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September 2019
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Staff Editorials

Driving the RV issue

Damon Howell, Staff

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RVs provide all the comforts of home: bathroom, hot water, kitchen, air conditioning, furnace and shelter. They come fully functional and furnished— ready to live in, which is why they appeal to anyone needing immediate shelter. They’re perfect for people looking to downsize— RVs maximize use of low square footage in ways that manufactured homes (MH) don’t, like with cubby storage. Many RVers traded in conventional homes to declutter and adopted minimalism.

Building codes make a big deal out of energy consumption, and in ways RVs are more efficient than MHs: they take a fraction of the energy to heat/cool due to their small footprint; their refrigerators run on either electricity or propane; appliances/electronics are made to run on limited battery power; water faucets are made to rely on limited water supplies. 

Codes are more concerned with safety of occupants, you say? Park Model RVs may be as safe as manufactured homes, provided they’re raised on blocks and anchored to the ground in the same fashion. Fire issues are nearly non-existent, maybe because there's no room inside to retrofit a wood burning stove, as MH occupants so often do.

Small spaces are not for everyone and some people can barely get through a weekend camping trip because of their claustrophobia. But for others it's perfect, especially for a single person with limited money.

I've watched many YouTube’ers sharing their RV experiences. Throughout the years, I’ve heard a common sentiment: they don't want to be tied down to a traditional mortgage at this time in their lives. RVing frees up their money to spend on experiences. The younger generation has seen their parents and grandparents lose their homes far too often and can't justify following the same path to misery and regret. There's older folks too. Their reasons seem to follow the lines of post-divorce and lack of money. They can’t support the ex and kids and pay for a house at the same time. 

What about sewage disposal? The county told me RVs must be hooked up to septic systems, and that was the only requirement. Electricity? Thankfully RVs are made to be off-grid, so solar panels or a generator are the only options. Water supply? A well. 

The county doesn't want to be responsible in case of tragedy, right? Well, living in any structure, approved or not, is at the occupants own risk. Fires break out and trees fall on houses all the time. What if someone lived in an RV, a tree fell on it and killed that person? Would it be less tragic if they were killed in an approved MH? In this case, the county's preference for a code-compliant manufactured home is a moot point, because the approved code failed to meet its own intent to protect its occupant.

It is often said that RVs are not intended to be permanent dwellings. Although this statement is accurate, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not say it can’t be permanent. The National RV Dealers Association website says, "The laws and regulations governing the use of RVs are set at the state and especially at the local municipal and county levels, not by HUD. So the new rule [HUD requiring all RVs to be labeled as such] does not affect full-time recreational RVing in any way. And, "although RVs have always been specifically designed for recreational purposes, some states and localities do nevertheless permit people to live in RVs as a permanent residence." It sounds like it's up to us. I, for one, am for it. 

Lawmakers seem to fear that when they don't regulate something, then said thing will overwhelm their jurisdiction. Example: for decades Pickens didn't want Sunday alcohol sales, in fear that we'd have drunk drivers running over little old ladies at the crosswalk on their way to church. Pickens eventually allowed it and their fear turned out to be unfounded. All they were doing is making people who wanted to drink, drive to Cherokee and Cobb, giving those counties our much-needed tax money and creating long commutes for drunk drivers. Now look at what they have done with all that tax revenue that could have been ours. 

In the same way, if Pickens were to allow full-time RVing, chances are just about zero that our roadsides will become littered with 60-year-old trailers that have blue tarps on the roofs and overgrown grass surrounding them.


Dog-gone good news

Last week a message went out to volunteers with Be Paws We Care, a group that supports the local animal shelter by finding homes for shelter dogs. The message was simple: “There are five adoptable dogs at the shelter.” 

Five Adoptable Dogs! 

A truly amazing feat for a public county shelter that has, at times, been filled to capacity. There were more than five total dogs at the shelter because some were on “stray holds” where they are  held a certain number of days before being placed for adoption in case their owner showed up. Still, that low number is staggering. And, according to an article published recently in The New York Times, our local figures mirror those being seen nationally.

