Popular Maggie Moonlight Race returns in 2011

The Maggie Valley Moonlight Race will return in 2011, once again enticing runners from near and far to lace up their sneakers in the dark.

“After a two-year absence, Glory Hound Events is proud to bring back this fixture of the Western North Carolina running scene,” said Greg Duff, race organizer. “Runners should be pleased to know that we are planning to restore some of the traditions of the past, as well as incorporate some modern aspects for the 30th running.”

Hosted by the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Moonlight Race will be held Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011. Those participating in the 8K race will gather at the Maggie Valley Fairgrounds for the race start and run the same course as was used in 2008, Duff said. The 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 Maggie Valley Area Chamber and Visitors Bureau is extremely pleased to bring back the Moonlight Race in August 2011 for its 30th year,” said Teresa Smith, Chamber president. “Runners from all over the world have flocked to the valley throughout the years to participate in the Moonlight Race, and the businesses are happy to have the boost to the local economy that participants provide.”

The first Maggie Valley Moonlight Race was held on Aug. 4, 1979, with more than 830 participants. From its start the nighttime race was popular with elite and amateur runners alike, some of whom traveled great distances and from other continents to participate. In its early years, the Moonlight Race’s sizable winner’s purse attracted internationally-recognized runners from as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Kenya. While prize money is no longer available, Moonlight runners continue to be challenged by the difficulty of this course, Duff said.

“The valley appears to offer a relatively flat course, but the climb toward the Ghost Town parking lot is a tough one,” said Duff.

“The town of Maggie Valley is excited to be working with Greg Duff of Glory Hound Events to promote the 30th running of the Moonlight Race,” said Audrey Hager, Maggie Valley’s director of special events and festivals.

Just as was the case in 1979, town officials hope the return of the Moonlight Race will bring visitors in close contact with Maggie Valley’s many businesses and hotels rooms. “We believe this important event will bring economic stimulus to the businesses and put Maggie Valley back on the map,” said Hager.

“We are grateful to the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce and the town of Maggie Valley for their complete support of this endeavor,” said Duff. “We look forward to once again seeing hundreds of people running in the valley this August.”

Major sponsors for the returning Moonlight Race to date include Mission Health Systems and The Smoky Mountain News. Registration for the event will open on Feb. 1, 2011. All event information, including a link to online registration, is being updated as it becomes available at www.maggievalleymoonlightrun.com.

Cataloochee Ski Patrol: Keeping you safe on the slope

The Cataloochee Ski Patrol began in 1961 as a group of friends who enjoyed skiing at the new Cataloochee Ski Hill, the first ski area to open south of Pennsylvania. As Cataloochee Ski Area grew and became more popular, it’s Ski Patrol grew and became more professional.

Today’s Cataloochee Ski Patrol is still a group of friends who love skiing on the local mountain, but their numbers have grown to more than 100 counting paid staffers and volunteers. And they are all highly trained professionals with a minimum of 80 hours of Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) training.

According to Wayne Morgan, director of Cataloochee’s Ski Patrol for the past seven years, OEC is a worldwide standard established and regulated by the National Ski Patrol. The National Ski Patrol system is composed of more than 625 patrols with more than 26,000 members across the U.S., Asia and Europe.

“That standard is the same across the board,” Morgan said.

Dan Greene, the representative for Cataloochee Ski Patrol volunteers, said the OEC program is designed “to prepare individuals from all walks of life and all backgrounds from the high school graduate to the PhD to work side by side providing the same level of care.”

ALSO READ: Cataloochee’s 50th season off to a great white start

 

Slope safety

“The focus of Ski Patrol is safety on the slope,” Morgan said. And that begins with the slope itself.

“We survey the slope for any kind of hazards that might be a danger to skiers,” he said. That could be anything from holes to ridges that develop that could bump skiers into a different flow of traffic to snowmaking equipment.

“North Carolina law mandates that all snowmaking equipment be marked, so we flag all the equipment plus any other hazards we see,” Morgan said.

“We are most visible in that we provide rescue and first aid,” said Greene. “That’s what Ski Patrol is known for. But the overarching principle is safety on the course, whether it’s the slope itself or skiers on the slope.”

“We don’t like being policemen, but it’s part of the job,” Morgan said. “We try to be proactive, rather than reactive,” he said, but still it’s a tough job.

“Face it,” Greene said, “we’re dealing with a public that doesn’t necessarily show a lot of common sense all the time.”

Morgan said that how Ski Patrol is perceived on the slope usually has to do with the attitude of the skier. “If we see people doing unsafe things and have to intervene, they may not be happy to see us.

“I’ve been on the slope slowing people down, and I’ll have some people cussing me and some will stop and pat me on the back and say thanks — good job — we’re glad you’re out here,” Morgan said.

