The famed scenic motorway winds through the best scenery the mountains have to offer, studded with overlooks to stop and soak in the views. The section of the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Smoky Mountains boasts the highest elevation and most panoramic ridgelines of the 469-mile route.
No doubt one of the most famous motorcycle routes in the world, the Tail of the Dragon offers 318 curves in 11 miles. There are plenty of great rides on roads off U.S. 129 so its best to plan your trip before you go. A great resource is tailofthedragon.com. The route is ranked No. 3 in the nation by American Motorcyclist magazine.
Long corners and endless vistas make this sky-high road and enthusiasts dream.
Serving up 60 miles of scenic mountain cruising, the Skyway climbs to 5,400 feet from Robbinsville to Tellico Plains, Tenn. But be prepared. There are no restrooms or gas stations along the 36-mile Skyway.
U.S. 441 twists and winds its way from the Oconaluftee River Valley up and over a 5,000 foot divide in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering long-range views, forested tunnels and rushing rivers. The scenic route is studded with points of interest, including the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, Mingus Mill, picnic areas or Clingmans Dome.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and All-American Road that winds for 469 miles from the southern end of Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive in Virginia to U.S. 441 at Oconaluftee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee.
Motorcyclists have always been a distinct subset of the American population, long before they gained infamy in Hunter S. Thompson’s Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, published by Random House in 1966; Marlon Brando gave credibility to the “outlaw” stereotype in the 1953 biker flick “The Wild One,” and James Dean solidified it in the 1955 movie “Rebel Without a Cause.”
A loud roar echoed from the back of the building. The deafening sound is terrifying, yet exhilarating, with the smell of burning oil and gasoline permeating through the air.
A loud roar echoed from the back of the building. The deafening sound is terrifying, yet captivating, heightened by the smell of oil and gasoline. A cloud of smoke wafted through the air, evoking the power and intrigue of a mechanical performance about to unfold.
“It’s more than the sound,” Dale Walksler said, straddling a 1928 Harley-Davidson Hillclimber. “It’s also the sight, smell and taste. Starting this motorcycle up achieves all of your sensitivities.”
When he was a young boy, Jason Hardin fell in love.
It was a 1973 Harley-Davidson Sportster. Owned by his father, Hardin remembers watching his dad kick-start the bike in their basement.
A motorcycle rally initially planned to take over the streets of downtown Franklin in August has been given the boot, albeit a gentle one, and now will instead have to set up camp in a large field on the outskirts of town.
Fears that 4,000 bikers would cause too much disruption downtown prompted town leaders to nix Main Street as a venue for the rally. Although the rally was recruited by the town’s tourism authority in hopes of give downtown merchants an economic boost, the drawbacks — including a prolonged street closure of Main Street — ultimately seemed unworkable to the town board.
The new location in a field along Highlands Road will still bring business into downtown without the negative side effects, town leaders hope.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said. “We’re anxious to have the participants come to town, but obviously this is a new endeavor for us, and so we’ve settled on a location in town but not downtown. We’re starting out conservatively.”
Franklin’s motorcycle rally will rumble into town Aug. 17 through 19.
The rally hit a major roadblock in April when town leaders balked at shutting down a portion of Main Street for up to four days at the height of the tourist season.
The rally organizer, Scott Cochran of Georgia, had asked the town to shut down Main Street from Riverview to Harrison Avenue from the night of Thursday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 19. Plus he requested the option of shutting down even more of the main thoroughfare in the throes of the rally if larger crowds dictated doing so.
Franklin has 3,600 residents — compared to an estimated 4,000 motorcycle riders that are expected to flood into town for the rally. Among the concerns: a bandstand would have been placed directly in front of a funeral home.
Though the town never officially said ‘no,’ leaders likewise never officially sanctioned the idea of having the rally downtown.
Cochran did not return phone messages seeking comment.
Summer Woodard, who serves as the town’s staff person to the Franklin Tourism Development Authority, which recruited the rally, said that after the downtown site was nixed the rally’s organizers eyed a large field on U.S. 441 used for large festivals, such as annual gem shows.
That didn’t work, either, because of scheduling conflicts, she said. But a site in a field on Highlands Road just inside the town’s limits has worked out. It will cost promoters a total of $1,500 to rent the site, money that Woodard said would come from the $15,000 already given to Cochran to promote the rally from the town’s tourism agency.
“No more money will be given,” Woodard said.
Alderman Bob Scott, a vocal critic of how the rally has been handled or not handled to date, still isn’t happy about what’s taking place even with the change in venue. He said he has lingering questions about safety, crowd control and health that aren’t being addressed.