The Times reported that euthanasia rates at animal shelters in the country’s 20 biggest cities have plummeted by 75 percent since 2009. The reasons: spaying and neutering are becoming the norm and rescue adoption is growing in popularity.

In a world where there are so few “good” news stories, this is one to truly rejoice about. The Humane Society of the United States reports an estimated 6-8 million cats and dogs enter shelters now each year. While still a staggering number, consider that 13 million entered shelters in 1973 and you can see the progress.

Twenty years ago, Pickens Animal Rescue, another local volunteer rescue group that is still active today, spent a large amount of their donated funds on a spay/neuter campaign where they offered $25 spays and neuters to anyone who couldn’t afford the cost of the surgery. The impact of that program can be seen today in the lower number of stray dogs and cats in our county.  

Also, with the help of volunteer organizations like Be Paws We Care, who this year has placed close to 200 shelter dogs in homes or with rescues, more southern shelters like Pickens see their dogs adopted through rescue networks throughout the country, particularly up north. Local folks may be surprised to learn that Pickens dogs are transported through volunteer groups north into states with strict spay/neuter laws where the demand for rescued dogs and cats is greater. The only caveat: the animals must be out of the shelter and in a foster home for two weeks prior to transport. Recently, one local foster mom received numerous texts from a lady in Connecticut who was adopting a Pickens dog. She shared pictures of her soon-to-be-new-dog’s plush bed, fancy bowls, customized name tag and tennis balls for play time.

According to the Times, “while people used to hit pet shops for a pedigree puppy, bonding with a rescue animal has become the more humane and responsible option.” It’s become cool to talk about how you rescued your pup as opposed to buying a purebred dog through a breeder.

When an abandoned pet entered an animal shelter 10 years ago, according to the Times, there was a good chance it would not leave. Now, their chances are astronomically better. In Detroit, according to the Times article, the euthanasia rate dropped from 86% in 2012 to 31% in 2018. Dallas dropped from 65% in 2012 to 19 percent last year. Charlotte, North Carolina’s rate dropped from 59% to 27% and Houston from 57% to 15%.

While we hope for the day when animal shelters are no longer needed, this is one case where we can applaud Pickens County following the national trend.  

To further this great work, please consider supporting the Be Paws We Care fall fundraiser on October 19 at the Elk Overlook, 420 Elk Overlook, Talking Rock. There will be a silent auction and raffle. Tickets are $30 and are available at Sharp Top Catering or online at; search for Be-Paws We Care Fall in Love. To donate to the group, visit or mail your tax deductible donation to: Be Paws, 361 Oakland Drive, Talking Rock, Ga. 30175.

Update: As of press time there are only three dogs in the local shelter without a rescue group commitment.

Give the new businesses a shot

By Dan Pool


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Never do I recall this many new businesses in Jasper’s downtown at one time. Start back with Smokin’ Mo’s, you can then add the Old Mulehouse, plus two sweet shops, a quilting shop and a workout place.

I am optimistic that this mix may re-invigorate the town – certainly more so than lights on the top of buildings or new traffic signals. 

And with the latest additions, we have what would seem a better balance of places to eat and places to shop and window shop. 

Towns need both dining and retail to create an atmosphere where people won’t just dine and dash back home but walk around or come to shop and then stay for an ice cream or a drink.

It’s exciting to see where things will go from here. Smokin’ Mo’s and Lollidrops have already put after-dark energy in the  town and the other additions will make our Main Street a better place to hang out.

Seeing the people out and about on the sidewalks after sunset or on Sunday is a big step in the right direction. 

Not that we want to be a party city or tourist trap, but it’s nice to see that Jasper is home to places that provide character. 

A friend of mine in Ellijay reminds me often that while their downtown has boomed, he can’t get a seat at his favorite bar and doesn’t see anyone he knows among the crowds.  

