credit is set to expire at the end of November. This means that transactions will have to be closed by midnight on November 30 to qualify. Given that closings seem to be taking longer these days, that means that people who want to take advantage of this program should have properties under contract as early as possible. One month’s time may be enough to get a property closed, but there are several things that can cause delays. We think that to be completely safe and not risk leaving that money on the table, people should aim to have properties under contract by the end of September or the first two weeks in October to have the best shot at closing in time to claim the credit.

The Wildlife & Nature Art Festival and Expo (the former Wildlife Arts Festival) is next weekend, September 19-20 in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. There is a modest admission charge of $3 again this year. For those of you who have asked why this is necessary, I imagine it is because our current county chairman does not perceive the economic benefit the Arts Association provides our community and is cutting their funding drastically.

On September 26, the Rivers Alive cleanup will be held on the Toccoa River. This year, there will be three stations: Shallowford Bridge, Horseshoe Bend, and Tammin Park. If you want to volunteer for this worthwhile activity, the easiest thing to do would probably be to go to Tammin Park in the morning. The Trout Unlimited people will be manning this station and distributing supplies.

Speaking of the river and Trout Unlimited, Bill Oyster, maker of fine bamboo fly rods, has opened up a shop on East Main Street where he is also holding classes. His classes aren’t cheap – $1390 for six days of instruction – but you leave with a finished bamboo fly rod produced under Oyster’s supervision. This is another feather in the cap of Blue Ridge, which has attracted some very talented artists and craftspeople. Oyster’s website is

October 3-4 is the Fall Festival at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

September 4, 2009

We’ve had a mix of rain and sunshine this week, and for the first time, it has felt a little like fall. I’m still seeing fawns that have just lost their spots, the mushrooms continue to spring up everywhere, and I’m not seeing many migrating waterfowl, so we’re still in a basically summer pattern. But the cooler weather has felt great. It should be just wonderful weather for the big weekend.

Monday is the Labor Day Barbecue in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. I’ll pass on one tip from experience. There are two lines, one for tickets and one for food. If you buy an advance ticket, you can skip the ticket line. You can pick them up at the Chamber of Commerce, which is on Lance Drive, across 515 from the Ingles Shopping Center. There will be musical entertainment by Victory’s Song, Hogsed Brothers, Looking Up, Caylor Family, Blue Ridge Dulcimer Players, River Park Band, Mountain Rascals and Dirt Road Band. The festivities start at 11:30 and go until the food runs out. On Sunday, September 6, there is a interdenominational worship service in the park at 6:00 pm, followed by an old-fashioned ice cream social. This is a benefit for the Good Samaritan Fund.

There will be a mountain bike race on September 13, the Black Bear Rampage. It is being held at the Ocoee Whitewater Center on the Tanasi Trail System. There are a number of different classes. The entry fee is $85 and includes a meal. For more information or to register for the race, 423.472.9881.

The Wildlife & Nature Art Festival and Expo (the former Wildlife Arts Festival) is scheduled for September 19-20 in the downtown Blue Ridge Park.

August 28, 2009

We’ve had about 1-1/4 inches rain over the past day or so, and the mushrooms continue to go wild. The katydids are still singing, although I’m beginning to see some who have completed their life cycle. With all this rain, I have to believe that we’re going to have the best fall leaf season in quite some time, although the trees are clearly still pretty stressed from four years of drought.

Many of you have signed up to receive my email newsletter, where I write monthly about market conditions, things to do, and cabin know-how. I made a mistake in my article there on the Ducktown Basin Museum that I want to correct. I said that there were occasional mine tours, which isn’t true. I must have misread something or misinterpreted something that happened in the past. Still, it is a fascinating place to visit.

The Camp Reggae festival in Isabella, Tennessee is celebrating its tenth anniversary. It is scheduled this year for September 4 – 6, with music from 6 pm to midnight. This is the brainchild of the Natti Love Joys, one of the best reggae groups in the county. The lineup this time includes The Movement, Jahniceness, I.R.E., Fat Penguin, Hodgepodge Orchestra, Beelzebong, DJ Soljah, Aviva and the Flying Penguins, Barking Dogs & Shotguns, and Prophecy High Power. You can get all the information at or Congratulations to Marla and Jati on this anniversary.

See below for information on two barbecues, to be held this weekend and next weekend.

August 22, 2009

We’ve had a little over an inch of rain this week, in several thunderstorms, one of which was pretty impressive. The weather has been very nice since the remnants of the hurricane blew out of here, and today is a beautiful day.

I had an interesting plant come up in my yard for the first time, Pinesap. This is a relative of Indian Pipe, except it has many smaller flowers on each stalk. In the spring, apparently it comes up white, but in the fall, more red colored. Mine were a beautiful yellow and rusty pink. Like the Indian Pipe, it has no chlorophyll. It is usually a saprophyte, feeding on dead tree roots. Apparently, it can also be parasitic. Mine were definitely feeding on tree roots, under the hardwoods in the woods.

The isn’t too much wild excitement in town this weekend, but there are two good events coming up.

Next Saturday, the Feed Fannin group – a community garden project – is hosting a “Farm to Table Lunch” at the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market in front of the Boardertown Grill on 515 (just north of June Walker Chevrolet, in the building with Cohutta Pet & Feed). The menu is pulled pork from the Roadhouse and fresh vegetables from the group’s three local gardens. Plates are $8 per person, and tickets are available at Cohutta Feed, the Boardertown Grill, Out of the Blue, L&L Beanery, United Community Bank, Appalachian Community Bank, and – of course – at the Farmer’s Market. The event is August 29 from 11:00 – 3:00. It is for the benefit of Feed Fannin and the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market.

Labor Day is late this year, August 7th. But the Labor Day Barbecue is always worth waiting for! The menu is usually ribs or chicken with beans, cole slaw, and choice of homemade dessert. The last few years, they also had a pulled pork sandwich option. It is held in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. Here’s the official announcement. Everyone welcome, come downtown on Monday for great family style entertainment, featuring Ole Time Music, Bluegrass and Gospel. Hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (or until the food runs out) All the fixings including drink and dessert. Popular event don’t miss it! Sponsored by The Good Samaritans of Fannin County Inc. Proceeds fund interdenominational benevolence. Event held rain or shine, the tents will be up. For more information, call Carlie Hammond706-455-3818.

August 17, 2009

Well, I missed getting a column up last week, basically a problem of time and distance, because I can only post it at my work computer. Thanks to everyone who emailed me to remind me. It makes me feel good that so many people look forward to reading it.

We had about a half an inch of rain at our place last week, just when it looked as though it was going to stay dry for a while. I’d say we’ve had normal rainfall this summer, at least once a week with possibly one exception. Despite this, I’m sorry to say that my woods still looks awfully stressed and dry. I’ve probably said this before, but I think there is probably about half of the total vegetation there was twenty-five years ago, when we were still a real temperate rain forest with 120 inches of rain a year. The white oaks seem to be the hardest hit of the big trees, and the dogwoods are probably the hardest hit of the smaller, ornamental trees. I don’t know where it is all headed, but it seems likely to me that we’ll need a couple of more years of what is now considered normal rainfall before things begin to really recover. On the plus side, I’m expecting a pretty good fall leaf season because of the rainfall. We haven’t had a real good one for the past couple of years.

As usual at this time of year, our property has become a mycologist’s paradise. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve seen 150 varieties of mushrooms in the past three weeks. I imagine that the soil temperatures in August, along with the rain, facilitate their emergence. We get a lot every year, but this year seems especially good for them. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen the edible morels in our area, although I have heard reports from the Chattanooga and Knoxville areas. I used to gather them by the bushel when I was in Indiana, so I know something about them. But I just haven’t encountered them here.

While we are on nature subjects, I wanted to mention that one of the most incredible books I’ve seen in recent years was recently published by the University of Georgia Press, Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast, by Giff Beaton.The photography in this book is incredible, but it seems to me that the organization of the book also sets a new standard for field guides. It gives a clear explanation of the life cycle and life activities of the odonates, along with a list of sites in Georgia that are considered especially good for viewing. (The closest one to us is Lake Conasauga, in the Cohutta Wilderness Area.) The book is virtually an art book, with an amazing quality of photographs and production for a field guide. No doubt, this was aided by a grant from the Wormsloe Foundation, because I don’t think that the book could have been done without a sizable grant. Mr. Beaton also has a neat website with bird and dragonfly photographs and field notes,

August 7, 2009

We’re had about a half inch of rain this week, and the very high humidity seems to have abated. It’s warm in downtown Blue Ridge, but back at home, the weather has been simply beautiful, ideal for work or play.

