Eve Boatright isn’t prepared to openly criticize motorists speeding past her bookshop along U.S. 23/441 south of Franklin. The British transplant has a keen sense of humor, and recognizes those criticized could, in turn, question her ability to drive on the right side of the road — literally.

Boatright, however, does believe the traffic flow along U.S. 441 seems too fast for such a heavily used traffic corridor.

“When you are right on it like this, you see people don’t slow even when it’s raining,” said Boatright, who represents the second half of the store’s name, Millie and Eve’s Used Book Store. “But, location wise, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

She means it. When the bookstore was forced by rising rent to change locations this month, the two business partners sought and found another storefront a couple miles closer to Franklin on U.S. 23/441. They didn’t want to kiss goodbye to the incredible amount of pass-by traffic, and subsequent drop-ins, this highway provides.

U.S. 23/441 is locally known as the Georgia Road. It’s so dubbed because the five-lane highway connects North Carolina and Georgia. This 10-mile or so stretch of road has experienced explosive growth since representatives from the two states met at the connecting line in the mid 1990s for a highway-ribbon cutting. That growth, and the corresponding increase in traffic, doesn’t pass un-remarked in a proposed comprehensive transportation plan for Macon County.

“While congestion is not yet an issue, mobility is compromised by the numerous driveway cuts, unsignalized left turns and density of traffic signals,” the proposed plan notes. “A look at this stretch of US 23/441 as a whole reveals 73 crashes took place from June 1, 2007 to May 31, 2010.  The majority of these were ‘rear end’ or ‘left turn’ accident types.”

When the committee putting together the plan asked residents their opinions, “respondents expressed the problems along U.S. 23-441 using the following terminology: bottleneck, too many red lights, too many access roads, congested, unsafe, too many people trying to turn, too many lanes, it sets people up for accidents, not easy to maneuver, consider a median, middle turn lane is too dangerous, extremely dangerous, terrible, stop and go, crazy, disaster, gridlock, and ingress and egress are tragedies waiting to happen.”

“It’s a horror,” said Eric Hendrix, a Macon County resident who operates Eric’s Fresh Fish Market in Sylva, and who plans next month to open a second fish market in Franklin. “U.S. 441 South is what Sylva does not want N.C. 107 to become.”

Jackson County residents are embroiled in a debate about how or whether to “fix” N.C. 107 from Sylva to Western Carolina University. One option the state proposed was to build a bypass around the problem, prompting opponents to rally for “smart” roads versus new ones.

A bypass solution around U.S. 441 certainly isn’t on the horizon for Macon County. Instead, the proposed traffic plan suggests redesigning this section of road to a boulevard concept by removing the center turn lane and adding a median. Instead of making left-turns across lanes of oncoming traffic, motorists would make U-turns at stoplights to access businesses on the other side of the road.

Additionally, the transportation committee said there is local support for the plan, called a “super-street” design. The traffic pattern is currently all the rage since N.C. State University released a major study showing super-streets result in dual reductions of travel time and accidents.

The town of Waynesville has endorsed a similar redesign of its busiest thoroughfare, Russ Avenue, as a boulevard concept. Smart road advocates in Sylva want to see similar treatment of N.C. 107.

MaAron Cabe of The Gallery of Gems and Minerals along U.S. 23/441 did his own traffic count once, part of an effort to get a stoplight installed at a nearby intersection following a bad wreck. He tallied 20,000 cars a day.

Cabe didn’t get the stoplight. But he remains adamant that safety improvements near the store are badly needed. A popular movie theater is nearby, and there are several wrecks a year, he said.

The corridor is also home to many restaurants, Lowe’s Home Improvement, The UPS Store, the Fun Factory, the Macon County Fairgrounds, the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts. And, via spur roads, K-Mart, Southwestern Community College the Macon County Public Library and more.  

Ryan Sherby, a transportation planner with the Southwestern Development Commission, a regional agency for the state’s seven westernmost counties, said he hopes people take time to comment on the proposal.

“It helps the committee to hear from the public,” Sherby said. “Everything we’ve heard so far has been on Needmore Road, and we’d like for people to look at the county as a whole.”

Needmore Road, a reference to a 3.3-mile gravel portion of road in Macon and Swain counties that the state has proposed paving and widening, isn’t actually contained in the plan. It’s too far along in the process. But, as is the case in Jackson County with the proposed bypass around N.C. 107, Needmore Road in Macon County has dominated most discussions here when it comes to transportation.

