Friday, June 29, 2007

The Fountain Works

I've been looking forward to this for a long time. A welcome break from the grim news of here and there. The fountain at the foot of the Jackson County Courthouse steps has been working for most of the week after some serious renovation work . A round of applause for whoever made that happen.
Here's the courthouse fountain today alongside the 1940-ish clockless courthouse.
Now, if they could only duplicate that multi-colored water...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Kep' and Kelly

Been to any good cemeteries lately? I rank "exploring cemeteries" right up there with "reading the dictionary" on my list of most fun things to do. Way up there. Really.

Just the other day, we took a stroll around the Bryson City Cemetery on Schoolhouse Hill and discovered something quite remarkable about the place. I don’t know of any other cemetery from which you can view, not one, but two mountain peaks named after people buried in the cemetery.

Both individuals so recognized played significant roles in the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "The Apostle of the Smokies", Kelly Bennett (1890-1974) was a local pharmacist, a mayor of Bryson City and an enthusiastic booster when the Park was proposed in the 1920s. Looking toward the west from his grave, you’ll see Kelly Bennett Peak.

Just a few feet away lies Horace Kephart (1862-1931), a Saint Louis librarian and writer who came to the mountains more than a century ago. His story of life in the Smokies, Our Southern Highlanders, is a classic of Appalachian literature.
If you look toward the high ridge of distant mountains northeast of town, you can pick out Mount Kephart, named in his honor just a couple of months prior to his death in 1931.

For an impressive online exhibition, check out Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma, presented by Hunter Library Special Collections and the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Loopover and Chimney Tops

Loopover and Chimney Tops, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Balsam Mountain Preserve Fined $300K

Sylva radio station WRGC reports this morning:

Jackson County is fining Balsam Mountain Preserve $300,000 for erosion and sediment control violations in relation to the dam breach earlier this month. The fine was announced last night. The county accuses Balsam Mountain Preserve of five consistent violations over a period from February to June. Those are failure to follow an approved plan, failure to provide adequate groundcover, insufficient measures to retain sediment on site, inadequate buffer zone, and unprotected exposed slopes. The fine was reached, according to the letter given to the developers, by adding up $500 per violation per day. According to Planning Department officials, this amount does not include whatever Balsam Mountain Preserve has to spend to return to compliance and to clean up what resulted from the break. The development has five days to appeal.

See copy of letter from county officials to Balsam Mountain Preserve

No word yet on whether or not this is the largest fine ever assessed against a Chaffin/Light Associates project. Stuff happens, but what's most disgusting about BMP's behavior is how they sent reps to speak at public hearings in Jackson County, touting their own environmental righteousness, at the very same time that they were violating erosion regulations.

That's a little bit like Elvis visiting the Nixon White House to speak out against drug abuse.

The Balsam Mountain Preserve website still contains puffery about their matchless stewardship of the streams flowing from their golf course:

When we say that Balsam Mountain Preserve's 38 miles streams are the purest you'll find anywhere, we're not exaggerating. That's a scientific fact, documented by our own on-staff naturalists and some of the many professional researchers who use Balsam Mountain as a living laboratory.

As a result of the careful work of the Balsam Mountain Trust, which manages the land and streams in our preserve, Balsam Mountain Preserve earned high marks in an independent study measuring water quality. Thanks to our pristine waters, our streams are the last homes of the southern brook trout. Once common throughout the region, this fish has grown rare as more streams become inundated with silt and chemicals. But the southern brook trout is thriving here - and that's good news for those who enjoy both fishing and the beauty of untouched nature.

Coming soon, a look at other Jackson County developers (such as Legasus) and comparing their claims against their record of crimes against nature.

McCracken Lane

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Warmed Up Leftovers

Time to take a quick look back at the week’s news coverage.
A week ago, I had lots of unanswered questions about the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course dam break. I pulled out my Big Book of Hans Christian Andersen Tales and found the solution to the burning question of how a dam managed to build itself while everyone else had gone away for the weekend.
After reading this week’s stories, there’s only one big question hanging out there right now:
Will Balsam Mountain Preserve receive their certificate of appreciation for environmental stewardship BEFORE or AFTER they’re cited and fined for killing the creek?

Just wondering.

A week ago, in Children of Fortune I tried to set the River Rock development people on the right course. But apparently, they did not listen to me, because they’re still running their obnoxious advertisement in this week's Wall Street Journal, the one that announces:
Since the Gilded Age, the mountains of North Carolina have beckoned, and America’s children of fortune have answered their call. Here on the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, River Rock conjures the high life.

That’s the River Rock version of our home. Around here, we’d say you drive out past East Laporte and after you round Aunt Sally’s curve, head up Moody Bridge... But River Rock is speaking a different language from us local folks…I guess we need a translator.

The biggest mystery regarding the $100 million fraud at The Village of Penland development in Mitchell County is why the news media is ignoring it. That’s not just me talking…peope all over are wondering the same thing.
At least Jason Ryan with The State newspaper in Columbia, SC and Peralte Paul with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have raised questions about the land scam. Looks like all the rest of the reporters are following in the footsteps of Anup Roy.

Finally, WLOS tantalized us with a sketchy story about several Jackson County families who’d been drinking gasoline and benzene from their well-water. Cassandra Pride gave us "more quotes [and pictures] than answers." Apparently, it is happening "somewhere" in Jackson County and might involve an abandoned gas station with above-ground tanks. But they're getting water tanked in to their homes, so I guess everything's OK now...
...and I should just mind my own business.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


From the diary of Lt. John Phelps, serving in Cherokee County, NC during Cherokee removal

Thursday 21st June 1838
On the 12th inst the Regiment with the exception of one company left camp under the command of Col. Fanning, and marched out among the mountains five or six miles to the east. Some of the Indians were already coming in, and being informed that many of them were collecting at a place of worship of theirs, seven companies of us marched thither and bivouacked. By night fall about a hundred had assembled, and when the camp was hushed they held a prayer meeting. They are of the Baptist persuasion.

One of them opened his prayer by saying that it was probably the last time that they should ever meet at their wonted place of worship; but he exhorted them and prayed that they might not be led astray in the western wilderness.

The twilight was gleaming faintly upon the old hills about them, where they had strayed when young, and formed their earliest and dearest associations; they had left their homes, their neat gardens and fields, their stock and poultry, as tho’ they were going to church, and even thus were they to set out upon their journey for the land from which they expected nothing but sickness and death.

Some of their people as well as whites had returned from that country, and told them that it was very unhealthy. But they must leave their solubrious hills and go to it, tho’ they had never given their consent; they had been belied by one who professed to teach the religious whose rites they were celebrating. The Occasion was deeply affecting, and Indians tho’ they were, the congregation were all in tears. They sung some appropriate hymns and then retired.

As the ceremonies were conducted in Cherokee I was obliged to rely upon an interpreter for what little information I could get concerning their import. It was with much difficulty that he could express the substance of the prayers, tho’ he said that they made one feel quite smart, by which I was pleased to understand that they were thrilling even to him. The next day several whites came about in order to get claims on their property.

The manner in which they had been cheated was various and the cases were numerous. For instance, a white would purchase their improvements, get a deed signed by creditable witnesses, pay a dollar or two down, and promise to pay the remainder when they started for the west. This would be the last of it.

