Columns 2005


The weather has been very cool, and today we have rain. The little snow we had a while ago made it very beautiful up on the higher peaks, and that made it a little easier to put up with the cold weather and wind.

A lot of people have asked me whether we’re beginning to experience the real estate bust that you keep hearing about in the press, and the answer is, not hardly. It doesn’t seem to have touched our market.

True, with the weather starting to turn bad, we’ve had a little break in the frantic real estate activity that is the fourth quarter in the mountains. But that’s just the usual seasonal cycle. The numbers aren’t in yet, but I think I can say two things without fear of contradiction. Prices have never been higher, and we’ve never been as short on listings.

I think the shortage of listings is due to the fact that we’ve had a few very strong years for sales. While everyone understands intellectually that we need listings to sell, that you can’t just go out and sell without listing anything, it’s contrary to the nature of a real estate agent to stop selling and go listing. For one thing, the buyers “yell louder” than the listers. They call on the phone and say that they want to buy something, and you have to respond to them.

What it all means to me is that it’s a good time to list your property for sale, even if the fall selling season is over. Many years, we have a good first quarter – it depends on whether the stock market is doing well – but I don’t see how people who want to sell their property can lose in a market like we’ve been having.

What it all means for buyers is a little different. While it is true that prices have never been higher, and listings have never been more scarce, it’s also true that interest rates are still near historical lows. That means that the real price of buying high priced property is not as high as the sale price implies, since the average loan usually more than doubles the real cost of ownership. I still don’t see any prospect of a price correction in our market unless and until interest rates rise very sharply, and there is a school of thought that says it isn’t apt to happen even then, because there seems to be an inexhaustible source of baby boomers getting ready for retirement. Apparently, every one of them wants to retire to a resort market that’s within a day’s drive of their primary residence, and that’s what’s driving our market right now.

I’ll have more to say on all this when our fourth quarter numbers are in, but I doubt the numbers will change any of my essential conclusions.


Along with the rain and a little snow yesterday, we had a strong north wind, and a lot of folks had leaks. If you’ve had them in the past, it might be good to try to get up soon and check your cabin. I had leaks in places where I haven’t had them in over five years.


The leaves peaked last Saturday. Since then, they’ve started to fall. There’s still some color in the woods, but there’s no doubt that we’re past the peak.

That means that the seasonal views are starting to come in pretty good, so it’s time for people who want to buy view property to come up and have a look.

I was in Tellico Plains on Tuesday, and the leaves were still very colorful up there. In fact, they had better color than our leaves. I’m not sure that will remain the case this weekend, but a ride on the Cherohala Skyway might be worth a try, if you missed the color here locally.


Leaf update! The weather has been absolutely beautiful lately, and there is fairly good color in the woods. It’s always hard to call – and the leaves are late this year – but I think the peak will either be this weekend or next weekend. I think my advice would be to come up this weekend, if you want to be sure not to miss it all. Next weekend may be better, but it may be over by then, too.


Leaf update! We’ve had a few chilly mornings. It was 35° on the porch this morning, and there was a heavy frost in the valley below. The leaves are still not spectacular, but I really don’t expect them to be, this year. I could be wrong, but I don’t think this will be one of the more exciting years for leaves. Having said that, the weather has been absolutely beautiful, and there is some color in the woods. If I had to bet, I’d say that next weekend will be the peak, unless high winds knock all the leaves off the trees.


Leaf update! We’ve had a few cool mornings recently, and there is a little color in the woods. It looks and feels like fall, but the weather has been beautiful, especially in the morning. It’s been a little warmer for the past few days, but it’s supposed to bounce back cooler for the weekend, which may lead to more color. It’s always hard to predict, but I’m not expecting a spectacular leaf season. There will probably be more color next weekend, unless we get high winds from the hurricane that strip a lot of leaves from the trees. If we don’t get that wind, I expect that next weekend or the weekend after will be the peak.

The Harvest Festival is on again this weekend at the State Farmer’s Market, which is on Old 76 in the vicinity of the drive in theater. From Atlanta, you would turn right at the first light in Blue Ridge (at June Walker Chevrolet) and go a mile or so to the market on the right.


Once again, I apologize to my regular readers for not posting an update recently. I was having technical problems, and my guru was enjoying some well-deserved convention time.

All I have time to say now is that the weather is very nice up here. Fine, fall weather. This morning, it was about 56° on the porch, and this afternoon, it’s been sunny and in the high sixties. The leaves haven’t changed yet, and it’s difficult to tell what the leaf season will be like at this point. I suspect that it won’t be a fantastic fall season, and that the biggest change in color will be in the next two weeks. I’ll try to keep the site updated, so everyone will know when it happens.

The real estate business has been very busy lately, as it always is in the fall. The town is full of people, and there’s still one weekend for the Harvest Festival at the state farmer’s market near the old drive in theater on the old highway. It’s crafts and preserves, mostly, and I never miss it. Unfortunately, I bought the last of the shelled hickory nuts last weekend.

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


I apologize to my regular readers for not having an update sooner. We’re starting to get into the fall selling season, and things have been mighty hectic.

It’s raining a little this morning, from the hurricane, but it hasn’t rained enough yet to really make a difference. It’s been very dry all month, and we definitely need rain. On the other hand, the weather has been simply beautiful.

I saw a doe and two fawns last Friday, and one of the fawns still had its spots. That surprised me, this late in the year. The geese that visit the little quarry off Cutcane Road have been back for a week, so I imagine that the fall migration is getting under way. We’ve also seen some interesting songbirds coming through.

Picking in the Park is over for the year, at least officially. The publicity said it would run through September, but Lisa Jacoby announced the end of the season in letters to the editor of the Blue Ridge and Benton papers. It is expected that folks will continue to gather there on Thursday evenings, until the daylight gets too short. At least, that’s what happened last year.

As we head into the fall selling season, I think it’s fair to say that prices have never been higher and demand has never been higher, relative to supply. That’s a wonderful situation for sellers, of course, so if you have a piece of property that you want to sell, there may never be a better time. This appears to be a nationwide phenomenon – in resort markets, especially – and it can probably be attributed largely to baby boomers preparing for retirement. The bottom line, as I see it, is that prices will continue to increase until either interest rates rise sharply or the US economy hits a major snag.

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


It’s finally dried out, and we’ve been having some beautiful weather. It’s been about 60° on the porch in the morning, and afternoons have been around 80°. The forecast continues good through this weekend. As of yesterday, the beach at Morganton Point was still open, and the water has cooled off a little bit without being too cold.

Gas prices here are about what they are in Atlanta. Most stations are at $2.99, with a few at $2.95.

Rick Tullis and Steve Pfeiffer at Great Eats, the downtown deli, are having a benefit for hurricane relief from 7:30-9:30 PM on Saturday the 24th. Tickets are limited to 200 at $25 each. It will be held outside at the deli, on the porch and on the lawn. Rick is known to be a pretty good cook, and he lived in New Orleans for a number of years, so it’s likely to sell out this weekend. If you want a ticket, drop by the deli. I’ve got mine. It’s going to be a New Orleans menu, with all the provisions donated, so that 100% of the proceeds will go to hurricane relief. There will also be lots of items donated for auction by other downtown merchants. We’re trying to line up some appropriate music. If you would like to donate items for auction, you can reach the deli at 632.3094.

Just a reminder that Picking in the Park is winding down for the year, with just three more Thursdays left in September. If you haven’t been, it’s worth a visit. See previous columns (below) for more information and directions.

