Towns County, Georgia: Watershed Highlights 2015

The Mining Gap of 1960’s to become a county park

Hiawassee, Ga., Jan. 6, 2016 – Three Murphy, N.C. men made a doomed attempt in 1963 to mine quartzite/silica from the very top of 3,420-foot Bell Mountain here north of this county seat. The mountain towers above Lake Chatuge, the scenic TVA reservoir impounding the Hiwassee River. (Yes, the name’s spelled differently for the town and the river.)

The investors blasted the bald for what appears to have been a few weeks’ work, despite a state-government report finding no market for quartzite/silica. For more than a half-century, their mining gap has been a sad symbol of exploitation of the minerals before the 1972 Clean Water Act and 2009 TVA Mountain Reservoirs Land Management Plan.

HERE AT HIS Towns government’s beautiful new Recreation and Conference Center tonight, Sole Commissioner Bill Kendall signed an ordinance “accepting on behalf of Towns County citizens the gift from the Hal Herrin estate of the 18-acre summit of Bell Mountain.”

This deserves steady tracking during 2016. It provides for the property to be designated Bell Mountain County Park and Historical Site with an observation deck called the Hal Herrin Scenic Overlook. The commissioner added: “Herrin shared my desire of protecting Bell Mountain from the scars of commercial or private development and to preserve it for all future generations to enjoy its beauty.”

A Powerpoint show running on a video screen behind the commissioner was displaying off-road vehicle use of the mountainside that persists today and has made the county road into a deep trough. “The challenge we have now is to make a road out of it,” Kendall said. He has $150,000 in his fiscal 2016 budget for “a one-lane road with turnouts” and the work will begin “when the weather clears up.”

Grover C. Mauney, Dr. Walter Mauney and, Dr. William A. Hoover formed Hiawassee Stone Co. in May 1963. Someone not identified in Ga. Secretary of State public records quietly dissolved the stone company in January 2001.

Hal Herrin died at 87 in 2009. The World War II Marine veteran owned H.M. Herrin and Associates advertising agency in Atlanta and retired to Young Harris. He and E.N. Dowdy bought Bell Mountain Land Lot 71 from Georgia Baptist Foundation Inc. in 1971 for $60,000, according to Towns County Deed Book T-1 page 80.

“We’re just glad the Top of the Bell is going to be preserved,” said Anna Herrin, a daughter. “Daddy didn’t want to see it ever blasted again.”

Recent Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition action steps here include:
-Shoreline restoration and education at the low water boat ramp east of Hiawassee in partnership with the Lake Chatuge Rotary Club;
-Water quality monitoring (including E. coli) monthly at seven locations on streams and the river flowing to the lake and three stations in Lake Chatuge (including the swim beach); and
-Continued implementation of the Lake Chatuge Watershed Action Plan (Priority 1)

FARTHER WEST on Ga. 515, City of Young Harris leaders in 2015 “served their community and the watershed well,” Callie Moore wrote on the HRWC web site. “They chose to replace old, eroding culverts under Sunset Drive with a modern ‘bottomless culvert’ design. This not only allows vehicles to safely cross Corn Creek, it also allows fish and aquatic life safe passage underneath.”

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