But in general their property was wrested from them with less ceremony than this. It was in vain that we told them not to trust to the whites, that the government would fairly compensate them for every thing that they abandoned; they preferred to make sure of one tenth even of the value of their property than to rely upon the promises of the government which had cheated them more cruelly than the individuals who were prowling among them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

rough beauty

In his new book, Rough Beauty, photographer Dave Anderson takes us to the hard scrabble world of Vidor, Texas. His stark black and white portraits of this poor and isolated southeast Texas town conjure up the photographic tradition of Dorothea Lange with a touch of Diane Arbus thrown in.

Interspersed among the photos - the road kill raccoons, the junked cars, the young men clutching assault rifles and cigarettes - are comments from the subjects themselves, words that live up to the book’s title:

We threw grass on the chicken’s grave and were like “Why’d he have to die?”

You know what the definition of a brat is? The kid next door just like yours.

It’s a small town – it’s got everything you need except a movie theater and a mall.

I got 10 cats because they eat the rats. I figure a cat’s better than a rat.

This world wasn’t born to owe us anything. It was born for someone to do something on.

It’s always good to try to feed your children a bunch of information as you can each day. Tell them things all the time. Keep ‘em preoccupied with things. Even feed ‘em boredom. They have to have boredom because they have that time to think about the things you tell ‘em.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Seeing Nature

"Only Supernaturalists really see Nature...To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see...this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads.

How could you ever have thought that this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her.

If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed.

The 'vanity' to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting."

-C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tuckasegee is NOT a Four-Letter Word

I was piloting a barge on Fontana yesterday. The party of discovery was returning to ‘Larkey after investigating the unsolved mysteries of Bushnell. Captain called out to me, "There on our port side, Gula', take this vessel up the Tuck."

Captain had said the wrong thing to this sailor. I fired back, "Tuckasegee is NOT a four-letter word. Clean up your language, cap’n."

[Aloud] Waccamaw and Wateree, Pacolet and Keowee, Chattooga, Tallulah, Cheoah, Uwharrie.

There’s music in the names of rivers. You could construct a whole new language from the names of rivers.

Where I grew up, we took considerable pride in knowing that the nearby Pee Dee was the original river for Stephen Foster's song Old Folks at Home (commonly known by the second draft of its first line, "Way down upon the Swanee River"). If we'd had our way, the song would still say Pee Dee.

So I was very pleased to hear from someone who shares my disdain for diminishing the venerable name of the Tuckasegee River into a four-letter word:
"…like what you said about calling river the is worthy of speaking the entire name Tuckaseegee River. grated me the first time I heard it used that way…"

THANK YOU! This is no trivial matter.

According to James Mooney in Myths of the Cherokee (1900) the original Cherokee name was Tsiksitsi, a word whose original meaning has been lost.

George Ellison, writing in the Smoky Mountain News:
"Tuckaseege" (also spelled "Tuckaseigee") is said to be the anglicized form of the Cherokee word "tsiksitsi," which reputedly means "crawling terrapin." But the Cherokee names for water turtle ("saligugi"), terrapin ("daksi"), and softshell turtle ("ulanawa" or its lexical variant "klanawa") don’t seem very applicable in this context.

It was called the Tuckasege in Robert Strange’s remarkable 1839 novel, Eoneguski, a story set in the Balsams and the Cowees. And that’s how it was spelled in the 1883 travel book, Heart of the Alleghenies, By Ben Grosscup and Wilbur Zeigler.

For a while in the early 20th century, Tuckaseigee was a common spelling and that’s how it is on the linen postcard from the 1930s. And you'll still see that spelling floating around.

Here’s the official word on the subject, from the Board of Geographic Names of the U. S. Geological Survey. Effective 1897, it was the Tuckasegee River, though Tucksaseigee and Tuckaseegee are also listed as variants.

What I get from all this is that no matter how you spell it, you’ll spell it right, just so long as you don’t turn it into a four-letter word.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More Quotes

The danger of disturbing the public tranquillity by interesting too strongly the public passions is a still more serious objection against a frequent reference of constitutional questions to the decision of the whole society.
—James Madison, Federalist 49

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.
—Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the 4th of July?"

A Better Way of Thinking

June 15,1751, British Governor Glen issued an urgent message to the Traders among the Cherokee Nation:

Gentlemen, As this Government has thought proper to send to the Cherokees to demand Satisfaction for the insolent and outdacious Behavior of some of their People, and as it will very much conduce to the Security and Welfare of this Province, as well as to the Safety of his Majesty's Subjects, the Traders in that Nation, that all trade and commerce with them be stopped till such Time as they come to a better Way of thinking.

And to comply with the Terms we have required of them, I therefore by the Advice of his Majesty's honorable Council, and in his Majesty's Name and Authority order each of your forthwith to leave the Cherokee Nation with all your Effects as you will answer the Contrary at your Peril.

A few years later, John Lipscomb was travelling near the Holston River, across the mountains in east Tennessee and on his way to Nashville when he made this diary entry:

June 15th 1784, rise early and cut the flesh off the bones of the beef and barbecued it to take us on the Journey; eat the Bones in a stew; got Rum and Whisky.

Mr. Sailsbery & Roberts being the cooks & behaved exceedingly well; they got plenty, after the company all eating there was some left – One thing Omitted yesterday. Cryer & Salisbery put Roberts hand in cold water to make him piss abed, but he awakened before it took place very angry and told them if they did the like again he would fling his left sledge hammer at them, which so alarmed them they did not attempt it.

Aha, people were such cut-ups back then...

More Quotes Than Answers

"[Contractors] stopped working on their pond on a Friday, and when they came back Monday this pond had been built." - official quoted in Sylva Herald, June 14, 2007

The problem with reporters asking too many probing questions is that it just raises more questions…and who’s got time for that? That began to dawn on me as I re-read this week’s news coverage of the dam break at the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course.

One of the recurring themes of the article was that nobody could say why the dam broke. Now that may be the ONE thing that even an ignoramus like me could answer. THE DAM FAILED BECAUSE IT WAS NOT BUILT PROPERLY.

I suppose there are other possible explanations. An eco-terrorist might have crashed a plane into the dam. A gang of disgruntled beavers exiled from the Biltmore Lake development might have undermined the dam. A freak microburst might have descended from sky and struck the very spot where the dam was built. It might have been global warming.

From reading the article, I think I found yet another explanation. Here’s a clue:
"[Contractors] stopped working on their pond on a Friday, and when they came back Monday this pond had been built." I see an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" emerging from this one. What a knee slapper. ROTFLMFAO! I guess Balsam Mountain Preserve REALLY IS a magical place. Shoemaker and the elves. GREMLINS built the dam. Slap a hefty fine on those pesky GREMLINS.

We read that Balsam Mountain Preserve had already been under investigation by the Division of Water Quality, but when a DWQ worker retired, the process started from the top again. Well, isn’t that an interesting way to handle things. Is that official policy for the Division of Water Quality? How fortunate or unfortunate, as the case may be, for anyone in a hurry to get a golf course finished. Did she tell anyone that she’d be retiring? Did she take all her files with her when she cleaned out her desk?

Just wondering.

I concede that assessing a FINE on GREMLINS will be difficult.

One thing I have learned from Balsam Mountain Preserve’s four-year long public relations campaign that I’ve been reading in the local papers almost every week is that nobody cares more about the environment than they do.

Heck, from reading the papers, I didn’t even know that Balsam Mountain Preserve WAS a housing development. I was under the impression that it was just a nature center where school kids went on field trips. ("Hey kids, don't stand too close to that dam, alright?") Why that’s what their name sounds like. And it is a non-profit operation, right?