 

The job

The basic training to become a patroller begins with OEC training.

“That course is usually between 80 and 110 hours and begins in the summer,” Morgan said. “OEC test are given the first or second week in November.”

Morgan said that one of obstacles the National Ski Patrol’s Southern Division has is finding competent skiers. The Southern Division runs from West Virginia to Alabama and includes Cataloochee, Beech Mountain, Ober Gatlinburg, Wolf Ridge, Wintergreen, Massanutten, Appalachian, Sugar Mountain and other southern ski areas.

“Here in the Southern Division we have smaller mountains and we don’t have that real skier mentality. Great skiers don’t flock here, like they do at Vail or Whistler to join the Ski Patrol. So we’ve created a ski school in our division and each slope has at least one PSIA [Professional Ski Instructors of America] certified instructor. We’re really fortunate here at Cataloochee. Our guys are really enthused and we have about 10 PSIA instructors on our patrol.”

After a Ski Patrol candidate has successfully completed OEC training, they must pass a basic ski and toboggan course (S&T) to become a basic patroller.

“The toboggan is basically a stretcher or litter on a sled, designed to transport an injured person off the hill,” said Greene. “There are very specific skills required to handle them.”

Morgan said Cataloochee has about a dozen toboggans that ski patrol stashes at strategic points along the slopes so that they will be accessible in an emergency.

“To become a basic patroller, a candidate must pass an S&T test on the hardest slope at his area,” said Morgan. “To progress to a senior patroller, the basic patroller must pass an S&T test on the toughest slope in their region. Our senior patrollers have to pass their test on Mogul Ridge at Ober Gatlinburg.”

And the rigors only get tougher to become certified in S&T. According to Morgan, of the more than 26,000 members of the National Ski Patrol there are only about 7,000 who are certified in S&T.

But that doesn’t mean your care is compromised. The ski patrol candidate has the same OEC skills as the certified patroller.

“As your level increases from candidate, to basic, to senior patroller you acquire more and better management skills regarding multiple traumas and managing an accident scene but OEC is OEC,” Morgan said.

“We’re somewhere between a wilderness responder and a paramedic. We have victims in a hostile environment and we have to stabilize them and get them out of that environment, then assess the injury and decide the proper course of action.”

And every patroller is trained to do that whether he is a candidate or certified said Morgan.

All National Ski Patrol members have to renew their certification every three years. Their continuing education is done once a year and the course topics and structure is mandated by the National Ski Patrol so that any patroller could walk into a course anywhere and get the credit needed for that year.

Morgan said that during the week he generally had five or six patrollers on the slope. On the weekends ski patrol duties generally fall to Greene’s volunteers and because of the extended hours they run two shifts and generally have between eight and 10 patrollers on the slope.

 

The volunteers

This is Dan Greene’s first year as patrol representative, but he has more than 20 years experience as a patroller. Volunteers have to pass the same tests and meet the same requirements as paid patrollers, they are just rewarded in a different way — free skiing. According to Greene all volunteers have a set rotation that they are required to fill, but other than that they ski at any time.

“They can also patrol at any time and there are added benefits to putting in more hours. The management here is very generous and we get rewarded with complimentary tickets,” Greene said.

For Greene, who lives in Atlanta, it’s the love of the sport.

“I do a lot of volunteering in other areas as well, but I love to ski. I love the sport. It’s something my family and I have enjoyed for years, and I see this as a way of giving back to the sport. And, selfishly, it gives me a reason to come up here and play in the snow.”

 

Got what it takes?

If you are interested in becoming a ski patroller you can visit Cataloochee’s website at www.cataloocheeskipatrol.org/id2.html or contact Wayne Morgan by phone at 828.926.0285, ext. 316 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Morgan notes that there are other benefits to becoming OEC certified.

“I was able to use my OEC certification to work the Olympics in Atlanta,” he said. He also noted that many rafting companies were adopting OEC as their standard of care and venues like Asheville’s mountain sports festival and area mountain bike races welcomed volunteers with OEC certification.

Homeowners in limbo as sides volley blame in Maggie landslide lawsuit

The latest filing in a lawsuit over the massive landslide in Maggie Valley last winter claims the collapse of the mountainside was triggered by a broken waterline at Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park. Until now, accusations centered on a failed retaining wall intended to shore up the slipping mountainside.

Breathing life into the Museum that Runs

A few steps past the door at Maggie Valley’s Wheels Through Time museum, and the characteristic, unmistakable scent of a mechanic’s workshop wafts out – a heady mix of grease, motor oil, gasoline and rubber worn down by open roads.