“I still don’t believe there’s any planning,” he said. “But I’m beginning to believe I’m just beating a dead horse to death. Who knows, it may be the most successful thing there’s ever been in Franklin, but I have my doubts.”
Merchants in Franklin generally seem supportive of the rally, though they can be forgiven if there’s lingering confusion over where exactly the event will take place. Most were unclear exactly where the rally will now be held. Downtown merchants, once told of the Highlands Road location by a reporter, said they hope the motorcyclists still make it into their stores.
“It won’t be the same business that we might have had, but that’s alright,” said Betty Sapp of Rosebud Cottage on Main Street, which features items for the home. “They might still come downtown.”
Joan Robertson of Macon Furniture Mart on Main Street believes the rally will be good for Franklin.
“I think motorcyclists get a bad rap. I know some fine upstanding individuals who ride motorcycles,” she said. “I hope they come downtown and check us out.”
Robertson said she doesn’t expect to see a lot of furniture sold during a motorcycle rally, but she said that the exposure could help the town in the future.
“One day they might be back to Franklin to buy a cabin — then they’d know we have a furniture store,” Robertson said.
Michael Stewart of Jamison Jewelers doesn’t think the motorcycle rally will do that much for the pockets of merchants whether it’s held downtown or not.
“Typically when we have something downtown there’s not much business going on,” Stewart said. “They’re not here to shop. They are here to do whatever the festivities are.”
In contrast, Maryann Ingram, who does massages at A Rainbow of Healing Hands on Highlands Road directly across from where the rally will take place, sees plenty of potential clients out of all those motorcyclists.
“Hopefully it’ll bring me some business with them sitting on their butts for as long as they do,” she said. “I know a lot of people are afraid of them but it’s no big deal. Anything to bring people into town.”
Thomas Corbin of Mountain Top Coins on Highlands Road wasn’t as certain the rally would prove a good thing.
“Things can get out of hand,” Corbin said. “If they’ll come in and spend money in town and not destroy it I don’t have a problem with it. But you’re going to have more bikers than town residents.”
Franklin’s planned motorcycle rally hit a major roadblock this week when town leaders balked at shutting down a portion of Main Street for up to four days at the height of the tourist season.
The rally had been lauded by town leaders and tourism players for its potential economic boost, but organizers of the rally now want a larger section of Main Street closed and for more days than initially thought. The rally is scheduled for Aug. 17 to 19.
Promoter Scott Cochran appeared at a town meeting this week and asked the town to shutdown Main Street from Riverview to Harrison Avenue from the night of Thursday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 19. Plus he requested the option of shutting down even more of the main thoroughfare if larger crowds dictated doing so.
Cochran has estimated up to 4,000 bikers could take part in the Smoky Mountain Rumble. Franklin’s population is 3,600. As the situation stands now, a bandstand is intended to be the focal point for rally entertainment and good times: It would be placed directly in front of a funeral home, prompting an additional tide of unhappy concerns and questions from town leaders.
Members of Franklin’s Tourism Development Authority, where the idea for a rally germinated, have talked up the event as a means of attracting dollars and visitors into downtown Franklin. The town’s tourism board awarded the rally a grant of nearly $15,000 to help promote the rally.
Town aldermen appeared reluctant to shut down Main Street for such a long stretch, however.
Additionally, Alderman Billy Mashburn flatly told Cochran that the discretion to close or not close more of Main Street would not be left to them, either, if he has his druthers.
“And I’m not willing to shutdown Main Street for this many days,” he added for good measure.
Alderman Bob Scott, who has been a vocal critic of what he’s characterized as a lack of planning regarding such a large rally, also protested such an extended shutdown. He then questioned why, in his view, the promoters had been so slow to come before the town board.
“This is not in the best interest in Franklin,” Scott said of the shutdown and the rally in general. “Why are you just now coming before this town board, right now, when this has the potential of disrupting this town for three days?”
Cochran apologized, talked of the constraints of running a small business, then acknowledged that he and his wife should have been on the agenda in January or so.
Planning for the rally has been underway for at least six months on the part of Franklin’s tourism agency.
Scott also raised questions about safety at the rally and about overtime costs for extra officers to police the event. Alderman Ferrell Jamison pointed out that if Main Street and side streets are shutdown to accommodate the bikers then town police would be out in force.
“These are one way streets and the city police would have to route traffic around,” Jamison said. “You’d have to have (officers) at every traffic light — that would be a nightmare.”
Jamison said that he wanted to see maps and a plan in place to handle emergency calls in the town in the event the streets are closed as requested.
Franklin lawyer Russell Bowling, who was in the audience at the town board meeting, also protested such an extended closing during the regular workweek. His office is located in the area being targeted for the rally.