Last weekend was almost a “lost weekend” for real estate, with our buyers seemingly unsure what the gas shortage might mean for travel on the big weekend. Other than that, the real estate market has continued incredibly strong through the summer, which is usually a time when it tends to slow down considerably. We continue to be hurting for inventory, so if any of you are considering selling your property, now is an excellent time to list. The fall is always our best selling season.

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


The remnants of Katrina have blown out of here, leaving us with a pretty good forecast for the weekend. The low temperatures are supposed to be in the low sixties, and the high fifties later on, so I have some hope that the very wet weather we’ve been experiencing all summer is about to change.

Don’t forget the Labor Day Barbecue in the park in downtown Blue Ridge. It starts at 11:30 and they serve until they run out. The menu is barbecue sandwiches ($5), or a platter with either chicken or ribs ($8), baked beans, pepper slaw, and homemade dessert. It’s always a good time, and the proceeds go to charity.

Picking in the Park runs through September. Last Thursday, there were about five groups playing in different places, and the music is always good. It brings out both the kids and the old boys, and it’s a very pretty setting. Take along dinner and a lawn chair. Ron Henry Horseshoe Bend Park is just south of McCaysville, on the River Road. From McCaysville, go south on 60 for about a mile to the first right, just before the tracks (River Road). Continue on a few miles to the entrance of the park on the right.

While you’re out there, you can go down to the end of Williamstown Road, the first left off River Road, and see my listing on Wolf Creek, a seasonal trout stream. It’s 2.6 acres for $99,900. It has been reduced from its former full retail price of $119,900 because the owner wants to purchase another property. It’s one nice piece of trout stream, in a beautiful pasture setting. MLS 113446.

If you’ve been following the road fight, you know that the mountain counties are unanimously opposed. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the issues, you might visit There’s some good info there, along with various newspaper accounts and opinions.

Hope to see you at the barbecue!


Just a quick update on Tuesday, at about 2:30 PM. We’ve had some high winds and rain, but damage last night was fairly minimal. There have been some power outages, and the roof of the Appalachia Church, close to 515 and Loving Road, was damaged. There are some trees down on the back roads, but I haven’t seen anything big that was down. All in all, it wasn’t as bad as most of us expected.


We’ve had a few days without rain, and things have dried out a little. It continues to be very humid, and most of us are hoping that we’ll get some different weather in September.

I’ve talked a little in previous columns about the Fannin’s Future, the public policy alliance that has done good work in bringing a number of issues to the forefront for public debate and action. They are now recommending an alternative to the current county commission structure. Presently, there are two part-time commissioners, with the third commissioner, the county chairman, serving full-time as the day-to-day chief executive officer of the county.

As I’ve mentioned before, the commission is currently polarized, with Randy Collins and Steve Morris opposing pretty much everything Dr. Richard Vollrath, the county chairman, supports. There also appears to be a behind the scenes power struggle taking place, with Collins issuing orders to county departments that contradict Vollrath’s. This points out the crucial importance of the county commission election in the fall, as Vollrath has said he will not run again. This leaves us with the very real possibility of taking a significant step backwards, if a strong progressive candidate does not appear to take Vollrath’s seat.

The idea of the Fannin’s Future organization is that the county would be better served by five part-time commissioners and a professional county manager. To promote this idea, the organization is holding three public forums, all of which will be held at the County Courthouse, in the Jury Room. The schedule is September 13 at 6:30, September 27 at 5:00, and September 29 at 6:30. If the idea appears to have broad acceptance, the next step would be to lobby state representative David Ralston to take the issue before the state legislature. If good government is one of your issues, you might want to attend one or all of these forums.

The Labor Day Barbecue is coming up in the downtown park. This is a big event that requires many volunteers, especially to man the pits the night before the barbecue. After all, it’s a 40 foot grill, fired by coals from the replenishment pit. It all starts with a Community Worship Service followed by an Ice Cream Social on September 4th at the First Baptist Church downtown. The worship service starts at 5 PM, followed by the Social at 6 PM. At 7 PM, the work begins. The barbecue is served from 11:30 on the 5th until the food runs out. It’s either chicken or pork ribs with baked beans, no-mayo pepper slaw, homemade desserts, and tea for $8.00. There are also sandwich plates for $5.00. There are usually some pretty good bands on the bill, and it’s all a benefit for the Good Samaritan Committee. For more info or to volunteer, 706.455.3818.


It’s been a lot drier, with much less rain than we’ve had lately. At least, it isn’t raining every day. It has continued humid, however, and temperatures have been pretty high by our standards. Yesterday afternoon, it hit 86° on my deck, and it was very warm in the sun. We’re still in this self-perpetuating afternoon thunderstorm cycle, and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight.

The local authorities have retrieved a Polk County school bus from the lake at Morganton Point. The funny thing is that it took the authorities weeks to locate it, while just about every kid on the street knew exactly where it ended up.

We’re continuing to see some activities related to the upcoming county council election. There is a group going by the name “Sixth Alliance,” which is seeking to continue the work done by the “Fannin Six” on planning for future growth. This would be the “green” alliance, so to speak. In other words, these are the people, like Jackie O’Connell and Steven Miracle, who want to find a way to keep the county green and beautiful in the midst of the explosive growth that we’ve been experiencing. They are asking for people who want to serve on the committee to call Kristin Gunia at 706.632.4450.

The Cherokee Bluegrass Festival is on this weekend over in Cherokee, North Carolina. Ralph Stanley is the headliner and Mac Wiseman, Rhonda Vincent, and Del McCoury are also on the bill. Their address on the web is I had the privilege of seeing a lot of the great bluegrass players back in the 60s at the University of Chicago Folk Festival, but I’ve recently realized that most of these people are reaching a certain age. We lost Jimmy Martin this spring, just before he was to headline the festival up in Bean Blossom, and it just may be time to take yourself and your kids to see some of these legendary performers before it’s too late.

Fannin County has recently passed a new sign ordinance. Among other things, it promises fines for people who place signs on utility poles. This might be your chance to clean up your neighborhood. If you want to report a violation, you can call Land Development at 632.8361.

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


It started to rain again this last weekend, after a period of more or less dry weather. Temperatures have been cooler, with the mornings around 65° and the afternoons in the low 80s.

The road fight is on, because the transportation bill that was recently passed by Congress funds the feasibility study. From what I am hearing, this is going to be a very tough one to beat. The proposed route has been purposely left obscure, but it seems to go from Savannah to Augusta, then through Toccoa and Young Harris, Murphy, and Robbinsville – then to Knoxville. I think that it’s pretty clear that there’s no need for that road, which takes all of 15 miles off the existing interstate from Savannah to Knoxville. It’s a welfare project for the contractors – excuse me, a “pork barrel project.” I know that there are some people here who are just delighted that it isn’t going through Blue Ridge – although that isn’t really clear – and are rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the higher traffic counts. That’s as may be, but there’s also such a thing as killing the goose that laid the golden egg. If you’re interested in learning more, there are some good press releases on


It has continued wet, but a little drier than it has been. It rained pretty hard two nights ago, and the creeks are swollen again. Trout fishing is probably dubious this weekend, except in the tail race of the dam.

The young turkey are about the size of a tall grouse, and most of the fawns are still spotted. They’ve been able to walk for a few weeks. I’ve seen many bunnies about the size of a fist, so the wet weather does not seem to have hurt the wildlife. It certainly hasn’t hurt the weedy vegetation, although the farmers are complaining about things like cabbage rotting in the fields. I certainly can’t remember it being this wet at this time of year.