With the vast and impressive array of motorcycles and memorabilia on display in the museum — both ancient and modern, rusted and restored — it would be easy to think that it is the perfume of these dormant machines’ pasts, reminders of their greatness in battle, their glory on the track.

But meeting Dale Walksler, the museum’s proprietor, curator and greatest fan, will prove otherwise. To him, this is a living museum. It is hard to walk more than a few yards with him before he stops to crank up one bike or another and tell its story, and he knows them all. To Walksler, the stories seem to be almost as valuable as the motorcycles themselves.

“It’s all about the story and the history,” he says. “I don’t go out and chase any old motorcycle. It has to have a story.”

And all of them do. Walking through the museum, which stretches over two floors and features special exhibits, vintage racers, military motorcycles, stunt bikes, a plethora of other machines and the accessories and memorabilia that accompany them, Walksler points out one of his newest acquisitions: a strange, 1916 Harley Davidson contraption that is driven from the sidecar.

“I’ve found nothing about it,” he says enthusiastically, but he’s already got a trip planned to the Harley archives in Milwaukee to see what he can dig up. That, he says, is one of the key features of what he does.

“Research, lots of research,” is how he says he’s gotten to know the life stories of the bikes that call the museum home, and some are the most storied motorcycles this country has produced. The knowledge that is the prize for all that research, Walksler shares freely with anyone who happens to be around. A museum patron passes, asking about a particular bike in the back corner of the museum, and Walksler’s face is alight.

“That particular motorcycle was ridden by the Jack Pine champion,” he begins, before regaling the man and his wife with the story of the bike’s win and its rider’s own history, before quickly rattling off the answers to a few more obscure questions about the history of Harley Davidson shifting.

 

A tale behind each bike

Walksler is a compact man, his tawny hair and goatee shot through with grey, who walks with purpose and talks with animation, especially when the subject is motorcycles. His knowledge is encyclopedic, though not dry, and he has the delivery of a practiced showman — a mix of enthusiasm and bravado, information and entertainment.

Passing by another couple in motorcycle gear, he stops mid-sentence to thank them for stopping by. They’re from New Hampshire, and they’re riding their way back home.

“Would you like to see the rarest motorcycle in the world?” he asks slyly, and the New Hampshirans, of course, oblige. Leading the way, he begins telling the story of the Traub, a mysterious, one-of-a-kind motorcycle about which very little is known, apart from the fact that it was found in a brick wall by a Chicago fireman in 1967.

Walksler stops next to an old, reddish-orange bike with ‘Traub’ emblazoned on the side in stylized script and entertains his audience with the tale of how he acquired the bike from fellow collector Richard Morris. Before that, he says, it passed through the hands of both Steve McQueen and his stuntman, Bud Ekins, also an aficionado.

“Would you like to see it run?” he asks, almost rhetorically, and as he cranks the ancient machine, even more visitors materialize, drawn by the shuddering, spitting, deep-bass call of the Traub that bounces and echoes, ear-splittingly amplified, off the high warehouse ceilings. The audience is growing.

The Traub is clearly one of the crown jewels in Walksler’s collection. Some people, he says proudly, come just to see it. And whether or not this is true, his excitement makes it believable, and even a cursory inquiry will reveal that it is, in fact, a remarkably rare piece of antiquity.

But as he leads the impromptu tour group around the floor, his manner is surprisingly low on favoritism. The consummate collector, he is enamored of his entire compendium equally, and he’s been adding to it for most of his life.

“The first bike I ever owned was a 1957 Harley,” he says. “It was $25.” When he bought a bike off another high schooler for roughly the same price, and promptly sold one of its parts for $125, he was sold.

A shop followed in 1970, and a Harley dealership in southern Illinois sprung up a few years later. Along the way, Walksler was meticulously building his collection, anticipating the day he would share it with the public at large.

“Being selective is really important,” he says. He judges his acquisitions by three criteria: its rareness and desirability, make — he collects only American machines – and the story behind the piece.

“And then I’ve still got to make it run,” he says, grinning as he perches reading glasses atop his head and sets down a stack of photos sent to him by one of many hopeful sellers. And indeed, most of the museum’s specimens do at least crank, even the most geriatric and unlikely candidates.

In fact, he just completed the inaugural Motorcycle Cannonball — a jaunt across the nation raced exclusively on bikes that are more than 95 years old — on a 1915 Harley Davidson from the collection.

 

Unrivaled passion

Wheels Through Time, in its first incarnation, began in 1993 in Mount Vernon, Illinois, where it enjoyed a 13-year run before Walksler packed it in and shipped off to Maggie Valley, where he set up shop because, as he points out, it’s where the motorcyclists already come.

“It’s a known dot on the map,” he says, launching into an anecdote to illustrate the point.