Sherby said the timetable calls for the committee to review the comments, and then to hammer-out a final version of the plan. It could be in front of county commissioners for consideration as soon as the June or July meetings, he said.

 

Want to weigh in?

Comment will be taken from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 24 at Franklin’s town hall.

The suggested Comprehensive Transportation Plan tackles many road issues in Macon County. An adopted plan will give Macon County a leg-up on getting road projects prioritized with the N.C. Department of Transportation, which awards extra points (10 to be exact) when considering suggested improvements.

View the plan at: www.regiona.org/Macon_CTP.htm

Macon County isn’t exactly asking for a recount, but officials here do want to know why the county’s 2010 census numbers fell well short of what they expected — call it more of a pointed request that federal census workers review their data.

After all, Macon might well be the Western North Carolina county that put the most concentrated effort into accurately counting every single resident. County Manager Jack Horton and Planner Derek Roland held census information meetings, such as speaking in front of the League of Women Voters prior to the census, on how important getting an accurate count would prove in the next decade when it comes to Macon County’s financial wellbeing.

The two men explained the U.S. Census determines the amount of money the community might get to support hospitals, job-training centers, schools and more. It directly affects the county’s cut of sale tax revenue. For the town of Franklin, population dictates how much it gets from the state for building sidewalks.

And, they emphasized at that luncheon, the data would help determine elected representation at both the state and federal level. To that end, in an effort to ensure an accurate number, Macon County formed a Complete Count Committee made up of local officials and residents.

 

So what happened?

Horton said he was taken aback last week when the U.S. government released the numbers. Here’s what they showed: Macon County, once touted as one of North Carolina’s fastest-growing counties, simply isn’t that anymore, if the 2010 U.S. census numbers are correct. Macon County lagged behind growth rates posted by neighboring Jackson and Clay counties (noting that when you are as small as Clay County, which went from 8,775 people to 10,587, the percentages are heightened by significantly smaller numbers of people moving in than would be true for larger communities).

Here’s the hard numbers: Macon County grew over the last decade by about 14 percent, with 33,922 people living there. Jackson County had an almost 22 percent growth during that same period, Clay County nearly 21 percent. That increase on either side of the Macon County’s borders frankly strikes Horton as strange — what happened to the growth rate in Macon County, which just a decade ago was chugging along at a 27-percent increase?

Some of that growth-rate decline might just be attributable to the “hidden” residents of Macon County, said longtime county manager and Franklin native Sam Greenwood, who after retiring from county government promptly went back into public service as the town’s manager.

Maybe even more residents are hiding, or not exactly hiding, but more and more Macon County residents perhaps technically live out of state yet are spending ample time in Macon County. Enough time, certainly, to burden a public-service system that receives state and federal funding for far fewer souls, as recorded by U.S. Census counters.

Greenwood, tired of anecdotal evidence and strong suspicions on this very subject, about four years ago encouraged a Western Carolina University student interning with Macon County to review the data. The student, using tax records, electrical hookups and such, found that local government was really providing services to just more than 59,000 residents. About 35,500 of those were fulltime (a higher number, you’ll note, than the just released census number, even discarding any part-time and seasonal residency, as the federal government does).

Brian McClellan, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, said the census showed his county clearly needs to diversify its economic base. Macon County was too reliant, he said, on the home building and real estate sector. Additionally, with discretionary income taking a hit in a sour economic climate, the jobs spurred by tourism that might have attracted newcomers also decreased.

“Jackson County has a university with all the attendant jobs that entails,” said McClellan, a financial advisor in Highlands for Edward Jones. “Even in a difficult economic period, it’s just not hit as hard as other parts of the economy. That university is certainly a very good thing for them, and they have a bigger hospital — people don’t quit getting sick in a poor economy.”

Macon County Schools, like other local school systems in North Carolina, has been warned by state leaders to plan for cuts that could mount as high as 15 percent.

Along with other county departments, the school system will have to make some difficult choices in the days and months to come, Macon County commissioners agreed during a recent work session. Such as tapping into the schools’ fund balance — broadly speaking, the difference between assets and liabilities on its balance sheet — to help reconcile financial needs with actual available dollars.

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman said this week the schools’ current fund balance comes to about $3 million. This money, Brigman noted, includes certain money allocated last summer by the federal government.