For those of you who check in here to see what’s happening in the real estate market, I can report that we have preliminary numbers for July. We had 54 sides in our office in July, which easily beats June. June was the best month we’ve had in the past fourteen months, so July was the best month we’ve had in the past fifteen months. In other words, things are starting to sell, and the trend is continuing. (“Sides” refers to the two sides of every transaction, the “side” that represents the buyer and the “side” that represents the seller. Very occasionally these days, someone will “be on both sides” of a transaction, so 54 sides may not exactly equal 54 sales, but it is probably pretty close.) Given that there were only 202 sales in the entire six-county MLS in June, our 54 sides in July constitutes a very strong performance. (Our sales meeting has been rescheduled for later in the month, so I won’t have the final numbers available until August 20th).

I know you all will ignore this, because nobody listens to what we say (although that doesn’t keep everybody from blaming us for not telling them). But … cabins are starting to sell. Most of the foreclosures that really were smoking deals are gone, and some of the really good deals in the normal resale market have been sold. I think we may have reached the tipping point. Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball, and if something catastrophic happens nationally, all bets are off. But I’m expecting interest rates to rise this winter and for more of the really good inventory to sell this fall, which is our traditional selling season. If you’re waiting to see if prices to go lower, I think you may be disappointed. If you are serious about wanting a place up here, I think you should come up and have a look.

It’s a different matter with land. We’re still not selling much land. Part of that is that the local banks aren’t making many construction loans. (I think BB&T is an exception.) Part of it is that the builders aren’t buying any land right now. There are some really great deals out there now on subdivision lots, but I’d be careful to make sure that all the infrastructure is in place before I’d buy. Things being as they are, I wouldn’t advise buying into a subdivision where the water isn’t in, the roads aren’t paved, and there isn’t anything already built. I’d want to see those things in place before I’d buy a subdivision lot right now. Larger, individual lots, big enough for a well and a septic, might be a better alternative, and there are some good deals on those right now, along with smaller and larger tracts of land.

Well … I can’t believe it’s August. It’s definitely time to have some of the summer fun that we all promised ourselves, or we’ll be kicking ourselves all winter. I hope you have a few things planned, and if they involve Blue Ridge, I hope to see you in town.

July 31, 2009

We’ve had some good rain this week, probably about 2-1/2 inches at our place so far, and we’re expecting more rain off and on. It’s welcome, because it was beginning to get dry.

About the most exciting thing that’s happening this weekend is Smokey Bear’s Birthday Party at the Ocoee Whitewater Center on Hwy 64 a few miles west of Ducktown. It might be a good choice for kids. It takes place from 10:00 – 2:00 with the cake cutting at 1:00. There will be prizes, games, and some activities. Of course, Smokey Bear will be there.

The Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market has moved to Cohutta Feed & Seed, which is just past June Walker Chevy on the right (if you are coming from Atlanta on 515). The hours are 8:00 – 12:00. This is a true farmer’s market with local growers selling their produce.

July 22, 2009

We’ve been having a delightful cool spell, with morning temperatures in the mid-fifties or low sixties. It’s been just glorious, sleeping with the windows open and listening to the katydids and other night sounds.

In real estate news, the market has picked up quite a bit recently. We had the best month in June that we’ve had in the past fourteen months, in terms of sales in our company. I imagine the same is true across the board. We usually slow down heading into July and August, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this year. We seem to be on track to do better in July than we did in June.

The Victorian House restaurant (on West Main Street a few doors down from our office) has just obtained a beer and wine license. The Blue Ridge Brewery, across Depot Street from our office (in the former Blue Christmas location) is being worked on extensively prior to opening, and the new tenants are showing a lot of enthusiasm and energy. Other local licenses by my count: Repaz on East Main, Blue Jeans on Mountain Street, the Boardtown Grill on 515, El Sol off 515 next to the Appalachian Bank, and Tin Loong on 515 next to the Ingles, and Cucina Rustica on 515 at Forge Mill (east of Blue Ridge). The Toccoa River Restaurant has lost theirs, and the Lilly Pad on Aska Road is trying to organize a private club.

All but two of these licenses are in the city, not the county. The county is charging $10,000, while the city is charging $2,000. Bill Simonds made a motion to lower the county licensing fee to $5,000 from $10,000 – a step in the right direction, I suppose – and Garnett Webb and Steve Morris ignored it. So no action was taken. I suppose this reflects the view on the part of Webb and Morris’s supporters that if there has to be sin in Fannin County, it might as well be in the city. It is clearly a better deal in the city than in the county, so I imagine most prospective restaurant owners will prefer to locate in the city, and this is where their tax money will go. Given that the county needs money, and is putting the squeeze on the Arts Association, the Library, and other worthwhile entities, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. In the meantime, some local people are eagerly awaiting the influx of streetwalking prostitutes promised by the prophets of prohibition. For better or worse, like the violin-case-toting gangsters and organized crime licensing was certain to bring, they have yet to materialize on our street corners.

July 17, 2009

It has continued unseasonably humid. The temperature at our place has rarely exceeded 80, but it has felt hotter than usual because of the humidity. On the plus side, after an alarmingly dry June, it seems to be continuing to rain. We had a little over a half inch at our place over the past week, good soaking rain. I was concerned because the katydid population seemed to be smaller than usual, but the rain seems to have brought them back to normal numbers.

If you are not familiar with katydids, they look exactly like bright green grasshoppers. They hatch out of the ground, and fly up into the trees, where they spend most of their lives. In my experience, they are completely harmless, although supposedly they can bite if handled roughly. Where they are present, they are the dominant night voice, easily outsinging the tree frogs and the cicadas. As an interesting point of life cycle biology, only the males of our species sing, and they do so to attract female katydids. They sing by scraping together the plates on their front wings. If you have the time to listen to them for a while, you’ll realize that their song changes as the night goes on. Toward dawn, the may begin to sing antiphonally, and at about 4:00 AM, they all stop singing at once. They are one of my very favorite things about summer in the mountains.

I learned from the Benton McKaye Trail Association newsletter that there are two new maps of our area from the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series. Number 777, “Springer and Cohutta Mountains,” covers the area from Chatsworth to Brasstown Bald. Number 778, “Brasstown Bald/Chatooga River” covers the area from Brasstown Bald east to South Carolina. These maps do a better job of depicting the trail system than do the forest service maps, which are primarily useful because they show the forest service road numbers. The forest service office over on Parksville Lake in Tennessee had 777 yesterday, but the forest service office in Blairsville, typically, does not. The Benton McKaye Trail Association, by the way, is a very neat organization, because they are still actively building trails.

Corridor K, the four-lane road that is proposed from Ducktown to Cleveland to replace Highway 64 through the Ocoee Gorge, is being agitated again. There is, as I’ve said before, a need to fix the existing road, which needs guardrails, widened curves, and passing areas. There is no need for a four-lane solution through pristine national forest or through the beautiful Ocoee Gorge itself. It’s just a boondoggle. But needless to say, the folks who build these roads are very eager to have this road built, and they are promising instant economic prosperity throughout the region. This might actually happen if they took about a tenth of the money this is going to cost and distributed it to every man, woman, and child in the affected area, but it is unlikely to materialize from building the road, except for the road builders. As a case in point, the Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains to Robbinsville cost $100 million (in 1996 dollars). It was projected to carry five million cars a year. The actual number is about ten a day, or about 3,650 per year. In other words, a slight – but significant – shortfall. Needless to say, the promised economic boom has somehow failed to materialize, but we’re all sure it will be coming very soon.

If you are interested in having your say on this issue, there is a public meeting at the Copper Basin High School on Highway 68 south of Ducktown and north of Copperhill on Monday, July 20, from 5:00 – 8:00. There is another at the High School in Benton, on Highway 411 north of Benton the following night at the same time.

July 10, 2009

We got almost 3.5 inches of rain in an hour yesterday afternoon at our place, a little southeast of Mineral Bluff. In other words, it rained as hard as it can rain, which it hasn’t done for a long time.

It was kind of hard on some of the roads and driveways, and if yours got channelized, you need to give it a little attention now to avoid having to give it a lot of attention later. Once they get channelized, they go to the bad really quickly. Also, it would be a good idea to check and see that dirt didn’t get washed down over any of your wood siding. If it has, the termites will be in that siding before you know it.

The blackberries are coming pretty well. See the famous recipe a few columns below.