But back to those fines. With a sterling track record, anyone's earned the right for a do-over, penalty free. Two or three do-overs, for that matter. Just for the record, though, wonder what the penalty would be for some average Joe that "kills a stream". And how long would it take to figure out how to penalize average Joe? And who would tell us if and when any fine would be imposed? Will that follow-up story appear in any newspaper. OLD news by then, you know. And it’s not like anyone got hurt.

Finally took a ride out toward the gated city today...tried to snoop around some. I managed to find this little creek with a thick layer of sediment and silt in the bottom of it. Didn’t see a single elktoe mussel. But that’s not surprising. Elktoe mussels would rather die than live in a thick layer of sediment and silt. Fickle creatures. They deserve whatever fate befalls them.

Actually, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Balsamanians "cleaning up the creek." I realize that "cleaning up the creek" could mean any number of things and busy reporters might not have time to pin down exactly what it means in this case.

Could it mean taking measures to make it look like the flood never happened? After all, visual aesthetics is important to the gated city. Dragging away the trees and bushes and limbs scattered along the creek, is that what they mean by cleaning up the creek? Having the fire department wash the sediment off the bridge and back into the storm sewer (I mean the stream) to make things look nicer? Is that what they mean by cleaning up?

Just wondering.

A long time ago, I remember using some sort of a submersible vacuum pump to clean out the crud that had settled into the gravel of a fish aquarium. Is there a large-scale thingamajiggy along those lines for cleaning up a creek that's been filled with silt? Dredging? And if so, how far downstream would the Balsam people actually do this cleanup work? And if some method does exist, what are the problems for any living things that might remain in the creek? We know how the silt gets into the creek. How do you get it back out of the creek?

Just what did the Fish and Wildlife guy mean when he mentioned effects from the dam break extending all the way to Fontana Reservoir? And what about that official’s planned meeting with Balsam Mountain Preserve folks to discuss restoration and remediation? Will that result in a written document available to the public? What will be the process for assuring compliance? Will the local papers provide us with any followup on this part of the story? Or have they decided that we’ve been given an adequate amount of information already?

Finally, are we in for more of the same old "he said-she said" reporting we’ve grown used to? Or will we actually get the answers to some of these questions, and I would hope, even tougher questions?

If Chaffin/Light and Balsam Mountain Preserve hate this blog, fine. Apparently, they can’t distinguish questions from "lies"... anymore than reporters can distinguish quotes from answers.
Ironically, "Gulahiyi" is Cherokee for "Gadfly" – or "one habitually engaged in provocative criticism of existing institutions, typically as an individual citizen."

And if Appalachian Gadflies, like Appalachian Elktoe Mussels, were to be swept into extinction by the next golf course dam break…well, it’s not like anybody got hurt.

Thank goodness for that.

Children of Fortune

If you ever need a dose of ostentatious nonsense, pick up a copy of the glossy real estate publication called Elevations. This isn’t your usual real estate brochure. If you’re looking for a "community within a park" and not just a "park within a community" this might be the guide for you. And it helps if you have a couple of million to spend on your mountain retreat.

I have my own ideas about what community means…caring about your neighbors and caring about the land you live on…that’s part of it. But that’s not exactly what the well-heeled buyers are looking for behind the secure gates of elite enclaves.

They’re seeking the perfect "private community". And when you think about it that’s an oxymoron of the highest order.

Nevertheless, if that is your cup of tea, how do you find the right "private community" from the more than 140 choices in the area? The answer is a "one-stop shopping experience" profiled in the latest issue of Elevations:

Private Mountain Communities offers an innovative solution to community shopping with two state-of-the-art Discovery Showrooms that serve as a matchmaker between future residents and the area’s premier communities. ...

Each Discovery Showroom is staffed with experts in master-planned communities that have done extensive research to understand the unique differences of each community. This expertise coupled with a warm and elegant atmosphere where customers can relax and review community brochures, DVDs and use interactive exploration tools on the large screen displays makes for an enjoyable experience. …

(Certainly a much more enjoyable experience than rubbing shoulders with real people or scuffing up your nice shoes walking around on the side of some mountain. And, oh, let’s not forget…)

There’s even a wine and cappucino bar for customers to enjoy while they explore the perfect community. … Here, they will discover communities, from smaller boutique properties to those that offer world-class amenities. …A personal concierge will also help…to make the entire process as smooth as possible.

If this kind of insular pampering is what you require, then it’s no surprise that you could care less about what happens to the peasants that live downstream, the people you wish "would just go away."

Destroy the neighbor’s pond…kill a stream? No problem. You’ve got more pressing concerns, like perfecting that golf swing…or picking the perfect color of granite countertop. You paid good money for a strong gate (and armed guards) to protect yourself from the minor annoyances posed by the less-than-perfect outside world. It's not your problem.

But don’t take my word for it. To get a taste of what I’m talking about let’s turn to another page of Elevations

Since the Gilded Age, the mountains of North Carolina have beckoned, and America’s children of fortune have answered their call. Here on the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, River Rock conjures the high life.

C'mon. Do people actually take this stuff seriously?

Greening the Urban Animal

A few days ago, for the first time in our history as a species, the human population of the planet Earth became predominantly urban, not rural.

Some bold researchers pinned down this epochal moment of passage to May 23, 2007. The date was of course a polite statistical fiction, based on a United Nations estimate of how fast people worldwide are shaking off the dust of the countryside and moving into town.

In any case, nobody stood up to ask the important question: What does it mean to become a city-dwelling species?

That’s the question Richard Conniff raises in his New York Times article, The Greening of the Urban Animal (6/11/07). Some notable excerpts from that story:

One school of thought has always treated cities as the antithesis of nature. Maybe that's because cities originated in part to shelter people from scary beasts and other blessings of Mother Nature. …

Even Jane Jacobs, the great theorist of urban living, once disparaged modern nature as a "tamed pet" which do-gooders wanted to foist on the city "so the city might get some nobility, purity and beneficence by association."

But the evidence increasingly suggests that these attitudes are misguided. Even city dwellers need nature, and what they get from it is their sanity. ...
In the public housing projects of Chicago, for instance, studies have consistently shown that trees make for healthier neighborhoods, with more people spending time outdoors and more kids playing in creative ways. Housing projects with trees also have about 7 percent less crime than their treeless counterparts.

You wouldn't use a word like "sylvan" about any of these neighborhoods. They're still just public housing projects. But "what's relatively green for" a given individual "is better than what's relatively built," says Frances Kuo, an environmental psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Other studies have shown that patients recovering from surgery in a room looking out on trees need far fewer painkillers than patients in rooms looking out on a brick wall. Open-heart patients in rooms with nature scenes on the wall have lower blood pressure and smoother recoveries than patients with blank walls or abstract art. ...
[The postcard views of Asheville's Pack Square and Battery Park Hotel are from almost a century ago in the mountain metropolis.]

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Meet the Endangered Elktoe

“When the water and mud came down, it looked like there was a four-foot wave..It sounded like someone was scraping the road, and that’s what we thought it was at first.” - Marilyn Mull, quoted in the Sylva Herald

In the latest news coverage on the dam break at the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course, we read of concerns over the impact on the endangered elktoe mussel.

