Bridging the divide: Maggie struggles to find new identity among tourists, second-home owners and year-round residents

Home to 3,000 motel rooms yet only 1,610 year-round residents, Maggie Valley can’t exactly escape the term “tourist town.”

Anyone driving through the main drag passing a long line of lodging options would know. But perhaps less evident to visitors is the precarious balancing act the town constantly faces in satisfying both tourist and local needs.

In helping to achieve that delicate equilibrium and develop a vision for future growth, Maggie Valley has formed its own Economic Development Advisory Committee. Though the town officially created an economic development advisory commission way back in September 2005, the ball finally got rolling on the committee only recently.

The seven members appointed to the committee last month will serve as a liaison between businesses, the town and citizens of the community. The commission has met twice so far to formulate a better idea of its responsibilities and avoid redundancies.

The EDC faces the gargantuan task of creating an attractive model of growth that will satisfy everybody, from year-round residents to the increasing number of second-home owners to tourists simply visiting for a few days. Since Maggie Valley has long catered to tourists, one of the EDC’s tasks may be to update the town’s tourism model, which has been criticized in the past for being somewhat outdated.

As the main breadwinner for the Haywood Tourism Development Authority, with nearly 60 percent of the authority’s revenues coming from Maggie Valley, how the town handles its growth - and how that affects tourism - will clearly be relevant outside its borders.


What Maggie Valley wants

The EDC has discussed the idea of surveying residents and local business owners to learn more about what the community craves in terms of growth. Asking Maggie Valley residents about what they’d like to see developed in their town will naturally elicit some divergent reactions, but there does seem to be a near consensus on some issues. While many acknowledge that tourism is the “lifeblood” of Maggie Valley, they would like to see more services for full-time residents.

One step in that direction is to keep businesses open year round.

“Some of us who are open need to survive the winter,” said Gabriela Edwards, co-owner of A Holiday Motel. “The ski area is great and Tube World is great, but they’re done in the evening so it’s like, what do we do now?”

“More businesses in Maggie Valley need to bite the bullet and stay open year round,” Joe Moody, who serves on the board of directors for the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Bob LaBracio, who owns Specialty Lock & Door Company, said he’d like to see stores selling more than just “T-shirts and trinkets” open all year.

Also on LaBracio’s wish list are healthier choice restaurants and specialty grocery stores like Earth Fare and Greenlife. Many residents interviewed expressed interest in having a grocery store of any kind developed so they wouldn’t have to drive elsewhere to pick up groceries.

Ken Johnson, chairman of the newly formed EDC, said it’s been difficult to bring a grocery store to Maggie Valley since there are so few full-time residents, but a specialty store might be a feasible option. Making up for Maggie Valley’s sparse population, a specialty store would have a broad demographic and attract people from neighboring counties.

However, there is at least one point of contention for residents: fast food chain restaurants. Some residents prefer more options for a quick bite to eat, while others are strongly against chain establishments.

“I’d like to see McDonald’s and Dairy Queen [rather than] go all the way over to Waynesville,” said Gene O’Kelley, a regular on the front bench of the Shell gas station in town. “McDonald’s would do good here.”

“I don’t mind going to Waynesville,” said Joanne Martin, owner of Fireside Cottages and Mountaineer Restaurant. “I don’t want Burger King and McDonald’s up and down.”

Other suggestions for businesses included a pharmacy, a doctor’s office, a dentist’s office and more medical facilities in general.


Preservation as a goal

Jim Higel, owner of Legends Sports Grill, said Maggie Valley might just need more of the same.

“We need more shops, motels and restaurants,” Higel said. “If you have a motel in the middle of the desert, you’re bankrupt. If you have 500, you’re Las Vegas.”

But being akin to Las Vegas is a far cry from what other residents want.

“It’s not what you want to see, it’s what you don’t want to see,” said Wayne Busch, owner of America Rides Maps. “I prefer not seeing any change at all, but it’s going to come.”

Though some Maggie Valley residents can spout off a list of things they’d like to add to the town, there are some facets of Maggie Valley living they do not want touched.

Busch said industry and manufacturing should not even be considered. “What we got here is somewhat fragile,” said Busch.

Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House, said she’d like to see Maggie Valley take a step back and focus on its mountain culture.

“I think we can market ourselves in a different way,” said O’Keefe. “I have always wanted this area to look back toward heritage culture.”

Kathleen Klawitter, a member of the EDC, moved to Maggie Valley a month after her first visit last year. She said she is interested most in preserving what brought her here in the first place though she knows growth is somewhat inevitable.

“I believe Maggie Valley will grow anyway. Its beauty and tranquility will invite growth,” said Klawitter.

Steve Shiver, another EDC member and president of Ghost Town, said there is a need to officially gather community input and data collection to see both what residents desire and what is possible.

According to Shiver, Maggie Valley’s infrastructure can handle more tourists. Drawing more visitors to the area would benefit everybody in town with better tax revenues, he said.

But for now, the town’s major projects seem to include a focus on residents. The town is putting in two wheelchair accessible river decks in Parham Park near Jonathan Creek and working on getting a “very promising” $1.3 million in stimulus funds to build the first residential sidewalk in Maggie Valley. It has also recently approved a special zoning exception for an assisted living facility.

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