There are still some blackberries around. You can scroll back a few newsletters for the famous recipe.

We saw Jesse McReynolds over at the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee, and he put on a good show with Charles Whitstein singing in Jim’s old spot. Saturday and Sunday are the last days for the summer fair. It’s well worth going for the music, the concessions, and the historic cabins and farm implements. There’s pretty much something there for the whole family, and you can’t argue much with a $7 admission charge. They’re on the web at

The real estate market continues strong, despite the fact that we’re in the dead of summer. It’s a great time to list property, because listing prices are definitely up, and there’s a real scarcity of listings.

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


It’s continued wet, but not as wet as it has been. It looks like the threat of flooding is mostly over for the time being, and the weather is supposed to clear up some this weekend. Temperatures have been between 66 and 85° degrees. In other words, not that hot, but rather humid.

The news from the U.S. Census is rather shocking. Fannin County was tenth in the nation for housing growth from July 2003 to July 2004. It isn’t terribly clear to me how this is measured, and I suspect it may have something to do with historic underreporting of the second home market in our parts, but it is still unexpected news. Tenth in Georgia, I might have anticipated. Tenth in the USA is a little bit different. Supposedly, this represents a growth rate of 6.9%. Perhaps this new stat will have a little positive effect on the folks who insist that we don’t have to plan for growth, because the way we always did things is fine. One can always hope.

In the ever-popular “Fannin Follies,” Tom McKevitt reports in a letter to the editor of the News Observer that our elected commissioners are at each other’s throats again, with Collins alleging that Vollrath wrongfully gave some county employees permission to take a free ride on the railroad, at the railroad’s invitation. In return, Vollrath reportedly alleged that Collins and Morris told Land Development to void properly issued littering citations and that Collins ordered a road paved outside the county, which would be illegal. It’s hard to tell what is really happening, because this wasn’t reported in the newspaper, which is another story. But I’m confident that our elected officials are really spending most of their time intelligently managing for future growth. If you’re not, you might want to consider voting in the commission election this fall. With Vollrath saying that he won’t run again, there’s a good chance that we will go significantly backwards with the next commission, unless more people get involved in the process.

Picking in the Park continues every Thursday evening at Ron Henry Park. From the McDonald’s, go north on Hwy. 5, cross the river at McCaysville, go right on Hwy. 60 south for .5 miles, and turn right on River Road. The park is on the right, at Horseshoe Bend. Bring your dinner and a lawn chair.

Jessie McReynolds is headlining the bluegrass program at the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee, July 28. Two shows, 2 PM and 8 PM. 706.896.4191 or


The rain has continued, but so far, we don’t have any significant flooding. That’s probably just because the rain has been intermittent. The creeks are definitely full, and we’re worried. The dam is spilling water until further notice, and the people in McCaysville and Copperhill have good reason to stay alert.

The Polk County News carried a story recently to the effect that Intertrade is surrendering their sulphuric acid permit. So far, Tennessee officials are unable to verify that assertion. They also said that they are continuing to dismantle the acid plant for shipment to Brazil, but from the road, it certainly doesn’t look like it. The story also said that the smokestack was going to remain, contrary to what the company said earlier. In my opinion, it is not clear what is really happening, and buyers still need to exercise caution in the immediate vicinity of the plant.

Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution carried an op-ed piece about the proposed I-3, a new interstate from Savannah to Knoxville. One of the routes runs through Young Harris and the other through Rabin County. It is possible that it will also run through the Smoky Mountain Park. I think it is reasonably clear that there is no real need for that road, which takes all of 15 miles off the existing route. It is being sold – of course – as essential for national security and as a solution to Atlanta’s traffic problems. In fact, it is a welfare program for road contractors that will do little to alleviate Atanta’s congestion problems. I’m sure some people in the local real estate business will welcome anything that increases our traffic count, but there is also such a thing as killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Those of you who love the mountains for themselves and plan to continue to live here might well have to step up to the plate for yet another bruising road fight. HR 301, a bill to require a study and report, was sponsored by Charles Norwood (R-GA) and has been endorsed by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA). It was referred to the Highways, Transit, and Pipeline subcommittee on 1/26/2005.


It’s been very rainy and humid, unseasonably so. Most of the old time residents I’ve talked with say that they can’t remember it being this soggy at this time of year. It rained slow and steady all night, and the creeks are near the flood stage. So far, I haven’t heard of any flooding, but there’s no real change in the forecast, as far out as you look.

With all this rain, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for snakes. When it gets this wet, some of them will be driven from their usual hiding places, and may fetch up in the yard or on the footpaths.

I posted the blackberry margarita recipe in the last column. The blackberries don’t like the rain very much, but we were able to gather more than a quart in an hour or so over the weekend.

It seems to have been a good year for the quail, judging by the calls I hear from my porch. There’s a place I pass on my way home that has always had a covey of quail, and I saw an interesting thing yesterday afternoon. There were two young quail feeding by the side of the road. They were pretty much full grown, but their necks looked a little long for their bodies, and the white patch on their neck was still a little yellow. When I stopped to watch them, they got a little nervous and – with some difficulty – flew up about twenty feet into a nearby tree. After a little while, they wanted to come down, but they seemed to be nervous about being so far from the ground. So they hopped down various tree limbs until they were only about ten feet off the ground. Then they flew off into the nearby heavy cover. As I went on up the road, I saw a grey squirrel with a gigantic white mushroom in its mouth. It seemed appropriate, the way things have been going.

The real estate market continues very strong, especially for this time of year. It’s a very good time to list your property, if you’re thinking of selling, because every real estate company in town is down on listings. We’ve already had a seller’s market for the past number of years, and that just makes the market even more favorable to sellers.


It’s continued warm and humid, with patches of rain. I’ve seen the first ripe blackberries, although most of them still have a ways to go. If you can find some bushes that get good sun, you may find enough to gather.

Just in case, here’s the famous recipe. I hear it’s great, although we’ve never tested it ourselves, of course.

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

Buzz the berries in the blender. It’s best if the berries have been washed and cooled in the refrigerator for a little while. It’s also a good idea to have the tequila cold. 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!

The News Observer reports much comment on animal control at the county council meeting, but no action taken. Now is the time to make your opinion known on this subject.

Fireworks and other foolishness:

July 2, Blue Ridge, Old Timer’s Day Parade starts at 10:00 AM. Participants should line up no later than 9:30 at North Georgia paper. Info, Ann Seay, 706.455.1464

July 2, fireworks and celebration at the Blue Ridge marina all day, street dance at 4:00 PM with Burning Desire band. Fireworks at dark. In my opinion, the best place to watch the fireworks is from Morganton Point. That’s down the road that lies just to the side of Sarge’s store (formerly Bradburn’s).

July 2, McCaysville. Fireworks from Tater Hill at 9:30 PM.

July 2, Ducktown. Pancakes from 7:00-10:00 at the Hoist House. Children’s parade with music by Troy Simmons on Main Street at 10:00 AM. Masonic Lodge bean soup and cornbread 11:00-2:00. Street party with live music, 8:00 to midnight.

July 4, traditional Fourth of July in Epworth: Pancake breakfast 8:00 – 10:00 AM at the Epworth Building above the campus in Epworth. Car show, bingo, sunking pond, concessions, ice cream, and homemade cake sale, hay rides, children’s activities, 10:00 – 3:00 PM across from the Methodist church. Patriotic program followed by bluegrass by Ducktown Station begins at noon.