Break in Dam Threatens Mussel is the headline in today’s Asheville Citizen-Times.
From the article:

Biologist Mark Cantrell [US Fish and Wildlife Service] said the sediment that flowed into the river as a result of the dam break could affect the reproduction of the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel. “This event, this dam break and the resulting discharge, occurred at the worst time possible for the Appalachian elktoe,” Cantrell said….The mollusk had just completed its spawning and was releasing its young larvae into the water when the dam break occurred,…

In this week’s Sylva Herald story, Golf Course Dam Failure Sends Mud Rushing Downstream, included another statement from Cantrell:

“The effects of the massive dump of sediment and debris is especially bad since we are in a drought and water levels in our streams are extremely low. The Fish and Wildlife Service is quite concerned about how the sediment introduced by the dam break has impacted habitat of fish and wildlife resources. The sediment has been deposited in important aquatic habitats for young fish, mussels, and other invertebrates that are unable to move out of its way. We are especially concerned about what the effects are on the endangered Appalachian Elktoe Mussel and its habitat in the Tuckaseigee River.”

In 1994, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the elktoe mussel an endangered species. The Tuckasegee River has been one of the few remaining homes for the elktoe. From another FWS publication describing the elktoe in detail:

The Appalachian elktoe has a thin, kidney-shaped shell, reaching up to about 10 centimeters (4 inches)… The species is most often found in riffles, runs, and shallow flowing pools with stable, relatively silt-free, coarse sand and gravel substrate associated with cobble, boulders, and/or bedrock. Stability of the substrate appears to be critical to the Appalachian elktoe, and the species is seldom found in stream reaches with accumulations of silt or shifting sand, gravel, or cobble. …Activities such as impoundments, channelization projects, and in-stream dredging operations eliminate mussel habitat. These activities can also alter the quality and stability of the remaining stream reaches by affecting the flow regimes, water velocities, and water temperature and chemistry.

Just last November, the North Carolina Wildlife Commission reported the results of a study that indicated a sudden and extreme drop in the elktoe population on the Little Tennessee:

“It really is a sad situation,” said John Fridell, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist who listed the mussel as endangered in 1994. “The Appalachian elktoe had been making strides across the region, then Frances and Ivan struck, which negated some of those gains. Now we see this degree of a decline in what only a few years ago was the healthiest, most numerous population.”

Back on December 20, 2006 we mentioned the endangered elktoe in a blog post on the difficulties facing wildlife at Biltmore Lake development in Buncombe County, Inconvenience as a Capital Offense. I’ll give the last word to someone whose statement appeared in that post:

“Western North Carolina is being developed to death.”

Audubon Confusion

Greetings to the good folks from Audubon International who’ve been visiting here this morning. Hope you're enjoying the blog. It's nice weather for golf today, but you should try bird-watching some time if you never have. It's a great day for it. I applaud your interest in birdies and eagles.

For more on the confusion between the Audubon Society and Audubon International, here are excerpts from a news story on the name confusion at a Tampa golf course:

To Audubon Society officials, Audubon International is like an evil twin who constantly causes trouble. They say developers frequently promise a golf course project is going to be "Audubon-certified," while Audubon Society members are unaware of or opposed to the project.

"When Audubon International certifies a golf course, it clearly creates a lot of confusion in the mind of the general public," said Charles Lee, senior vice president of Audubon of Florida. "There are cases where the developers go in and get some upfront connection to Audubon International and they wave that around in the government hearings."

It happened last month in Tampa. Environmental activists were questioning the plans for Grand Hampton, a new 1,600-home golf community planned in New Tampa that would plop down houses, apartments, businesses and an 18-hole golf course next door to the Cypress Creek Preserve, a watershed that feeds into the Hillsborough River, the city's main source of drinking water.

So the developers' attorney, Joel Tew of Clearwater, promised that the project would meet Audubon standards. That surprised the board of the Tampa Audubon Society. ...

Golf Course Audubon Scam

Golf courses are recognizing the need to tout their “green credentials” but not surprisingly, those credentials might be worthless. Case in point is the golf course Audubon scam unveiled in this report on a Panamanian golf course:
As if they hadn't already problems enough as it is with workers on strike and increasing hostility towards their development on the ground, the troubled Red Frog Beach development in Bocas del Toro has now been caught in a golf course scam.

On their website, they were claiming that a planned golf course "will be approved by the Audubon Society for meeting their high, environmental standards." However, that claim is totally false. Writes John Bianchi, communications director of the Audubon Society: "The Audubon Society does not establish or certify ''bird-friendly'' golf courses. The National Audubon Society was founded to protect birds and other wildlife, and their natural habitats."

So what's going on? Bianchi again: "There is a group called Audubon International that claims to certify golf courses. But this group has no connection to the National Audubon Society, which does not designate or certify golf courses as sanctuaries."

This Audubon International outfit, we learned, is largely funded by the US Golf Association. They're sort of certifying themselves while masquerading as a well respected bird protection organization.

At least one WNC golf course, Broadmoor in Mills River south of Asheville is marketing their "Audubon certified sanctuary" status. For more on the mixup between the Audubon Society and Audubon International, here are excerpts from a news story on the name confusion at a Tampa golf course:

To Audubon Society officials, Audubon International is like an evil twin who constantly causes trouble. They say developers frequently promise a golf course project is going to be "Audubon-certified," while Audubon Society members are unaware of or opposed to the project.

"When Audubon International certifies a golf course, it clearly creates a lot of confusion in the mind of the general public," said Charles Lee, senior vice president of Audubon of Florida. "There are cases where the developers go in and get some upfront connection to Audubon International and they wave that around in the government hearings." It happened last month in Tampa.

Environmental activists were questioning the plans for Grand Hampton, a new 1,600-home golf community planned in New Tampa that would plop down houses, apartments, businesses and an 18-hole golf course next door to the Cypress Creek Preserve, a watershed that feeds into the Hillsborough River, the city's main source of drinking water. So the developers' attorney, Joel Tew of Clearwater, promised that the project would meet Audubon standards. That surprised the board of the Tampa Audubon Society. ...

I guess the bottom line is this - the good folks at Audubon International might not know a warbler from a condor, but they sure do care about those birdies and eagles.

Timberlake Map of 1762

In the spring of 1761 Lieutenant Henry Timberlake kept notes of his time among the Overhills Cherokee. This is an account of his visit to the village of Settico:

About 100 yards from the town-house we were received by a body of between three and four hundred Indians, ten or twelve of which were entirely naked, except for a piece of cloth about their middle, and painted all over in a hideous manner, six of them with eagles tails in their hands, which they shook and flourished as they advanced, danced in a very uncommon figure, singing in concert with some drums of their own make, and those of the late unfortunate Capt. Demere; with several other instruments, uncouth beyond description. Chuelah, the headman of the town led the procession, painted blood-red, except his face, which was half black, holding an old rusty broad-sword in his right hand, and an eagle’s tail in his left.

We then proceeded to the door, where Chuelah, and one of the beloved men, taking me by each arm, led me in, and seated me in one of the first seats; it was so dark that nothing was perceptible till a fresh supply of canes were brought, which being burnt in the middle of the house answers both purposes of fuel and candle. I then discovered about five hundred faces; and Cheulah addressing me a second time made some professions of friendship, concluding with giving me another string of beads, as a token of it.

He had scarce finished, when four of those who had exhibited at the procession made their second appearance, painted milk-white, their eagle-tails in one hand, and small goards with beads in them in the other, which they rattled in time with the music. During this dance the peace-pipe was prepared; the bowl of it was red stone, curiously cut with a knife, it being very soft, tho' extremely pretty when polished. The steam is about three feet long, finely adorned with porcupine quills, dyed feathers, deers hair, and such like guady trifles.

After I had performed my part with this, I was almost suffocated with the pipes presented me on every hand, which I dared not to decline. They might amount to about 170 or 180; which made me so sick, that I could not stir for several hours.

