After several years without a full-time promoter, the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce plans to bring back an executive director to help the valley rebound from a recession fraught with business closures.

“We need that presence,” said Teresa Smith, president of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. “There has been a little bit of a loss with not having someone work there full-time.”

Four years ago, former chamber director Lynn Collins left to become the executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. After her departure, the Maggie Valley chamber chose to save money by not hiring a replacement.

“We decided to try to act without an executive director to try to put some money in the bank,” Smith said.

Instead, Smith took on some of the directorial duties until the chamber finances turned around.

“We are operating now on a positive note,” Smith said.

The chamber will not have to foot the entire salary for the new director on its own, however. The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority last month approved a $15,000 allocation to the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce to cover part of the new director’s salary.

The committee charged with filling the director position has not yet decided on a salary for the position, said Jan Pressley, head of the search committee. The remainder of the salary cost will come out of the chamber’s general budget.

The Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce has a $150,000 budget this year — a sharp decline from the $300,000 budget it had in 2007. The decrease is due in part to a drop in chamber membership among businesses.

This year, the chamber has about 170 members, down from 220 members five years ago. The decline in membership is due largely to the economy.

“A lot of the businesses have gone out of business,” said Jena Sowers, the visitor’s center manager for the Maggie Valley Chamber.

Restaurants, attractions and performance venues have closed their doors. And, of course, a large number of Realtors and contractors have left the housing trade, Sowers said.

“It was sad because when we would get the letters from them dropping out, they said if they ever go back in business they would rejoin,” Sowers said.

The loss of members made it difficult to afford the executive director salary — even though the recession was perhaps the time when the business community in Maggie needed a full-time leader the most.

The chamber has also been hurting from a loss of funding from the tourism authority, which it once relied on heavily.

The tourism authority subsidized basic operations and overhead of the chamber and visitor center to the tune of $64,000 a year, compared to only $29,000 a year now.

That number is inching back up with the recently-approved $15,000 earmark from the tourism authority to help cover the director’s salary. The funding will come out of a special pot of room tax dollars designated for tourism promotion in Maggie Valley.

 

The face of Maggie businesses

The chamber has received seven applications for the executive director position, and the search committee expects to hire someone in January.

The director will oversee marketing, the daily business of the visitor’s center, work with other entities, including town officials and the lodging association, and be present at various meetings.

Because she also runs the Maggie Valley Inn and Conference Center, Smith could only devote some of her time to the chamber whereas a full-time director can focus all of his or her energy on the job.

“I think the biggest obstacle that I had was being able to be in attendance at a lot of meetings,” Smith said. “I think that just having that presence out there … will be an advantage.”

Like many small towns in the U.S., Maggie Valley has battled business closures, high unemployment and low economic growth during the past several years.

Businesses closed, leaving fewer chamber members and less dues money, which in turn prevented the chamber from hiring a director to help fix those very issues.

The lack of a chamber director also forced the town to pick up some of the slack by hiring a festival coordinator to continue to bring events to Maggie Valley.

Chamber of Commerce members seem to agree that a full-time director could only help Maggie Valley.

“It can’t hurt,” said Dan Mitchell, owner of Laurel Park Inn.

During the past several years, with the closure of the amusement park Ghost Town in the Sky and Soco Gardens Zoo, Maggie Valley has “sort of died,” Mitchell said.

Laurel Park Inn usually closes during the winter but will remain open after a bad business year, he said.

It will take collaboration between business owners to revive Maggie Valley, Mitchell said.

“When you bring (a customer) in, you’re helping the valley,” he said.

Because her business Nutmeg Bakery is relatively new to the area, Brenda Schwartz said she is not sure what the chamber has done in the past but wants to see Maggie Valley expand beyond motorcycle rallies.

“I’d like to see more business development,” Schwartz said. “It needs to be a diverse group.”

Since October last year, at least nine new businesses moved to Maggie Valley. Four qualify as bars. But the new ventures also included a hair salon, an antique shop and grocery store.

Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House, has seen several directors come and go during her business’ more than 40 years.

“I do think we need a director,” O’Keefe said. “I would want them to be out in the community.”

The director should be a regular face around town and in businesses, especially those that are currently struggling, and should hold marketing seminars for its members, she said. Maggie Valley businesses need to work on cultivating a repeat customer base — something that has helped her business through slow times.

“Give people what they want, and they will come,” she said.

The director should also reach out to businesses that are not chamber members, or rather possible future members, and paint a rosier picture of Maggie Valley’s future, O’Keefe said.

A slate of three candidates pledging change and an end to good old boy politics swept into office in Maggie Valley in this week’s the town election.

Longtime Mayor Roger McElroy, who has been on the town board for 30 years, got ousted by challenger Ron Desimone.

Desimone said the established leadership in Maggie Valley had shut the people out over the years.

“I think it is going to be a new day for Maggie Valley. People are going to be involved again,” Desimone said.

