The cars were used routinely in years past in Swain and Jackson counties to stabilize the Tuckasegeeâ€™s banks and prevent erosion. Local residents remember them being dumped there about five decades ago, and some said time has softened the ugliness into familiarity.
â€śI think weâ€™re so used to it we donâ€™t pay too much attention to them,â€ť said Lois Walker, who runs Walkerâ€™s Flea Market along the Tuckasegee near Bryson City. â€śBack then, you didnâ€™t have a choice. You had to build the banks up. We had floods in the springtime that came right up to the road.â€ť
But these days, more and more boaters and fishermen are using the river, and the cars could prove more than an aesthetic problem. They might actually pose a danger, said Roger Clapp, director of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River, a group dedicated to improving the Tuckasegeeâ€™s water quality and habitat.
Clapp said mounting a cleanup hinges on whether there is a definable health and safety hazard, and if the community wants to fix the situation.
â€śIâ€™m just starting to make the contacts now,â€ť he said.
Some residents expressed indifference toward a cleanup.
â€śIt doesnâ€™t matter to me,â€ť said Billy McFall, who between ringing up customers at Cooper Creek General Store on U.S. 19 recalled how floodwaters had once dislodged a car and washed it farther down the Tuckasegee.
For business owners with stores flanking the river, however, the old-timey stabilization method is a critical issue. Loretta Monsen of Destinyâ€™s Thrift and Craft Supply Store estimated sheâ€™s lost three feet of property to the Tuckasegee.
â€śI agree they are an eyesore, but unless thereâ€™s another solution, they canâ€™t come out,â€ť she said. â€śIâ€™d love to see it look pretty, but itâ€™s not going to be pretty either if my house is sitting in the river.â€ť
Clapp said determining possible solutions â€” such as entombing the cars, burying them under riprap or removing them â€” would require extensive engineering. He said one of the next steps is mapping the extent of the problem.