I don’t want to ever see Jasper like that, but I do want to see it vibrant and active enough to support the businesses here.

In full accuracy it should be noted these new establishments only put us a little ahead of where we were last year. Longtime businesses Moore Furniture, The Woodbridge Inn, plus relative newcomers Wingsology and Revive Us Again have closed. And while not on Main Street, our largest local retailer, the Bargain Barn, also called it quits in the past year.

Churn and turnover is how the business world works. It’s always risky starting a new venture, especially in the face of online competition and hostile, belligerent social media reviews.

I’d like to encourage everyone to give these new spots a chance and to give downtown Jasper another chance if you haven’t strolled our fair streets lately. [Remember that this weekend is JeepFest and it will be crowded on Friday night.]

These businesses and their owners/employees are what will make Jasper special. Certainly the lighting, brick accents and plants set a great stage but people will come for the businesses that line the street - they are the stars.

The Jasper government has long promised perks such as bathrooms, renovated spaces, even different traffic patterns and failed to deliver on anything for downtown. These new businesses and the building owners have quietly forged ahead -  renovating, sprucing up and opening establishments that will hopefully make the town proud and more enjoyable.   It is not surprising that small business, not government, leads the charge for civic improvement. Small shops and restaurants have always been the backbone of America and when you have government out of the way and business people engaged you are more likely to see a whole area succeed. People who have made an investment and put their money, time and reputation on the line have the strongest incentive to see that the town prospers. 

The community needs to support these places, simply by giving them a chance for your business. If you go and don’t like it, fair enough – maybe give them a second chance – but certainly they deserve a first chance from the community. So spend a few bucks and see if their products, services and food measure up.

You can’t go wrong shopping in your hometown first.


Us and our things

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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The last place I remembered putting it was in the little dish below the medicine cabinet – one of the only two places I ever put it. But the next morning it wasn’t there. 

That was a month ago and I still haven’t found the ring my grandmother gave me. I still haven’t found the ring that was perfect in all the ways a ring could be perfect – woven golden mesh, vintage, art deco. I’ve never felt so sick over losing a material object - actual physical heartache. 

This wasn’t just some “thing.” It meant something. 

My visceral reaction made me think about our relationship to “stuff” and how it becomes part of us, a representation of ourselves and a way we identify in the world. Then I thought about the mass of stuff we have now – most things that don’t “spark joy” but that fill up space and feed what seems to be an insatiable craving for more. I remembered my grandmother who had the same bath towels almost my entire life - the same dishes, the same bedspreads, the same everything, but that kind of conservative consumption isn’t the norm now. 

“People just seem to want money and somewhere to spend it,” she told me sharply over dinner one night. 

I recently read a book about old Florida, a novel that tracks the state from the early 1900s through the late 1960s, when it was published. The protagonist, Stoddard, evokes Ayn Rand’s titans of industry. We meet him as one of the 10 wealthiest men in the country - a driving force behind Florida’s development from an “exclusive sanctuary for the rich” with a few estates surrounded by uninhabited, raw land, to the “glittering, thriving, garish land it is today.” The story follows Stoddard from his childhood through WWI, then through the economic booms and busts. After the war, there was a surge of speculative interest. Land prices skyrocketed. Property was bought and traded. People had money and wanted more.  

“The desire for status became an obsession…The urge for conspicuous consumption was described by one industrialist as ‘the divine discontent.’ Debt was encouraged and made easy…Few persons remembered when there was vague social stigma in having a mortgage on one’s home. To owe money, and the more the better, was an infallible indication of a man’s credit and, therefore, his position in the community.”

Editorials are supposed to argue a point. So…what’s my point? I suppose it’s more of a question. Are we happier with more? Or are we able to appreciate simple things when we don’t surround ourselves with so much? 

When the Florida market crashed all the money and land deals were gone, but people seemed --- relieved. Stoddard had a small gathering with food and music and friends. He, like others, were happy to slow down and return to a simpler life. 