“We have worked very hard in the Macon County school system to preserve the fund balance in preparation for the loss of (some state money) to be removed July 1,” Brigman said, which will create an immediate “$2.4 million deficit in our state budget allocations for Macon County as a result of these dollars being taken away.”

Also important to understand, Brigman said, is that additional cuts might well come from the state.

Hard times, however, might call for hard choices.

“I always sound like I’m down on the school board,” Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said, adding that he’s not against school board members — rather, Kuppers emphasized, he’s a big supporter.

However, Kuppers said, “their fund balance is our fund balance — the bottom line is, they can’t look to me for $2.5 million while protecting $3 million … we’ve got to be really smart, and really careful, about what we invest our fund balance in.”

Macon County Manager Jack Horton told commissioners a 15-percent cut by the state to local schools could translate to the loss of 5,000 teaching positions statewide.

Kevin Corbin, a long-time Macon County Board of Education member who stepped in to complete the final two years of commissioner-now-state-senator Jim Davis’ term, said he doesn’t believe the county’s fund balance would be well spent funding continuing expenses such as salaries.

“(But) if this year and next year we have truly bottomed out, then using the fund balance (to bridge the gap) isn’t a bad thing,” Corbin said.

“We’ve had to make some very hard decisions the last three years,” Commission Chairman Brian McClellan said. “It’s going to be more of the same, and nobody is exempt from that.”

Macon County Schools’ entire total budget to operate the school system is $31,579,444.

The situation doesn’t look promising for the formation of a new wilderness area in the Nantahala National Forest, the dream child of Brent Martin, the Sylva-based Southern Appalachian program director for The Wilderness Society.

Martin envisioned easy political passage of the Bob Zahner Wilderness Area. He now acknowledges that his early optimism was misplaced. This veteran environmentalist remains puzzled, however, as to what exactly — politically speaking — happened to what he initially considered a “no-brainer.”

U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, has promised to support the designation, but on this condition: the Macon County Board of Commissioners must first pass a resolution of support. That, however, isn’t likely to happen when the five-man board meets Feb. 8, with a vote for or against the resolution set to take place.

Nor is the vote breaking down along predictable party lines — Democrats for the proposal and Republicans against. In fact, the only certain “yes” vote at this point would be cast by a Republican — Board Chairman Brian McClellan, who represents the Highlands district near where the new Bob Zahner Wilderness Area would be carved out.

A survey of commissioners taken last week by The Smoky Mountain News revealed two flatly against the proposal: Democrat Ronnie Beale and Republican Ron Haven. Two say they are still studying the issue but have reservations about whether it deserves their support: Democrat Bobby Kuppers and Republican Kevin Corbin.

 

What’s at stake

Martin wants to see more wilderness areas designated in North Carolina. He believes in wilderness, he loves the idea of wilderness, and he makes no bones about his commitment to the concept of permanently protecting special areas in these mountains by having them designated wilderness.

A protected, designated wilderness rules out certain uses. Logging, of course. But also machines such as chainsaws and vehicles can’t be used, the biggest sticking point for new Macon County Commissioner Haven.

“There are residences near there,” he said. “What if there is a fire?”

Martin also has run up against fears that a road through the Overflow Wilderness Study Area might eventually be closed to vehicular use. This even though, he said, any local resolution by commissioners and legislation by Congress would specifically spell out that the road would remain open.

The Wilderness Society representative has gotten plenty of support for the concept, but probably not enough to overweigh a thumb’s down from county commissioners. Voting yes to the idea: The Highlands Town Board, Highlands Biological Station, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance, Western North Carolina Alliance and the N.C. Bartram Trail Society, among others.  

So, what happened?

That’s hard to pinpoint, frankly. Martin himself is unsure. In nearby Buncombe County, commissioners there supported his proposal to change the 2,890-acre Craggy Mountains Wilderness Study Area to designated Wilderness without so much as a murmur of protest.

• Did Martin underestimate the power of the word “wilderness” in the farthest reaches of Western North Carolina, where many natives remain emotionally bruised by the forced exodus of residents during the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — and, during World War II, by the creation of Fontana Lake in Swain and Graham counties and Lake Glenville in southern Jackson County?

• Did a forest service recalcitrant to more stipulations placed on forest-health management throw a monkey wrench in the works by raising questions about what a wilderness designation might really mean?

• Or, is the formation of a designated wilderness area simply unnecessary, as several of the commissioners indicate they believe to be the case, because the acres being eyed already have protection as a wilderness study area? As a study area, no road building and no timber management now.