“My brother was in a meeting, and he says, ‘my little brother is moving to Maggie Valley,’ and three people — this is in Chicago — said, ‘Hey, I know where that is!’”

Since his arrival in 2006, Walksler hasn’t exactly enjoyed an untarnished relationship with the community. Frustration with what Walksler perceives as a lack of reverence for his museum by locals even prompted him to consider another move last year.

But back on the floor, he has only words and eyes for the collection that has sent him into relative prominence in the motorcycle community.

A member of the little group — an elderly man in a denim shirt, jeans held up with black suspenders, worn riding boots an a red cap that identifies him as the St. Louis Bevo Beer Packaging Supervisor — pipes up to ask if there are any flat-track bikes. His name is Ed Gahn, and he is a 71-year-old flat-track racing veteran himself.

“I got to see hospitals all over the Midwest,” he quips, laughing as he folds his arms across his chest.

Of course, replies Walksler. He quickly drums up three or four names that Gahn recognizes, and when a particularly legendary and difficult bike — Leaping Lena — is mentioned, Walksler bids the group to follow him, for that same bike, he says, is in the back corner, and both men have ridden it.

And so went the morning — a spontaneous show featuring his most treasured highlights and history of American motorcycle culture, with Walksler acting as emcee, ringmaster and professor. He summons a battery of dates and figures, names and stories, developments and disasters with keen alacrity, in his element among his beloved machines, exuding charisma as he coaxes half a dozen motorcycles to life for the benefit of his elated spectators.

But not everyone is as pleased with Walksler, or his efforts locally. The enmity between him and some in the local community is no secret, and he isn’t timid about sharing his disdain for what he perceives as a less-than-welcoming reception he and his museum have garnered from some tourism and business leaders.

“I’m not the kind of person who’s going to change my focus and life for the people who don’t get it,” he says, adding that he feels no support from the local tourism entities or local government. “I honestly think a lot of them think ‘I guess we already get enough of them [motorcyclists] through here, so that’ll do.’”

When asked why he chose to keep the museum in Maggie Valley despite conflicts within the community, he answered that “the real reason is that I’ve made as many adjustments as I’m willing to make.”

As far as an end to the hostility is concerned, Walksler says he is open to better relationships locally, but seems less inclined to proactive cultivation.

“My door is open all the time,” he says.

But despite his personal quarrels on the local scene, his offerings to those inside and out of the motorcycle community are a unique, well-curated collection that reflects the passion and eagerness of its owner.

“This isn’t a motorcycle museum,” he says, “it’s a museum of American history and culture.”

Maggie may mandate mountain motif

The days of building as you like in Maggie Valley may be numbered, with design standards in the works to guide the town’s commercial district toward a mountain theme.

Maggie Valley’s planning board has released a draft version of standards that would shape the town’s look for generations to come.

If all goes according to plan, the standards will improve the community’s appearance and preserve the natural environment, all while boosting tourism and the local economy.

They would apply only to the commercial district, which includes practically every property that touches U.S. 19, the main drag through town, excluding single-family homes and duplexes.

If the standards are adopted, any new construction or major renovation to existing businesses would have to gain town approval before moving forward. Less major renovations, like a new roof or an exterior paint job, would have to comply only with the standards associated with that particular job.

As the guidelines stand, Maggie Valley would encourage steep pitched roofs, subdued, earthy colors and use of natural materials like wood and stone.

It would also strongly discourage buildings with blank walls, stucco or vinyl siding, and visibly flat roofs. Business owners who plan on slapping Day-Glow or fluorescent-colored paint on their building exteriors would have to rethink their plans.

In addition to guiding construction, the standards would require more greenery along public streets and in parking lots to soften up the big block of U.S. 19 that cuts through much of Maggie Valley. The guidelines even go so far as to recommend using regionally grown plants.

Maggie Valley’s new seven-person appearance commission would examine each project individually to accommodate for special circumstances, rather than dictate the same exact look for every building. The town board, however, would make the final decision on every proposed project.

Not a done deal

Planning Director Nathan Clark said now is the perfect time to shake up the status quo in Maggie Valley. Because construction is pretty much at a standstill, the guidelines would not interfere as much with works in progress. Once the economy rebounds, builders would already have an established template for their new projects.

Other than that, Clark sees the need to update the town’s appearance, eventually exchanging the 1950s-style look of some businesses for something more native to the mountains.

In coming up with the design standards, the planning board looked at trends around town. The mountain theme seemed to dominate most recent projects, including at the Smoky Falls Motel, the new police department, and the new ABC store.

Clark said the new theme might bring tourists crawling back to a town that seemed to never change, while planning board member Tom Benoit said visitors driving by for the first time might recognize it as the quintessential mountain town they’d like to check out.

