Western NC: Environmental Change Narratives in the Peri-Urban Southern Blue Ridge

Narrative 1: “I consider us a bridging generation”

I grew up here and my first memories of it are as a dairy farm. I’m 61, and my husband is 67. We’re getting old. This farm’s been in the family since around the end of the 1860s in some form or another. I have a written history. It’s about 200 acres and the earliest record of a deed is to my great-grandfather. He was a surveyor and a farmer, so he was gone from home a lot. Then my grandfather, his son, Carl, got this part of his property. In the World War II years, the Depression, there was government money to start small dairies to supplement the war effort, so he built two of them. The old dairy barn was built in those years, and there were test demonstration farms– that sort of thing. So after my dad got out of college and World War II, he came back and started dairying – modernizing and dairying.

Then probably in the late 60s, dad decided to get out of the dairy business, went into beef cattle, and took a job at the high school. He was beginning to see that there wasn’t a future in farming at that point–at least farming of that nature. He saw 52 dairy farms at the end of World War II and there are none now…  <<keep reading>>


Narrative 2: “I got an early flavor of nature just out the back door. Now all that is completely gone”

I moved here in 2003. It’ll be 13 years in September. I grew up in a rural part of Cobb County in what’s now considered Metro Atlanta, where my family has been for generations. I was part of six generations in the mountains. There were very few relatives left by then, though. Most of them ended up farther south trying to find work after the Civil War. There was just a general diaspora out of the mountains and my relatives fled. Back in the 1850s they were all up in these mountain counties, but by the early 1900s they were all just doing working-class jobs in Metro Atlanta.

I grew up with relatives who fished, so my early outdoor experiences involved fishing. My father and mother had rural roots, but they weren’t the kind of people who took us out camping. Then my parents got divorced when I was young and my father moved off to another state, but I had a buddy in school whose father was really into hunting and this guy started taking me with his son. We’d go squirrel and rabbit hunting and when I was 13 my mother got remarried and my stepfather was an outdoors, hunting-fishing, camping at the lake kind of guy.

I also got an early flavor of nature just out the back door, now all that is completely gone. It was Cobb County so you would have to see it to believe it 40, 50 years ago. I go back home and I don’t know where any of these places were; there’s nothing left of these places where I grew up, landmarks, creeks– My family originally had 500 acres on the Chattahoochee River in south Cobb – not direct family, but my ancestors. Now it’d would be worth a gazillion dollars. It’s all malls and the new Braves Stadium. My mother’s still there. She sold the whole place we grew up in. It’s just homogenized America. Now she’s in a cul-de-sac.

I developed my own interest in nature, though, which was more of a deep ecology kind of thing…  <<keep reading>>


Narrative 3: “We’re the people who live here. We do have a choice”

My family has been here for 200 years now. The Cherokee part of my family, it’s been longer. My mother’s family is from Cobin and I grew up there. And my dad’s side is from across the mountain where I live now. I’m 40 now, and at some point the mountain was mostly owned by family. When I was a kid what my great grandmother owned was about 70 acres. We walked on it when we were kids – hunted and all that kind of stuff. And until my great grandmother died we didn’t divide it up; she’d just tell people to find a place they liked and if it worked out they’d build there. But when she died, you know how it happens: It got split and split some more. As the family tree grows the parcel size diminishes. I’ve bought back- I think I’m up to 12 acres now. It was always a dream of mine to buy some of it back. In fact, I promised my grandfather I would try to do what I could.

I knew that land really well as a kid. I could walk across the mountain between our house and my great grandma’s, my great grandfather’s, my aunts’ and uncles’, cousins’… It was cool. I could leave my house, walk up across the gap and there was an old logging road down into Cobin. I had trails all through the woods. Sometimes I’d leave on a Friday evening after school with some friends and we’d stay in the woods, drop in to whoever’s house to eat, then come back on Sunday night. It was crazy. It was the best place in the world to grow up.

Eventually the mountain ended up in a developer’s hands and I saw things changing in a way I didn’t like. It’s a shame because it happened really quickly. People started building on the side of the mountain, and they wanted really big houses too. Around here people used to build in a place that was practical. People just didn’t build on mountainsides because you’d have to dig a deep well, have roads and all this infrastructure, and you can’t farm on the side of a mountain.

Now there’s also a totally different attitude about property…  <<keep reading>>