Union County, Georgia: Watershed Highlights 2014

A model small-town venue for produce that’s home grown

By Tom Bennett
Special to Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition

Blairsville, Ga., Jan. 16, 2015 – The Union County Farmer’s Market on Old Smokey Road is another example of what can happen in this watershed when determined leaders have genuine vision, make concrete plans and carry them out.

“It’s amazing how much our farmer’s market has grown since the days when it was held here in the courthouse parking lot and we were thrilled to have twenty vendors,” said Commissioner Lamar Paris.

Officially launched in 2011, the facility added a third shed in June 2014. Sheds! What an insufficient term for the spacious open sales areas beneath soaring roofs 40 feet wide and 150 feet long. “The third shed quickly filled with vendors,” Paris said. “The canning plant broke all previous records. Large crowds in the thousands attended each week and it could not have been a better season.”

What quietly lingers long in the thoughts of children of the southern U.S. as to what’s the best promotion that you could possibly have? Is it a dunk tank, a tractor pull or the aerial flight of astonished marsupials? No, Union County Farmer’s Market arrived at the best of all, if you ask me. It was last August’s Tomato Sandwich Day.

“The volunteers were incredible as they worked for hours steadily making the sandwiches and the public kept eating them,” Paris recalled. “Logan Turnpike Mills donated 65 loaves of homemade bread and 7M Family Farms and Dean Smith Farms donated 500 tomatoes. The sandwiches were cut in half and we served 800 people. If you did not get a sandwich, you missed something delicious.”

And speaking of volunteers, numerous volunteers have worked hundreds of hours enhancing the streamside area along Butternut Creek at the farmer’s market. This stream once frequented by livestock was thick with nonnative invasive plants until the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition began work there. Now, very few weeds remain and beautiful native trees are providing shade for people and fish alike.

THE NEWEST ELEMENT of environmental protection plus aesthetics and increased safety opened in October 2014. It’s the Ivy Log Creek Bridge on U.S. 19-129 Murphy Highway six miles north of Blairsville built by Ga. Dept. of Transportation and Talley Construction of Rossville, Ga. The 3,776-foot structure spans the largest reach of Nottely Reservoir, impounded by a 1942 dam on a key Hiwassee River tributary.

For there to be a four-lane Murphy Highway from Blairsville to the North Carolina state line has been one of Commissioner Lamar Paris’ fondest dreams since taking office in 2001. However, this new span at Ivy Log Creek with two 12-footers and a left-turn lane doesn’t accommodate the design GDOT envisions for the entire length of the roadway to Carolina.

“It was stated the traffic did not warrant the four-lane future widening project and funding may not be available,” according to the minutes of the 2009 concept design meeting in Gainesville, Ga. (Georgia’s own proposed stretch from the state line north to U.S. 64 got a rating of 13 out of 100 in NCDOT’s new “statewide mobility” planning in 2014.)

CITY OF BLAIRSVILLE’S Haralson Project is pending for commercial buildings and access ramp from the town center to Ga. 515. It turns on a federal designation for a stream on-site — and what mitigation is to come as a result.

During an interview, county commissioner Paris quickly used his hand-held device to phone his environmental specialist and ask, “What’s that word for the stream on the Haralson Project?” “Ephemeral,” the environmental specialist replied.

THE COUNTY awaits EPA approval to upgrade its Deep South Farm Road transfer station and recycling center. The upgrade would “increase the size of it so it doesn’t get such a backup,” Commissioner Paris said. “It would separate out private and commercial (vehicles).”

A 2014 Electronics Recycling Day was “a huge success,” he said. I broke in to say: “That must have highlighted the changeover that’s going on now to the type of device you have in your hand.” “Yes,” Paris replied. “A lot of hard drives bit the dust that day.”

Tom Bennett of the Martins Creek community near Murphy, N.C., is a retired newsman, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition member/volunteer/donor and recipient of the 2015 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award. E-mail him at farblumtn07@gmail.com