“We have four open minds on that board now.”

The old guard that has controlled Maggie politics since the 1980s wasn’t moving the town forward, he said.

“I connected with everybody up and down this valley. I spent a lot of time talking to people and listening to people,” Desimone said. “I guess they made their wishes known.”

Desimone and the other two victors in the race — Alderman Phil Aldridge and Phillip Wight — ran as a team, billing themselves as the candidates that would give the people a voice.

“People want a fresh start, they want a new look. I think it sent a message that this Valley is in need of some repair. I just hope we can be the ones to do it. We have our hearts in this,” Aldridge said.

Aldridge said it won’t be easy to breathe life back in to Maggie’s struggling tourism economy.

“Our plate is full,” Aldridge said

Mayor Roger McElroy wished the new board luck in their efforts.

“Do I think they can do better? I hope they can because I think Maggie needs something better,” McElroy said.

It is hard to tell whether those who came out and voted were those with a bone to pick, possibly swaying the election.

“In an off-year election, all the people who oppose you go and vote. I didn’t get the vote out and they got it out,” McElroy of his opponents.

Voter turnout was quite high as far as town elections go at 34 percent.

Maria Dreispiel, a 56-year-old dental assistant, is one of those coming to the polls in search of change Tuesday afternoon.

“There are a few things that aren’t good in Maggie Valley,” said Dreispiel.

This marked the third straight election that Aldridge has run on a campaign of change. Despite being on the board for eight years, he has been a lone voice and unable to bring about change. Aldridge, who ran a general store in Maggie Valley for years, was probably a shoe-in for re-election and could have catered to voters on both sides of the aisle. But he made the decision to stake out his position and run as a team up with Desimone and Wight.

The only way to accomplish change was to get a majority with the same views elected.

“I needed support on that board. I needed two people I could look at and depend on and somebody who would have my back,” Aldridge said.

Alderwoman Danya Vanhook lost her seat, although she was not exactly part of the old guard in Maggie. She was a newcomer to politics after being appointed to fill a vacancy six months ago. But she did not join forces with the camp pushing for change — or as some would see them, the complainers and critics.

Now, the complainers will have their turn to steer the town that has become known for its small town political bickering for years.


Mayor  

Ron DeSimone 215

Roger McElroy (I) 137  


Town Board

Seats up for election: 2

Total seats on board: 4

Phil Aldridge (I) 196

Phillip Wight 187

Danya Vanhook (I) 156

Danny Mitchell 132

Michael Matthews 18 

Three candidates running for the Maggie Valley town board with a similar message have buddied up in the campaign and chosen to run as a slate.

They claim the current town leaders discourage new ideas and fail to bring residents and business owners to the table to solve the town’s problems.

“This present regime has really closed out any other ideas other than their own,” said Ron DeSimone, a challenger for mayor. “They are not very open. They have allowed that podium to be used for vile personal attacks while limiting the voice of other people.”

DeSimone has joined forced on the ticket with town board candidates Phillip Wight and Phil Aldridge. They partnered by putting all three of their names on both yard signs and brochures.

“The main reason I am personally running is I think it is the people’s seat and I don’t think it has been represented properly over the years,” Wight said. “I really hope I can help solve problems and reach across the isle.”

Both Wight and DeSimone ran for town board two years ago unsuccessfully. Aldridge has been on the board for eight years, but is a self-described “odd man out.”

“I have been a lone voice on that board for many years,” Aldridge said. Aldridge said he hasn’t been able to bring about the change that he hoped.

“I had the same ideas then that I have now as far as trying to bring this Valley together,” Aldridge said. “We want to invite the public and business to share their ideas and bring them forward to us. That is not happening right now.”

That’s why he needed to run as a team with Wight and DeSimone.

Challenger Danny Mitchell is not part of the slate but shares some of the same views.

“My main concern is that everybody needs to get along and have professional meetings and not argue and fuss,” Mitchell said.

Two incumbents running for re-election — Mayor Roger McElroy and Alderwoman Danya Vanhook — disagree that there is widespread dissatisfaction. Critics have been a near constant element in Maggie’s small town politics, and the town has tried to reach out to them over the years but can never seem to satisfy them.

“I think a good majority of the people are pretty much happy with what is going on in town,” McElroy said, despite what he called “a faction in town that has felt differently for a long time.”

McElroy said despite his 30 years on the board, he is open minded to new ideas for the town.

“If an idea comes up you can’t say we tried that and it didn’t work because situations change. Something that didn’t work 10 years ago might work now, and I’m aware of that,” McElroy said.

Vanhook said being impartial and open-minded is her forte as a former judge. Vanhook joined the town board just six months ago. She was appointed after another an alderman who stepped down and left a vacancy.

At first, she didn’t apply because Maggie politics were known for being contentious but thought her skills may be of use on the town board.