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


The weather has continued a little rainy, on and off, with mostly beautiful days. We went swimming in the lake yesterday, which was just about the prefect temperature. The blackberries are still in the small, red stage. They don’t seem to like the rain very much. But it looks like there will be a pretty good crop, if we get enough sun to ripen them.

Cynthia and I went to Picking in the Park for the first time this year. It’s held in Ron Henry Park up in McCaysville from 6 PM to dark every Thursday (see directions below). It looks to be off to a good start this year. Toward the end, there were three separate groups performing, and we had a very good time. If you go, it’s a good idea to bring a lawn chair.

The latest news from Fannin is that the Forest Service is closing one of the campgrounds on the lake. They are still “evaluating” the idea of closing the Blue Ridge office, but it seems to be a foregone conclusion, because they have said they are going to consolidate the Blue Ridge and the Blairsville operations, and the Blue Ridge office is leased. They own the Blairsville office.

The war over animal control continues, and the Fannin Future organization has issed their recommendation for restructuring the county commission. They favor a full-time county manager, and five part-time commissioners.

The real estate numbers are rather shocking. Our company’s sales are up 49% over last year (through May). Sale prices were up 25% and properties went under contract 29% faster. Obviously, it’s a great time to list and sell. Just as obviously, if you didn’t buy yesterday, you probably should buy tomorrow. I can’t see this trend changing until we hit a real downturn in the economy or a substantial rise in interest rates.

The people who advise me on finances say that they really don’t understand the fundamental analysis – or that the fundamental analysis contradicts what is happening – but they don’t see a substantial rise in rates through this year. That also seems to be the conclusion of most of the experts. My conclusion is that the trend will probably continue. The main cause is scarcity. The comparable value approach to appraisal says that people will pay no more than they would have to pay to buy a comparable property. But with everyone’s listing inventory way down, there are far fewer comparable properties. Thus, a seller’s market – which we already had – becomes even more so when listings are scarce.


It’s finally stopped raining on us, and it’s mostly dried out. The trout streams are running pretty clear, and the high temperatures we had during the rain have cooled off some. It was 62° on the porch this morning, and yesterday afternoon was about 80°, with the sun on the porch. Looks like a beautiful weekend in store.

The latest in the Fannin political follies is a rather major blowup over animal control. For reasons known only to the folks who set this up, we have an animal control budget of over $100,000 and an animal control officer who does not have the power to write citations. Nor does the sheriff’s department want to mess with it. This has been brought to a head by the repeated attacks of a pack of wild dogs on livestock in Marble City. There’s been some amusing charges and counter-charges flying back and forth between the Second Chance Animal Sanctuary and the county chairman, and a public hearing is scheduled June 28, as a result of public comment at the last county commission meeting. If you are interested in these issues, it would be a good meeting to attend, as there may actually be some momentum at this point to get the issues resolved. In the meantime, everyone should keep their dogs under tight control, because there are some folks out there in the “shoot everything that moves” frame of mind.

Picking in the Park has started for the summer. It’s every Thursday after work in the Ron Henry Park in McCaysville. The easiest way to get there is to go up Hwy 5 to McCaysville and cross the river. Then turn right on Hwy 60 south. You go a few blocks and turn right on River Road. The park is a mile or so upriver on the right. It’s mostly bluegrass, and there are some accomplished players who usually attend, including Lisa Jacoby, who is a fine fiddler. She’s resurrected an old song she learned from one of the local natives titled, “The Muddy Road to Ducktown.” Be sure to ask for it.

Interest rates remain amazingly low, and our market continues to be hot for both cabins and land. If you are thinking of selling, now is a very good time, as we are beginning to ramp up for the fall selling season, which is always our best. Every real estate office in town is low on listings, which makes every listing considerably more likely to be shown and to sell. In addition, listing and sale prices are considerably higher than last year. It’s probably as good a time to sell as we’re going to see in the next little while, because if interest rates do rise, it will cool our market to a certain extent.

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


It’s been very rainy, and the forecast has rain in it for the next few days. We definitely needed it, but at this point, we don’t really need any more. Temperatures have been between 60 and 80°, with some nice sunny stretches in with the rain.

According to the News Observer, a pack of wild dogs has been terrorizing Marble City, which is just off 60 north, between the four lane and Mineral Bluff. They’ve killed some calves, and you definitely don’t want your dog tangling with them. If you live in that vicinity, you should be aware that they’re out there, apparently mostly at night. I imagine that they might get as far as My Mountain to the east, by going down Cutcane Road, or to Mineral Bluff itself.

The county elections are on the horizon, and the most interesting development appears to be an initiative to increase the number of commissioners from three to five. I believe this is the proposal of the Fannin Future project. It wasn’t too long ago that Fannin had a sole commissioner, but the present three-person commission has been in place for some time. As it works on the ground, the county chairman is the day-to-day chief executive officer of the county, and the three commissioners meet to set policy, hear variance requests, and do the official business of the county once a month. Dr. Richard Vollrath, the current chairman, does not intend to run again, which makes the coming election of paramount importance. Randy Collins and Steve Morris do intend to run again, and at present, they form a bloc that usually votes whichever way Vollrath doesn’t. With the county chairman’s post up for grabs, this election will be crucial for Fannin’s future.

As I explained in a previous column (4/14/05), Yvonne McNeely, who usually voted with Vollrath, was replaced by Morris in the last election. I suspect that the five-member commission is being agitated primarily in the hopes that it will dilute the Collins/Morris vote, which is not often in favor of change. (Collins is a local builder, and Morris builds dirt track cars.) One of the issues waiting in the wings is liquor by the drink, which insiders say Vollrath is now ready to support. Insiders also say that Collins and Morris dare not support it, because they intend to seek reelection. This is, of course, a hot-button issue with the local Baptists, who simply shouted down everyone else at the last public forum. (One of our resident wits, Ace Hagebeck, observed in a letter to the editor that there sure seemed to be a lot of foreigners at the meeting, because they didn’t seem to understand that in America, everyone has the right to speak.) It’s a moral issue with these folks. They don’t care if we ever get some decent restaurants, because they aren’t going to go to them anyway. Nor do they buy the pragmatic argument that people drink much more when they brown bag than when they have to pay by the drink. It’s just wrong, and they’re not going to stand for it. Not in their town. There was some great preaching by the local divines at that meeting, and that’s a fact.

There are bigger issues at stake, of course, like land use. Most of the locals believe that zoning is a communist plot to steal their property rights, and if you mean by property rights what they mean by property rights, they’re right. Needless to say, these folks don’t buy the urgency of doing something – anything – to plan for future growth. (My father used to say, “poor planning beats no planning.”) At least one of their literary apologists seems to think that junk is beautiful. Or else, he resents the outsiders so much that he’s willing to put up with the junk, because it annoys them so much. By the way, that’s the unfortunate key to a lot of the interactions between the planners and the locals. Sooner or later, one of the local reprobates can’t resist observing that a man has the right to do whatever he wants with his own property, just because it irritates the planners so much. I’ve learned not to take it seriously, but mostly, it gets them every time.

All I can say is, if you care about these issues, you need to register to vote in Fannin County and participate in the local elections. You can do it easily by absentee ballot. Wherever you live, chances are that the situation is more stable than Fannin County, going into the next election. Given that the second home owners pay for most of the school and government budget, I think they’re entitled to some representation. Unfortunately, the only way to get it is to participate in the political process. That isn’t what most folks come here to do, of course, but if you’re thinking of ever retiring here, it might be worth your while.