The placement of the bandstand in front of the funeral home particularly concerned Mayor Joe Collins. The placement is desirable, according to the organizers, because then bikers could drink alcoholic beverages from the across-the-street Motor Company Grill. Collins said the odds were high that a visitation or a funeral would be taking place at least on one of those evenings. He did not seem reassured by the promoters’ promises to turn off the music and shut down the party while that possible event unfolded.
Alderman Sissy Pattillo defended the rally plans. She urged the board “to work together” for the good of Franklin to make the event successful.
“We’ll never know until we go through this one time,” Pattillo said. “If we go through this one time and it doesn’t work, that’s it.”
Cochran was asked to return to the board again with more detailed plans. The promoter indicated he likely would scale down his request.
Scott publicly chastised his fellow town board members in an email sent following the meeting, basically saying he’d told them so — which, in fact, he had.
“For six or seven months I have been raising concerns about the biker rally and the operation of the Franklin TDA,” Scott wrote. “I have repeatedly brought these concerns to my fellow board members and the mayor and not a one of them has responded. Then, when it was obvious that the promoters of the Smoky Mountain Rumble and the TDA could not answer even basic questions about this rally … board members acted like they had never heard there might be problems.”
To hear Franklin Alderman Bob Scott tell it, fellow town leaders and tourism experts haven’t begun to adequately plan for and consider what an influx of some 4,000 bikers could mean to a small town of 3,500 residents.
Franklin will hold its first-ever town sanctioned motorcycle rally Aug. 17-19. The town plans to block off streets downtown for motorcycle-specific vendors to set up, plus have live bands providing entertainment during the day on Franklin’s town square at the gazebo. Also on tap is a beer garden to help slake the thirst of motorcyclists.
To say this is new for Franklin, a fairly staid mountain community in most respects, is to indulge in understatement. But, hard economic times have communities such as this one willing to experiment in the name of attracting additional dollars from tourist billfolds.
That’s not enough reason, in Scott’s book at least, to ignore possible planning-preventable pitfalls.
“Every other festival we have ever had in here has come to and worked with the town board,” Scott said. “This outfit has never come to the town board, despite this having the probability of being the biggest impact event we’ve ever had here.”
USRider News out of Georgia will be putting on and orchestrating the rally. It received a $14,000 grant from the Franklin Tourism Development Authority to market the event, using proceeds from the town’s 3-percent tax on overnight lodging.
Scott Cochran, publisher of USRider News, said Tuesday that they hope to talk to the Franklin Board of Aldermen next month.
Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said he believes the town simply won’t know if the motorcycle rally was a good move until it has happened.
“I am certain the event is being tendered and proffered in good faith and in the belief that it would be beneficial,” said Collins, who is a veteran attorney in Macon County.
The mayor said the modern motorcycle rally tends to be “a different breed of animal” than they once were. Motorcyclists, he noted, “have gone from the have nots to the haves,” and have the money and means that go with professional lifestyles.
“We’re obviously going to try it, then we will be able to gauge its value much more after we have one,” Collins said.
Scott, like Collins, emphasized that he, too, believes rallies have come a long way from their once scruffy, rowdy and hard-partying days.
“I’ve had three motorcycles myself,” Scott said. “But, this is something more than just a family reunion. Where are we going to put 4,000 people for three days? My feeling is that a biker rally just isn’t in keeping with what Franklin is. But, it looks like it’s a done deal.”
Maggie Valley, king of motorcycle rallies in WNC with five on its calendar this year, has grappled at times with the onslaught of bikes on the town’s roads. But while Maggie Valley and Cherokee, too, have long hosted motorcycle rallies, they generally are held in fields and outdoor festival venues rather than directly in downtowns.
Cochran, the promoter, said he believes Franklin will be happy with the results of its first motorcycle rally.
“There are always going to be some concerns we won’t be able to address until the event happens,” Cochran said Tuesday. “It’s just going to take the rally happening to see what we are saying is true.”
An informal survey of merchants and business employees on Main Street seemed to mainly reveal curiosity about what this could mean for Franklin, with the hope that cash registers will be working overtime.
“We’ve never had a problem with those motorcyclists who come through Franklin,” said Linda McKay of N.C. Mountain Made. “Their wives always want to shop.”
McKay said that the downtown closing will take place from Macon County’s Courthouse to Harrison Avenue, which means downtown businesses won’t suffer. That area is fairly limited in nature, to funeral homes, a restaurant and a few other places.
“Bob (Scott) is the only one I’ve heard about who is against it,” McKay said. “But anytime you have anything going on downtown, it helps the merchants.”