“Someone who is a former judge, who can be fair, has an open mind, who hasn’t even involved in local politics before,” Vanhook said. “I was used to being very neutral and I thought that would serve Maggie Valley well, who would make decisions in the best interest of residents and businesses and didn’t have an ax to grind.”

Vanhook said she isn’t in one camp or the other.

“I certainly don’t vote in lock step with anyone,” Vanhook said.

Vanhook said Mayor Roger McElroy is in a tough spot as the moderator of town meetings. Maggie’s town meetings seem to have the best attendance per capita than any in the region. And, those interested enough to come often want to weigh in from their seats.

When McElroy calls on people in the audience, or lets people speak past their allotted time at the podium, people complain he isn’t keeping order and doesn’t know how to run a meeting. When he limits public input, he is accused of shutting them down, Vanhook said.

“I think he has always erred on the side of being inclusive,” Vanhook said. “I assure you every single person who comes to the meeting is heard.”

Vanhook said the town is better off for debating issues but wishes the debate was more cordial.

Until a few months ago, the town had public comment at the end of the meeting. The odd placement meant people were often commenting after the board had already come to a decision rather than before, so it was moved to the beginning as with other towns and counties.

 

Musical town board members

The election aside, the town has already seen two newcomers join the board this year. Two aldermen have resigned over the past six months. One alderman resigned after a political falling out with other board members. The second resigned because his motel business was struggling, and he decided to move elsewhere.

Two new board members were appointed to fill the seats.

One is Vanhook, who was appointed in March and now must formally run to keep her seat. The second is Michael Matthews, who was just appointed in September. His seat isn’t among those up for election.

Prior to being appointed, however, Matthews had signed up as a candidate in the fall election and his name will still appear on the ballot, even though he now already holds a seat on the board.

Matthews said he threw his name in the ring after witnessing a “huge disconnect” between the town leaders and the residents and business owners of town.

“I want to get everybody on the same page. I want everybody to start working together,” Matthews said.

While everyone seems to have good intentions — namely wanting the best for Maggie Valley — dueling personalities seem to get in the way, Matthews said.

Matthews considers himself neutral and says he isn’t aligned with either of the feuding camps that have marked Maggie Valley politics.

“People need to put the past in the past and start moving forward,” said Matthews, who works across the mountain at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort.

Waning tourism in Maggie Valley and what to do about it is dominating the town’s election this fall.

Four people are running for two seats on the town board, and there is also a contested race for mayor.

A slate of three candidates — Phil Aldridge, Phillip Wight and Ron DeSimone — say the current town leadership is a rudderless ship without a plan to bring back tourism.

“The town has been run off the hip. It really hasn’t followed a business plan,” said Ron DeSimone, a challenger for mayor.

Aldridge agreed.

“There is no game plan,” Aldridge said. “We want to sit down with the business people and come up with a plan. I don’t have the answers, and I don’t think any one person does. I think the town needs to be more willing to listen.”

Wight, a motel owner, has experienced declining tourism in Maggie first-hand.

“We are obviously suffering,” Wight said. “There are some people with good ideas out there that are not being heard.”

Maggie Valley was a kingpin of tourism in the mountains in the 1960s and ‘70s but has fallen from its former glory in recent years. The decline is blamed largely on the shuttered Ghost Town amusement park, which drew tens of thousands of people to the valley in its heyday.

Meanwhile, the rise of quaint downtowns like Waynesville and Bryson City and the burgeoning casino resort in Cherokee have proved tough competition for the older strip of mom and pop motels and restaurants that line Maggie Valley.

Candidate Danny Mitchell learned the ropes of tourism the hard way: a trial by fire after buying a motel and moving to Maggie Valley from Georgia 13 years ago as a mid-life career move.

Tourism has been decreasing steadily since then, Mitchell said, with motels losing up to 50 percent of their business when Ghost Town closed. The answer?

“Somebody with a lot of money to put Dollywood or Six Flags back on the mountain,” Mitchell said. “Look at Pigeon Forge. The main reason it has grown is Dollywood.”

Short of that, Mitchell didn’t have many ideas for how to improve Maggie’s tourism prospects. He also wasn’t sure what role the town could play in getting “somebody” to put in an amusement park where Ghost Town once was.

“Good question,” Mitchell said. “The economy is so bad right now as far the banks loaning money, it would take someone with a lot of money to buy Ghost Town.”

He suggested the town could offer them free sewer if they would come.

Wight said some guests at his motel check out early and spend the rest of their vacation in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg after running out of things to do in Maggie Valley.

Motorcycle tourism has become a brisk market for Maggie Valley, with the region’s myriad scenic roads at Maggie’s doorstep. Wheels Thru Time, a world-renowned motorcycle museum, is the crown jewel of Maggie’s motorcycle tourism scene.

The town has seen an outgrowth of bars catering to motorcyclists, while restaurants and motels go out of their way to advertise themselves as biker-friendly on their signs out front.

Wight and Aldridge said the town could hurt establishments catering to bikers if it goes through with a plan to tighten the noise ordinance.