Whatever the truth, Macon County Commission Chairman McClellan wants the issue resolved, and soon. He is more worried about what the $3.7 billion projected state budget shortfall might do to his county.

“We just need to make some kind of decision and move forward,” McClellan said.

 

 

Nuts and bolts

What: The 3,200-acre Overflow Wilderness Study Area southwest of Highlands would be designated the Bob Zahner Wilderness Area. The area is accessible by N.C. 106, Forest Service Road 79 (1.79 miles, accesses the popular Glen Falls trailhead), and the Bartram Trail.

The area contains the headwaters of the West Fork of Overflow Creek and ranges from 2,500 feet to 4,000 feet in elevation. It includes upland oak forest, with some cove hardwoods and white pine, according to the U.S. Forest Service, with most timber stands 60 to 80 years old. There is also old-growth forest in the area, conservations say. Heavy recreational use of the area includes fishing, hiking, camping and backpacking.

Why: The name suggested is in honor of the late Highlands conservationist Bob Zahner. The purpose is to protect this area permanently from logging and any kind of future development.

How: A Wilderness designation would require approval by the U.S. Congress, via legislation introduced by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville. He wants Macon County commissioners’ OK, however, before doing so.

 

Timeline

1979: During the nationwide Roadless Area Review, the Overflow Area was recommended for “further planning.” This meant that additional review was necessary before the Forest Service could recommend the Overflow Area be designated wilderness.

1984: The N.C. Wilderness Act designated the Overflow Area as a Wilderness Study Area. This meant the Forest Service should conduct a wilderness study and make a recommendation to Congress.

1987: The Forest Land Management Plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests recommended the area not be designated a wilderness Area. Usage directions were for semi-primitive, non-motorized recreation.

1991: A bill introduced by then U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor would have released the Overflow Area from the designation as a wilderness study area, but did not make it out of committee.

Source: U.S. Forest Service

The second and final public hearing on whether the N.C. Department of Transportation should widen and pave Needmore Road took place in Macon County last week.

Needmore Road is a rough, one-lane, 3.3-mile gravel road along the Little Tennessee River in Macon and Swain counties. It parallels N.C. 28, but on the opposite bank. The road runs through the protected Needmore Game Lands. A broad coalition of environmentalists, hunters, local residents and others saved the 4,400-acre tract from development some six years ago after raising $19 million to buy the land from Duke Energy.

Twenty-seven people spoke at the recent hearing. Additionally, the entire five-member Macon County Board of Commissioners turned out to listen, along with transportation department officials. These comments come on top of nearly 800 signatures on a petition supporting some type of paving or resurfacing, and at least 66 written comments sent in to the department of transportation earlier. Plus, about 25 people spoke publicly at a previous public hearing last fall.

In a follow-up discussion, DOT spokesperson Julia Merchant told The Smoky Mountain News a post-hearing meeting would be held in about six weeks “to discuss each and every comment that has come in on the Needmore project. Then, we’ll make a decision as to whether future studies will be conducted.”

Merchant said no percentage weight is assigned directly to public support or opposition.

“So I guess you could say it’s more intuitive,” she said. “Public comments certainly weigh in the decision making, but we have to balance them against engineering criteria. We also have to weigh other engineering criteria such as cost, traffic surveys and impacts to the human environment in order to come up with the best solutions.”

Local boards are finding themselves on the wrong end of the dog when it comes to putting together budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

In Jackson and Macon counties, at work sessions held by commissioners in their respective counties last week, much of the discussion at these relatively informal get-togethers involved speculation on when — and what — might be expected from the state General Assembly.

The state, as it were, would be the front end of the dog.

North Carolina is facing a projected $3.7 billion shortfall. Thousands of state jobs are threatened, with massive cuts expected to come for health and human services, schools and other critical services offered on the state and local level.

So, what does that mean for counties?

“There are certain things we have to provide,” said Evelyn Southard, finance officer for Macon County.

And not knowing how much money will come down the pike from the state complicates matters, she said. When counties will know the full extent of the financial devastation is unknown, but that knowledge is critical to local boards starting preparations on budgets for the next fiscal year.

Macon County Manager Jack Horton warned his board that even though members of the General Assembly are making happy noises about having their budget passed by the end of June, August is more typical, and the state has actually lagged before into October.

