A Trojan Horse? 

Published 10:00 pm Monday, January 9, 2017

Horses seem to be an essential part of the soup that, when stirred together, make up the unique character and history of the Carolina foothills.  Indeed, from Tryon’s Morris the horse, a reminder of the time when the town was the center of a thriving toy and craft industry as well as an equestrian destination, to the sprawling Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) on the eastern edge of Polk County, horses have always represented both inspiration and aspiration to those who live in the Thermal Belt.

From the 1790s when the “Dark Corner” of the Carolinas attracted traders from the Buncombe Turnpike with their packhorses, oxen, and mules to the “golden age” of the railroad in the 1880s when “iron horses” chugged their way up the Saluda grade, horses have always been integral to the region’s history, culture, and economic health.  They still are.

Yet perhaps that same happy premise about horses, progress, and prosperity no longer remains as valid.  Recent events perfectly illustrate an apprehension that the new TIEC might be more an “unbranded” Trojan horse than another Morris.  Unlike the Carter Browns of the past who not only promoted events like the steeplechase but who also lived here, present developers of the TIEC seem less inclined to be a part of the foothills community.  In fact, they want visitors who come to the TIEC to remain there, perfectly cocooned within the center’s hotels, restaurants, shops, rings, and stables.  Additionally, if visitors to the TIEC would like other amenities, developers gladly will buy up local golf courses, lodges, and country clubs for their use.

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Large macro developments like the TIEC perhaps do not represent Polk’s economic future but rather could hinder it.  At some point, local commissioners and town councils should understand that large corporations like the TIEC, almost inevitably given tax breaks, zoning variances, and infrastructure subsidized by taxpayers, will threaten smaller communities like Pea Ridge and locally-owned businesses like The Farm House.  Still, dazzled by slick, professional hoi polloi presentations, overused glow words like “international” and “dressage” to describe events, by bourgeois-bohemian urbanites with “foreign” accents, and by the fallacious belief that more outsiders with big ideas and bigger bucks will gallop into the county, naïve local politicians inevitably favor globalized projects over local ones.

Yet much of Polk’s economic future already is here only in micro and not macro form.  By definition, a microtrend involves perhaps two to five percent of a population, and, from that, becomes a significant economic, social, and political activity.  Did you realize that perhaps 15 percent of Polk’s population has tattoos and that they shop and vote?  Tryon’s mayor, Alan Peoples, pointed to many such microtrends in a Dec. 22 letter to the Bulletin, highlighting coffee shops, beauty salons and spas, organic foods, antiques, bed and breakfast inns, specialty furniture stores, wine and beer operations, investment services, bookstores, restaurants, and, most impressive of all, a combination of condos and shops at Misseldine’s on South Trade Street that have opened in the past year.  Such micro-lists could be compiled for Columbus, Landrum, and Saluda but with trends appropriate to each town.

Recreation and playgrounds anyone?  Those who use them inevitably wind up spending more time and money locally while they also attract young marrieds, professionals, and retirees who increasingly expect them to be available.  In order to thrive, Polk County needs a critical mass who likely will not be drawn here by equestrian centers but more by recreational activities like concerts, super Saturdays, and walking paths.  Mini-Harmon parks with baseball fields, playgrounds, and mixed activities should be available not only in Tryon but also in Green Creek and Mill Spring.

Perhaps the most daunting task of all would be to recognize our already present future, and, yes, even to extend precious local resources to encourage its growth. Why not think, invest, and buy locally?  After all, what has globalization done for most of us?

Milton Ready, Tryon, N.C.