 

Balancing tourism and residents

Striking a balance between tourism and year-round residents is a tough challenge for Maggie Valley leaders who find themselves trying to serve two masters.

Business interests want the town to double as a promotional arm and take an active role — including spending tax dollars — to help tourism. Residents, however, don’t want to see too many of their tax dollars plowed into aiding the struggling motels, shops and restaurants.

“It’s a fine line,” Aldridge said. “You try to make both sides comfortable or happy. The big picture of it is if the businesses continue to fail, taxes are going to go up for everyone else.”

Alderwoman Danya Vanhook said the town’s interests aren’t mutually exclusive.

“There is a difference in philosophy over whether the town should promote business and tourism at a loss or whether we should be fiscally conservative and better stewards of the taxpayers’ money — that is a false dichotomy,” Vanhook said.

In its current budget, the town didn’t lay anyone off, gave employees a cost-of-living increase, and didn’t raise taxes, Vanhook said.

The town in its early days consisted almost solely of businesses, the town limits drawn like a snake along the strip of motels, shops and restaurants lining Soco Road. But the snake began bulging over time, taking in a neighborhood here, a subdivision there, until the town gradually grew from a few dozen business owners to a population of more than 1,000 residents today.

Much of that growth has occurred in just the past decade, with the town nearly doubling its population since 2000 by annexing new subdivisions into the town limits.

DeSimone is one of those new town residents after the town’s forced annexation of the subdivision in which he resides, Brannon Forest.

“I’ve always been of the opinion they were paying attention to the businesses and not the residents,” DeSimone said.

But since his first run for office two years ago, DeSimone said even business owners are having a hard time getting the attention of town hall.

“I was surprised even the business people feel disenfranchised,” DeSimone said.

DeSimone said the town does have a responsibility to promote a friendly business environment.

“Let’s face it, the majority of the town is around that strip. We can’t ignore that fact,” DeSimone said. “It is in the town’s best interest for that business district to be thriving and active.”

DeSimone, Aldridge and Wight have questioned the town’s budget, calling it large for a town of Maggie’s size and questioning if there are items in the budget — such as the size of the police force — that could be cut.

The town’s tax base is split almost evenly between residential communities and businesses. The town provides services for residents that businesses don’t get, such as garbage and brush pick-up, McElroy said. So the way he sees it, it’s OK to spend town resources to help promote business sometimes.

McElroy said there are positive economic signs in the Valley. Around 10 new businesses have opened this year. The majority are bars or restaurants — four are new bars as a matter of fact, adding to at least that many already in Maggie.

But the list also includes an archery range and antique shop, plus a couple businesses that clearly cater to locals, like a hair salon and bakery.

“I think it is a good combination,” McElroy said, adding that he would like to see even more. “For us to continue to draw people, we need good restaurants and activities.”

Aldridge, however, pointed to the oft-used tally of 47 closed, vacant, ‘for sale’ or ‘for rent’ businesses along the roadside from Soco Gap to the stop light at Jonathan Creek.

As for the newly opened businesses?

“It sounds significant, but who is going to be here next year? Who is going to survive the winter?” Aldridge said.

Vanhook wants to see more businesses catering to residents. She also thinks the town could take a role in improving the quality of life by leasing Carolina Nights or Eagle’s Nest — performance venues that closed this year — to show movies, something locals and tourists would enjoy.

McElroy touted a new town park in the works, Parham Park. It will feature a picnic pavilion, public restrooms and other amenities.

The town has also taken steps to improve its appearance, requiring a “mountain vernacular” architectural style for new businesses being built or those undergoing major remodeling.

“We want to try to make it look like a mountain place,” McElroy said.

 

Festival ground drama

The town-owned festival grounds has emerged as a lightning rod for controversy as town leaders debate the best way to bring tourists to Maggie.

The town has latched on to its festival grounds as its best asset in the fight to increase tourism, attempting to pack the calendar with car shows, carnivals, craft fairs and motorcycle rallies to lure warm bodies to the Valley.

“We’ve tried hard to fill in the gap somewhat with more festival activity,” said Mayor Roger McElroy. “Other than sight seeing and visiting the stores, there is not much else to do. If there is nothing for them to do, they won’t come back.”

While the town won’t stop waiting and hoping for someone to open a major amusement park to replace Ghost Town, in the meantime, recruiting more festivals to fill the void has become the town’s top strategy.

The town pays half the salary for a festival director, who is tasked with recruiting events and festivals to the Maggie venue. The other half is paid out of a room tax on overnight lodging. The town also spent big bucks putting on two of its own festivals this year.

Critics have blasted the town for the expenses and claim the festival director is going about her job all wrong.

“I think the two events were grossly overspent,” Wight said. The town took on the risk associated with throwing the festivals, paying bands and ride operators up front and then collecting proceeds off ticket sales.

