Our crown jewels

Published 11:09 am Monday, July 2, 2012

When I spoke at the Planning Board Meeting of June 14, I made the statement: “They (the mountains and ridgelines) are our crown jewels” (The Tryon Daily Bulletin, June 18).
I would like to expand on that concept. Crown jewels, to me, are precious and of great value, worthy to hold on to. I am glad to note that I am joined in this sentiment by others. From the City of Saluda website comes this ode to the mountains: “Roam the winding mountain roads, amble the wilderness trails, picnic by the babbling creeks of the rolling terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll know you’re somewhere special as soon as you roll into downtown Saluda, N.C.”
Our mountains and forests are a natural resource with value far beyond residential and commercial development. I urge the planning board to submit the UDO to the commissioners with the elevation restrictions in place until a plan can be prepared for resource development that keeps most of our mountains and ridgelines intact, anyone can grow subdivisions, we can do better. This will take some “outside the box” thinking. Here are some of my thoughts based on what we know.
We know that many of the properties in the mountains are of exquisitely rugged beauty and present desirable places to live. But we don’t know much about the flora and fauna that can be found in many of these areas. Out of 100 North Carolina Counties, Polk is one of 10 that have not had a biological assessment in 50 years. Polk County may be one of the places where rare or endangered species still have a home. Wouldn’t this be a good time to find out?
Our county has five birding trails listed in the North Carolina Birding Trail Guide. We have world-class white water kayaking down the Green River Gorge. What if we developed more hiking trails for birding, wild flower identification, mushroom hunting, fishing, camping or just plain enjoyment of the great outdoors? What if someone started a business propagating some of the native plants thereby expanding our agricultural economy? Our mountains are natural gardens; the idea of landscaping with native plants is no longer new. With that in mind we could create a center for active, in the field, learning and teaching. Perhaps another state park is not out of the question, we did it with Alexander’s Ford. I may be naïve and this may be pie in the sky, but given the great diversity and beauty that surrounds us I believe the possibilities are endless.
For a reality check consider this: According to the 2010 census Polk County has a population of 20,510 and a dwelling unit count of approximately 10,500. Final and preliminary plat approvals through 2013 stand at 2,045. In addition, the development agreement with Bright’s Creek allows for 1,370 residences and Foster Creek in Columbus would add approximately 700 more. These are subdivision plats ready to be built on. And once completed would add 4,115 new dwelling units.
It seems to me that it will be a huge undertaking to provide services for that many more homes and the population increase this represents. We not only can afford to put aside areas that are vital for clean air, and sparkling streams, but will need these areas if we want to maintain the quality of life that we have come to love. An individual home or a family subdivision does not have the kind of impact a major subdivision has and the UDO takes that in consideration. Let’s get together and protect our crown jewels, the mountains and mountain ridges that brought many of us, old-timers and new-comers, here in the first place.
– Christel Walter

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