This is not fixin’ to be one of those long, florid editorials I feel called upon to write sometimes, stuffed with Shakespeare quotes, historical references and rambling stories about a boy named Jimmy I knew in high school. I got stuff to do! At this very moment I'm supposed to be writing an article about the board of education.
On the other hand, I’m at the point I had to say something. There’s only so much moral indignation a girl can keep pent up inside without exploding like the fat man in Monty Python. “It’s none of their damn business,” indeed!
Background: A 600-plus-acre parcel of land up and down Lookout Mountain, from the creek at the bottom of the mountain to the gates of Cloudland Canyon State Park at the top, visible from 136 East, Highway 11 South and possibly Mars, is being stripped by loggers like a chicken for the pot. As the monster logging operation has progressed up the mountain toward the park, the heavy machinery and discarded fuel containers and mud, the ugly detritus of the whole uglifyin’ process, has parked itself in the big horseshoe bend on the shoulder of 136 for all to see. Before, it was bare spots seen from the south part of the valley and LOG TRUCKS ENTERING HIGHWAY signs on 136. Now it’s as visible as the fat man in Monty Python every time you drive up the mountain, and it’s gotten in the face of the whole county.
County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley has been watching the logging closely and providing grim updates at county commission meetings. But since it’s become so fresh-poop-visible, Lookout Mountain residents have taken up the cry and formed a citizens group. This month, they appeared at the commission meeting to ask the commissioners for their help. They protested that the logging operation is causing erosion and runoff, destroying wildlife habitat and the road, and kicking in the teeth of the tourist industry.
Furthermore, pointed out one of the speakers, Jennifer Blair, all this is being done for the benefit of out-of-town owners who don’t have to look at it. She did some research and identified them as the heirs of Ernest Klatt, the founder of a tourist attraction in North Carolina called Ruby City. He died in the 1990s, leaving vast land holdings across the Southeast to his heirs, who are now cheerfully accepting checks from the logging ops from the comfort of their Florida beach houses.
The logging protest caught the attention of The Chattanooga Times Free Press’s Tyler Jett, who tracked down and interviewed Elsie Lanchester, Ernest Klatt’s 80-year-old daughter, in Boynton Beach, Fla. She gave him a stern little lecture on American property rights, to wit (as quoted from his article): “They had the chance. They could have bought the land instead of him, but they didn't.”
As for those who objected, she called them tree huggers and said they should butt out, to wit--and here again is the quote that’s got my BOPs (big ole panties) in a wad-- “Really, it's none of their damn business.”
SHRIEK! There I go again. I want to keep this light and friendly but I can’t type that without beginning to spit when I talk. It reminds me of Dr. Doom saying something like: “Silence, peasants! What do I require of you but blind, unquestioning obedience?” Or Leona Helmsley saying: “Taxes are for the little people.” Duh noive!
Seriously. It’s none of my business when my little piece of paradise gets turned into a hog wallow? And as for me not buying the land when it was for sale, hell, neither did Miz Trust Fund. What she seems to be saying is: "Your diddy could have bought this mountain as easy as my diddy, if he’d had as much money, so stop whinin' and eat my mud!”
Put in that context, it makes the issue seem like a conflict between rich people and poor people. And I think that’s one side of it. Historically, rich people do tend to buy up land and poor people tend to suffer for it.
My family is from West Virginia where that very thing happened in a huge and terrible way. Lumber companies and then coal companies managed to get the land away from the poor mountaineers, and first they razed the virgin forests and then they commenced despoiling the very mountains, taking the tops off ‘em to get the coal out quicker. As for the poor hillbillies, the companies went on with them as they began, working them like slaves in unsafe mines, paying them squat and relieving them of any residual wages in the company stores, then hiring thugs to shoot them when they tried to unionize. Throughout all this, the bad guys had the law on their side, sending armed gummint forces in whenever the peasants resisted.
I’m a coalminer’s granddaughter, I run an independent newspaper with a negative income, and when there’s a conflict between rich landowners and the poor, who do you reckon I identify with? There’s a Ford family story that in the Coal Wars my great-uncle John, defending the union side, chased the National Guard as far as Charleston. It’s probably wildly exaggerated but I’m as proud of it as any Southern belle bragging she’s related to Robert E. Lee.