“We have to have the (ability) to take care of the county business whether the state gets their house in order or not,” said Horton, a veteran administrator who has also worked over the years in Swain and Haywood counties.

 

Jackson faces immediate shortfall

In Jackson County, officials were concerned about staying within this year’s budget in addition to preparing next year’s.

Jackson County must either slow its spending, interim Manager Chuck Wooten said, or the county must dip into the fund balance — those are the two choices facing Jackson’s commissioners. An across-the-board cut for county departments seems the most palatable option of the two, Wooten said.

The problem is not enough people are paying their taxes in Jackson County. A gap between the budgeted tax-collection rate for the current fiscal year, and the actual collection rate occurring so far is 0.62 percent off what was originally projected. Sounds tiny, but that adds up to big bucks: there is a projected revenue shortfall for the current year of $336,004, including failures to pay vehicle taxes.

The recession has taken its toll on all counties when it comes to people paying their taxes. Jackson’s budget for this year assumes a property tax collection rate of 95.4 percent. Last year, the tax collection rate was only 94.8 percent, but county leaders apparently banked on it coming back up.

Wooten said as a result this year’s budget is “too optimistic,” though he stopped short of assigning blame. Wooten replaced longtime County Manager Kenneth Westmoreland in January.

In response, Jackson County commissioners indicated they would probably become more aggressive in tackling tax scofflaws.

“Why have we not gone after this?” Jackson Chairman Jack Debnam asked, presumably of the only two (Democrats) commissioners who remain from the previous board.

Debnam then answered his own question: “I know, we’re a small county — they could be friends and relatives.”

New Commissioner Doug Cody, a Republican, warned his fellow members that favoritism must play no role.

“If we go down this road, it is important to treat everyone equally,” he said.

Macon County leaders, by comparison, were merry about having a mere $34,283 projected discrepancy.

“And I think there’s some room in here for our expenditures and revenues to be even better than is shown here,” Southard said.

In other state-local government news, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners last week passed a list of legislative goals the group wants state leaders to adopt. Beale, who attended the meeting, summarized the top five priority goals of the group:

• Oppose shifting road maintenance from the state to the counties.

• Reinstate Average Daily Membership, a formula that uses school enrollment to determine funding levels, and lottery funds for school construction.

• Ensure adequate mental-health funding by seeking legislation for adequate capacity of state-funded acute psychiatric beds; oppose closing state-funded beds until there is adequate capacity statewide, and seek legislation to maintain the existing levels of state funding for community mental-health services.

• Preserve the existing local-revenue base (don’t take money streams away from already-hurting local governments).

• Authorize local revenue options by allowing counties to enact by resolutions, or at the option of boards of commissioners, by voter referendum any or all revenue options from among those that have been authorized for any other county.

To the Editor:

Clarks Chapel is a delightful and quiet area that in recent years has attracted many people, including retirees, investing in land and homes. They have done so to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of this small part of the mountains.

Mr. Bud Talley is proposing to insert into this lovely area a commercial motocross track, operating it for monetary gain with, in our view, no genuine concern about the effect it would have on his neighbors.

Macon County has no zoning, but like other counties in Western North Carolina it has a high impact ordinance to help reduce the negative effects of intrusive businesses. Mr. Talley needed, and attempted to obtain, a waiver of a key provision of the ordinance so he could proceed with his track, but was refused. So he is now proposing to go ahead with an alternative version, exploiting a loophole in the law that would allow him to operate all day, seven days a week, and which he has openly stated would have greater negative impact on neighbors than his original proposal.  

Talley says that we neighbors “don’t understand,” that motocross racing is not like Hell’s Angels, but is a “family activity.” This is patronizing to us; we know what it is. What he doesn’t mention is that motocross is an extremely noisy and disruptive activity that has huge negative impacts on those living close by. The fact that many such tracks all over the country have attracted lawsuits by neighbors shows clearly that placing motocross in residential areas is in no way positive.

Even the pastor of a nearby church testified in the waiver hearing against his proposal because it would be disruptive to the work of the church.

Talley and others say that he should have the right to do what he wants on his own property. We agree that property rights must be respected. But what does that mean? We have property too. Don’t we have the right to enjoy our properties in peace, to quietly tend to our gardens, sit on our porches on tranquil evenings, and have friends over for dinner and quiet conversation? Talley’s exercising his property right would take away our property rights. Why should his rights take precedence over ours? No one has the right, in exercising his rights, to take away the rights of others. Rights are not absolute. They often conflict, and must always be exercised responsibility.