The 4th of July festivities were a big whoop. I had to work, of course, but I heard two of the three bands playing in the downtown park on the 3rd, and they were both very good. There’s not much happening this weekend, but I imagine everyone is recovering from last weekend, anyway.

June 30, 2009

The temperature and humidity have finally dropped. Yesterday was delightful, and it was 60° on the deck this morning. It’s a wonderful day again today. Makes you glad to be alive!

I’ve seen some of the rhodendron in bloom down around the creeks. There probably isn’t anything prettier, so it might be time to grab your camera and try to get a few shots. The blackberries are also starting to come pretty good. See below for the famous recipe.

There’s some so-so news for sportsmen. The DNR is dropping about half of Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area and all of Lake Burton WMA from the list of managed properties. Apparently this is not quite decided, but it looks like it will be the Lumpkin County portion of the Blue Ridge WMA that will be dropped. These will continue as national forest, but they will not receive the habitat improvements that have been provided in the past by the Wildlife Resources Division. As the Georgia Outdoor News points out, it’s a bit annoying because sportsmen pay about 80% of the WRD’s budget through fees and taxes on sporting goods, but have endured a number of cuts in programs and services over the past few years. The net loss of WMA land in Georgia, north and south, will be about 51,000 acres.

Finally, I promised a rundown on 4th of July activities.

Ducktown/Copperhill/McCaysville: The Miner’s Homecoming will be in Ducktown on the 3rd from 4:00 – 9:30, with lots of activities. Fireworks in McCaysville (from Tater Hill) at dark. I want to give a call to the members of the TriCities Business Association, who stepped up to save the fireworks this year through contributions. Miner’s Homecoming continues on the 4th with a pancake breakfast at the Hoist House (the mining museum) at 8:00 AM and a parade on Main Street at 10:00 AM, followed by the duck race and gospel music. There will also be fireworks and live music at Runway Fireworks in Copperhill. Lee and Charlie Standley are scheduled to play from 1:00 – 3:00 and 6:00 – 8:00.

Blue Ridge: In Blue Ridge, Breaking Point, Surender, and Raven play rock in the downtown park on the 3rd from 5:30 – 9:00. There is also a spaghetti dinner for $6 (children $3). The parade begins at 10:00 AM downtown on the 4th. The 4th of July festivities at the marina begin at 4:00 and include barbecue, music, and fireworks at dark. (The best alternative place to view the fireworks is probably from Morganton Point.)

Epworth: In Epworth, the Old Fashioned 4th of July begins with a pancake breakfast at 8:00 AM at the Epworth Community Club (behind the campus), followed by lots of activities including carnival booths, concessions, old cars, and a bake sale.

Hope you can make it up for some of the fun!

June 25, 2009

It has continued unseasonably hot and humid, but without any significant rain.

We’ve just picked the first blackberries. They seem to have had a better spring with the rain this year, but there’s no doubt that they’ve been hurt by the years of drought. There just aren’t as many as there used to be. Still, I’ve seen some pretty good bushes here and there. This means, of course, that it’s time to publish the famous recipe again, or get about fifty emails reminding me. So here it is for your reading pleasure. We’ve never tried it ourselves, of course, but we hear that it’s great.


2 cups berries
2 cups ice cubes
½ cup fresh lime juice
¾ cup white tequila
¼ cup sugar (white or raw)

It’s best to wash the berries ahead of time and then put them in the freezer until they are almost frozen. It also helps if the tequila is in the freezer. Buzz the berries in the blender. 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!

Most of the wild excitement is reserved for next weekend, with the fireworks and other celebrations. I’ll update on those when I have the latest information available.

June 18, 2009

The weather has been very nice, a little unseasonably humid and warm. We’ve had some beautiful summer days that have been ideal for swimming in the lake. (By the way, if you haven’t found it yet, there’s a nice beach at Morganton Point. The cost is $5 per car or $50 for a yearly pass.)

We had about 4/10″ rain last night from a little thunderstorm, so the rain has continued nicely.

The box turtles must be either nesting or laying eggs, because I’ve seen a lot of them out and about lately. The blackberries are growing on the vines, still red. There don’t seem to be as many vines after the long drought, but the ones that we do have seem to be doing fairly well. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a good crop this year.

There’s not much wild excitement in town this weekend, but the 4th of July is coming, and there will be lots of fireworks and fun things to do this weekend.

June 10, 2009

Last weekend was simply beautiful, with clear skies, a gentle breeze, and perfect temperatures. It was announced today that Georgia is officially out of the drought, with the second wettest spring of something like the past 115 years. That’s good news, and I hope it continues. We may never see the good old days again, with 90 inches of rain a year – it really was a temperate rain forest 25 years ago – but I’m hopeful that at least everything will stop dying down in the woods. I honestly think that my woods have half the density of vegetation that they had 20 years ago, and that’s not from cutting anything down – just mostly from the drought and the pine beetles that benefit from the drought.

The first downtown beer and wine license has been issued, to Blue Jeans Pizza. The city set the price of a license much more realistically than the county – $2,000 as opposed to $10,000 – so it is reasonable to suppose that there may be more licensed premises. The most interesting project out there is the Blue Ridge Brewery in the location that was recently Blue Christmas, in the old Doss & Doss building across the street from our office. It is rumored that a certain popular local chef may be taking the reins in the kitchen, and a good selection of beers is promised.

This is rather a shocking change from Blue Ridge, and from my perspective, the interesting thing is that not much has been heard from the many people who so passionately opposed the whole business of licensing beer and wine sales all along

There’s no doubt that it will help the downtown merchants, because the Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly documented the fact that up to half of our visitors drive down to Ellijay to eat because they can get a drink with dinner. I hope that this will change that situation some and that we’ll be retaining a little more of that business here in Blue Ridge. It is probably a little too much to hope, but it would be very interesting if people actually had a reason to go to downtown Blue Ridge after dark. It would be a lot more interesting than going down to the Wal-Mart shopping center in Ellijay to eat at one of the chain restaurants on the strip, for one thing. For another, it could be a very interesting mix of people with some of the shops open late.

You’ve probably been getting email updates on the Golf & River Club, but if you haven’t, let me know and I’ll add you to the list. Basically, we’re hoping to have eight of nine holes ready for play in the fall, and construction on the first cottage is scheduled to begin soon. I think as soon as people can get it into their heads that this is really going to happen, we’ll start selling pretty good out there, and – as always – prices will be apt to rise. We got some incredible incentives for the next ten buyers – including payment of 24 months interest on a 80% loan, a $5,000 credit on the club account. If construction begins within 18 months, we’ll add another $5,000 credit to the club account. By the way, despite the recent licensing of beer and wine in the county and city, the club will likely have the only full bar in Fannin County for the foreseeable future (the license will be a state license, similar to the licensing of the Brasstown Valley Resort in Young Harris.

June 5, 2009

We’ve had some nice, steady rain at our place over the past few days, almost an inch. The trees and shrubs look very happy for the first time in a long while, and the birds and tree frogs seem to be getting a big kick out of it as well.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve started mailing out an email newsletter with information on local real estate and local events. I’m having trouble finding time to put the items that I write for that newsletter here, too, so if anyone would like to be included on that email list as well, please let me know. I’ve pasted the three articles I wrote for the latest issue below, in case anyone is interested in reading them.

The Market – What’s Happening Right Now

We’ve seen a real increase in buyer interest with the coming of spring, and we’ve definitely had an increase in sales in our office. In a normal year, that tends to fall off in deep summer and increase in the fall, which traditionally has been our strongest selling season.

I think there’s a chance it won’t drop off into summer, because we have so much pent-up demand in the marketplace right now. There are tons of people who basically have made a decision to buy … just as soon as they feel confident in doing so. People can see that there are great deals out there and that interest rates are low. But a lot of them just don’t feel confident enough the economy is in recovery. In other words, the major issue we’re facing in our market is consumer confidence. Clark Howard said the other day that it’s a great time to buy a second home, and that’s definitely true, from an objective point of view. But I think it will take another little bit of “waiting and seeing” for that to translate into a considerably improved market. By the way, we’re not having trouble getting loans for qualified buyers.

It’s probably time for sellers to get their places on the market and position themselves for the rebound, as long as they are willing to put a realistic price on their property. Obviously, price is going to be the big driver until some of our excess inventory is absorbed. But I think market conditions are improving. I could always be surprised by new developments, but if nothing changes radically in the economic outlook, I’d say we’ve either turned the corner or about to turn it.