The net loss on the two taxpayer-funded festivals was around $50,000. The town spent just over $89,000 to throw the four-day Red, White and Boom but took in only about $47,000. The town lost $13,000 on the Americana Roots and Beer festival in the spring.

“I think there is a way to promote the festival ground without the town losing tons of money to do it,” DeSimone said.

DeSimone questioned what benefits businesses saw for the $40,000 cost to taxpayers for the July Fourth carnival.

“The results have been ethereal at best,” DeSimone said. “There is no discernable way to measure results.”

McElroy and Vanhook see it as an investment rather than an expense however.

Vanhook said she has heard rave reviews from people who came to Red, White and Boom. More importantly, they plan to come back next year and make Maggie Valley their annual July Fourth tradition. Vanhook sees the inaugural year of the festival as an investment that will pay off down the road.

Wight said there are more effective ways for the town to get a bigger bang for its buck, however. Instead of plowing so much in to two festivals, the town should put the money in a kitty and pay bonuses for festival organizers who bring a target number of people through the gate.

Wight also thinks it is a waste of money to send the town’s festival director to trade shows in Texas and California, a strategy to convince event organizers to look at Maggie as their next venue.

Candidate Danny Mitchell doesn’t like the town spending so much on the festival grounds, regardless of the strategy for how to spend it.

The town has recently debated whether waive fees for the festival ground as a recruitment tool to get organizers to hold events there.

Wight put the drama in perspective at least.

“It is nice to have the festival grounds to fight over,” Wight said.

 

Alderman: pick two

Phil Aldridge, 55, current alderman

Former owner of Phil’s Grocery for 12 years

Danya Vanhook, 33, current alderwoman

Attorney

Danny Mitchell, 55

Owner of Laurel Park Inn and estimator for WNC Paving. Bought a motel and moved to Maggie Valley 13 years ago.

Phillip Wight, 42

Owner of Clarkton Motel

 

Mayor: pick one

Roger McElroy, 73, current mayor

General contractor and owner of Meadowlark Motel and Cottages.

Ron DeSimone, 58

General contractor.

For the second time this year, Maggie Valley can boast a brand new alderman on its five-member town board.

Mike Matthews was picked by an uncharacteristically unanimous vote at the board’s meeting last Tuesday, filling the seat left vacant by former alderman Scott Pauley’s departure in August.

Matthews is a long-time Maggie Valley resident who has lived in the town on and off for 15 years.

At 31, Matthews brings a much younger perspective to the board, and the current members noted that fresh outlook as one of the reasons they chose him over the other two candidates who had put in for the position.

“He’s got a lot of energy,” said Danya Vanhook, who was herself appointed to the board in March. “He has a lot of young fresh ideas.”

Matthews came to Maggie in high school, and after leaving for several years, has returned with his wife and two children to make the valley his home.

He said he went out for the job because of a longing to see the town, so often embroiled in conflict and infighting, return to the more harmonious days he remembers from his childhood.

“I’ve seen Maggie how it used to be and how everybody used to get along,” said Matthews. “Now, there’s such a disconnect between the businesses and the residents and the town officials. Everybody should start working together and getting on the same page.”

Indeed, even at the same meeting where he was appointed, there was contention among residents and business owners over noise ordinances and confusion over town-imposed fees.

Matthews said that he believes the best way to overcome those conflicts is better communication from all parties and more visibility by the town in the community.

“You’ve got to get out and be visible and go to the businesses and go to the residents,” said Matthews, though he pointed out that changing the mood in Maggie Valley can’t just come from the town hall. “It’s got to take everybody.”

Recently, however, the town board has had enough contention to deal with among its own ranks, without worrying about discord from the wider community.

Though this particular seat came up for grabs through non-political circumstances — Pauley moved from the valley due to financial constraints — the board hasn’t lacked its share of political quarrels.

In the months leading up to his resignation, Pauley and fellow alderman Phil Aldridge had several public disagreements, while Aldridge also took vocal issue with the opinions of other board members regularly.

And in February, the town lost another alderman to politics when Colin Edwards resigned over what he thought was poor handling of the town’s alcohol board and squabbles with Ralph Wallace, it’s chair and former town mayor.

Over many issues that come before the board, there are often discordant factions among the elected officials. Even the process of choosing replacement aldermen has been hotly contested between officials and among town members.

Outside the town hall walls, disagreements also persist as business owners and residents often have clashing priorities on town issues such as the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds and its profitability, budget spending and noise ordinances. It isn’t unusual to hear a few residents and business owners stand up at town meetings to take issue with how the board is run or even the board members personally.

It’s this climate that Matthews said he’d like to change.

“It seems like everything is so one sided, it’s divided up,” said Matthews. “I think we just need to figure out a way to get everybody together, to get everybody on the same page, get everybody to realize that we’re all working towards the same goal: to make Maggie better.”

He’s coming to the job after a stint on the planning board, which will now end. According to town rules, an alderman can’t also sit as a planning board member.