The Indians entertained me with another dance, at which I was detained till about seven o’clock next morning, when I was conducted to the house of Chucatah, then second in command, to take some refreshment.

Soon after this, Timberlake prepared his famous map of 1762, shown here next to a contemporary Google Earth image.
The left side of the map is north.
At lower right, the Tellico River meets the Little Tennessee.
At upper left, Chilhowee Mountain.
Trading paths from Virginia and from Charleston, SC converged just down-river from Settico, located on the south bank of the Little Tennessee.
(Click on either image to enlarge)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dam Break at BMP

Pictured is the dam that failed at the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course. This photograph was taken looking upstream. There's much more (photos and data) on the dam break at the website for the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River.
Also, stayed tuned for a round-up of media coverage on the dam break and the public hearing on new development ordinances for Jackson County.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Garden Visitor

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.
-Rabindranath Tagore

More Lies

I’m disappointed. I’m not just disappointed. I’m crestfallen. If there’s one thing this blogger believes in (besides taking advantage of any opportunity to make a lame joke) it is INTEGRITY.

So I was stunned that the honchos at Chaffin/Light – the gazillion dollar developers behind the infamous Balsam Mountain Preserve – have declared that this blog is filled with lies. "Well, I DID quote a lot of material from their promotional pieces, could that be it?"

But I don’t want to pass the blame that easily.

Let’s take this from the top again and evaluate where I might have gotten off track.

Balsam Mountain Preserve Dam Break
This was the very first post, last Thursday at 9:18 AM. I’d heard that the dam at Balsam Mountain Preserve had broken. I opined that Sylva wouldn’t get swept, but that a lot of mud would wind up in the creek. And then, since I’m such an ignorant dumbass, I raised a lot of questions that I don’t have the answers to. You see, my curiosity FAR exceeds my limited intelligence. I recognize that much.

And it’s a good thing I’m not a betting man, since I confidently stated, "I'm sure our friendly developers will have all the answers for us on Monday." As it turns out, they didn’t. But I wouldn’t call that a lie.

Then I quoted a fleeting news blip via WLOS (before it was lost to obscurity). Again, I think we can stipulate that it was a reasonably accurate early news account of the dam break at Balsam Mountain Preserve.

And then I quoted Balsam Mountain Preserve announcing that "our streams are the last home of the southern brook trout…the purest you'll find anywhere, we're not exaggerating. That's a scientific fact, documented by our own on-staff naturalist…" Of course, there’s nothing hyperbolic in that quote, because they said there wasn’t.

No lies in that blog post. Let’s keep looking.

Teed Off
Again, I fired off a string of dumb questions that had been on my mind for a long time. Basically, how is our local environment changed when one or more golf courses are constructed and operated at the head of nearly every watershed in the county?

I did make a couple of statements. "With the failure of the Balsam Mountain Preserve dam, one million gallons of water rushed into Cripple Creek….if Cripple Creek was not silted up before the dam break, it most certainly is now." I think I’m OK on those.

And then we revisited a news story about a Jackson County jury awarding damages of $500,000 when they decided that "construction at Highlands Cove, a planned golf course and residential community upstream, caused irreparable harm to 18-acre Young Lake."
It’s a matter of public record.

Then this blogger consulted outside experts who documented numerous possible environmental impacts resulting from golf course construction.

It would be a real stretch to say there are any lies in this blog post. Does Chaffin/Light consider it to be a lie when I said "the implications of upstream golf course development throughout Jackson County and many other parts of the mountains deserve a closer look than they’ve received to date."

Let’s continue.

Sustainable Golf – An Oxymoron?
The main point of this post was to showcase a Chaffin/Light PERMACULTURE golf course. It’s a feel good story, and I hope the very complimentary information I was quoting about Chaffin/Light was true.

Shall we proceed?

Hole in One
I quoted a Washington Post article that referred to Balsam Mountain Preserve: "Investors paid about $10 million for the land and shared in a tax write-off "in the $20 million range," said James A. Anthony, a partner in the South Carolina development firm of Chaffin/Light Associates.

If I can’t trust the Washington Post and Jim Anthony, then we’re all in trouble.

This post is spotless. Moving on…

Water Hazard
"Stop me if you've heard this one," was meant as a subtle clue that the statement to follow was a joke, though a weak joke indeed: "When Balsam Mountain Preserve installed water hazards on their golf course, they wanted to make sure they lived up to the name. They're hazards, alright." There was no intent to misrepresent facts.

I indicated that Balsam Mountain Preserve’s public relations department is very skillful at what they do. Perhaps Chaffin/Light doesn’t share my assessment.

The rest of the post was a rant against lazy reporters. Having been a reporter once myself, the critique of less than aggressive reporting is a self-indictment as well as a challenge to others

I’d call that post a lie-free zone. Which brings us to

Balsam Mountain Preserve and Other Disasters

And to the present moment.

We’ve almost run out of places to find the lies that Chaffin/Light accuses me of perpetrating. I guess I shouldn’t have quoted the alleged witnesses commenting on "issues" emanating from the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course both before and after the dam break.

Since Chaffin/Light contends this blog is filled with lies, and since we’ve ruled out any other possible sources, that has to be it.

Phillip Morris, living downstream from Balsam Mountain Preserve and months ago watching the creek run muddy 24/7. Liar.

Chuck Connors, talking about the ill-fated dam: "Twenty four hours earlier an elementary school class was enjoying a presentation by a local naturalist just below this shoddily built impoundment." Liar.

Jennifer Krell, describing Scott’s Creek filling with silt and mud after the dam break. Liar.

Reuben Moore, watching "liquid mud" flowing under the Scott’s Creek bridge in Sylva on Thursday evening. Liar.

Paul Tapp, coming home to find silt and mud at creekside 30 feet wide and six inches deep. Liar.

There. I hope Chaffin/Light is satisfied that I’ve set the record straight in regards to my posts about the dam break at the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course. Like I said, if there’s one thing this blogger wants to achieve (besides a bad joke) it is IMPECCABILITY. Thank you.

P. S. to Chaffin/Light, if you ever want to hire me to produce a blog for you, let me know. Even a virtuous lad like myself has his price. And once the newspapers publish one or two decent articles on the dam break, I'll be ready to move on to something else.

Dear Readers, I'm sorry I had to get this housekeeping out of the way. I really meant to talk about tonight's public hearing. My prayers were answered. Peace prevailed. I expected fire and brimstone from the guy representing the John Locke foundation, the good Dr. Michael Sanera. But he said we just need to chill out...Jackson County's not nearly as crowded as Charlotte and if we pass any radical ordinances then we'll see real estate get expensive. Gee, things are so cheap here now. I'd hate to do anything to change that blissful condition.

Finally, tonight's EQUINE POSTERIOR AWARD goes to Sylva attorney Jay Pavey, a rather too tightly wound fellow. He got the evening off to a rousing start by exposing the planning board as a bunch of unqualified incompetents and then urging the resignation of four members from the board of commissioners. When Commissioner Tom Massie raised the possibility of taking up Mr. Pavey on his suggestion, the attorney seemed most pleased. Mr. Pavey wants to see people running Jackson County like the noble generals he used to work with.

Well, wouldn't we all?

Till next time, peace and love, y'all....

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Blue Ridge Sunset

Enemy Invaders

This post is NOT about golf course developers.

June 10, 1761 is one of the most significant and tragic dates in the history of the Little Tennessee River Valley. It was on this date (246 years ago!) Colonel James Grant, leading a British expeditionary force of 2800 soldiers against the Cherokees, approached the point (south of present-day Franklin, NC) where the Cherokees had turned back British forces only a year before.