We had some rain on Saturday and Sunday was a little gloomy on and off, but today is a beautiful, warm day. I still have lady slippers and trillium, but they are getting a little peaked. The laurel – not the mountain laurel (rhodendron) – is in bloom. With the recent rain, the creeks are running full, and everything looks very green. My apologies to my regular readers, because that’s all I have time for today in terms of an update!


We finally had a hard rain last Saturday night, so a lot of the pollen has washed down, and I’m hopeful that it may be mostly over for the year. It was very cool this morning, and with the cloud of pollen out of the air, it’s been just about a perfect day.

The spring selling season is getting off to a very quick start. The biggest difference that I see this spring is that everyone’s listing inventory is much smaller than usual at this time of year. That works to the advantage of the seller, of course, because it means fewer properties are available for comparison. According to our broker, our company listings for April were priced an average of 40% higher than they were last April, and our sales for April were 28% higher than last April. That’s a fairly limited sample, of course – we sold about 26 listings this April – but it confirms what I’m seeing in the marketplace. The new golf development is reportedly on track, and the word on the street continues to be that the resort on the lake is a done deal. If those things come to pass as expected, the reasonable conclusion is that property values should rise. The bottom line, of course, is that it is a good time to be a seller.

It was an interesting week in Fannin County politics. One of the local docs, Raymond Tidman, is now practicing at Piedmont Hospital’s facility in Jasper, rather than at Fannin Regional Hospital. That’s at least 30 minutes down the road, and the country medical director, Dr. Vollrath, who is also our county chairman, has refused to authorize ambulance transfers. It would clearly be an additional expense for the county and would stretch our existing staff because of the much longer runs, but some uncharitable people have pointed out that Dr. Vollrath sold his medical practice to the hospital a few years ago. I think it’s only fair to say that If there’s one thing that we have that most mountain counties don’t have, it’s a near state-of-the-art EMS system, and that’s been mostly Dr. Vollrath’s doing. He’s had a special interest in EMS and has done a lot for the county’s EMS and for our emergency preparedness. I don’t know how the present dispute will be resolved, but I suspect that we haven’t heard the end of it.

Cynthia and I saw a little bit of the Bluegrass Festival over at the Georgia Mountain Fair on Friday, and were very impressed by Pine Mountain Railroad. As is traditional, they worked with one vocal microphone, and they had all the little dramatic effects down perfectly. They’re an extremely well-drilled unit. Just about the only thing that fell short of perfection was the fact that they don’t have a really killer soloist, although Cody Schuler on mandolin and Matt Flake on fiddle were both pretty impressive. It made us glad we took the time to go, because you never know what you’re going to hear at a bluegrass festival these days.

The Iron Horse Grill in Copperhill has reopened under new management, and we have a new Mexican restaurant in Blue Ridge, Guerrero, which is at 3608 First Street (the old highway), up above the old downtown.

The beach is open at Morganton Point.

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


It’s warmed up some, and we’ve had some very pretty days, chilly in the morning, fairly warm in the afternoon.

The lady slippers on my property finally came up – a little late this year – so I expect that the wildflowers are up in most sections of the county. The Georgia Conservancy Guide to the North Georgia Mountains, which is available at the Mountain Scholar bookshop in downtown Blue Ridge, has some good suggestions for places to find and photograph them. Cove forests have the richest soil, and so they are usually likely suspects for wildflowers. Please remember that they can’t be successfully transplanted, and shouldn’t be picked. The native wildflowers can’t compete with the aliens in disturbed soil, so there are just fewer and fewer of them every year.

The dogwoods are starting to wane, but the native azeleas are starting to bloom. All in all, it’s a very pretty time to view – and photograph – the county.


It’s been unseasonably cool, and we’ve had some needed rain. The dogwoods are still in bloom, and the forecast doesn’t look bad for the weekend. My lady slippers still haven’t bloomed, but I expect that they will when it warms up a little more. It’s probably time to get up, if you want to see the dogwoods this season.

The real estate business is up and running for the season, and I’m already experiencing the usual frustration of showing cabins to buyers on Friday and finding out that they’re already under contract by Monday. I can’t emphasize enough that we still have a seller’s market in the mountains, not a buyer’s market like we’ve had in Atlanta for the past few years.

It’s a very good time to list your property, because with things selling so well, our listing inventory is way down.

If you’re looking for view property, it’s definitely time to get up, because the leaves will be fully on the trees in another few weeks. At this point, the woods have almost – but not quite – filled in.

The Polk County Ramp Festival went pretty well last weekend, and my impression was that the music was stronger than usual.

Copperhill is having their Cinco de Mayo festival as usual, and the event seems to be growing year by year. Things get started around 5:00 PM.


I just have time for a brief update. The dogwoods are at their peak, and the native azeleas (the orange ones) are just starting to come. The pollen is also close to its peak.

I was up in North Carolina yesterday, helping gather ramps for the Polk County ramp festival, and I can report that the ramp season is a little late and that the native lilies are also a little late. Some of the trout lily and purple trillium is in bloom, but the vast majority of the plants have yet to bloom. It could be happening in Georgia, because it’s a couple thousand feet higher where we were in North Carolina, but the lady slippers on my property haven’t bloomed yet, either. I think it is probably going to take a warm rain to bring them to bloom. Check the cove forests, which are usually the best places for wildflowers. The Georgia Conservancy Guide to the North Georgia mountains has some good suggestions. Remember that it is illegal to gather the ramps themselves in Georgia or Tennessee. I assume everyone knows not to disturb the native wildflowers. It’s illegal, and they die if you try to transplant them. Since the natives will not grow in disturbed soil, it’s important to leave the areas where they grow as undisturbed as possible.

The Polk County Ramp Festival is tomorrow, beginning at about 9:30 AM. That’s breakfast with ramps, eggs, white beans, and home fries. Sassafras root tea is usually available, along with boiled peanuts. Also, if we gathered enough, there should be some for sale. Go to my column archives for 4/21/03, for directions.


Most of the dogwoods on my property are either in bloom, or are about to bloom, depending on how much sun they get. We’re at about 2000 feet, and have mostly northern and western exposure. The ridges with strong southern exposures seem to be further along than we are, so I expect that this weekend and next weekend will be the best for the dogwoods. This weekend might be a tad early, but next weekend might be a tad late. Most of the hardwoods are either in leaf, or well along towards being in leaf at this point. The pollen is starting to get bad, but is still well behind Atlanta this week.

We’ve gotten through the first quarter of building inspections here in Fannin County, and things seem to be going fairly well. There is a continuing controversy over what the inspectors are being paid, because their $40,000 salary is higher than that of most county officials. Our two inspectors are not certified, but are supposed to achieve certification soon, and their salaries appear to be somewhat higher than those of certified inspectors in surrounding counties.

A lot of this goes back to the last county commission election. Fannin has a three person county commission, which some people would like to change. The county chairman, Dr. Richard Vollrath, is the day-to-day “chief executive officer” of the county, but he essentially lost his majority on the commission with the replacement of Yvonne McNeeley with Steve Morris at the last election. McNeeley usually voted with Vollrath, but Morris usually votes with Randy Collins, who is the third commission member. In effect, the present building inspectors were appointed by Collins and Morris, who seem to regard them as an independent force in the county. Vollrath seems to regard them as part of the Land Development department, under his budget and his supervision. There are also those who worry that the inspectors are not really independent of the commissioners who appointed them, especially because Collins is a builder. It’s fair to say that Collins raised a few eyebrows when he said at a commissioner’s meeting that it would be OK to give the inspectors a gratuity. But it’s also fair to say that Vollrath raised some eyebrows when he first appeared to support – and then opposed – the present salary structure.