During the variance hearing Talley magnanimously and publicly offered to place ads in local papers to let us know when races would be held, so we could go somewhere else for the weekend and avoid the noise.  Isn’t that nice!  His idea, apparently, is that it’s OK we neighbors would have to abandon our homes so he can have his races and make money.  This shows to us, as it should to everyone, how out-of-touch he is with understanding the impacts of what he is proposing. We don’t understand what world he is living in, but it’s not a world inhabited by any of us.

Talley has stated that the economic benefits of the track would outweigh the costs. This is patently false. It is an indisputable fact that motocross tracks severely reduce nearby property values. Under real estate sales rules that have been developed by the private sector real estate industry, not any government, the existence of such a track nearby is deemed a negative “material fact,” and must be disclosed to potential buyers. Testimony at the hearing showed that, given the value of property in the vicinity, even a small percentage reduction in value, a very conservative estimate, would diminish surrounding property value by several million dollars. In essence, Tally is trying to make money for himself by robbing us, his neighbors, of our property values that we have invested our own hard-earned money in, and have every right to expect will be protected.

This project will also weigh on the future economy of the county. A highly visible racing facility would send a strong signal that Macon County is unwilling and/or unable to control the development of obnoxious activities, greatly reducing its attractiveness as a place to live and retire. Many persons who have bare land in our area, and planed to build retirement homes, are already on record that they will not do so if this project moves forward. The loss for the county would be enormous.

In sum, this track is a very bad idea. We earnestly hope Mr. Talley will look to the infinity of other ways he can draw income from his property. Given the current lack of protective laws in Macon County, if he goes ahead our only recourse will be the courts, to stop the track or, failing that, seek damages. These strategies have been successful elsewhere, but they only enrich lawyers, who would be happy to take on the ensuing cases that would seek thousands or even millions in damages. We hope not to be forced down that road, but if left with no other choice will have little option but to do so.

John and Janet Binkley

John and Joye Feaster

Lynn Olson

Macon County residents

Editor’s note: Bud Talley, who is planning to build the motocross track, was given the opportunity to respond to this letter but declined.

Bud Talley said this week he plans to move forward on building a dirt-bike track on his farm in Macon County despite opposition from neighbors.

The size and scope of the project hasn’t yet been determined, Talley said, but “something” will be built come spring.

“The economy is failing everywhere, and I’m not sure how much money I want to invest,” the farmer and owner of Nantahala Meats in Franklin said.

Talley set off a firestorm of controversy in Macon County after his neighbors in the largely residential Clarks Chapel community learned he intended to build a dirt-bike track. Talley asked the Macon County Board of Adjustment in December for a setback variance that would have given him the needed wiggle room to build a sanctioned track. He withdrew the variance when board members signaled their intention to deny the request.

More than 100 people turned out for the hearing, most to speak against Talley’s planned dirt-bike track.

Even without a setback, there is apparently nothing to prevent Talley from legally building a dirt-bike track, or motorcross, albeit it smaller than originally intended to comply with the county’s setback requirements. He became interested in the sport because his son is involved in dirt-bike racing.

A single piece of paper can bring all sorts of different things to our lives: the excitement of a love letter or the heartbreak of a Dear John, the frustration of a speeding ticket or the accolades of a diploma, the joy of a birth certificate or the sorrow of a last will and testament. But for one Franklin woman, a single piece of paper brought her the beginning of four decades of artistry and a craft that, she said, she never tires of.

Marcia Roland is a scherenschnitte artist, a specialist in the folk art of paper cutting. Her pieces range in design from simple two-dimensional scenes to intricate, many-tiered 3D works, mostly cut from plain white paper.

Roland said she picked up the hobby nearly 40 years ago when she saw a Scandinavian woman paper cutting at a craft fair at the Asheville Civic Center. She bought one of the artist’s pieces – a boy with a goose and tree – and took it home, where she started experimenting with creating her own replicas. After many attempts, she was finally able to make a scaled version of the 18-inch model to fit into a legal envelope and she promptly started cutting them to use as Christmas cards that year.

“I made close to 50 of those for our Christmas cards and sent them to people and it was at that time that I kind of got hooked,” said Roland. “Then I started to do some research and I discovered the information on the history of it, and then I started to look for patterns.”