We’re showing 41 foreclosures in Fannin County. If you throw out the obvious dogs, there are about two dozen left. My sense is that with all the buyer interest in foreclosures, this inventory has been fairly well picked over. (And no, the banks up here aren’t selling for 50¢ on the dollar.) But there may be a deal or two left in the bunch. If you’d like a list, just email me. If anything appeals to you, I can get you the details.

Cabin Tech: Art & Science of Mountain Living

A few of the things that I’ve learned since Dad and I bought our cabin here in 1986.

Carpenter Bees: The carpenter bees are swarming now, looking for nests, drilling holes in your cabin, and making little carpenter bees. If you haven’t seen these guys, they look like a huge bumblebee. They like to get right up in your face and intimidate you, and it usually works. The ones with a little white cross on their face don’t have stingers, but the rest of them do, and it packs a punch. The holes that they drill look a whole lot like you took a 3/8″ drill bit and just drilled a hole. They can easily drill a hole in a 6 x 6. To be honest, I didn’t believe it the first time I saw it. They can also get under shingles and similar places. They seem to prefer to reuse old holes, so it is a good idea to fill them with calk after the end of the season. It sounds like a good idea to calk the hole up while they are in there, but it isn’t. They lay three eggs, and if they are calked in, they will just drill a new hole out when they hatch, so then you have two holes. If you have a problem with them, you can kill them with wasp spray, but it won’t kill them immediately. If you have a serious infestation, the pest control people can help. But the main thing is to make a note of the hole locations, so you can calk the holes up in the fall, and try to discourage them when they are buzzing around looking for good places to raise a family. You can tell where they are nesting, because they will be buzzing around these spots at dusk.

Firewood: This is the time to lay in your supply of firewood for the fall. The old rule was to season it for “one year on the ground,” but you can usually get away with a half a year if you stack it up, cover it, and let it dry. Normally, it has seasoned some from sitting in the wood yard. Properly seasoned firewood starts easier, and more importantly, it won’t “pop” and burn holes in your wood floor. Most of the firewood we get here is some sort of hardwood, mostly red and black oak. (White oak goes to the sawmill.) We’re currently paying $70-$75 for a running cord (2 x 4 x 8). You can buy hickory if you want, but we’re paying up to $90 a cord for that, because it’s always in demand for barbecuing. The best place to buy is from a wood yard where you can look around and pick the cord you want. A mix of little pieces and big pieces is good. All little pieces, and you’ll burn through a cord of wood in no time. I usually buy a cord of really big pieces and one of medium sized pieces, which will just about get me through the average winter. When you get it back to the cabin, you want to stack it at least ten feet from the cabin. Any closer, and your termite man will have a fit. Also, it is good to get it off the ground. I’ve used concrete blocks before, but I recently built some racks to get it well off the ground, and I’ve been very happy with those. You should cover it with a tarp so it doesn’t get soaked by the rain. Some wetting by the rain is OK, but if it sits on the ground and gets wet repeatedly, it won’t be long before it rots, and you won’t want it in the cabin.

Creepy crawly things: If you agree with the idea of using pesticide occasionally, you can spray your foundation up to about two feet and the dirt around for about three feet out from the foundation with an approved outside spray. If you do this in the spring before full summer comes and then again in the fall before it gets really cold, you can achieve a marked reduction in the creepy crawly things inside the cabin. I very rarely spray inside the house now that the dogs are taking a pill for flea control. If you spray outside, choose a day with good drying potential and don’t let your kids or animals out in the yard until the spray is completely dry.

Delano Community Farmer’s Market

Last Saturday, we made our first spring visit to one of our favorite places, the Mennonite Farmer’s Market in Delano, TN. They are open six days a week from 9:00 – 5:00 (closed Sunday). They do a lot of green housing and they had a good selection of early produce including several varieties of lettuce, scallions, white radishes, collards, turnips, beets, peas, beans, cucumbers, spinach, cilantro, and strawberries. Of course, they had their sorghum, preserves, and baked goods. (Everybody loves their sticky buns.) And they had beautiful tomato plants. (I used their plants last year, and had the best year yet for home grown tomatoes.) The live animal market, which is held on the last Saturday of the month, was also in session and was very interesting. There is usually a gentleman there selling grass-fed beef from a trailer on Saturdays.

Their prices are very good, and the quality of the produce is wonderful. Their “peaches and cream” corn – a hybrid of white and yellow corn – is the best corn I’ve ever tasted. In the fall, you can buy bushels and pecks of peppers and other good things to put up at truly drop dead prices.

The Amish are known for beautiful draft horses, and it was a treat to see several beautiful wagon teams. The horses they use to pull their buggys are always beautiful, spirited horses as well. It’s a beautiful piece of property and would be a tempting place to take pictures, if they weren’t opposed to photography. It’s all cash, of course, and there’s no phone. And they ask that dress be respectful. They seem to tolerate shorts. But they really don’t like low necklines or halter tops. If you’re wearing one, it would probably be a good idea to take a long sleeved shirt to wear inside the market. To us, respecting their way of life and beliefs is a small price to pay for being able to buy such wonderful produce. A lot of folks seem to agree with us. It’s not unusual to go over there on a week day and find about 40 people standing out in front, waiting for them to open the doors. As with any farmer’s market, it’s best to go early – or at least, not too late.

The market is north of Benton, TN. It’s a bit of a trip from Blue Ridge. It usually takes me an hour and fifteen minutes. From Blue Ridge, you would take Hwy 5 north to McCaysville, cross the river, and turn left on Hwy 68. After you go through Copperhill, just before you get to the traffic light on 68 in the old part of downtown Ducktown, you come to the turnoff for Hwy 64/74. Take 64/74 (the River Road/Old Copper Road) west toward Cleveland and Chattanooga. If you want to go the scenic way, after you pass through the gorge, look for the beginnings of Parksville Lake on the left. On the right, a short distance further, is the turnoff for 315/30 to Reliance (the Greasy Creek Road). When you get into Reliance, don’t cross the river. Stay on Hwy 30. When you get to 411, turn right. The turnoff to the market is on the left, just after you turn north on 411 and just after you cross the Hiwassee River. 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, which is 314. It’s not marked very well, but you’ll probably 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. When you get into Benton, turn right on 411. When you cross the Hiwassee River, the turnoff is on the left a short distance further. If you miss 314, it’s no big deal. Just continue on until you hit Hwy 411, and turn north. After you cross the Hiwassee River, look for the sign on the left.

May 29, 2009

We’ve been having some nice showers this week, along with some beautiful, crisp days. Everybody is hoping that the rain continues and that it doesn’t turn off toward the drought again as it did a few years ago when we had a wet spring and early summer.

The blooming is mostly over for the year, although the rhodendron have yet to come. There are still some laurel in bloom, and some wildflowers here and there, although we didn’t seem to have a great spring for them here locally.

Pickin’ in the Park is back on again, every Thursday evening starting at 6:30 in the Ron Henry Horseshoe Bend Park in McCaysville. The park is off Hwy 60 North, on the River Road, just south of McCaysville. If you are in McCaysville, you head south on Hwy 60 until you are just out of town. Then you turn right on the River Road, just before the train tracks. This is one of my favorite local happenings. It’s a good place to take a lawn chair and a picnic supper and hear the old boys pick and sing. If you’re at all a lover of bluegrass, you’re probably going to tear up just a little when you hear the old boys sing, “I should have stayed around the old home place / And never gone to work in the mines.”

Other than that, there’s not too much wild excitement in Blue Ridge this weekend. It’s still cool enough for hiking, though, and I hear that the fishing has been pretty good on the lake lately.

May 20, 2009

The weather has been wonderful, with beautiful, clear days. We actually saw 50° on the porch the other day, but it warmed up to nearly 70°. Yesterday was a beautiful 70° on the porch.

This weekend is the 33rd Annual Arts in the Park in the downtown Blue Ridge Park. Hours are Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 – 5:00.

Also, the Friends of the Library hare having a book sale Saturday from 10:00 – 5:00 and Sunday from 12:00-5:00, in the lobby of the Fannin County Courthouse.

May 14, 2009

We had about 1-1/2″ of rain at our place over the past week. In the previous week, we had about 3-1/2″ of rain. Things have greened up nicely, and the trees, including the chestnut oaks, are in full leaf. There’s still some pollen in the air, but we seem to be entering the end of the pollen season. Some of the laurel (not rhodendron) is in bloom, and the blackberry bushes are flowering.

May 1, 2009

We had a nice rain all morning for May Day. Most of the trees are in nearly full leaf, and the blackberries have started to blossom. There are still a lot of dogwood and flame azalea in bloom.