Despite the resentment over their salaries, which is normal local stuff, the system seems to be working fairly well, at least as far as the builders are concerned. Their main concern, of course, is construction delays, and these concerns seem to have been largely addressed.

For people buying lots, the process has become more expensive and complicated, because people applying for a septic permit are now required to submit a blueprint or drawing of the proposed structure and pay fees based on square footage, starting at $400. This raises the cost of a septic permit from $50 to at least $450, and makes it impractical for anyone but the end-user to apply for the permit.

The problem we were having with the health department refusing to issue letters of intent for septic systems appears to have been resolved – at least temporarily – by their decision to issue a similar document. From my seat on the sidelines, it appears to be a face-saving decision. In effect, they are still issuing the letters as they used to, but they’re calling them something different. They are supposed to be studying the matter for a permanent solution, which is to be announced in several months.


Just a quick update on Saturday, the day of the adventure race. It rained off and on last week, which at least kept the pollen manageable, and we’ve had some nice weather. Today dawned very foggy, but it has since turned into a beautiful day. They’ve changed some things about the adventure race, including putting the teams – but not their support personnel – on the train to Cherry Log. Teams should begin finishing the race between 2:00 and 4:00 today at the downtown park. It’s usually a pretty good time at the finish line, even if you don’t care about the race.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with adventure racing, the concept is sort of an extreme triathalon. It’s been good for tourism, because it brings 90+ four person teams plus their support people to town for the weekend, and many teams come up to practice for the race as well.

In terms of real estate, with the start of the mountain season and some warm weather, things are starting to move nicely, even though our inventory is still a little skinny from a great fall selling season. If you want to see what’s new on the market, of if you want to check the last of the bargains left from last fall, now is probably the time to come up and have a look.


It’s been a classic spring weekend in the mountains. Saturday, it snowed a heavy, wet snow that changed over to rain at mid-morning, and the rest of the day was rainy, windy, and incredibly raw. This morning, it’s a beautiful day, and I expect the temperatures will be in the 60s. The sarvis (service berry) on my property is in bloom, an indication that the wild cherry and dogwood aren’t too far behind. The sarvis is the earliest tree to bloom up on the ridge, but it almost never fruits. Bo Eaton, the tree man, told me that it brought fruit once in his father’s lifetime, but never has in his.

I’ve been getting a lot of emails wishing me luck on the broker’s exam, and I’m happy to report that I passed it last Friday. I thought it was a tough test, and going down to Atlanta twice a week for the course was a grind, so I’m glad to have it out of the way. Everybody is asking me if I plan to open my own company, but the truth is – remember, you heard it first here – that I’m not planning to go anywhere. I intend to continue to work here as an Associate Broker, because I think we definitely have the best outfit in town for expertise, professionalism, and genuine concern for our customers.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has sent their recommendation to the EPA for the Intertrade sulphuric acid permit. It is on their website, along with their predictably bureaucratic responses to everyone’s public health and safety concerns expressed through the public comment process. Go to and click on “Air Pollution.” Then click on “Public Participation Opportunities.” The material is dated April 1, 2005, and relates to Intertrade Holdings.

This completes a long, agonizing process that began with TDEC essentially saying that they had no grounds to deny the permit, and that the long-standing concerns of local residents had no standing in the process. I have not had time to dig very far into the documents, but the bottom line is pretty clear: It’s “back to the future” for the copper basin, given that the state of Georgia sued Tennessee in the 1880s over pollution from the plant.

On the other hand, it isn’t at all clear what is really happening, because Intertrade has announced the sale of the existing acid plant to a concern that they say will ship it to Brazil. This raises the possibility that Intertrade plans to build a more modern acid plant on the site to replace the one they’re selling, but the company refuses to clairfy their plans.

Until it becomes clear what their purpose really is, I will continue to advise buyers to carefully evaluate property in the vicinity of the plant, which is located just west of Copperhill, Tennessee, on the Ocoee River. I don’t know of any scientific study of the situation, so I suppose everyone will just have to decide for themselves how far away is far enough. If you could find a genuinely disinterested, older resident in the area in which you are planning to buy, you could always ask if they ever smelled sulphuric acid when the plant was last operating. I stress the word “disinterested,” because the immediate neighbors of any lot for sale up here are apt to tell any prospective buyers anything that will dissuade them from buying the lot, including the fact that it is infested with poisonous toads and is the favorite midnight meeting place of a horrible coven of transvestite werewolves that take special delight in eating outsider flesh.

The Aska Adventure Race is next Saturday, April 9. See the Chamber of Commerce website,, or the News Observer for details. It’s usually pretty much fun, even if you don’t care about the race. Most of the pre- and post-race festivities are in the downtown park this year.


We had heavy rain last night, and the creeks are swollen, but we missed the high winds that were predicted. It’s definitely spring in the mountains. I’ve seen the first mourning cloak (butterfly), my own personal “start of spring” signal, and the tree pollen is beginning to bother people who are sensitive to it.

[Quick update Friday 3/25 on the trout streams: I’ve only had a chance to see Hemptown Creek, but it is still badly stained as of this morning. The forecast for the weekend also has a good chance of rain in it. Best bet for Saturday morning may be the tailrace of the dam, which usually doesn’t get stained.]

Turkey season comes in this weekend along with trout, and lasts until May 15. For those of you who need a little refresher in Woodcraft 101, the usually secretive and wily, wild male turkey loses all sense of decorum when the mating season comes, and you often find them talking their heads off on their roosts or wandering along the roads. Usually, it’s a little too cool in the mountains for the turkeys to go into the rut by opening day, but I expect it will happen this year. As always, our population seems to be good. I saw a flock of about 20 feeding in a pasture out on Cutcane Road yesterday, and that’s not an uncommon sight in our county.

In the Wildlife Management Areas, there are specific days for turkey hunting. For these, check specific areas at .

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

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

We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Intertrade permit situation. According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, their recommendation should be conveyed to the EPA tomorrow, simultaneously with their posting of that recommendation on their website. That’s, click the Air Pollution link, then click Public Participation Opportunities. If it is there, it should have tomorrow’s date.

It’s spring in the mountains. Hope to see you in town!



It’s been rainy and chilly this week, but the mountains have been beautiful in the resulting fog, both in the morning and at sunset. The dog and I flushed some woodcock the other day on our morning walk, more indication that the early migrants are coming back through.

The happy story about the sale of the acid plant in Copperhill (reported below) has become a little more complicated with the news that the Tennessee environmental people have finally decided to send their recommendation to the EPA on the required permit. Their recommendation is not known yet, but they have said all along that they have no grounds to deny the permit. According the the News Observer, a company spokesperson refused to comment on whether the sale of the plant means that the company has no plans to produce sulphuric acid. This raises the possibility that the company is considering building a new plant to replace the one that they supposedly sold, and speculation is rife about the actual state of affairs. In view of this, it seems wise for prospective buyers in the Copperhill area to continue to consider the possible effects of acid production on their contemplated purchase.

Turkey and trout season are about to come in, and the Aska Adventure Race is April 9. The mountain season is about to begin, and you need to come up and experience the mountains in spring. Hope to see you in town!



We’ve had a couple of pretty heavy snow flurries this week, harmless stuff that made the mountains pretty but didn’t create travel difficulties. This afternoon (Thursday) it’s a beautiful day, although it is a little chilly at 50°. I saw a few buffleheads on the lake below Mercier’s Orchards the other day, so some of the early migrants are passing through.

