By Dan Pool, editor
Last week I had the opportunity to be one of them – a tourist, a visitor, one of those people visiting North Georgia; those whose thoughts and feelings are endlessly speculated upon by business owners and event planners.
It provided a unique perspective to roll into Pickens County on two wheels as part of the 33rd BRAG ride along with 1,100 other cyclists plus their families. It was also interesting to keep my ears open without immediately divulging my hometown and to hear what others thought of our area.
Here are some thoughts and observations.
First, no one had anything bad to say about Pickens County other than one woman who went on a rant in front of another Jasper rider about how “you locals must think it’s funny to watch people from the flatlands try to ride up our hills.” Truth be told, it is funny, but the locals don’t plan the routes, BRAG personnel do.
Aside from topography, there were no negative comments on Jasper that I heard. Even the infamous Blue Building in downtown that creates such acrimony here apparently didn’t merit any mention among those passing through that day. Maybe we’re a little over-sensitive to it here, as we see it every day.
Trying to be unbiased, I would rate Jasper as having the most picturesque downtown of the other stops on the ride, which included Dalton, Fort Oglethorpe, Winder, Roswell and Mt. Airy.
The City of Jasper should be commended for its efforts along Main Street. No other town had anything to match the streetscape, marble monument and trees on our Main Street. Even the rock garden water park, another downtown landmark that frequently draws criticism, makes an interesting point that provides some character to our town.
However, it must also be noted Jasper ranked last in terms of street life, as in hustle and bustle, dining and shopping. Obviously Roswell and Dalton boast considerably bigger populations. But even at Mt. Airy, there were more restaurants, shops and stores to visit in the nearby downtowns of Cornelia and Clarkesville.
And get this: several restaurants in Dalton said they had opened up especially for BRAG as it hit town on a Sunday night, and they normally would not have been open.
Around Winder, it was striking to see the number of (apparently) new and large industrial/commercial areas. Whatever they are doing there, our economic development people should maybe pay attention.
Conversely, along the ride on most days, there were large empty subdivisions with locked gates at the front and no houses on the curb-guttered and landscaped streets beyond. Pickens is certainly not alone in having seen large scale residential plans utterly flop.
From my undercover experience as a tourist here, I can say that this community can be proud of the image Jasper/Pickens presents to those passing through. There is always a fear that people may not like your hometown, especially when it is a smaller one. But have no worries. We stack up well.
That said, it is also clear Pickens remains near the back of the pack in terms of downtown commerce. The idea the recession alone is the cause for commercial lethargy along Main is maybe not the whole answer. Clearly we lack something. Finding what we lack is something community leaders might address by looking first at why surrounding areas manage to attract a larger share of the limited commerce and growth still occurring.