April 23, 2009

The weather has been just beautiful lately. I’ve seen the first flame azelea in bloom, and most of the trees are leafing out nicely. I’ve finally realized that the reason that I’ve been having trouble figuring out when most of the dogwoods are going to bloom is that most of them aren’t going to bloom. I don’t know why, but it turns out that many of them did not set buds, or did not hold them through the winter. It seems that we’ve got less than a tenth of the usual number in bloom. I think this weekend will be the peak, but it won’t be anything like we usually see here in the mountains.

This Saturday is the Polk County Ramp Festival. See below for details.

Also, this Saturday and Sunday, we’re having the second of two weekends of Springfest at the farmer’s market on the old highway in Blue Ridge. The hours are 9:00 to 5:00, and there are supposed to be some forty arts and crafts vendors present. The farmer’s market is located near the Swan Drive-in Theater on Old 76.

Also this Saturday, at 6:00 PM, the Georgia Mountain Classic Car Club is having a cruise-in at the Home Depot parking lot. This is scheduled for every Saturday evening from now until the fall.

April 17, 2009

The weather has been absolutely beautiful for the past few days. Spring is moving along, although there aren’t as many dogwoods in bloom as I expected. But the trees are leafing out and the woods look very beautiful. The sarvis is finished blooming and is leafing out, and the redbuds are almost done. The crabapple is just starting to bloom, and the flame azelea is in leaf.

This weekend is the Turtletown Ramp Festival. Next weekend is the 51st Annual Polk County Ramp Festival. Here’s a little piece I wrote for my email newsletter on ramps and the festivals.

The Polk County Ramp Festival (and Turtletown Festival)

This is one of my favorite local events. It’s held the last Saturday in April, which is April 25th this year. Last year was the 50th annual festival, so this year will be the 51st. If you are not familiar with ramps, they are an edible wild lily. The bulb looks a lot like a scallion. They usually have two leaves, which look at lot like elongated trout lily leaves. 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. They were considered a wonderful spring tonic for cleansing the blood. The traditional preparation is to cut them up – leaves and all – into scrambled eggs or fry them whole in bacon grease. But they can be used in salads or anywhere you would use an onion, leek, or scallion. Their strength varies depending on their maturity at the time they are dug, but they are generally a bit stronger than an onion or a leek. We think they’re pretty wonderful. Usually, we put them in salads or just serve them raw, alongside whatever else we’re eating. We’ve been known to go through four or five dozen in the course of their short season. If you like to eat, and especially if you are interested in wild foods, you should definitely give them a try. They’ve had quite a vogue lately with the celebrity chefs, but this is one of those cases where our mountain folk were about a hundred years ahead of the cutting edge.

At the Polk County Ramp Festival, the menu is scrambled eggs with ramps, streaky meat (bacon from Benton’s in Madisonville), white beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread. It’s a fund raiser for the Polk County 4-H. They also serve sassafras root tea and boiled peanuts. There’s always bluegrass and usually a couple of booths of craft vendors. This is an event that brings all the old people out, along with most of the local Tennessee politicians. The festival used to be held on the top of the Big Frog Mountain, but with the closing of the area to vehicle traffic, the event has found a home at Camp McCroy.

Thursday is ramp digging up in North Carolina. (They only grow above about 5,000 feet). 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, visit

Camp McCroy is on TN Hwy 30/315, between Hwy 64/74 and Reliance, Tennessee. From Blue Ridge, you would take Hwy 5 to McCaysville, cross the river, turn left, and continue on Hwy 68 through Copperhill to Ducktown. Turn left on Hwy 64/74 (toward Cleveland and Chattanooga). After you go through the Ocoee Gorge, you will see the beginning of Parkesville Lake, where the Ocoee is dammed. Hwy 30/315 turns off to the right, toward Reliance. Camp McCroy is on the right, a few miles further along. (If you come to the forest service office on Hwy 64, you’ve missed the turn and gone too far.) The festival starts hopping about 10:00 AM, but it is best to get there early.

For you birders, there’s a bald eagle nesting on the far side of Parksville Lake, just across from the turnoff to Reliance. There’s an area there on the edge of the highway where you can get off the road, just past the turnoff. It’s a ways across the lake, so you will definitely need good binoculars and perhaps a spotting scope to get a good look.

If you can’t make the Polk County Ramp Festival, the Turtletown Ramp Festival is the previous Saturday, April 18th. To get there from Blue Ridge, take Hwy 5 to McCaysville, cross the river, and turn left on Hwy 68. Continue on Hwy 68 through Turtletown, to a picnic shelter on the right. This is just before the place where Hwy 68 and 123 come to a Y. Note: I hear the festival is going to be held in downtown Turtletown this year. I’m not sure exactly where, but it won’t be hard to find.

April 15, 2009

We haven’t had much sun lately, so the dogwoods are not as far along as I expected. There are some in bloom and some more about to bloom, but I don’t expect that they will be anywhere near peak this weekend.

I went to an interesting conference the other day up in Coker Creek. I’ve pasted my report below.

Historic Fort Found in Coker Creek

The site of Fort Armistead, which was established during Coker Creek’s gold rush days, has been found. The fort was initially built to protect local Cherokees from gold prospectors who overran the territory in 1831. The site was garrisoned from 1832–1835 for this purpose, and was the only army fort in Cherokee territory until May 1835. In 1838, the fort was re-garrisoned to aid in the Cherokee removal. Over 3,000 Cherokees passed through Fort Armistead on their march from Fort Butler in Murphy along the Unicoi Turnpike to concentration camps near Fort Cass at Charleston, where they were held while awaiting deportation to Oklahoma. It was also used by troops searching for Cherokees who fled from the removal and were hiding in the Unaka Mountains.

While the fort was not exactly lost – it has been in the same location for 177 years – its location was known to only a few people in Coker Creek. The former landowners, local artists Ken and Kathleen Dalton, learned of the significance of the site from a neighbor whose grandfather had helped construct the fort. When they contacted archeologist Brett Riggs, who specializes in the Cherokee, he was rather skeptical. While its existence is well attested, Fort Armistead’s location was unknown to scholarship, because it did not appear on any contemporary maps. After extensive archival research, Dr. Riggs located a map that confirmed the location, and his subsequent fieldwork has established the authenticity of the site beyond a doubt. The Daltons wanted to preserve the site for history, and the Forest Service finally agreed to purchase the property, which is now under Forest Service management.

In a conference on April 3-4 hosted by the Coker Creek Heritage Group, Dr. Riggs and Forest Archeologist Quentin Bass, who was instrumental in persuading the Forest Service to acquire the property, explained its historical significance and offered guided tours of the site. It is located directly on the old Unicoi Turnpike, very close to the center of Coker Creek, not more than 300 yards from Highway 68. The proximity of the site to Coker Creek is fortunate, because it can be easily monitored by local citizens. It is also protected by extensive electronic surveillance to prevent “grave robbers” from plundering the extremely sensitive site.

The fort was situated on a small bluff overlooking a broad curve in the Unicoi Turnpike, near Maroney’s Stand, one of the stock stands located at intervals along the route to provide overnight rest and resupply for drovers. There is a good spring just to the west of the site and a broad clearing to the east, which was probably used by Cherokees in transit to Fort Cass for overnight camping. A number of contemporary roads converge on the fort, which consisted of four blockhouses with connecting palisades. Additional buildings such as barracks and winter huts were also on the site.

All of the structures on the site were burned at some point, but the four blockhouses were probably very similar to the “Fort Marr” blockhouse that is now in Benton. Under one of the blockhouses was a deep powder magazine, lined with stone and fitted with a sand floor, to reduce the possibility of sparks. (The powder magazine was designed so that in the event of explosion, the force of the blast would be directed directly upward, instead of laterally through the entire fort.) While the Fort Marr blockhouse remains the only structure that still exists from the removal era forts, the Fort Armistead site is of far greater significance, because it is the only removal era fort that is located on an intact site.

The archeological integrity of the site is almost unbelievable. It appears to be almost 100% intact, with not even an invasive species of plant present to betray the fact that the soil has been disturbed. Despite the short period of use and occupation, initial surveys indicate that the site is rich in artifacts, and much will be learned from further investigation. The removal forts were apparently built to a standard plan, but no such plan is known to exist, so simply seeing the footprint of the fort on the ground is very informative. Given the sensitivity of the site in Cherokee history, it will be preserved as much as possible, with limited archeological studies conducted in the least invasive manner possible, for instance with ground penetrating radar.