“You’ve seen the same old Maggie Valley for so many years,” said Clark. “Some people appreciate that, but the numbers are showing people are getting tired of that as well.”

Clark said that the standards are by no means a done deal. The planning board is still focusing on getting public feedback and trying to produce the best standards possible. Ultimately, whether or not to enact the standards will rest with the town board of aldermen.

Business owners react

Some business owners are thrilled about the standards, while others see no need to implement them.

At the latest planning board meeting, Michael Seifert, owner of the Alamo Motel in Maggie Valley, said he’s worried about placing constraints on businesspeople who’ve just come in to town.

“There needs to be more flexibility,” said Seifert.

For Allen Alsbrooks, owner of the Hearth and Home Inn, the standards were like a “slap in the face.”

“This tells me that what we have is definitely not good enough,” said Alsbrooks, adding that installing the mountain-themed look on his business would not pay for itself.

Some motel owners argued it would be unfair to impose these guidelines on a business forced to renovate due to a fire, for example.

Clark’s reply was the town could address those issues as they arise since each project would be looked at individually, adding that the town would remain realistic in its expectations.

“The town would not expect every building to have rock since it is so expensive,” said Clark.

There would also be no date by which all buildings in the commercial district had to conform to the theme, Clark said.

Most members of the Haywood County Hotel and Motel Association, representing 48 tourism-related businesses, approve of the standards, according to Executive Director Marion Hamel.

“Anything that could make us more attractive to tourists is something we really need to do because that’s our only industry,” said Hamel. “I think we’ve got an awful lot to offer. We just need to have a little more eye appeal.”

Hamel acknowledges that these are tough economic times, but she pointed out that the changes wouldn’t be occurring overnight. And business owners would have to make changes to their building exteriors sooner or later anyway, Hamel said.

“I think it would only add to their business volume, rather than just be a drain,” said Hamel.

There is one thing Hamel would like to change about the design standards though.

“I would like to see the town be a little stronger in saying any new construction needs to conform to standards,” said Hamel.

Proliferation of ‘for sale’ signs sparks debate in Maggie

Ron Rosendahl took the time to count every single sign greeting the main road that dissects the town of Maggie Valley. He found 400 signs squeezed into less than five miles of Soco Road.

According to Rosendahl, only 26 of the hundreds were real estate signs.

The unofficial count was inspired by town’s crackdown on oversized real estate signs earlier this summer.

Rosendahl, a real estate agent in Maggie, argues that real estate signs — which comprise about 6 percent of all signage on Soco Road — aren’t the real problem.

Signs advertising motels, shops and other businesses far outnumber real estate signs and do more to degrade the town’s appearance, according to Rosendahl.

“Some businesses had as much as nine signs out front.” Rosendahl.

“The signage throughout the limits of Maggie Valley is pretty much over the top,” said Ben Glover, another real estate agent in town.

Nathan Clark, Maggie’s planning director, calls it an apples and oranges comparison, arguing that real estate signs are differentiated from other types of signs in the town’s ordinance.

Clark has encountered massive real estate banners — sometimes as big as 72 square feet, about nine times the size of what’s allowed — along with two or more “for sale” signs on a single piece of property. Clark came across multiple “for sale” signs crowded onto the tiniest of properties to grab drivers’ attention.

Maggie Valley officials worry too many real estate signs will signify a dying town to passersby. Allowing bigger signs on abandoned buildings would likely set off a negative impression.

“Larger signs will make the town look like it is for sale,” said Alderman Phil Aldridge at a planning board meeting in early September.

Glover agreed he didn’t “want people driving through town to think Maggie Valley is dying.”

With excesses in real estate signs growing increasingly common, Clark sent out a friendly reminder to real estate agents earlier this summer about the sign ordinance.

Most complied, but Rosendahl and Glover at Prudential 1st Choice Realtors decided to seek change.

The current ordinance only allows 8-square-feet signs for properties that are fewer than 3 acres or have less than 500 feet of road frontage. Only larger properties are allowed to sport 16-square-foot real estate signs.

Rosendahl argues that the town should allow all commercial real estate signs to measure up to 16-square-feet, what he considers standard for that type of property.

At the very least, real estate signs need to be larger so that they can compete with the hundreds of other types of signs, Rosendahl argues.

“That’s why we need bigger signs, so at least we can get a fair shake,” said Rosendahl.

 

Debate heats up

Meanwhile, Bob Knoedler, a planning board member, questioned how effective real estate signs actually are at selling commercial property. Knoedler said most entrepreneurs set out on an intentional search for available commercial property, rather than driving along looking for empty buildings or lots on the side of the road.