Asked whether he’d like to run when his seat comes up for reelection, Matthews said it’s certainly something he’d be interested in. He was planning to run for the seat anyway, had he not been appointed.

“I intend to keep going as long as I can,” he said.

The spot, however, won’t be up for election for another two years.

Mayor Roger McElroy said he was hopeful that Matthews could provide another good link between the board and the community.

“We thought he would be good to interface with the local people as well as the people who have moved into the valley,” said McElroy.

At their meeting, all the sitting aldermen seemed enthusiastic about Matthews, despite their differences of opinion over the process for choosing the post.

In the past, Aldridge, the regular voice of dissent, had advocated for filling an open seat with the next runner up from a previous election. But since that person, Phil Wight, wasn’t in the running, even Aldridge threw his vote behind Matthews.

Several times the idea of bringing the appointment of an empty seat to a popular vote, or at least appointing the next runner up, has been broached by Aldridge and other community members.

But the board’s sentiments seem unlikely to swing that way, should another spot become available.

“It’s not something that I look at, because it could be somebody that has 100 votes or somebody that has two votes,” said Alderwoman Saralyn Price.

Some at the meeting questioned why Pauley’s seat couldn’t be placed on the November ballot, along with the two alderman positions already up for reelection. However, state election law will not allow for such a change after the candidate filing period has closed.

Matthews will be sworn in at a special called meeting on Oct. 4.

Maggie Valley doesn’t usually spring to mind as the noisiest of places in Haywood County. It’s a place known more for its pastoral mountain setting and quaint old-time kitsch than bustling nightlife.

But a spate of protests have prompted town staff to reconsider their rules on noise, which could put a damper on bands looking to spice up the valley’s evening offerings.

Currently, Maggie Valley has a noise ordinance that goes by use, time and actual loudness.

If you’re a business, nothing over 65 decibels until 11 p.m. on weekdays. That number goes down to 60 from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. On weekends, you can crank it up to 75 decibels until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. on Sunday.

A new standard being put forth by town leaders knocks down the weekend level to a top volume of 70 on weekends and holidays, and cuts the hours back to 10 p.m. on weekdays.

Some business owners in the valley, however, say it’s just not prohibitive enough.

At a town board meeting last week, Carol Burrell, who manages the Creekside Lodge, complained that bands playing across the street were loud enough to easily drown out her own music.

“The decibel level of 70 still is too excessive,” said Burrell. “This is hurting my business and it needs to be lower than 70. I just don’t need to be listening to someone else’s music in my home.”

Others in the crowd countered that live music was bringing much needed tourists and revenue to Maggie Valley, which suffered with the closing of the Eaglesnest and Carolina Nights, two event venues that once brought live acts to the valley.

Police Chief Scott Sutton, who has been researching and working on the ordinance for the town, sympathized with business owners resenting the need to cover their ears but emphasized that the new rule was still a work in progress.

“We try to work with the businesses, and we try to work with the residents, but when you get a business that’s pushing the limits, that’s where you get where we are today,” said Sutton. “All we’re asking is a little time to do some research.”

To those accusing the town of over-strictness and regulating away customers, Sutton pointed out that Maggie Valley is not on the strictest end of the spectrum.

“I‘ll be honest, our ordinance, as strict as we think it is in some ways, it’s not as strict compared to other places,” said Sutton.

In Waynesville, for instance, the upper decibel level is 60 without a permit. Even with a permit, the high water mark is 70, and only before 11 p.m. on Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Anyone wanting to amplify their sound outside must get a permit, no matter how soft the sound.

Sylva won’t allow any noise that can be heard at all 20 feet from its origin after 11 p.m.

Of main concern in Maggie Valley are the very few bars in town that offer late night options and outdoor music, though Sutton noted at the meeting that the cooling weather may take care of the problem before the ordinance this season.

While motel manager Burrell said she doesn’t object to having live entertainment in Maggie Valley, having it in her house or her guests’ rooms is quite another matter. The fix, she said, is simple.

“Come into my motel rooms and come into my home, and have them turn it down until I can’t hear it.”

Maggie Valley Alderman and motel owner Scott Pauley is leaving his post, pushed out by the region’s sagging economy.

Pauley tendered his resignation on Aug. 23, effective that day.

He is the second alderman to resign the town board this year, following Colin Edwards’ departure in February because of a disagreement over what he felt was subpar oversight of the town’s liquor stores.

Pauley, however, is bidding not only the board, but the town, farewell.

He, his wife and daughter are moving back to Virginia after a string of tough tourist seasons made it impossible for them to stay.

“We’ve been struggling for a while trying to do what we could to stay in the valley,” said Pauley.

But this was the worst year in three for the Lowe’s Motel, which the family has been running. They have lived in Maggie Valley for just over six years, and Pauley has been on the town board for two.

He said that he regrets having to leave the board and the town, and that his decision isn’t political, just financial.

He even intended to run for mayor before the scope of the economic situation became clear.