The site is ideally located from a historical point of view, as there is a recently marked two-mile section of the historic Unicoi Turnpike Trail on forest service land near the site. The Unicoi Turnpike was a toll road constructed on the route of what is thought to be the oldest trace in North America. Prior to its use in the Cherokee removal, it was used by early explorers of the region including DeSoto and Bartram, and it received heavy use from traders in colonial times. Unlike the site of Fort Armistead, the public is welcome to explore this trail, which was recently designated one of 16 National Millennium Flagship trails. Visitors can drive a few miles from Coker Creek on the Joe Brown Highway to Unicoi Gap, where there is a parking area and interpretive sign. The intact section, a deeply entrenched trail, is reached by following the Benton McKaye Trail a few hundred feet southwest from the gap, where it diverges from the Unicoi Turnpike Trail. (As you face the interpretive sign, this section of the trail is behind you.) The Unicoi Turnpike Trail is marked with a blue blaze. This section of the trail descends two miles from the gap to Doc Rogers Fields near Coker Creek, passing the grave of a man killed by bushwhackers during the Civil War and an old CCC Camp, which was built on the site of the original Unicoi Turnpike tollbooth.

The Coker Creek Heritage Group is exploring the possibility of an interpretive center being built in Coker Creek, to increase awareness of local history and to interpret these extremely important remnants of the Cherokee removal, a shameful but significant episode in American history.

April 9, 2009

Dogwood Alert! Despite the snow yesterday and cold morning today, my dogwoods have started to bloom. I thought earlier this week that we’d see a good number in bloom this weekend, but we haven’t had quite as much sunshine as I expected, so it looks like there will be some in bloom, with most of the blooms to be spread over the next couple of weeks. The weather yesterday was beautiful. We had 70° on the deck, which was quite a change from the 30° and three inches of snow we had just two days previous. It’s rainy today, but it’s unmistakably spring, with everything in the pastures greening up and starting to grow.

April 7, 2009

We probably had three inches of snow at our place last night and this morning. The ground is fairly warm, and there don’t seem to be any travel difficulties this morning. Highway 515 is fine. The ambient temperature is still around or below the freeze at 11 AM, but there is also a little sun. The situation may change for the worse this evening, because rain is predicted and the temperature is supposed to fall into the mid-twenties over night. If there is sufficient moisture on the roads to freeze, they may be bad in the morning.

I talked to Tim Mercier, of Mercier Orchards yesterday, and he said that two years ago, when we also had a freeze on April 7, 8 and 9, that the fruit trees were a little further along, with small fruits on many of them. Also, it stayed well below freezing for about 30 hours. This year, the trees haven’t fruited yet and temperatures are not expected to be below the freeze for that long. All in all, while he is concerned, he doesn’t think it will be as bad as it was two years ago. All I have in bloom at this point are sarvis and redbuds, and they are fairly hardy. Two years ago, my persimmons were already in leaf, and they were just destroyed, as were some other trees that were in full leaf.

April 2, 2009

We’ve had about another inch of rain at our place over the past few days, but yesterday afternoon was beautiful, with a temperature of about 70° on the deck. The sarvis is still in bloom, and I expect things to really start to happen if we get a few days of strong sun.

The Blue Ridge Adventure Race is this Saturday, April 4. The starting place is a big secret, but the finish line will be in the downtown Blue Ridge park. The first finishers usually come in some time between noon and 2:00 pm. As usual, there will be live music and some other fun things in the park. This is usually a pretty good time, with the racers having to complete one final task in the park before crossing the finish line.

March 27, 2009

Just a little note on the progress of spring. It’s been raining for the past few days, and we’ve gotten about an inch so far at our place. Other areas undoubtedly got more. The forsythia and Bartlett pears are almost over, and some of the sarvis is in bloom along with the redbuds. I think this rain will move things along, and I’m expecting the wild cherry trees and dogwood trees soon, maybe starting as early as the end of next week if we get a lot of sun. For those of you who aren’t familiar with sarvis, this is what they call Juneberry or serviceberry up north. It is the first of the native flowering trees to come, and it has a beautiful white bloom in the shape of a cross, much narrower than dogwood petals. A lot of people mistake it for dogwood, but it comes much earlier.There are still a lot of ducks moving through. I saw a drake and hen mallard sitting in a pasture puddle on Cutcane Road just this morning.

March 25, 2009

Hot News Flash! The Blue Ridge City Council approved beer and wine in restaurants in the city limits last night. The vote was 3-2, with the swing vote belonging to new City Council member Michael Eaton. There is no ordinance yet, so there are no details. A lot will depend on those details – how many seats will be required, how many licenses will be issued, and how much a license will cost. The bars were set pretty high in the county ordinance in terms of number of seats (60) and the price of license ($10,000). To date, only three restaurants in the county have chosen to get licenses. This will be good news for the downtown merchants, depending on how those details are worked out.

March 23, 2009

I apologize for missing my regular deadline last week. I’ve been ill. We’re starting to get into high spring, and the weather has been very fine. The sarvis (Juneberry) in my yard just started to bloom this morning. That’s the first of the native shrubs to bloom, usually followed by the wild cherry and the crab apples. I’ve seen a lot of migrating wildfowl and songbirds in the past few weeks as well. With the opening day of trout coming this Saturday, we’re about to enter the high mountain season. If you haven’t been up for a while, you should make plans to come and see a little spring in the mountains.

March 11, 2009

We had some very warm weather earlier in the week, with temperatures as high as 74° in the late afternoon. Today, it was more seasonal, starting off around 45°. The warm weather brought out more tree buds, and there’s a little pollen in the air. The pear trees are almost in full flower in many parts of the county. I haven’t heard any turkey talk yet, but I think there’s a good chance that their mating season is just around the corner. There’s still not much wild excitement in terms of festivals and fun things to do in town, but we are close to the time when all those things will be happening again.

March 6, 2009

It was unbelievably cold early this week. We saw 5° on the porch on Tuesday, and the wind was blowing like crazy. It’s warmed up by today, and tomorrow the high is supposed to be 74°. I don’t know if we’ll really see that, but it has gotten a lot more like spring. I’ve seen lots of daffodils. There are some forsythia starting, and lots of the trees are budding up.

I wish I could report that there’s something wildly exciting happening in Blue Ridge this weekend, but we’re still in the winter slow time for local events.

February 27, 2009

It’s been raining a little today, and it feels a lot like spring is coming.

I was wrong in saying that brown-bagging is now illegal. Apparently, it is grandfathered until April 1 for restaurants that have not been licensed yet, in order to give them a fair chance to get licensed. I think some of those restaurants were not aware of this, because I was told Goodfellows had a sign up saying it was no longer permitted. The three licenses issued so far are Cucina Rustica on Forge Mill, El Sol on the Lance Connector (the Mexican place behind the Appalachian Bank), and Toccoa Riverside on Aska Road.

The Blue Ridge Golf & River Club have put some neat incentives in place. For non-resident memberships, they’ve lowered the price from $30,000 to $20,000 for the next fifty sold. Also, the next ten lot buyers will get a 10% discount, along with payment of the first 24 months interest (8% additional off for cash). They are also offering a $5,000 credit to the club account to lot buyers and for those who begin construction within 18 months, an additional $5,000. Contact me for details.

The bald eagles are back mating at Parksville Lake, near Ocoee, Tennessee. They are on the far side of Parksville Lake from Hwy 64. There’s a pulloff just west of TN 30, the road to Reliance, which makes a good viewing area. It was a bit hazy the morning I was there, and it was difficult to get a clear look. You’ll probably need a spotting scope to get a perfect look, because the lake is pretty wide. The tree they were using died and fell in the lake, but they’ve found another that they seem to like.

Trout and Turkey Seasons Open in March

The opening day of the Georgia spring turkey season is Friday, March 21. If you are hiking in the woods, remember that hunters may be present. They may be using turkey, crow, or owl calls. If you hear any of these – and especially if they sound real bogus – chances are they are being made by a hunter. If you need a little update on Woodcraft 101, see the column archives for 3/23/2005.

Trout opens on Saturday, March 29. This isn’t as big a deal as it used to be with our year-round streams, but with the opening of the season, you can fish the mouths of the seasonal streams that flow into the river, which is usually a productive strategy. Note that the Noontoola Creek continues to carry special regulations, which are artificials only. Also, note that there are new delayed harvest regulations on the upper Toccoa from just upstream of the Shallowford bridge to just upstream of Sandy Bottoms Canoe Access.

