When we prod the mountains, they fall

To the Editor:

I have been reading letters in the Franklin Press from several angry people in recent days. I can no longer restrain myself from adding my two cents worth.

In 1972 I had a letter in the newspaper stating my views to the effect that Macon County needed land use planning. This topic is still being kicked around 38 years later, with little accomplished in the way of preservation of this mountain land we all profess to hold so dear.

There are a few perks to living a long time besides white hair and wrinkles. One of these advantages is first-hand memory of events occurring in the county.

In 1942 there was a landslide just above what is now U.S. 441 on Cowee Mountain. During the night, a huge slide of rock came down the mountain, almost blocking the road to Sylva, just where Gold City is now located. That slide was due to an abandoned mica mine which had been a vertical shaft with a lateral tunnel. A case, obviously, of the soil having been disturbed by human activities.

During the l950s, when U.S. 441 was built across Cowee Mountain, my father, a lifelong builder of roads, said, “That road won’t be up there 20 years, they are not taking care of the water coming out of that mountain.” Nineteen years later, a huge chunk of the road slid off into the valley, narrowly missing a vehicle that had just passed over that area.

I am aware that many slides originate on their own and without the help of human interference with the land, but this in itself should point up the fragility of these mountains that appear to be so solid and indestructible.

When the developers of Wildflower first appeared in this county, one of the first places they stopped was at a commissioners’ meeting where I, as the then Chairman of the Planning Board, had presented a recommendation for the consideration of the Commissioners. The two men protested at length how very much they would be adding to the value of Macon County. They protested any and every restriction on their proposed activities, saying it was archaic and counter-productive to put any restrictions on real estate development. 

If you have not been to see the devastation that was Wildflower, take time to see it. This slide was definitely caused by human meddling. In Jackson County, the Balsam Preserve slide is an example of just such tinkering by persons with, apparently, no knowledge at all of the habits and behavior of mountain land. On 441 South, just out of Franklin, the Blossom Town slide is the most visible, most glaring example of man-made destruction.

Several slides have occurred in Haywood County, Ghost Town, the motel in Hazelwood that had to be propped up with a massive concrete wall, and numerous other slides that have been featured in newspapers and television news for the past many months, including I-40 west to the Tennessee line. The other side of the river would have been the better choice for that road, but political persuasion resulted in the road being built where it is. Perhaps some steep slope requirements, had they been in place at that time, could have prevented the months of inconvenience to travelers which resulted from that slide.

When I was chairman of the Planning Board we had been working on a subdivision ordinance that would require paving and special care when building on a slope as steep as 25 percent. One local realtor sent a letter to a newspaper stating “Mrs. Waldroop just

doesn’t understand slope percentages, a 25 percent slope is about as steep as the back parking lot at the Courthouse.” Coming down Cowee Mountain you see signs saying “ 8 percent slope.” Stands to reason a 25 percent slope would be three times that steep. I don’t think he understood slope percentages as well as I did. 

And for those who want to argue with me, I do understand the difference in percent of grade and degree of grade.

Several times, in letters and in verbal arguments at Commissioners’ meetings, it has been argued that none of these slides have killed anybody. I think it safe to say, given that so far no one has been killed, we have a very vivid proof in Peak’s Creek that slides can and do destroy people and property; even though that one happened without human land disturbance. Had those houses not been built too close to the creek, the slide might not have been so devastating. Are these objectors recommending that we wait until someone is killed by a man-made slide to try to do something to prevent that happening?

Scientists tell us that the Appalachians are the oldest mountains in the world. How much proof must there be that when we stick bulldozer blades into these fragile, old, beautiful mountains, they bleed red dirt. Just as we need red blood to stay alive, the mountains need to keep their rocky red dirt to exist. Though it is late in the day, a steep slope ordinance could do much to preserve the remainder of mountains left to us.

Sue Waldroop


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