But when he realized a move was imminent, he stayed off the ballot.

The remaining members on the town board will vote on Pauley’s replacement.

Though two of the four aldermen seats and the mayoral spot are up for reelection this November, whoever is chosen to fill the vacant seat will get a free pass in November. Pauley was not up for election for another two years, and his replacement will serve out the remainder of that term.

It’s possible some of those on the ballot could put in a bid for the vacant seat hoping for a direct route to a seat on the board.

Town Manager Tim Barth said the process for replacing Pauley has already begun. The town is currently taking applications, with notices being posted in newspapers and going out on the town’s e-mail list.

Anyone interested in the seat has until Sept. 13 to apply, and although the timeline for appointing a new member isn’t set, it will likely be within the month. Each candidate must be interviewed by the whole board, and depending on how many hopefuls turn out, it could take a while.

When Alderwoman Danya Vanhook was appointed to Edwards’ vacated seat in March, there was some contention among board members about how to deal with filling the opening. The original deadline for applications was extended because some board members felt there wasn’t enough time for everyone to express interest.

That raised the ire of Alderman Phil Aldridge, often at odds with the rest of the board. Aldridge felt there were plenty of applicants, but the rest of the board just didn’t like the choices.

This time, however, Aldridge didn’t have a gripe against the process as yet, though he did say he was not sorry to see Pauley go. The two engaged in a heated public exchange earlier this year over the town’s ABC board and the performance of ABC Chairman Ralph Wallace.

Pauley’s wife, Dorene Pauley, is also vacating a public position as a planning board member.

Pauley said he’s proud of his time in Maggie Valley and hopes to return one day.

“I always wanted to retire here and I can’t ever rule it out, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for your family,” said Pauley. “We just regret leaving. Maggie’s a beautiful place, has got great people and I’ve enjoyed serving.”

There aren’t too many road races in Western North Carolina with the storied history of the Maggie Valley Moonlight Race, sponsored this year by Mission Health System. Nor will you find many, like this one, that take place at night.

Which is exactly why Sean Grady of Cherokee is so inclined to run the upcoming 8K on Aug. 27. He wants to run this race even though he’s preparing for the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 30 in Arlington, Va., and despite his careful efforts otherwise to adhere to a peak-at-the-perfect-moment training regimen.

And Grady’s marathon training plan certainly does not call for a 4.8-mile road race this coming weekend.

But that’s the allure of the Maggie Valley Moonlight Race, which in its heyday attracted more than 2,300 people to this Haywood County community. The race has been subject to fits and starts over the last decade — this is the first time in a couple of years it’s been held — but the reputation of the nighttime run is legendary.

“We want to bring back some of the traditions of the race,” said Greg Duff of Glory Hound Events in Asheville, who is organizing this 30th version of the Moonlight Race.

That includes inviting regional running clubs to the run, one of the great traditions Duff wants back. Clubs would have “tailgate” parties, swap meets and meetings for members, and generally good times were had by all.

Grady and wife, Gerri, both belong to Cherokee Runners, a club on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. While Sean Grady is still vacillating a bit about whether to run the race as a tempo run (an outing done at a steady effort level, these runs are generally just a little slower than a runner’s average 10K race pace, helping to develop anaerobic or lactate thresholds), his wife is definitely participating, as are others with the Cherokee running club.

They’ll find an excellent course with plenty of running support, said Duff. The rectangular course takes runners 1.2 miles up the valley to Ghost Town, then 2.4 miles in the opposite direction, before returning them 1.2 miles to the finish line back at the fairgrounds.

The race gets under way at 8:30 p.m.

 

Want to run the Maggie Valley Moonlight Race?

Cost: $30, with registration/packet pickup on Friday, Aug. 26 from 3-6 p.m. at the Maggie Valley Fairgrounds and from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 at the fairgrounds.

Time: Race starts at 8:30 p.m.

Awards: 10 p.m. at the fairgrounds stage.

Post race: Budweiser of Asheville is a race sponsor, and all runners, 21 years and older, will be able to receive one beer after the race. Bottled water will also be available at the finish line and food tent.

There’s a new term coined by the federal government for places with low income and little access to quality food. It’s called a food desert.

And Maggie Valley is sitting right on the edge of one. The town doesn’t really qualify for the low-income component, but anyone who lives and works there will tell you the food access part is spot on.

However, if the town gives its nod of approval, that situation might improve.

A grocery store could be setting up shop on Soco Road, to the delight of residents who currently trek to Waynesville when the pantry runs dry.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Jeannie Shuckstes, a Maggie Valley dweller. “Anything to help the economy of Maggie I know is a plus, and everyone has to go into Waynesville to do any sort of shopping.”

She works in Waynesville, but lives in Maggie Valley, so she can hit the store on the way home from work without a special trip. But retirees, those who both work and live in the town and the tourists who populate the valley’s many vacation cabins, must venture out every time they need anything more than a loaf of bread or some lunch meat.