“There was an aura of contentment surrounding the group. At the moment no one wanted more than what he had.”  

Last week I reported a house fire that put my grandmother’s ring into perspective – this family lost everything. But the mother had an overwhelming sense of gratitude because her children were alive. Her seven-year-old got the two youngest out just in time. She clung to God, and told me she’d rather lose everything than lose her family. They would rebuild. 

My ring became less important. 

The book opens with Stoddard surveying a particularly thriving part of Florida that he had built. 

“God must have felt this way when he gazed upon the world and found it good,” he thought.   

But we later learn Stoddard became trapped in his own success, and in some way his fate reflects “the fatal flaw in the golden myth Florida has become.”

I’m not arguing we go off-grid or throw away our things, but “conspicuous consumption,” I agree, leads to divine discontent. Sometimes less can be so much more. 


Neighborly enough?

Last week the Pew Research Center came out with some interesting figures about just how neighborly we are, from the big city types to those of us who live in little towns like Jasper and Pickens County. The findings were somewhat surprising.

A majority of Americans, a full 57 percent, say they know only some of their neighbors while far fewer, 26 percent, say they know most of them, according to the Pew Research Center survey. Pretty shocking, especially when the same study found residents in rural areas like ours are more likely than people in suburbia and urban areas to know all or most of their neighbors, but, get this, we aren’t more likely to interact with them.

What a shame. We know them but don’t hang out or cook out or have each other over for dinner.

You would think a huge draw to living in a small town or county would be getting to know the few close neighbors we have. The study found that four-in-10 rural residents say they know all or most of their neighbors compared with 24 percent of urban residents and 28 percent of suburban residents. Roughly half of rural residents, about 47 percent, say they have face-to-face conversations with their neighbors at least once a week, with similar shares of suburban – 49 percent – and urban -  53 percent – residents saying the same.

One thought is here in the rural areas, we drive past each other, while the urban folks aren’t in cars thus more likely to stop and talk in the apartment building or on the sidewalk.

The study also found Americans age 65 and older are more likely than those age 18 to 29 to say they know most of their neighbors (34 percent vs. 20 percent). Not too surprising perhaps. In contrast, about a quarter (23 percent) of adults under 30 don’t know any of their neighbors, compared with just four percent among those 65 and older. That seems like a trend, and not a good one.

There are also slight differences based on marital status, according to the report. Roughly three-in-10 married adults (31 percent) say they know most of their neighbors, compared with about a quarter or fewer of those who are unmarried (22 percent); living with a partner (20 percent); divorced, separated or widowed (26 percent); or have never been married (19 percent). Having children at home isn’t related to stronger ties with neighbors: Parents are just as likely as non-parents to say they know most of their neighbors (26 percent for each group).

Even in a digital age, neighborly interactions are still more likely to happen in person than via text or email. Americans who know at least some of their neighbors are more than twice as likely to say they have face-to-face conversations with them several times a week (20 percent) than over the phone or by email or text message (7 percent each).

Social events among neighbors are relatively rare, Pew found. Among Americans who know at least some of their neighbors, a majority (58 percent) say they never meet them for parties or get-togethers. About three-in-10 (28 percent) say they have parties or get-togethers less than once a month, and 14 percent say they do this monthly or more often.

Have we lost the art of neighborliness? We hope not. Being a part of a welcoming community makes daily life so much more pleasant. Neighborliness is not always about nice homes and lawns and parks but more about how people in a given area treat one another. Being neighborly is closer to what Jesus meant when he said there were two great commandments, the second being to love your neighbor as yourself. So maybe instead of watching Netflix one evening, we could try sitting on our front porches and inviting a neighbor over to “sit for a spell,” or taking a walk and saying hello to everyone we meet along the way. While Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” which reads “Good fences make good neighbors,” seems more accurate of how we live today, it doesn’t have to be that way.