Most of what she found was two-dimensional; simple flat patterns and silhouettes. But Roland really loved the 3D work, so she took the flat patterns, modified them, cut them twice then stitched the pieces together with a sewing machine, which is much the same process she still uses today. Her works are one part pattern, one part artistry and one part engineering, as it takes some tinkering and tweaking to finally create templates that are balanced enough to support themselves without being top-heavy or stand freely withouth collapsing. But Roland said that the tweaking is part of the craft’s draw, as is the beauty and delicacy of the art it produces.

Scherennschnitte isn’t a new process. Though there are few remaining examples due to the short life paper, by its nature, enjoys, there is evidence of intricate paper cuttings dating as far back as ninth century China. The practice really saw its vogue, however, in the 17th and 18th centuries, when peasant children and housewives in Germany began cutting intricate folk scenes and designs into carefully saved scraps of excess paper. They were used in children’s games and as inexpensive decorations to adorn the walls and mantles of homes. The word itself – scherenschnitte – is the German term for a silhouette, and can be literally translated as ‘scissors cutting.’

The tradition lived on and was imported to the United States in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, where it found its way into things like lace paper doilies, Valentine’s cards, bookmarks, book plates and Christmas ornaments.

Today, artists around the world employ the process in fine as well as folk art, keeping the tradition alive and adapting it to modern artistry.

Marcia Roland doesn’t see herself as a professional artist, but she has long continued her paper cuts because she loves the process and is always finding inspiration for new pieces. Most of her art features folk scenes and outdoor depictions or is holiday-themed, like a series of nativity scenes or a three-dimensional menorah. But Roland said she just cuts whatever inspires her, whether it be a butterfly on a newspaper advertisement or a catalog photo of a wooden nativity, both of which she’s turned into scherenschnitte designs. Sometimes, she said, she takes cues from her own life, too, about which subjects to cut next.

“I have two grown sons, so at one time that’s what got me to try something with hunters, so I’ve done a few of those,” said Roland. “My husband’s job has taken us all over the country, and that also inspires some of the designs.”

A selection of Roland’s work is now on display at the Macon County Library, where she’s shown it several times since moving back to the area eight years ago. And while for decades, she only made cuttings to give away to friends or keep privately, she’s now taking the age-old art of scherenschnitte to the world, demonstrating at the county fair and loaning her work for display. She has recently considered, she said, holding a class to pass the craft on to others.

And even now, 40 years later, Roland said she intends to continue cutting paper, always seeking a new challenge in the ancient craft that has never gotten old.


On display
Marcia Roland’s work can be seen through the end of January at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin.

People for and against the state Department of Transportation’s plans to pave and widen a 3.3-mile section of Needmore Road have another opportunity to tell officials what they think this month.

At the request of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, the transportation department will hold a second public hearing Jan. 25 in Macon County. The state agency fulfilled public law by holding one last fall in Swain County — the road connects Macon and Swain — but Macon leaders wanted to ensure their residents had a say, too.

You do not have to live in Macon County to participate in the public hearing.

“Both counties are involved in this matter, and given geography, there is no convenient location for a meeting to serve both counties. In my opinion, Bryson City was chosen because DOT perceived a better chance of turning people out who would be favorable to their agenda,” Bill McLarney, an expert on the Little Tennessee River (which parallels Needmore Road) and biomonitoring director for the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, wrote in an email.

“… I think it is particularly important to reinforce the will of the Macon County Commission by reminding them that their predecessors (and their Swain County counterparts) voted unanimously to support the Needmore acquisition, and that this is something of which we should all be very proud,” McLarney wrote.  

Needmore Road cuts through the Needmore Game Lands, located in Macon and Swain counties. The 4,400-acre tract was protected after a coalition of environmentalists, hunters, local residents and others saved it from development after raising $19 million to buy the land from Duke Power.

What’s being decided is whether to pave and widen this gravel section of Needmore Road to a minimum of 18 feet, with construction work on the roadway’s shoulders.

Most of the major environmental groups in the region have given the nod to paving, citing protections to the Little Tennessee River, which is the beneficiary of dust and sedimentation. The groups have stopped short of endorsing the road widening as proposed, however. That would involve cutting into and removing acidic rock, which carries an inherent danger to the environment.

 

Want to go

When: Pre-hearing from 4:30-6:30 p.m.; open house starts at 7 p.m.

Where: Iotla Valley Elementary/Cowee School, 51 Cowee School Drive, Franklin.

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