Example of a typical conversation when a Pickens resident travels outside of this area.
Other person: “So, where do you live?”
You: “I live in Jasper, Ga.”
Other person: “Jasper, huh? Where is that?”
You: “It’s just south of Ellijay, where they have the apples, and just north of Canton.”
Other person: “Oh, right. I remember passing through there.”
For travelers, this county’s pretty trees and hills seem to get admired only from the car window as motorists zip past on the way to somewhere else.
Despite Jasper being dubbed the “First Mountain City” we’re not quite mountain, not quite suburbs, and are left with somewhat of an identity crisis when it comes to tourism. Unlike Gilmer to the north we have practically no public access areas for outdoor activities like hiking and fishing, and we lack the retail/commercial appeal of Cherokee to the south.
In the fall of last year, after rivers of cars funneled through Pickens to the Apple Festival in Ellijay, we ran an editorial about our lack of curb appeal along the Hwy 515 corridor. Why would travelers stop at a spot on the fourlane when they don’t know there’s a neat town to come to?
The retail businesses along the freeway provide some indication of life, but as we have said before, they offer absolutely no clue of the charming and historic places Jasper has to offer within a few minutes of the traffic signals on Highway 515 – places like the Old Jail, the historic wooden bridge, the Talking Rock schoolhouse, the Tate House, or the retail shops on Main Street. Chain businesses such as Captain D’s or Waffle House, while nice to have, are never going to entice people to slow down and make a detour.
Time and again our editorial board has called attention to the need for economic development here that makes sense and that will be effective but that also maintains the charming, rural feel of Pickens. At a recent SPLOST planning meeting, the Pickens County Board of Commissioners and the mayors of Jasper, Nelson and Talking Rock began hammering out details about capital projects that will be included on the 2014 SPLOST, a referendum that will appear on the March ballot. While leaders are in agreement that road projects are the main concern with impending state cutbacks from GDOT, Jasper Mayor John Weaver suggested a gateway beautification project along Hwy 515 as part of the SPLOST projects and we couldn’t agree more.
The beautification project, which would include landscaping, signage, and other improvements on the Hwy 515 corridor, would go a long way towards encouraging travelers to explore our county and would also, we believe, encourage more growth in Jasper’s downtown area.
Weaver went on to point out that when traveling north on Highway 75 from Miami to Highway 575 and eventually to Highway 515, Pickens has the unique feature of being the first county where traffic signals are located on the interstate. This feature could be used to create separate gateway areas for travelers to enjoy, and to encourage them to slow down and make that turn to explore Jasper, Tate or Nelson.
We agree that roads are a main priority for our elected officials, and that the increased fire protection and library expansion are also important, but with a projected $24 to $27 million expected to be collected for the next SPLOST, if it passes, some of that funding would wisely be allocated for a more exciting, (and much less costly) project that would boost our economic development and help support and grow local business.
It’s time to put some curb appeal out on the fourlane to draw visitors into the charming spots found in Pickens County.