Here is the list of seasonal and year-round streams from the DNR: Seasonal: Charlie Creek watershed; Etowah River watershed; Jacks River watershed; Owenby Creek watershed; Persimmon Creek watershed; South Fork Rapier Mill Creek watershed; Star Creek watershed; Toccoa River tributary watersheds entering the river downstream from Blue Ridge Reservoir to the Georgia-Tennessee state line and upstream from the mouth of Stanley Creek except those listed as year-round; Tumbling Creek watershed; Wilscot Creek watershed. Year-round: Conasauga River watershed (except Jacks River watershed); Ellijay River watershed; Fightingtown Creek watershed; Mountaintown Creek watershed; Noontootla Creek watershed; Rock Creek watershed; Rock Creek Lake; Toccoa River downstream from Lake Blue Ridge to the Georgia-Tennessee state line and upstream from the mouth of Stanley Creek (does not include tributaries unless listed).

It’s worth remembering that the tailrace of the Toccoa is the best trip saver in the event of heavy rain, as the upper parts of the tailrace usually do not become heavily stained with runoff. When fishing the tailrace of the river (north and downstream of the dam): To ensure your safety, you must know the release schedule for the dam. There is a warning system planned, but it is not operational yet and probably will not provide full coverage. If you are wading the river, you must be prepared to move immediately if the water level starts to rise. This is no joke. The water comes up very fast. Check the release schedule on the TVA website, or call 800.238.2264, then press number 4, then the number for Lake Blue Ridge, which is 23.

February 19, 2009

The weather has been bouncing around as it always does as we approach spring, and it is beginning to feel a lot like spring is coming. We had about an inch of rain at our place Tuesday and Wednesday, and we’ve also had some fairly brisk winds.

This is kind of a quiet time in Blue Ridge, so there is not much to report. The streetscape project has begun on the block in front of the Blue Ridge Pharmacy, and a lot of downtown merchants are glad to see it finally underway.

The Toccoa River Restaurant was granted a beer and wine license. That makes a total of three, so far. As brown bagging is now illegal, the restaurants who have allowed brown bagging in the past are facing the choice of putting up $10,000 for the license or risking seeing their business dwindle. We spoke to one of the Cucina Rustica owners the other day, who said that business has been great since they obtained their license. So far, there is no official confirmation of any new restaurants that will be coming into the county, just a lot of speculation.

February 11, 2009

After that very cold weather, we’ve had some very warm, spring-like days. The ground seems to be waking up a little, and some of the spring smells are starting to come back. We’re expecting some high wind this afternoon, when a cold front comes through, and perhaps a little rain. But the weather looks good for the weekend, at this point.

February 6, 2009

We’ve had a little rain and a couple of days of snow, but the real news is that it has been very cold. We’ve had a few mornings that started off around 10° and barely warmed up. With a very brisk wind, that’s cold. I actually got my down jacket out of the closet, which I don’t do very often. It’s pretty nice out today, probably not quite 60°, and the weekend is supposed to be nice.

January 24, 2009

The Year in Review and What’s Happening Right Now

The most significant event in Fannin County in 2008 was undoubtedly the granting of pouring licenses for beer and wine. So far, one pouring license had been issued, to Cucina Rustica on Forge Mill Road. While the City of Blue Ridge has not approved a similar ordinance – leading to much anxiety on the part of our downtown merchants – there’s no doubt this is a step in the right direction from an economic point of view. Simply put, the county could no longer afford to leave this revenue on the table, with studies showing that up to 50% of our visitors travel to East Ellijay to eat. While there have been some recriminations, most of our business and civic leaders understand that it had to be done because our local economy is driven by real estate and tourism.

What kind of a year did we have in real estate? Our MLS statistics show that there were 2,379 transactions in 2008. There were 3,715 in 2007 and 6,274 in 2006. In 2005 – our peak year – there were 7,498. (That’s for the entire six county MLS, including adjacent Tennessee and North Carolina.) So looking at things overall, we did 31-32% of the business we did in 2005. That’s both good news and bad news. The good news is that the market isn’t completely dead. We are still able to sell property, although there is no doubt that it has to be priced aggressively to sell. The bad news is simply that it isn’t selling like it was in 2005. When you consider that there are something like 1,200 agents in our MLS, that’s less than one commission per agent last year, even if you assume that there were two agents involved in almost every sale. That’s why many local agents have left the business or have effectively moved on to other part- or full-time jobs.

Part of the good news is that despite the fact that there has clearly been a price correction, it hasn’t reached the extent of the correction in many Florida markets, where properties have been selling for 50% of their previous value. Resort markets tend to be a bit more stable than traditional residential markets, for several reasons. One is that second home owners tend to be better off economically than the average homeowner and generally have a good bit of equity in their second homes. So many of these people can afford to wait out a declining market. Our strong weekend rental market also tends to stabilize home prices, because second home owners can recoup a certain percentage of their mortgage payments from rental income.

Interestingly, the MLS statistics show that the residential average price in Fannin County actually increased from $240,292 in 2007 to $258,006 in 2008. That’s a somewhat misleading statistic, because there’s probably been a price correction of at least 25-30% in cabins between $300,000 – $600,000. That’s the price range where we’re definitely overbuilt, and the best deals continue to be in new construction in that price range. There has been downward pressure on prices across the board, but we have relatively little inventory at lower and higher price points.

For cabin sellers, the situation continues to be tough. There is an awful lot of inventory out there to be absorbed – about three years worth at the current absorption rate – and there’s no doubt that price is the principal driver of sales in this market. While we have seen our listing inventory decline slightly, that seems mostly to be due to sellers giving up and taking their property off the market rather than inventory being absorbed. Also, while we continue to have strong buyer interest, few people feel confident enough about their finances to commit to a major purchase. That’s probably why we have so much buyer interest around the $200,000 mark. That seems to be the amount that most folks feel confident spending on a cabin right now. For lot and land sellers, the situation is worse. There is about a twelve-year inventory of lots and land at the current absorption rate, but only about 25% of last year’s sales were land. To sum it all up for sellers, this is not a good time to try to sell your property unless you are strongly motivated to sell. Overpriced listings are not being shown, so the asking price definitely has to be aggressive. The days of “going fishing” are over for the foreseeable future.

Conversely, the news for buyers is all good. There is a lot on the market to choose from, and the deals are better than I can remember in a long time. If you want a place up here and feel confident enough to make a commitment you should act now, because there are indications that recovery has begun. We’re beginning to see more buyer traffic, and I believe that the market will begin to recover in 2009. As Warren Buffet famously said about the stock market, “If you wait to see the robins, you’ll miss the spring.” In other words, the best deals will be made before everyone knows we’re in recovery and wants to jump on the band wagon.

A brief word on foreclosures. We continue to have a lot of interest in them, and we continue to see people who assume that any foreclosure has to be a smoking deal. As I’ve said before, “it ain’t necessarily so.” For one thing, local banks have not been willing to sell for fifty cents on the dollar, as they have been in some Florida markets. By and large, they are still trying to “get out of it what they have in it.” If the builder didn’t put everything into the cabin that he borrowed – but bought a new pickup and a bass boat instead – what the bank has in it is a lot less than what it’s really worth. In other cases, the builder paid too much for the lot, counting on a rising market. In still others, the property just isn’t as inherently as attractive as others on the market. A lot of these places haven’t been maintained, and a lot of them aren’t really finished. We don’t have anything against foreclosures, and we’re handling a lot of them. But the best advice to people who are interested in them is to shop the other offerings along with the foreclosures, to be sure that you are getting the best deal possible.

To sum it all up, I expect that 2009 will be a year of recovery in the local real estate market. It will continue to be much better for buyers than sellers, but there are solid indications that we’ve hit bottom and are on the way back up. I believe the balance in the local market will begin to shift toward normalcy by the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. I also expect that the Blue Ridge Golf & River Club will begin to catch fire, and that will bring more upscale buyers to our area. That will help create a “rising tide that will lift all boats.” I also expect that the new pouring licenses will spur commercial development and will make our area more attractive to second home buyers than it has been in the past. Then as now, it’s a great place to work and play, and I hope you can be a part of it some day. If you haven’t been up for a while, I’d encourage you to come up this spring and have a look around, and I hope to see you if you are in town.

January 23, 2009

We had a pretty good snow on Tuesday. It snowed a bit overnight and then snowed off and on during the day. I don’t think there were travel difficulties on the main roads, but getting up and down from the ridgetops was a challenge. It’s a bit tough getting in and out of our place, so we spent the day working at home. The newspaper got some nice pictures of kids playing in the snow, and it was a very pretty scene out there.

