The Top Ten Most Historically Resonant Local Stories of 2009
by Rob Neufeld
One: Bears. The black bear, along with the “cougar” are this region’s totem animals. This year, it’s human-bear negotiation time again! Governor Bev Perdue ran from one on her first trip to the state’s western mansion. A couple of months later, a hiker took a classic photo of an “aggressive” (read, “too-close”) bear walking in front of a gazing father and his two kids.
Two: Roads. The number one theme in our region’s economic history scores again with the I-26 planning tangle and the I-40 rock slide. In fact, cut mountains are crumbling everywhere. It reminds one of the slides that killed convicts building the railroad into Black Mountain.
Three: The Cherokee. Perhaps the clash between airplanes and ancestors in Macon County had set the year off. The Cherokee felt their strength with: a huge new hotel; a new school on hard-won land; drinking at Harrah’s; and a deal with Wal-Mart.
Four: The Cliffs. Spectacular high-end communities mushroomed and died, with few exceptions, in 2009. The Cliffs at High Carolina, still in the works, will attain mythical status in years to come. Its helipad symbolizes exclusivity. Its location is Davy Crockett territory. A billboard with a huge photo of its golf course designer, Tiger Woods, proclaims, “See What Inspired Me.”
Five: Skyscrapers and the Green Revolution. Asheville’s attempt to out-do the 1920s with a renaissance of skyscrapers didn’t get to building stage except for Hotel Indigo. Stewart Coleman’s plans for a parcel near City Hall ran into George Willis Pack’s ghostly hand. The Ellington, the Grove Park Inn’s high-rise condo dream on Biltmore Avenue, applied the name of the City Hall’s architect to its now-stalled vision, which includes a ballroom with a view, an accruing fund for “workforce housing,” and green technologies.
Six: Affordable Housing. Named a top priority by Asheville area planners year after year, considered the Achilles heel of local pride, affordable housing took a hit with loan freezes in 2009. Coming out of the year, the issue’s fate rides on stimulus funds, some of which has already gone to Mountain Housing Opportunities for apartments in West Asheville.
Seven: Dillsboro Dam. At the very close of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals said okay to Duke Power’s planned demolition of the 1913 dam, cherished for community and commercial reasons by residents. In January, a Superior Court judge will consider Jackson County’s eminent domain claim.
Eight: Swannanoa Incorporation. The popular movement to incorporate Swannanoa, organized by Swannanoa Pride in 2007, fell short in a November referendum. Among the various community-related developments in 2009—including Woodfin and Weaverville annexations—this one features a story about neighbors who have come back together after a contest.
Nine: Boating on the Chattooga. “Chattooga!” may one day be a musical, like “Oklahoma!”, but featuring the song, “Oh, the Angler and the Paddler Should Be Friends.” The U.S. Forest Service lifted the ban on boating on the Upper Chattooga in August. Designated a federal “Wild and Scenic River,” the Chattooga was the inspiration for James Dickey’s sensationalistic novel, “Deliverance”; and Ron Rash’s human portrayal, “Saints at the River.”
Ten: The Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway, along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, have been the subjects to which history has been most applied in 2009. The 75th Anniversary of the Parkway kicked off in November, harbinger of a new age of conservation.
Other contenders for the top ten: the North Shore in Swain County; TVA emissions; zoning; the Asheville City Council election; the Richmond Hill fire; Popcorn Sutton; farm troubles and the farm fresh movement; the Volvo plant closing; pedestrian and bicyclist accidents; smoking bans; public prayer phase-outs; beer; eco-tourism; and RENCI at UNCA, a “Renaissance Computing Initiative.”