On the morning of June 10, "the high blue wall of the Cowee Mountains loomed in the foreground." And shortly thereafter, Cherokee forces engaged the British in a fierce battle that continued for five hours. Grant commented that his forces would have been defeated had the Cherokees not run out of ammunition.

Over the next month, Grant’s forces destroyed fifteen Cherokee towns along the Little Tennessee. Lieutenant Francis Marion wrote about this brutality:

We proceeded, by Colonel Grant's orders, to burn the Indian cabins.

Some of the men seemed to enjoy this cruel work, laughing heartily at the flames, but to me it appeared a shocking sight. Poor creatures, thought I, we surely need not grudge you such miserable habitations. But when we came, according to orders, to cut down the fields of corn, I could scarcely refrain from tears. Who, without grief, could see the stately stalks with broad green leaves and tasseled shocks, the staff of life, sink under our swords with all their precious load, to wither and rot untasted in their mourning fields.

I saw everywhere around the footsteps of the little Indian children, where they had lately played under the shade of their rustling corn. When we are gone, thought I, they will return, and peeping through the weeds with tearful eyes, will mark the ghastly ruin where they had so often played.

'Who did this?' they will ask their mothers, and the reply will be, 'The white people did it, - the Christians did it!' Thus, for cursed mammon's sake, the followers of Christ have sowed the selfish tares of hate in the bosoms of even Pagan Children.

White men who enjoy destruction for "cursed mammon's sake"? Maybe this post IS about golf course developers.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Hole in One

Whatever costs the taxpayers have borne to respond to the mess of the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course dam break...are a pittance compared to the corporate welfare that allowed the developers to take a $20 million dollar tax write-off on the $10 million dollar purchase of the land. Yes, you read that correctly.

Conservation Easements: Developers Find Payoff in Preservation, a Washington Post article of December 21, 2003 contained this interesting tidbit:

In the Great Smoky Mountains near Asheville, N.C., investors two years ago bought 4,400 acres, placed an easement on 3,000 acres and then began developing 350 home sites and an 18-hole golf course on the remaining property.

A master plan for the development, called the Balsam Mountain Preserve, shows that the easement area is broken up by the fairways and home sites, which spot the land like mushrooms on a pizza.

(See BMP site map.)

Investors paid about $10 million for the land and shared in a tax write-off "in the $20 million range," said James A. Anthony, a partner in the South Carolina development firm of Chaffin/Light Associates.

The deduction was based, in part, on an appraiser's assessment of how much the land would have been worth had they filled the acreage with 1,400 homes, Anthony said.

Far from a liability, the easement has become a marketing tool. Sales literature describes the subdivision as "a community within a park" and the undeveloped portions as maintained "for the quiet enjoyment of members."

Anthony said: "It does add value to the remaining land. Kind of like a limited-edition print -- the fewer you have, the more the value." Appraisers factored any appreciation into their calculations of the tax benefit due the investors, Anthony said.

The firm is considering placing an easement directly on the golf course once it is completed, he added.

For more on BMP financing:

Sustainable Golf - An Oxymoron?

When it comes to the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course dam break, we find a whole run of coincidences besides the ones I’ve already mentioned.

Yes, a big public hearing on the Jackson County subdivision and steep slope ordinances is coming up Monday night.

The chairman of the county commissioners is employed by Balsam Mountain Preserve.

BMP stands for Balsam Mountain Preserve AND (they would have you believe) Best Management Practices.

And we can examine a most interesting case history of another golf course developed by Chaffin Light, the company behind Balsam Mountain Preserve.

First of all, a cynic might look at the Balsam Mountain Preserve marketing hype and recognize that it’s easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk. Nothing surprising about that. BMP dispenses this gobbledygook about their golf "amenities":

Long known for creating courses that proactively maintain an ecologically sound environment in order to bring tradition and an extraordinary experience to the game, Palmer's courses are designed to connect golfers to the land - a goal that resonates with the lifestyle and values of Balsam Mountain Preserve.

The cynic might want to be a fly on the wall as the BMP folks huddle with their attorneys, strategizing about who they might sue, or who might sue them, as a result of the dam break. Tense moments, to be sure.

On the other hand, a generous person might give Balsam Mountain Preserve the benefit of the doubt. The case history involves pemaculturalists influencing the design of a golf course at a Chaffin Light development in Colorado.

Peter Bane and Jerome Osentowski wrote of their experiences in Golf in the Garden, Designing the Permaculture Links. The story begins with Chaffin Light submitting a proposal for a golf course development to the Basalt, CO town council:

The town council were caught in a squeeze. The proposal couldn’t go through without their permission, but the developers owned the land and could ultimately force the issue through the courts if the Basalt councilors refused. Sentiment among town residents was implacable: no golf course.

Osentowski saw an opportunity to apply permaculture practices in order to achieve a compromise in the conflict:

Jerome’s first thoughts were "What can be done to make a golf course useful?" After all, there was almost no more potent symbol anywhere on the planet of idle wealth, toxic consumption, and artificial control of nature than this odd setting for executive sport. Could it be in any way redeemed? Permaculture training and practice intruded immediately and an edible landscape came to mind, then thoughts of how to balance the diverse elements required. Years of working with market gardens, organic greenhouses, and a forest garden at 7,000 feet in the Rockies had not been idle play. Jerome was well versed in concepts and techniques of integrated pest management (IPM), and knew the value of hedgerows for crop protection in traditional agriculture. But what would it look like on the golf course? He began to focus on the use of flowering plants to create an outdoor insectary and habitat for bug-eating birds.

The concept of BioIslands was born. Hot spots of diversity occupying all the "out-of-bounds" sections of the course, they would form the backbone of a new golf-centered ecosystem. The BioIslands would carry nature’s helpers throughout the other 262 acres of the course by creating a long, rich edge of native and beneficial plant communities to protect the more vulnerable greens and fairways from devastation by cruncher-munchers. What other golf course operators kept at bay with sub-lethal doses of pesticides, BioIslands at the Roaring Fork Club would suppress with waves of beneficial wasps, lacewings, syrphid flies, and lady beetles, deliriously happy amidst acres of umbels, wildflowers, native trees and flowering shrubs. If it worked, the strategy might just save the developers’ bacon: it would not only allow them to show the townsfolk they could avoid most of the toxic chemicals usual to golf course management, but it would be beautiful in a way most well-groomed links only pretended to be.

Permaculture principles provided solutions to some of the problems associated with conventional golf courses - sedimentation, chemical runoff, and habitat destruction.

The theme of working with nature caught the ear of the developers. Chaffin and Light had already made moves in this direction with their earlier project at Spring Island, pioneering a new, natural style of course. At Basalt pressures from the townspeople helped push ecological sensitivity to the forefront. Wetlands along the river would be retained, rather than filled, and additional wetlands created; existing riparian forest would be incorporated into the out-of-bounds. Fly fishing was to be a second major attraction of the resort and a series of lakes would be built serving as hazards for the golf course and as habitat for different species of trout. The nutrient-rich water would provide a source of chemical-free fertilizer when it was used to irrigate the greens and fairways. Restoration became an important focus as well. An existing irrigation ditch would be transformed into a man-made trout stream that splashed and babbled beneath cottonwoods and willows as it meandered through the guest cabins.