Rosendahl said, however, the signs are effective, and they would be even more effective if they were larger.

Real estate signs are more visible in residential districts since people drive at slower speeds. But when drivers are racing past at 35 to 55 miles per hour on Soco Road, they are less likely to see an 8-square-foot sign, Rosendahl said.

“You only have one chance for people to see your sign,” said Rosendahl. “Why not get the sign out there? Why not get it sold?”

Meanwhile, Glover worries that the planning board doesn’t realize that real estate agents make an important contribution to the community. They recruit new businesses, bringing jobs and tax revenues into Maggie Valley.

“We’re not trying to add to the problem of having too many signs,” said Glover. “In fact, we’d love to have our signs disappear.”

While they might be up for a month or two years, Glover points out that real estate signs are temporary. As a member of the Haywood Tourism Development Authority board, Glover said he’s not in favor of anything that will drive people away or damage the town economically.

“I just want everyone to have a little bit of an open mind,” said Glover, adding he is perfectly willing to compromise with the board.

If 16-square-feet is excessive, Glover said 12- or 10-square-feet may not be. Either way, Glover said it’s time to objectively revisit the issue and hear something other than “Nope, nope, nope. We got too many signs.”

Rosendahl said he was amazed by some of the comments that planning board members made to him.

“They don’t want to make any change. They’d rather say ‘no’ to everything,” said Rosendahl. “It was a little discouraging to me.”

But Clark said the planning board has been open-minded and devoted two meetings to discussing the issue. The board is planning on making slight changes to the sign ordinance, such as allowing a second sign if it advertises an open house. But Clark doesn’t foresee a vote by the planning board to adopt Rosendahl’s suggestion taking place any time soon.

“They just thought at the end of the day what is currently on the books is the most equitable,” said Clark. “It’s not like they went in and completely stonewalled the situation. It’s not like we woke up one morning and said ‘You know what, real estate signs suck. Let’s get rid of all of them.’”

Flowering trees — and lots of them — could be Maggie’s aesthetic salvation

Retired horticulturist Clayton Davis envisions a new Maggie Valley.

Instead of a tiring five-mile stretch of asphalt along Soco Road, it features a beautiful line of islands brimming with colorful flowers, trees, shrubs and decorative rocks.

Like the tulips at the Biltmore Estate and cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., Davis imagines that Maggie Valley, too, will be renowned for its stunning blooms.

“They’d look just as good here as they do over there,” said Davis. “People drive thousands of miles to see the cherry trees in Washington. Well, they’ll go here, too.”

The only difference is that Davis hopes the flower show in Maggie will last all year long.

Davis has grown 300 species of plants in Western North Carolina year-round and is convinced that Maggie Valley could feature a new bloom every month. An array of eye-catching flowering plants could be featured in islands found in the middle or alongside Soco Road, breaking up the sea of asphalt in Maggie.

“If we work together, we could make it the prettiest town in the United States,” Davis said.

Davis was originally struck with inspiration after visiting a charming small town in South Carolina a few years ago. “Every house had 20 to 30 azaleas planted,” he said. “It just knocked your eyes out.”

Davis touted his idea as a relatively inexpensive avenue to beautifying Maggie Valley, and town leaders were won over. They voted at a special meeting last week to donate $3,000 to get the project started.

Alderman Phil Aldridge said he found Davis’s vision refreshing. Instead of speeding past Maggie Valley, drivers might literally stop and smell the roses.

“It’s not inventing the wheel,” said Aldridge. “It’s simple and easy. There’s so much to gain from it.”

 

The vision

Davis has already worked out a three-year plan with a list of potential plants, from daffodils to knockout roses to crepe myrtles and dogwood trees. At a meeting with the town last week, Davis said at the heart of his plan would be “rocks, roses and rhododendrons.”

He suggests planting the knockout rose, an old-fashioned shrub with the bloodline of native roses. Though they don’t look as attractive up close as other types, the knockout rose is self-cleaning and requires little work. All of the 20-plus plants Davis has chosen are low-maintenance and strongly resistant to disease and insects.

Depending on how extensive Maggie’s rhododendron display gets, the town could one day advertise itself as the rhododendron capital of the country.

In his five-page proposal, Davis writes that decorative rocks are a safe investment in landscaping and retain their magnificence throughout the seasons.

Islands will range in size, but those that serve as a centerpiece may be up to 100 feet long.

Davis has been in contact with Richard Queen at the N.C. Department of Transportation, which is well-experienced with its own highway beautification project. According to Davis, Queen says he is receptive to helping move the project forward in Maggie.

 

Next steps

Davis knows of no nearby municipalities undertaking similar projects. He said Maggie Valley could publicize its unique initiative on its website and on letterheads.