Coach Barnes, the hunting and fishing guru, reported a few weeks ago that he had heard the first turkey gobble, an assertion I would question except for the fact that I’ve seen all the turkey fans in his garage. The season starts on the 26th.

The most incredible news to come out of Copperhill in a long while is that the sulphuric acid plant owned by Intertrade has been purchased by an overseas concern and will be shipped to Brazil. Unless there is something that we’re not being told, this ends the fight to prevent Intertrade from restarting sulphuric acid production, a major victory for The Copperhill Preservation Society and others who did not want to see production resumed. I have been advising my clients to be careful of buying property in the vicinity of the plant until this issue is resolved, and it appears to have been resolved by this sale. The company is continuing with the sale of calcine to a Chinese concern. While this raises some environmental concerns, calcine appears to be fairly inert, and its loading and transport do not seem to involve the same level of environmental concern. The calcine is being shipped north by rail at this point, and the projection is that the process will continue for the next 25 years.

The Aska Adventure Race is coming up April 9. Once again, our company, Coldwell Banker High Country Realty, will be a platinum sponsor, and the word on the street is that the event will be “switched up” a little bit in an attempt to shake up some of the teams who have developed a dominance in past events. For one thing, it will begin downtown, not at the Shallowford Bridge, and it is rumored to involve the train. This is a major event for local tourism, and it’s a good time at the finish line, even if you don’t care who won the race.

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



Just a brief update on Friday afternoon. The weather is beautiful, with a spring-like feel. Last week’s heavy rains stopped at just the right time to avoid major flooding, although there were some trees down in the Dial/Wilscot area.

The major news from the county is that the health department has stopped issuing letters of intent to issue a septic permit, creating very serious issues for prospective buyers of land. We’re working to try to understand the situation and find some sort of remedy, but at the moment, the situation is still in flux. I’ll post more details as they become known.


This is a brief update on Monday afternoon, February 21, to let everyone know current conditions. We’ve had a few thunderstorms, complete with pea-sized hail, and some high winds. There are many trees down in the Dial and Wilscot Creek areas, and some of our creeks are at, or over, flood stage. I personally observed Cutcane Creek, which is well over the banks at its confluence with Hemptown Creek, and Hemptown Creek itself, which is close. Long Creek, which goes into Cutcane at Lowrey Road, is also beginning to flood. I understand that parts of the upper Toccoa are also at flood stage. It appears at this point that the rain is slacking off, but there is more rain in the forecast. I’m in real estate school from early to late in Atlanta tommorrow, so I won’t be in a postion to update tomorrow. If you have a legitimate need to know road conditions, Fannin 911 does not mind polite, brief calls to their backdoor number, 706.632.6022, so long as they are not responding to 911 calls at the time.

The real estate business has been a little slow with the bad weather, and we’re all scrambling like crazy to try to rebuild our inventory after what’s been a record-breaking year.

I’ve just listed a very nice lot with fantastic water on Fightingtown Creek for $150,000 MLS 107251), and I still have the nearly six acres with a small bungalow for $139,000 (MLS 103927). Hit my “Featured Listings” button for details.

The task force to study land use in Fannin has had another meeting. With the diversity of opinions on the committee, it’s difficult to predict where this is going, but if this is an issue you care about, I urge you to make your thoughts known to the committee.

Indications are that the resort on the lake is moving forward, but we are still awaiting official confirmation.

There was an interesting article in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press yesterday or the day before on the copper plant. Written by Ron Clayton, who is the person who usually covers Copperhill, it was evidently a rewritten press release from the company detailing how well they have performed on the terms of the consent decree with the EPA. It cited watershed cleanup, and some other projects, and claimed that 90% of the work had been completed. Unlike most legitimate news articles in the mainstream press, it did not include any comment from anyone critical of the company for balance, say from the Copper Basin Preservation Society. I would gloss all this by saying that it appears that the latest tactic that is being taken by those opposed to the resumption of sulphuric acid production at the plant is to try to get the EPA to revoke the consent decree under which the plant is permitted to continue to operate in return for the cleanup. The theory of the consent decree was that it was the greater good for the greater number of people, but I take this article as evidence that there is genuine concern on the part of the company that they are vulnerable on this issue. I’ve long suspected that the reason the plant is still operating is not because it is profitable, but because it is the only to avoid the liability implicit in ownership of the site.

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


The ice storm that hit Atlanta last weekend mostly missed us, although we did get some nasty weather. The forecast for the weekend is for temperatures in the sixties and sunny, so it looks like it is going to be a good one. I heard the peepers for the first time last night, so spring can’t be that far behind.

The task force to study land use met for the first work session last night, and there should be a report on it in the News Observer on Tuesday. As I said before, each commissioner appointed two people to the task force, and they certainly cover the range of possible opinions, from very opposed to zoning to very friendly towards it. If this is an issue of concern to you, you might take it upon yourself to attend the meetings and/or make your opinions known to people on the task force.

The newspaper also reported that the Forest Service is studying the possibility of combining the Blairsville and Blue Ridge offices. Since the Blue Ridge office is leased, it isn’t too hard to figure out that what’s really on the table is closing the Blue Ridge office. It’s hard to see that as a positive thing for our town, but it isn’t clear that the public has any real input into the process.

The Ninth Annual Blue Ridge Writer’s Conference will be held March 18-19. The keynote address is by mystery writer Kathy Hogan Trocheck (Mary Kay Andrews). Others on the program are poet Jeff Daniel Marion, novelist Catherine Landis, Mary Ann O’Roark, Jessica handler, Randall Williams, Susan Jones, Tess Vannatia, Mary E. Lyons, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Susan Graham. Details and registration information are available from the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, POB 1016, Blue Ridge, Georgia 30513, 706.632.2144.

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


We’re bracing for an ice storm this evening (Friday), which seems appropriate, given how the weather has been bouncing around lately. A couple of days ago, it was 63° in Blue Ridge, and the next morning was back to 30°. I’m famous for saying that I’ve seen the first day of spring happen up here on February 1st, but it seems to be a pretty safe bet that it won’t happen this year.

I got quite a shock yesterday when Bo Eaton, of Bo’s Tree Service, told me that I have more pine beetles on my property. We did some cutting two years ago, in an attempt to save most of the pines, and apparently the evil little boogers have survived what have been fairly mild winters (in larvae form). I noticed a dead pine the other day, and I have no idea when it died. But it looks like I’m in for another painful – and expensive – round of tree cutting. I hadn’t heard anything about them lately, and I pretty much assumed that the infestation was over for another seven years. I sure wish I’d been paying more attention.

It was a case of more bad news, because I’d just discovered that I have a problem with my septic field. This has caused me to learn much more about septic systems than I ever wanted to know. According to Gary Bryant, one of the local soil scientists, the environmentalist reports about two septic system failures every month. In my case, it is apparently roots in the septic field itself, not any problem with the tank. My system has been in place since 1986, and it looks like it was placed too close to a couple of large trees. Both the health department people and the septic people tell me that there isn’t any way to repair a septic field, and that the best thing to do is to replace it. The old systems were pipe over gravel, and they have largely been replaced by a product called Infiltrator, which is much larger diameter. It’s apparently much more difficult for roots to penetrate, as well. The solution in my case is to install another complete septic field, with a “bull run” valve to allow eventual switching back and forth between the old and new systems. (Apparently, in time the old septic field will be usable again. There’s a “bio mat” that builds up under the lines, and eventually it cures itself out and becomes permeable again.) All this wonderfulness is supposed to set me back about $2000.

