The cars were used routinely in years past in Swain and Jackson counties to stabilize the Tuckasegee’s banks and prevent erosion. Local residents remember them being dumped there about five decades ago, and some said time has softened the ugliness into familiarity.
“I think we’re so used to it we don’t pay too much attention to them,” said Lois Walker, who runs Walker’s Flea Market along the Tuckasegee near Bryson City. “Back then, you didn’t have a choice. You had to build the banks up. We had floods in the springtime that came right up to the road.”
But these days, more and more boaters and fishermen are using the river, and the cars could prove more than an aesthetic problem. They might actually pose a danger, said Roger Clapp, director of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River, a group dedicated to improving the Tuckasegee’s water quality and habitat.
Clapp said mounting a cleanup hinges on whether there is a definable health and safety hazard, and if the community wants to fix the situation.
“I’m just starting to make the contacts now,” he said.
Some residents expressed indifference toward a cleanup.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Billy McFall, who between ringing up customers at Cooper Creek General Store on U.S. 19 recalled how floodwaters had once dislodged a car and washed it farther down the Tuckasegee.
For business owners with stores flanking the river, however, the old-timey stabilization method is a critical issue. Loretta Monsen of Destiny’s Thrift and Craft Supply Store estimated she’s lost three feet of property to the Tuckasegee.
“I agree they are an eyesore, but unless there’s another solution, they can’t come out,” she said. “I’d love to see it look pretty, but it’s not going to be pretty either if my house is sitting in the river.”
Clapp said determining possible solutions — such as entombing the cars, burying them under riprap or removing them — would require extensive engineering. He said one of the next steps is mapping the extent of the problem.