“It’s an ace that you can have that no other town has got, that continual splash of color through the whole year,” said Davis.

Though the project will be entirely voluntary, the town will need widespread cooperation of business owners and residents to realize its horticultural vision.

Davis’s report suggests that business owners be asked to contribute financially to the project, give permission to plant on their property and take care of the islands if they are given maintenance training.

Business owners who decide to take part may convince their neighbors to do the same once the flowers start blooming.

“Beauty makes ugly uglier,” Davis said.

Maggie would first focus on “showy” plants and some annuals in its first year; add more expensive trees and shrubs and shift to perennials in the second year; and fine-tune the project and create a long-term vision during the third.

Davis, who has offered to donate his services, and the Parks, Recreation and Festival Board or another town committee will likely head the project.

Grants may be available, and residents and business owners might be asked to chip in by purchasing a rock or specific tree in memory of a loved one.

Davis hopes to use as many volunteers as possible and assemble a crew for the initial planting in November. Preliminary estimates show expenses would stack up to $21,000 by September 2011. Included are 5,000 bulbs of tulips and 5,000 bulbs of daffodils to be planted in late fall.

Rocks — which would weigh between 500 and 2,000 pounds — would cost a total of $4,275, according to Davis.

Town leaders hope to hold a public meeting in the late fall or early winter to get stakeholders educated and involved in the initiative.  

At last week’s meeting, Alderman Scott Pauley was especially impressed with Davis’s extensive research and enthusiastic presentation. He said it wasn’t often that he came across someone with such notable passion.

“Hopefully, we can go forward with this,” said Pauley.

Landslide repair below Ghost Town set to begin

Stabilization of the landslide below Ghost Town in Maggie Valley will begin in two weeks, finally bringing comfort to downslope residents who have lived below the looming threat of another slide for half a year.

The slide last February scoured nearly a mile-long path down the mountainside with a wall of debris 30-feet high and 90-feet wide in places. Only three homes were damaged, but several others suffered destruction to their yards.

The slide initially forced an evacuation of a couple of dozen homes for fear more of the mountainside might collapse. To date, all but one homeowner, whose home suffered the most damage, has returned.

The $1.37 million job will take five months and was awarded this week to Phillips and Jordan, a construction company that specializes in major earth moving. The same company did the rockslide cleanup and stabilization on Interstate 40 last winter.

In addition to recontouring and shoring up the mountainside, the job includes road repairs and returning a dislocated creek to its original course down the mountain.

Al Hill, a seasonal resident with a second home below the slide, said he is pleased stabilization work will be done before the worst of winter. The freeze-thaw cycle can exacerbate erosion and act as a trigger for more landslides.

Engineers and slide specialists who have inspected the site cautioned that the slope remains unstable and another slide is still not out of the question. In fact, a slide could be triggered in the process of stabilizing the slope if the contractor isn’t careful.

As a result, a geotechnical engineer will work on-site each day with the Phillips and Jordan crew.

“It is extraordinarily sensitive,” said Randy Hintz, project manager with McGill Associates, an engineering and planning firm in Asheville overseeing the contract.

The geotech engineer will dictate the final outcome, but not necessarily the approach.

“There is a fine line in telling the contractor how to do his job,” Hintz said. “We tell them how the slope needs to be, and they figure out how to make that happen.”

If things start to look dicey, it might be necessary to send an alert to homeowners to leave the area, Hintz said. The engineer will not always be able to predict how the unstable slope will respond to a particular strategy when the contractors begin moving dirt.

Landslide experts and engineers believe the slide was triggered by a collapsed retaining wall on Ghost Town’s property. Ghost Town had struggled to shore up the unstable and nearly vertical slope on and off over the years.

When the mountaintop was leveled off to make way for the amusement park in the 1960s, loose dirt was pushed over the side of the mountain without being properly compacted. It must now be peeled back to reveal the original contour and compacted as it is put back. Portions of the slope, especially at the top, will be permanently recontoured at a gentler grade that mirrors the original mountainside, Hintz said.

Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver originally objected to the stabilization plan and demanded an alternative design, but he did not get the engineering specifications done in time to go out to bid. Shiver said he is simply pleased work is getting underway.

“I am extremely happy,” Shiver said after the contract was awarded.

The total project, including engineering, will cost $1.47 million. Federal and state taxpayers will foot most of the bill. Maggie Valley taxpayers will contribute $25,000, and Ghost Town has pledged to contribute $25,000 as well.

Ghost Town has been in bankruptcy the past 18 months. Time is running out for the amusement park, which is being threatened with both foreclosure and liquidation. But Shiver remains hopeful a loan will come through allowing the park’s principal owner to regain title.