By the way, the recommendation now is to have the system pumped every five years. Actually, that’s for a full household, so if you are just coming up on the weekends, chances are that you could wait a lot longer before having to pump. It’s best to put a minimum of material down there, either through the toilet or the garbage disposal. They tell me that pumping costs about $300.

Hope you’re having a better week than I am, home maintenancewise.



After about a week of afternoons in the high 60s, the weather has bounced back cold. This morning (Monday) it was about 14° on the deck, and it’s continued to be quite cold, despite the fact that it’s a beautiful day.

The real estate business has been fairly strong for a January, and for that, I credit the fact that local mortgage rates have held steady at about 5.5% for 30 year fixed. It’s a good time to list your property, because everyone’s listing inventory is way down, due to the great fall selling season we had last year.

The year-end numbers are in, and once again, Coldwell Banker High Country Realty led our entire MLS, the Northeast Georgia Board of Realtors, in sales. That’s a six-county area and the numbers are impressive because some of our competitors have significantly more agents.

With all the dubious news about our national forests, it is nice that the Benton MacKaye Trail Association has received permission to extend the trail into the Smoky Mountains National Park. Because the association is still working on adding 85 miles of trail in Tennessee and North Carolina to get to the park from the Ocoee River, this section will utilize existing trails and will be maintained by park personnel. The Smoky Mountains portion will extend from the Twenty Mile Ranger Station in the southeast corner of the park to the northeast boundary near Davenport Gap. The route crosses the Appalachian Trail twice, at opposite ends of the park, which creates a combined loop hike of almost 180 miles within the park. I’ve probably said this before, but the excitement of the Benton MacKaye situation for me is that members have the opportunity to do something that is rarely done these days, which is to participate in the building of a long-range trail. The Trail Association is on the web at Work days for members are normally second and fourth Saturdays of the month.

I’ve been talking lately about two related issues, land use (zoning) and management of the 515 corridor (setbacks, creating wooded buffers between the road and the strip malls). The county commission has dealt with the land use question by creating a study committee. Each commissioner picked two members, and the choices range from the relatively “green” to the relatively “pro-development.” Those appointed are Deborah MacCarthy, Jackie O’Connell, John Foster, Jim Sisson, Barry Ross, and George Woodruff. All I can say is, if you are interested in these issues, make your opinion known.

Fannin County now has both building inspectors and building inspections, which is a major step in the right direction for the county, which was previously only one of four Georgia counties that did not enforce building codes. The main concern from the reputable builders was, of course, construction delays, and the new inspectors have pledged to work as quickly as possible. They are given 48 hours for foundation inspection, for instance, but they have pledged to try to turn them around in a day.

That about rounds up the news. Hope to see you in town!



It’s been unseasonably warm lately, and we’ve had a little rain. It seems that the warm weather will hold through the weekend, although there’s more rain, on and off, in the forecast.

The real estate business has been fairly brisk so far in the new year, and it looks like we will have a fairly busy January. Interest rates have held steady over the past few months, and that is good news for both buyers and sellers. I expected rates to rise after the election, but the last rate quotes from the Bank of Hiawassee/Blairsville/Blue Ridge are still at 5.5% for conforming conventional, 30-year fixed. If rates stay on or around this point, I expect that the real estate market will continue very strong in 2005. I don’t think that a modest rise will affect things much, but I continue to think that if rates rise sharply, that it will have a chilling affect on our market.

After the holidays, most agents focus on rebuilding their inventory, which tends to be pretty well depleted after the busy season. If you are thinking of selling your property, this is an excellent time to get it on the market, because there are relatively fewer good properties in inventory at this time of year than at other times. For instance, I did a search for someone yesterday who wanted a log or log-sided cabin, two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a few other things. The search returned eight properties that hit the grid, about a third of the number I expected. If you’ve been thinking about selling your property, please give me a call. There’s no obligation, and I should be able to give you a good idea of what your property is worth in today’s market.

As I said last time, we’re continuing to talk about the issue of zoning here in Blue Ridge. Various points of view have been shared in the newspaper and in public meetings. With the growth that we anticipate in the next few years, this is probably our number one issue, and it is one that concerns all second home owners in the area. You can keep up on these things to a certain extent on the newspaper’s website, or by reading the newspaper. The next meeting of the county commission is Tuesday, January 11, at 5 PM in the Jury Assembly Room at the courthouse. I expect the issue will be discussed there, as the county chairman has stated that he will attempt to try to move the issue forward. All interested parties should try to attend.

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



It’s been rather cold by our standards, and we had a little snow Sunday night. It was a light snow, and I think some of the areas of the county over toward North Carolina had up to two or three inches. Where I am, we probably had about an inch. Travel wasn’t too bad by mid-day Monday, except for those folks on top of the ridge. I got down with not too much trouble, but it was a little tougher getting back up, and it wouldn’t have made it after dark, when it refroze.

I think we’re finally within sight of straightening out the problems with my website, and I want to apologize again to anyone who was frustrated while trying to use it.

The real estate business seems to be settling down a little bit before the holidays, but I expect that we’ll see pretty good activity this January. Our experience with January has been a bit mixed, but for the past few years, it has been one of our best months. It’s a good time for people who are looking for land to come up, because the leaves are off the trees, and you can really see the views and the lay of the land. There are still some good cabin listings out there, and our sellers sometimes get a little more motivated at this point in the year.

As I look back on the year in Fannin County, we’ve made some real progress in several areas. Most noteworthy, we are finally set to enforce building codes this January. This was a long process, but in the end, I think even most of the builders who were opposed came to see that it was long overdue. After all, we were one of only four counties in Georgia that didn’t enforce building codes, and we were attracting some unsavory builders as a result. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the people who are hired to do the job will actually do it impartially and correctly, but there’s no doubt that it’s something we needed.

There has also been an increasing awareness that Atlanta is knocking on our door, and that we need to plan seriously for the future if we want to keep the things that make the mountains unique. Fannin County’s projected population growth is from the current 20,000 residents to 32,000 by 2025, and some 5,000 new homes are expected to be built in this period. The county is still 42% national forest, so the issue isn’t necessarily loss of green space.

But we do have some issues. We’ve had a series of meetings on land use, including management of the 515 corridor, during which a variety of consultants have explained as reasonably as possible that we need to plan, or bad things will inevitably happen. However, we continue to have an element that honestly sees all this planning talk as a smokescreen for taking away their God-given rights. That is, the right to do whatever they want with their own property. And, there are some legitimate issues here. For instance, we now have a golf development planned in what was a farming neighborhood. Should the farmers, who were there first, be required to move or modify their operations because the people in that subdivision don’t like the smell of chicken houses? Or should it fall on the people who develop the subdivision to provide the necessary buffer? That one seems easy to me, but we have elected officials who honestly feel that if someone wants to build a stock car racetrack in the middle of an established subdivision, that’s OK, because a man has the God-given right to do anything he wants with his own property. People who take zoning for granted see this as an incredible point of view, but it is one that has to be engaged if anything constructive is going to come of this process.

All I can say is that if you care about these issues, the folks who are working on them could sure use some support. If more people would just come to the meetings, it would make a difference. Often times, there is simply a failure to communicate across the divide presented by these different points of view. As I’ve said many times before, second home owners should consider registering to vote in Fannin County, especially if they plan to retire here. It gives you a voice in local government, and you can always vote absentee, which the county actually makes easy.

Best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful holiday season!