January 16, 2009

The big news from Fannin County is that the first pouring license for beer and wine has been approved, for Cucina Rustica on Forge Mill Road. At the first meeting of the new Fannin County Commission, their license request was approved by Bill Simonds and Steve Morris. Garnett Webb abstained, calling for an investigation by the attorney general into the legality of the vote for the ordinance by the outgoing commission. (Steve Morris qualified his vote by saying that it was not a vote for alcohol, but simply an affirmation that they had met the requirements.) I have been told that once one license has been granted, the ordinance cannot be repealed. If that’s so, it settles the matter for good.

I called Cucina Rustica, and was able to speak to someone on the waitstaff. He indicated that they weren’t sure when licensing would take effect, but thought it would be in early February. However, it is his understanding that brown bagging can continue until then. When I asked what beers they would have on draft, he said they had to add on to the restaurant first, so the selection probably wouldn’t be extensive until that was accomplished.

I’m not sure about the brown bagging part. One little noticed feature of the ordinance is that it outlaws brown bagging, so restaurants that have been previously allowing it will have either to qualify for a license or discontinue the practice. Perhaps there is some exemption for restaurants who receive a license, but I did not see one in the fifth draft ordinance I read. (I have not seen the final ordinance.)

January 12, 2009

Two Favorite Short Hikes – To the Mountaintop and to the River
This is my favorite time to go hiking in the mountains, because with deer season over, usage of the National Forest is low. Here are directions and notes on two of my favorite hikes. They’re not too strenuous, and are suitable for the whole family.
The Kimsey Highway to the Top of the Little Frog Mountain

I’ve written before about the historic Kimsey Mountain Highway. This half-day trip uses the Kimsey to reach the trailhead for a short hike to the top of the Little Frog Mountain, also called Sassafras Knob.

From Blue Ridge, go north on Hwy 5 to McCaysville. Cross the river and turn left on Hwy 68. Go north on Hwy 68 through Copperhill to Ducktown. You will cross Hwy 64 just before you come into Ducktown. From the traffic light in Ducktown, continue north on Hwy 68 for four miles, at which point you cross the railroad tracks. Go another .3 miles to a left on the Kimsey Highway, at Vic’s Auto Parts. This is also designated Forest Service 68. Follow the Kimsey Highway for 5.5 miles to the trailhead on the left. (You will pass Forest Service 66, the Ditney Mountain Road, and Forest Service 80, the Smith Mountain Road.)
The trail is marked 68B, and there is a forest service gate over the trail, which used to be used by automobiles. There’s no real parking area. You have to find a place to park on the outside of the curve. (Do not block the trail or the gate. Forest Service personnel occasionally use this road, and it would be needed if anyone on the mountain required rescuing.)

It is about a 45 minute walk to the top, where a radio tower is located. The grade is not very steep, and aside from some wet places on the lower end of the trail, it’s very easy walking. There are wonderful vistas both from the road and on top. On top, the most impressive is a close range view of the Big Frog Mountain, across the Ocoee Gorge to the south. It’s about a thousand feet higher than the Little Frog. Even from the road, you can look north across the Hiwassee River Gorge to the high ridge on the other side, and if you look westward through the notch where the Hiwassee passes through Bean Mountain/Chilhowee Mountain and Chestnut Mountain near Benton, you will see the plume of steam from the Bowater paper plant at Calhoun.

You can return the way you came. Or you can take FS 66, the Ditney Mountain Road, to rejoin Hwy 68 north of the Kimsey (bear right at the Y). Or you can continue on the Kimsey about eight miles to Archville and turn left on Hwy 315 (the road makes a “T” and there is a small store on the right, Hall’s). Then turn left on Hwy 64, which will take you back through the gorge to Ducktown. (If you go this way, you might consider making a side trip to Reliance by turning right on 314. The Hiwassee River is beautiful there.)

A note on the Kimsey: It is not in terrific repair for the first two or three miles up from Hwy 68. It’s a little bumpy, and the road is narrow, although it is passable by car. There is no guard rail. It’s not quite as intimidating going up as it is going down, because when you’re headed back from the trailhead, you’re on the side with the drop off. If this bothers you, you might consider back through Archville. The road is much better from Archville to the trailhead than it is from Hwy 68 to the trailhead.

The Confluence of the Jacks and the Conasauga

This is one of the most beautiful areas in the mountains. Both rivers flow north from the Cohutta Wilderness Area, and are wonderful, pristine rivers. The Conasauga is known for its biodiversity, having more species of fish than the Colorado River system. In the summer, it’s a favorite for snorkeling. The Nature Conservancy and other groups often have outings there to view the fish. The Jacks is a beautiful mountain river that runs through a steep gorge to its confluence with the Conasauga.

From Blue Ridge, go north on Hwy 5 to McCaysville. Cross the river and turn left, continuing north on Hwy 68 through Copperhill toward Ducktown. Just before you reach Ducktown, turn left on Hwy 64, toward Benton, Cleveland, and Chattanooga. Go about 26 miles through the Ocoee Gorge and turn south on Hwy 411, south of Benton. You will be headed away from Benton, toward Old Fort and Chatsworth. Go about 6.8 miles to a left on Ladd Springs Road, passing through Old Fort. At Ladd Springs road, 313 goes off to the right, and there are two gas stations – St. Clare’s and a Marathon called the Favorite Market. There is also a sign for the Ballplay Church. Turn left on Ladd Springs Road.

Go about a 1.6 miles to a crossroads, and continue straight. Go 2.2 miles to the village of Willis Springs, and turn right at the “Y”, which is Forest Service 221. Follow 221 back until you get to the Conasauga River. This isn’t far – about 4.6 miles – but it will take about twenty minutes. There is a parking area on the right, and a trailhead for the lower end of the Conasauga River Trail. This is a good area to explore. But the real jewel is the Jacks River. To reach the trailhead, continue on 221 a short distance (about a half a mile). Go past the bridge. The trailhead is on the right. Park there and take the trail up the Jacks River.

The trail is actually the bed of a narrow gage railroad, which was built during the logging era. The tracks have been taken up, but the roadbed remains. It’s a beautiful walk up this trail. Unfortunately, you can only go about a mile before you come to the first river crossing, but it’s well worth it. (Don’t attempt to cross the river if the water is high. The current is very swift.) It’s a good hour and a half minimum to reach the trailhead from Blue Ridge, but this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the mountains. (I wouldn’t go on the weekend in the summer, because the river is very heavily used to beat the heat.)

By the way, the Jacks River Trail is not far from the trailhead for the Beech Bottom Trail, which is the one trail that goes to the Jacks River Falls without crossing the Jacks (you cross it over twenty times before you reach the falls, going either direction on the Jacks River Trail). It is by far the easiest way to reach the falls. To reach the Beech Bottom Trail, continue on 221 to a right on FS 62 and continue to the trailhead. It is about five miles to the falls, going this way. The falls is downstream from Beech Bottom Trail, about .6 miles on the Jacks River Trail.

January 7, 2009

We’ve had about five inches of rain at our place in the past few days, and some areas probably got more. Yesterday afternoon, most of the creeks and streams were very near flood stage, and I expected that we would see some flooding. The rain backed off a little last night, and while there has been some minor flooding, I haven’t seen or heard of any serious flooding. The flood watch for the Coosawattee was canceled this morning by the weather service. It rained fairly hard at times, and chances are there has been some damage to gravel roads and driveways.

I apologize to my regular readers for being out of action so long. It gets hectic in the office around the holidays, because so many of our people go away for a week or two, and those of us who are here seem to have a lot more to do. I’ll try to get back on track soon. I’ll should have the year-end numbers and market analysis by the end of next week, and I plan to post directions to two of my favorite hikes soon.

The beer and wine ordinance was passed, with minor revisions, by the outgoing commission. One of the changes was to reduce the required distance between churches and licensed premises by 100 feet, a change I suspect may have been made for the benefit of Cucina Rustica, which is close to the Lutheran church. The seating requirement was changed to sixty seats. The initial number of licenses was set at 25. There have been thirteen applications requested. Eight were by Howard Slaughter for the proposed Gatewood to Blue Ridge development. Others were El Sol Mexican, Bordertown Roadhouse, Cucina Rustica, The Lilly Pad, and the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant. There were three winery applications picked up, by Bubba Gibbs, Cline Bowers, and Joe Dickey of the Cider House.