But this is not quite the same issue. Realistically, not even very rich people can buy up all the land that affects them. That’s why in places where a lot of rich people live (like Boynton Beach, Fla.) they have zoning laws. That way nobody can buy up a city block and start pulling chicken guts next to the country club.
We don’t have zoning here. Feeling has historically been so high against it, Ted Rumley once told me that the mere mention of the Z-word can get a politician crucified faster than raising taxes. (I started calling it that because I noticed the county commissioners don’t even like to say it aloud.)
And at least here, zoning is not an issue that divides along income lines. Even the poor treasure the right to do with their property as they wish. Haven’t you ever noticed those trailers with yards so crammed with old cars and garbage that it’s hard to imagine how people get in and out, inside the very gates of Cloudland Canyon State Park?
One of the objections to the logging operation here is that it makes the landscape ugly while the tourist biz depends on pretty. The Klatt acres go right up to the gates of Cloudland Canyon, the most visited state park in Georgia and Dade’s biggest tourist draw. What, asked a Lookout Mountain wedding venue owner, is the logging going to do to his bottom line? And I don’t imagine the park or the owners of the beautiful homes on north Sunset are too tickled, either.
One of the solutions hoped for by the anti-loggers is that the government, as in the park, or a private land trust will buy the acreage and protect it for the public. That would be nice, but what I’ve noticed is that neither gummints nor land trusts are all that eager anymore to acquire land. It’s a big responsibility, and expensive as hell, to maintain big acreages and protect them from the public—the public who wants to dump, poach, set woods on fire, et cetera.
So really the ideal ending for beautiful land is for private owners to keep on owning it but want to keep it pretty just as bad as the neighbors do. As Lookout Mountain gets more and more upmarket, that may eventually be taken care of by the price per acre, but for now the only way to assure it is zoning.
Which people here continue to oppose. This logging issue has engendered more of the usual blustering against land-use restrictions, even on The Planet’s Facebook page. But I expect it will come sooner or later just the same. Sitting in civic meetings in my capacity as the Local Press, I increasingly hear talk from the well-to-do about the effect of junkyards on their property values and their ability to attract investors, and in my experience the rich do tend to get their way.
I don’t know how I feel about that. I expect junkyards are as legitimate a business as any other, and I personally would never live in one of those prissy neighborhoods where they don’t let you keep bird feeders because the neighbors don’t like bird poop on their patios. (And given the proclivities of The Planet's Art Department, I don’t expect those places would be that keen to have us move in nohow. We have peculiar sculptures in our flowerbeds plus a miniature Stonehenge out front like in Spinal Tap). (I'm not making this up.)
At the same time, when I see the mountainside turning into a mudslide, I've been wishing to God there was some law in place to make it stop. I looked up Jackson County, N.C., where the Klatt family business, Ruby City, is located. It’s a big tourist county in a beautiful part of the state that includes Cashiers, Cherokee and Cullowhee, and I was not surprised to see land-use ordinances displayed on its website. (Much less Boynton Beach)!
For good or ill, Dade doesn’t have those yet, our laws are made to protect property rights rather than the public or the tourist industry, and we probably have no choice but to stand helplessly by like Dr. Doom’s peasants while our landscape is denuded.
But when I see comments on The Planet’s Facebook page by local people sounding like they are ready to fight and die to defend the right of some rich lady in another state to supplement her inherited income by remote-control raping our landscape, it sounds to me like rooting for the coal companies in West Virginia and it makes me mad. This is not some high-school debate, folks. This is home!
And what makes me even madder is to be told by Ms. Moneybags via the Freep to keep my beak out. The hell I will. My daddy didn't buy me a mountain but I live here as she does not and I suffer the consequences of the logging as she does not. I’ve got to see the big muddy shaved depressing mess every time I go for a hike around the canyon.
Anyway, I've got to shut up now and get back to that B of E article, but not before I say this:
It is, too, my damn business.