A couple of years into the project, the authors looked back on the success of the permaculture-informed golf course:

The BioIslands strategy helped sell the course to the town of Basalt. And the beauty of the wildflower meadows filled the sails of the marketing staff during a hard time when a conventional landscape job might have driven the project onto the rocks. Long-term costs will be lower as maintenance diminishes and savings from avoided spray costs mount up. There is a large advantage from the reduced toxic exposure to workers and golfers alike with significantly reduced risk and liability costs. The perennial backbone of the golf course has a great resiliency to changing climate and environmental stresses that results in savings to the bottom line. And careful environmental stewardship has helped the Club win and keep prestigious Audubon certification, a feather in its cap that helps it reach a small but growing niche market of environmentally aware golfers.

A reasonably happy story, for a change. Balsam Mountain Preserve doesn’t miss many opportunities to claim a deep concern for the environment, but it rings hollow at times. The citizens of Basalt did their job to demand that Chaffin Light live up to the marketing hype. With golf courses perched on the headwaters of almost every major creek in the county, the citizens of Jackson County still have a long way to go.

Golf Environment Europe spells out some general principles for new golf course development. It would be prudent to demand nothing less from the golf courses spreading over our mountains:

All people have a right to live, recreate and prosper in a quality environment where:
There are sufficient natural resources
Landscapes and cultural heritage are not degraded
Biodiversity is not continually damaged
Pollution of air and water is not detrimental to quality of life
This is relevant to the development of golf courses.

There are many situations where well designed, constructed and managed golf courses can enhance the local environment. There are many examples of this across Europe. These cases show that new golf courses can bring a number of positive environmental outcomes, alongside other social and economic contributions:
Bringing habitats under long term, consistent conservation management.
Enhancing biological diversity and species richness.
Enhancing landscape ecology, creating larger habitat patch sizes with greater connectivity.
Enhancing landscape character and visual quality.
Conserving landscapes of cultural and historical importance.
Conserving archaeological and other cultural heritage features.
Improving water quality - reducing runoff and leachate of fertilisers and pesticides from previous levels (e.g. agriculture and industry).
Creating microclimates, shade and increasing soil and air moisture levels in warm climates.
Acting as 'green lungs' in towns and cities, mitigating air pollution and carbon release.

On the other hand, golf courses sited in inappropriate locations and those designed and built without due regard for environmental factors can have significant negative environmental impacts.

I wonder how many more disasters like Highlands Cove and Balsam Mountain Preserve it will take before the people who actually live in this community (for more than one or two weeks a year) demand a more enlightened approach to the development of golf courses.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Teed Off

Here’s my question. How do you assess the ecological impact of multiple golf course developments? Specifically, how is our local environment changed when one or more golf courses are constructed and operated at the head of nearly every watershed in the county?

The immediate event triggering this question, of course, is today’s dam break at the Balsam Mountain Preserve golf course, purportedly designed by Arnold Palmer. But it has been a question on my mind for the past couple of years due to the frenzy of elite subdivision development in the mountains of Jackson County, NC.

For now, I’ll set aside the cultural impacts of this development. Suffice it to say that outside corporations have barged in, overrun traditional mountain communities and turned the land into a commodity, "product" to be sold via slick marketing campaigns. It’s not a particularly new pattern, but reflects a form of imperialism that has played out on the American continent for the past 500 years. Exaggerated claims about the abundance and beauty of the land have been used to attract investors for centuries. In the same vein, you can go to the website for any of these new developments and see the image of an idealized life in mountain paradise. Toss in the astronomical prices paid and ungodly amounts of money to be made, and it sets the stage for economic and political conflict, such as what we’re seeing with the creation of the subdivision and steep slope ordinances.

To return to the original question, how do you assess the ecological impact? With the failure of the Balsam Mountain Preserve dam, one million gallons of water rushed into Cripple Creek, a tributary of Scott’s Creek, which feeds into the Tuckasegee River. In February of this year a Cripple Creek resident went on record to describe the damage to the stream caused by Balsam Mountain Preserve, with sediment from erosion making the stream unfit for trout. At the same meeting this February, a Balsam Mountain spokesman dismissed the complaint, and defended the developer’s actions. Well, if Cripple Creek was not silted up before the dam break, it most certainly is now. That’s one impact on the environment from one golf course.

This wasn’t the first Jackson County golf course disaster. From a Sylva Herald news story in 2000:

In what is believed to be the largest award ever handed down in Jackson County, a local jury March 13 gave a Highlands family $500,000 in compensation for damage to their lake.

Plaintiff Whiteside Estates, a family corporation represented by Earl and David Young of Highlands, proved to the jury's satisfaction that construction at Highlands Cove, a planned golf course and residential community upstream, caused irreparable harm to 18-acre Young Lake.

Both the Youngs' property and Highlands Cove are located in southern Jackson County near the intersection of U.S. 64 and Norton Road between Cashiers and Highlands. The jury considered awarding even more money to the Youngs, said juror Robin Schaeffer of Sylva. Damages of around $2 million were favored by most members of the jury, she said, with the half-million dollar verdict a compromise with a juror who held out for a lower award.

Before-and-after photographs of the lake, plus evidence from experts about the turbidity (amount of particulate matter suspended in a given amount of water) and loss of wildlife, convinced her to find in favor of the Youngs.

The debacles of Highlands Cove and Balsam Mountain Preserve should be enough to raise questions, and doubts, in the minds of all but the most avaricious. Beyond the occasional catastrophes associated with massive land disturbance on mountain headwaters, what are the ongoing and less obvious impacts from an epidemic of golf course construction?

In a report outlining the problems with expansion of a golf course in Massachusetts, several ecological impacts were discussed, but it boiled down to habitat fragmentation:

In order to function as a forest ecosystem and maintain biodiversity, there must be sufficient acreage of continuous woods to support breeding and feeding territories of wildlife species. This is not possible when forest areas are "fragmented" through development. Fragmentation is, in fact, one of the two major cause of habitat destruction and the consequent loss of global biodiversity.

Constructing an additional nine holes would, at a minimum, fragment Salem Woods with golf fairways, leaving only small patches of wooded areas. These wooded patches, isolated from each other, would not be a forest ecosystem any more than patches of trees in the yards of houses on a rural street could be considered a forest.

The loss of species from fragmentation of Salem Woods would be dramatic. This past summer, our comparison of vegetation diversity between areas in Salem Woods and comparable habitats within the Olde Salem Greens boundaries was completed (see Appendix). Sixty-five different plant species were identified within three Salem Woods habitats while only thirty different species were identified within the comparable golf course habitats. The bulk of the golf course land, the fairway areas, of course, contain very little vegetation diversity.

Concerns have been raised about an "Arnold Palmer designed" course in Minnesota:

Deacon's Lodge typifies most new golf course development. It isn't built on a rare ecological community, yet it isn't built on land that had been plowed, pastured, or mined, either. Instead, it flows through a natural landscape, which is ordinary in some ways and extraordinary in others.
"We look hard for the right land," said Peter Loyd, golf director for Sienna Corp., developer of Deacon's Lodge. "This property was ideal because it had it all--three wilderness lakes, wetlands, rolling topography, tall Norway pine that loggers never cut, and bright white clumps of birch. Deacon's Lodge has a great north woods feel to it. And it's all sitting on about 170 feet of pure sand that's ideal for growing grass."

Score card: One over par. The golf course ripped up natural woodlands and wildlife habitat, but at least the plant and animal communities weren't considered rare in the Brainerd area.
The values that developers seek for golfers--lakes, rolling forest, and gorgeous vistas--are values shared by many other people, who couldn't care less if they ever sink a 40-foot putt. This nongolfing public also worries about new residential development and gas stations, convenience stores, and service businesses that inevitably spring up around golf courses and other recreation areas.