Rennie Davant, who volunteers at the Macon County Art Association’s Uptown Gallery, agreed with McKay. A recent downtown festival, she said, “brought people in, and it was fun.”
Davant noted that it was about 2 p.m. on a Saturday and that this reporter was only the fifth person to cross the store’s threshold. A little more customer action, she said, would be nice. Davant had been whiling away time talking by phone with her sister.
“We’re all for it,” Tony Hernandez hollered out emphatically from his place in the kitchen of Life’s Bounty Gift Shop and Bakery/ Café. Hernandez added that by then the store planned to be serving food in a banquet room downstairs and hoped to be offering beer and wine by then, too.
Betty Sapp, who works two days each week at Rosebud Cottage on Main Street, was slightly more reserved than Hernandez.
“If the motorcyclists are well behaved, I have no objections because it will bring business into town,” Sapp said. “If it is an unruly crowd, next year will be a different thing. But, our economy needs a shot of help.”
Maggie Valley’s town board has decided not to play favorites when it comes to the growing number of motorcycle rallies revving up to claim a piece of the two-wheeled action at the town festival grounds.
Maggie Valley will be home to at least five motorcycle rallies this year — a crowded field that led two longtime rally organizer to seek a reprieve. Too many motorcycle rallies, particularly in close proximity to each other, hurt their ability to draw patrons. There simply aren’t enough bikers to support all the rallies, prompting organizers to ask the town for exclusive windows when no other rallies will be held.
But, the town board last week unanimously denied the request from Thunder in the Smokies for a four-week window of protection around its two annual motorcycle rallies put on by Handlebar Corral Productions.
“This is a complicated issue and having this protection window in here is not as cut and dry as some people would like to think it is,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone. “My opinion is that for 2012 we should not handle this issue on the fly.”
The town board agreed at its most recent meeting to maintain the status quo and revisit the issue of protection windows for events in 2013.
“We are trying to do what’s best for Maggie,” said Alderman Phil Aldridge. “We need a year to think about it; we need six months.”
In December, Chris Anthony, a promoter with the company, sent a letter to town leaders, asking “that there be a minimum of four consecutive weeks before and after of no other motorcycle related events.” For the past nine years, Handlebar Corral Production has put on Thunder in the Smokies at the festival grounds twice a year — one in the fall and in the spring.
It came after a similar request by Rally in the Valley, put on by the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association. Rally in the Valley gave Maggie leaders an ultimatum: either bar any other motorcycle festivals during the fall or the event would be no more. The town denied that request as well, and the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers made good on their threat by pulling its event from Maggie Valley’s calendar.
Rather than tackle the problem this year when most plans have already been set, the town decided it would consider such requests for events in 2013.
The town eliminated most of the fees associated with using the festival grounds in the hopes that the prospect of a cheap-to-use venue would attract more events. And, for this reason, Alderman Saralyn Price said the town should not be beholden to each promoter’s requests.
“We are giving it away,” Price said. “We should not be letting people tell us how to run the festival grounds.”
Beginning with next year’s events, each request will be weighed on a case-by-case basis though the town does hope to pen a more formal application process for promoters who want to use the festival grounds.
“We are trying to rewrite the rules while the game is going on,” DeSimone said. He added that the town already tries to separate similar events to ensure that it gets the most out of each. If the town decided to schedule two motorcycle rallies on consecutive weekends, for instance, it would be unlikely to realize a large profit from either event.
Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie, said that the valley is not the only place running into these conundrums. While vacationing in Myrtle Beach, O’Keefe said she heard a news story state that town officials there considered cancelling all its rallies because of on-going problems with promoters.
“Everybody thinks all of this only happens in Maggie Valley,” she said.
On the heels of its decision about Thunder in the Smokies, Maggie’s town board approved yet another motorcycle rally coming to town. Event organizer Charlie Cobble originally planned on doing a car show in May but told the town he wanted to rebrand it as the Maggie Valley Spring Bike Fest after research showed that a car event would not fair well.
“We did not do a lot of the leg work that we should have done,” Cobble admitted. “We did not want to spend the money and not bring the people.”
According to his research, only 15 percent of people surveyed said they would attend a car show. Cobble said he did not want to back out of his commitment to host an event and did not want to hold an unsuccessful one either. So, in the interest of making money for both himself and the town, Cobble requested the change.
Cobble said he has already spent about $7,400 and begun lining up vendors, sponsors and bands. And, luckily for Cobble, the town denied the Thunder in the Smokies request for exclusivity, which would have prevented him from hosting another motorcycle rally in May.
That same night, the Maggie Valley aldermen also added three additional events to its festival grounds calendar and lined up another event for 2013.