The town won’t be getting a shiny new Ingles, Bi-Lo or Food Lion. The proposed shop will be a locally owned endeavor housed in the cabin that was once the Bear’s Den restaurant.

There have long been rumors swirling that a big chain was eyeing the small town, said Nathan Clark, Maggie Valley’s planning director. But a smaller store with local appeal is just as good, he said.

“You have an entrepreneur like Ms. Weinstein coming in here trying to help the community, I think it’s going to be a really, really nice thing,” said Clark.

The aforementioned Ms. Weinstein is Bari Weinstein, the woman behind the new store.

Formerly, she ran the Bear’s Den in the same location. Now, she’s clearing out the tables and installing aisles, hoping to accommodate a request that she’s heard floating around the valley for years.

“My customers who are locals and my tourists customers have always said ‘Where’s the grocery store, why don’t we have a grocery store?’” said Weinstein. So after her restaurant closed its doors, she thought this was the year to fill that niche.

At first, she said, she’ll stock the basics and rely on her customers to fill her in on what they want and need.

That more personalized service, combined with the improved proximity, she hopes will bring her new venture success.

It’s the closeness, though, that’s the real selling point of the idea.

The closest actual grocery store is Ingles on Russ Avenue in Waynesville, and from the center of Maggie Valley, it’s a little more than eight miles, about 20 minutes one way, and the trip is much longer for those who live further along Soco Road or in one of the many circuitous subdivisions that pepper the valley’s mountainsides.

That means that even the most cursory jaunts for the essentials can take upwards of an hour.

There are a few closer options, the most comprehensive being the Dollar General that sits on the very edge of town, at the intersection of Jonathan Creek and Soco Road.

“That place, it’s the busiest thing that I see out there anymore,” said Shuckstes, when asked where she can go in town to pick up a few grocery items. “They’re doing great business.”

And in fact, that’s pretty much how Dollar General has made its money around the country, posting up in tiny communities with little in the way of retail other than fast food or gas stations, including Bethel and Beaverdam here in Haywood County.

But their business isn’t strictly food, and as a discount store, their offerings are constantly in flux.

A few convenience stores on both ends of Maggie Valley give their patrons a cooler or two of more substantial food than is usually found in a gas station — a gallon of milk here, some cold cuts and bread there. And in season, Duckett’s Produce has a well-stocked stand with a bounty of farm produce.

But as far as dedicated grocery stores go, Weinstein’s competition is nonexistent.

Some residents remember an A&P supermarket that once served locals and tourists, but it’s been gone so long the years have faded into one another. Did it close 10 years ago? Maybe 15?

Weinstein hoped to have the new, as-yet-unnamed establishment open by Labor Day, but fears she might be hamstrung by paperwork.

She does plan to have it open this autumn, though, and she’s hoping that the town will see the benefit her business would be to the valley.

“You know you have to listen, you can’t just hear, you have to listen to what your community wants,” she said.

For years, residents of Maggie Valley have been asking for a grocery store. And this year, they might finally receive.

Maggie Valley’s business community hopes to bring natural gas lines to the valley, but it will hinge on drumming up enough interest from paying customers to making it worth the gas company’s while.

Natural gas is a cheaper form of fuel, whether for heating hotel rooms or powering restaurant ovens. But first businesses must prove there’s enough demand for the gas company to recoup its cost of running gas lines to Maggie.

Natural gas lines run through commercial and industrial areas of Waynesville, but not into Maggie. In fact, natural gas lines don’t even run close to Maggie’s doorstep at the moment.

To reach the town’s main commercial strip, lines would have to be run four miles along U.S. 19 from the end of Russ Avenue to reach the town limits at the intersection with Jonathan Creek. From there, it’s another three miles along the main drag.

That’s a total of seven miles, with a very rough estimate of $2 million.

PSNC, the leading natural gas supplier in the state, met with a couple of business leaders and town officials last week. They didn’t say outright how many future customers it would take to make the lines a go, said Town Manager Tim Barth.

But it would have to be more than a few.

“I think an overwhelming majority of businesses would have to respond and say ‘Absolutely, I would hook on to it if it was available,’” Barth said.

But the natural gas company isn’t the only one that will be crunching numbers in coming weeks. Business owners will have to do a cost-benefit analysis of their own.

While natural gas is cheaper, business have to weigh the upfront costs, such as retrofitting their equipment to burn natural gas and hook-up fees from the gas company.

Businesses could save money over the long run, but it would be contingent on having the money for the upfront investment, Barth said.

“I’m sure the number one question is how much is it going to cost, and then how much would the monthly costs be,” Teresa Smith, president of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, said.

But for now, the gas company is merely gauging interest.

“It is very, very preliminary at this point,” Smith said.

The Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce put out a call to businesses in the community last week, encouraging them to fill out a survey from the natural gas company if they think they might be interested. Contact the chamber at 828.926.1696 to find out more.

Page 20 of 33
Go to top