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A grand, panoramic view of Lake Chatuge enjoyed while standing amidst gross graffiti
Bell Mountain

In this stunning view, a part of the 1942 Tennessee Valley Authority’s 13-mile-long Lake Chatuge stretches southwest. It was formed when the 150-foot-high earthen Chatuge Dam that you see in the distance was hurriedly pushed up during World War II. The water it impounds fills many parcels once 20th century farmland. Dotting the shoreline of the lake named for a onetime Indian village are upscale second homes for vacationers.

Bell Mountain

Clinging with one arm to exposed rock and with the other wielding a spray-paint can, dangling dabblers have covered with graffiti the 1960’s “mining gap” left by failed miners atop 3,420-foot Bell Mountain. This dread scene of blatant U.S environmental harm is steps away from a little Towns County, Ga. park’s viewing platform upon which you stand and marvel at the lake’s beauty below.

By Tom Bennett
Special to Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition

TOWNS COUNTY, GA., June 29, 2017

“Crist is king”

“No. 25 innocent”

“You really rock my (unintelligible)”

“RIP R.T.”

THESE DECIDEDLY non-essential bursts of American public communication are permanently inscribed upon exposed rock left by bad miners at 3,420 feet at the crest of Bell Mountain a half-century ago. Bell is in the Appalachians, is as precipitous as they typically can be, and it immediately drains one of the particularly beautiful federal TVA impoundments of the Hiwassee River called Lake Chatuge. During the decade that I’ve been seeking to document what I believe to be the worst environmental harm done to the Hiwassee River watershed that’s across parts of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, I have fantasized during sleep of a turpentine flyover to cleanse this. Now, however, I am resigned to it never happening.

The strategy of the cut-to-the-chase sole commissioner form of government (unique to a few Georgia counties alone in 2017) in fact now is to tolerate and define. Therefore a prominent sign at the paved parking lot up the now-paved winding roadway tells budding artists: “Don’t paint asphalt, fence, platform or stumps.” I can tell you by this date this approach is working, that is, achieving a dread status quo.

Why Coalitions are needed

Nothing better illustrates for environmental activists across the U.S. how a non-profit coalition needs to be in place to argue for a watershed’s protection. In the early 1960s on the Hiwassee River in North Carolina, a town produced three investors aiming to profit from mining quartzite. These speculators, I know after considerable study of contemporary sources, cared not one whit about the river’s water quality in the nearby riverside town of Hiawassee, Ga. I wrote in the Murphy town paper:

“Grover C. Mauney, Walter Mauney and Dr. William A. Hoover, all of Murphy, N.C., organized the Hiawassee Stone Co. for the purpose of mining quartzite,” according to Jerry Taylor and Jason Lee Edwards. (They date this “about 1960.” The Ga. Secretary of State corporation-search web site, meanwhile, says Hiawassee Stone Co. formed in May 1963 and dissolved in January 2001.) “The Towns Historical Society writers continue: ‘Under Grover C. Mauney’s direction, the top of Bell Mountain was blasted and the quartzite was hauled down the mountain to a crusher/washer/grader and then shipped to the nearest railhead at Murphy.’” “Things turned rocky,” my earlier report concluded. “‘The white quartzite was not as deep as had been suspected and other colors began to appear,’ according to the Historical Society writers. ‘This, coupled with the increasing cost of extraction and transportation, caused the venture to fail. The cost of producing a ton of product was $35 while the going rate for a ton was only $30.’” I concluded: “Georgia state government subsequently made studies proving the mining wasn’t economically feasible, but the damage was done to 3,420-foot Bell Mountain.”

Bill Kendall’s Game Plan

I can also say to you with a certainty that the 2006-16 decade as sole commissioner of the lanky man Bill Kendall, lifelong county resident, its beloved former Towns County high school basketball coach and also its former superintendent of schools… until his advent, there had been no other sole holder of the highest county office who did anything about environmental battering of Bell Mountain.It is inarguable, too, that Commissioner Kendall was led to take action by the skillful size-up and pinpoint recommendations in the Lake Chatuge Watershed Action Plan of this coalition and that was written by the water scientist and executive director of same, Callie Moore.

Kendall signed an ordinance “accepting on behalf of Towns County citizens the gift from the Hal Herrin estate of the 18-acre summit atop of Bell Mountain and that said property be designated Bell Mountain County Park and Historical Site.” Kendall continued: “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.”

‘Daddy didn’t want to see it ever blasted again’

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.”

ALL THIS HAPPENED in the year of the 20th anniversary of Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition. Its successes have been many, and its setbacks have been, too, yet it fights on and needs your help. I said to Callie Moore today on Bell Mountain, “You have had many reasons to give up.”“Yes, there have been some,” she replied.

Tom Bennett of the Martins Creek community near Murphy, N.C., was a retired newsman, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition member/volunteer/donor and recipient of the 2015 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award. Tom died on December 28, 2020.

Elsewhere in the WATR Column Archive

Aug. 31, 2007 – “The man in the driver’s seat of Towns County government (Bill Kendall) goes to work to prevent further harm to the Appalachian Mountains and Lake Chatuge” (this WATR column excerpted in the Jan. 2016 ordinance creating Bell Mountain County Park and Historical Site)

Feb. 21, 2008 – Towns County government adopts building codes and mountain protection

Jan. 4, 2016 – Towns County preserves the top of Bell Mountain

Aug. 3, 2015 – The river’s champion: Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition

In the Cherokee Scout weekly newspaper of the nearby town of Murphy, N.C.

Jan. 27, 2016 – Murphy investors’ mining gap to become a county park