Over time, the more bent grass that grows, the less habitat for wildlife and native plant species. In the forested parts of the state, for example, golf courses reduce the amount of interior forest used by songbirds such as the ovenbird and wood thrush. The forest that does remain--actually strips of trees between fairways--shelters skunks, white-tailed deer, and other common species. However, these strips make poor habitat for species that are uncommon and becoming more so each decade. As a whole, Minnesota's forests are becoming more edge rich and interior poor.

"Most rare species have very specific needs," says Pam Perry, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) nongame specialist at Brainerd. "The more the landscape is fragmented, the more it fails to meet the needs of certain plants and animals."

Closer to home, the proliferation of headwaters golf courses brings other problems. Maintaining the desired "look" of the turf and golf course landscaping requires significant amounts of fertilizer and pesticides applied over large areas, and allowed to runoff into surface waters and leach into the groundwater. Widespread application of the chemicals undoubtedly compounds the pressures on plant and animal life, already struggling with fragmentation of habitat and, possibly, with the intentional introduction of non-native plant species on the golf course.

Finally, Golf Environment Europe summarizes the problems associated with golf development projects:

Loss of species and habitats.
Degradation of landscape quality.
Damage to historical landscapes and cultural heritage features.
Pressure on water resources.
Impacts on water quality from siltation, runoff and leachate of fertilisers and pesticides.
Fragmentation of habitats.
These concerns are combined with other, wider worries about golf development, which include:
Associated real estate development.
Pretext for urbanisation, especially so in tourism areas.
Piecemeal approach to development.
Inconsistent application of planning regulations.
Highly variable standards of Environmental Assessment.
Unpredictable planning outcomes.

This barely scratches the surface. But the implications of upstream golf course development throughout Jackson County and many other parts of the mountains deserve a closer look than they’ve received to date.

Maybe that’s one lesson we’re supposed to learn from today’s flood.

Balsam Mountain Preserve Dam Break

So, we got to work this morning with the news that a dam at Balsam Mountain Preserve had broken, and water was pouring into Scott's Creek. Thanks to the drought, it appears unlikely that there will be a torrential flood, although indications are that plenty of silt and mud will be deposited downstream. Really nice for the trout.

What went wrong? An article from a couple of years back goes into some detail regarding Balsam Mountain Preserve's erosion control measures. So how many more of these jackleg dams are sitting on the mega-developments in Jackson County. Which will be the next to break? What are the responsibilities of the developers when the downstream areas are damaged by the released sediment? I wonder if the developers will educate us on this at Monday night's public hearing regarding the subdivision and steep slope ordinances.

Just wondering.

And if these dams are going to start breaking during an extended drought, it makes you wonder what hell will break loose if we start to get heavy rains again. I'm sure our friendly developers will have all the answers for us on Monday. Bastards. Greedy dissembling bastards.

Balsam Mountain Preserve map

From the erosion control article cited above (I have no idea if the dam mentioned herein is the same dam that failed this morning):

The stables and associated pasture encompassed 5 acres of clearing adjacent to Cashie Branch. All of the site was graded to drain away from the creek and into a 4,000-cubic-foot sediment basin. We recommended the use of a flashboard riser outlet, which was installed in March 2003. This was installed in a manner similar to a perforated riser, placed away from the dam wall and with a stone collar due to the contractor’s unfamiliarity with this type of outlet. More specific instructions to install it closer to the dam wall and anchored to the bottom with stakes or cement were needed. The purpose of the flashboard riser is to allow the formation of a permanent pool while retaining the ability to drain the basin if needed to remove sediment.
Most of the area was well stabilized with grass and mulch when grading was complete, but a fill area for the stables continued to contribute sediment to runoff for several months
. The first attempt to reduce this impact was to install a small sediment trap below the disturbed area. While this did retain a large amount of the sediment, the water was then released on the pasture, creating more erosion.

From WLOS:
A river of mud and debris marks the spot where a dam break sent about a million gallons of water down a mountain in Jackson County today. It happened in a development called Balsam Mountain Preserve. Emergency management crews do not know what caused the dam to break. The water went about 4 to 5 miles down into Cripple Creek. The dam at an irrigation pond broke about 8:50 this morning and put debris on about 10 bridges in and around the development. Emergency management tells us it could have been a dangerous situation but fortunately no one was hurt. No one had to evacuate and no home sites were damaged. Workers are looking at exactly what happened and how to fix it.
Furthermore, compare the Balsam Mountain Preserve hype...

When we say that Balsam Mountain Preserve's 38 miles streams are the purest you'll find anywhere, we're not exaggerating. That's a scientific fact, documented by our own on-staff naturalists and some of the many professional researchers who use Balsam Mountain as a living laboratory. As a result of the careful work of the Balsam Mountain Trust, which manages the land and streams in our preserve, Balsam Mountain Preserve earned high marks in an independent study measuring water quality. Thanks to our pristine waters, our streams are the last homes of the southern brook trout. Once common throughout the region, this fish has grown rare as more streams become inundated with silt and chemicals. But the southern brook trout is thriving here - and that's good news for those who enjoy both fishing and the beauty of untouched nature. (blah, blah, blah)
...with reality:

balsam mountain preserve golf course dam break, jackson county

Indian Money

No, no. Not this:

And not this, either.

I’ve been thinking about Indian Money…and the fact that I hadn’t thought about it in a long time. I took it for granted growing up and it has turned out to be so obscure that even a web search doesn’t turn up more than a couple of relevant sites.

Back in the rolling Piedmont hills, on red clay roads between broomsedge fields and scrub pine woods edged with honeysuckle and blackberry briars (not to mention redbugs and tree frogs), you could go for a walk, and if you looked carefully, you might find the weathered brown cubes…some smaller than a crowder pea, and a few as big as a persimmon. I have no idea if farm kids were stumbling across these stones in Eastern North Carolina…or out here beyond the Blue Ridge.

Everybody called it Indian Money, and we’d collect the cubes in an old milk carton with the top cut off. As far as I know, I don’t possess one piece of it anymore. But back then, it was a curiosity, though it was far from rare.

Eventually, we’d learn the story about how the cubes formed. (And it was at least as good as any of the many tales about the "fairy crosses" of staurolite, said to have formed from the tears of the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. That’s one version, Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains, by Lynda McDaniel has much more on those rather similar minerals shown to the right here.)

Indian Money had been a crystal of another mineral before it took its present form. It was actually limonite pseudomorphus after pyrite.

Delmer G. Ross, writing about the McCoy Mountains [California] Limonite Cubes, explains it just like I’d heard it explained long ago:

Pyrite, also known as fool’s gold because it has tricked many into believing it was the real thing, is iron sulfide, an iron ore. Under the proper conditions, though, pyrite can become iron hydroxide, or limonite. Its external appearance remains essentially the same, but the composition has been altered. Pyrite cubes have become limonite cubes, which have also been called "Indian Money" because people believed that the strangely shaped rocks could only have been shaped by man’s hand, not by nature.

I have no idea what became of that dusty milk carton. There’s a remote chance that I could go through a couple of boxes of fossils and artifacts I’ve stored away and find a cube or two. And there’s an even more remote chance that I could go back to some Stanly County farm, look down at the red clay and pick up a handful of Indian Money. But once upon a time, it really did happen like that.
There was always something fascinating about Indian Money. Something metaphorical. It was not some unchanging essence that took on new forms. On the contrary, Indian Money managed to maintain the same form while evolving into something of an entirely different composition.