Meanwhile, Ray and Cookie Dye are tired of looking at a mud-filled pond that was buried when the slide moved across their yard. They want the pond dug out and their landscaping repaired, but it’s not clear who is accountable.

“We can’t prove it is [Ghost Town’s] fault,” Cookie Dye said.

Town Manager Tim Barth said town crews would try to dig out their pond for them.

Trout Festival comes to Maggie Valley

From buttered trout fillets to a trout race, all things trout will be celebrated during the 21st annual Great Smoky Mountain Trout Festival from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 1, at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.

The festival grounds will be filled with vendors selling arts, crafts and other wares, as well as festival food booths. Performing on stage will be the Hominy Valley Boys and the Caribbean Cowboys band.

Other happenings at the festival include:

• An environmental education tent featuring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Haywood Waterways Association, N.C. Wildlife Commission and numerous other environmental agencies and nonprofits.

• Talks by Rob Gudger, a biologist who raises wolves, and by Jim Casada, an expert fly-fisherman and renowned outdoor writer.

• Casting demonstrations and fly-tying demonstrations by the Waynesville Fly Shop.

• Casting contest for ages 16 and up.

• Project Healing Waters, dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled servicemen and veterans through fly-fishing, will have a booth.

• Kids activities and games, like making your own kite.

• Bean bag toss contest for teams of two at 10 a.m.

www.gsmtroutfestival.org or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Free fishing clinics for kids

Two free youth fishing clinics will be held in conjunction with at the Great Smoky Mountain Trout Festival in Maggie Valley May 1.

The CATCH clinics Ñ Caring For Aquatics Through Conservation Habits Ñ are designed to teach young people how, when, and where to fish as well as aquatic ecology, water safety, fishing ethics and respect for the outdoors. Kids will wade in the stream to collect and identify aquatic bugs and test water quality, plus try their hand at fishing..

Program is for ages 6 to 15. Equipment is provided. Kids who have never fished or explored a stream are particularly encouraged to participate. The clinics are sponsored by the HCC Natural Resources Department, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Haywood Waterways Association and the town of Maggie.

The morning clinic will be from 9 a.m. until noon and requires registration. An afternoon clinic will be from 1 to 4 p.m. and will be first-come first-served.

To register, call 828.926.0866, ext. 117.

Foreclosure threatened against Ghost Town amusement park

Ghost Town in the Sky is staring down the barrel of foreclosure.

BB&T has filed for foreclosure against the amusement park, which owes BB&T $9.5 million dating back to 2007. Of that amount, $6.5 million was to purchase of the 288-acre mountaintop property in Maggie Valley and the rest was for improvements.

A foreclosure hearing is scheduled for Sept. 20, which will set the wheels in motion for Ghost Town to be auctioned off to the highest bidder on the courthouse steps. If Ghost Town is unable to stall it, and if BB&T really goes through with it, Ghost Town could be auctioned off before the end of October. Once the ball is rolling, however, BB&T can set a later date or delay it at will.

Ghost Town has been running from BB&T for almost two years. It filed for bankruptcy in early 2009 primarily to shelter itself from BB&T’s demands to pay up. Bankruptcy was the only way to keep BB&T at bay, according to court testimony early in the bankruptcy process.

Ghost Town also owes $2.5 million to more than 200 small businesses left hanging after providing services or products to Ghost Town, from local electricians and plumbing supply stores to advertising firms and souvenir vendors. These are last in line, however, and it is unlikely the property would bring in enough for them to see any of the money they are owed.

Companies cannot hide from their debts in bankruptcy court forever and must eventually emerge from bankruptcy with a plan to pay off what they owe or face liquidation. After 18 months in bankruptcy, Ghost Town has not produced a viable reorganization plan, according to the bankruptcy administrator.

BB&T got permission from the bankruptcy judge in May to begin foreclosure proceedings. But BB&T was dissuaded from pulling the trigger by the promise of a payoff by one of the park’s primary owners, Al Harper, who also owns the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

Harper staved off the foreclosure for four months with an offer to buy the park out of bankruptcy for $7 million. It was less than what BB&T was owed, but the bank was willing to take it.

Harper said upfront the deal was contingent on financing, and so far that hasn’t come through. The looming foreclosure now brings additional pressure to bear on Harper to produce the money to consummate the deal or lose the amusement park.

BB&T has other outlets to recoup the full cost of what it loaned Ghost Town. Several early investors put up personal guarantees to back the BB&T loan. The loan was also partially backed by a federal rural development loan, placing taxpayers on the hook for a potion of it. BB&T could go after either if a sale of the amusement park on the courthouse steps or to Harper directly failed to bring in the full amount it’s owed.

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