On South Carolina's Edisto Island the world is reborn daily.
Morning sun pours a blend of fire and wine across the sky as leaning dunes finish their night's work providing shelter for turtles that hatch and strive for the sea in answer to moonlight's summons. Birds join a great chorus of songs and mad calls amid palms, myrtle and live oaks.
A state park and campground protect this beachfront that would only be reduced by calling it real estate. This is nobody's property.
Rise early and you may walk on sand bearing no other human footprint in view of dolphins arcing out of the surf and seagulls that chase their own cries out of the morning sun. Pelicans perform precise aerial choreography, as assorted critters scuttle across the sand.
A couple hour's worth of brisk pedaling by bike will propel you around this island where you'll see nary an orange highway construction cone, hear nary a power drill, chainsaw, nary a grumble or groan from bulldozers, and view nary a towering high-rise. Rather, you'll meander among shacks and old plantations and diners featuring Gullah cuisine and banter.
It's all by design. Insistent zoning and community resistance to “progress” have preserved the best parts of paradise. That's why Edisto beckons. It's a relief to leave the traffic jams and smog of East Tennessee, another purported paradise transforming itself daily. Each morning presents a new face of decimation and greed. Our landscape's been gouged, scraped, blasted and otherwise deformed over and again for a fast buck.
Few protest. Who can blame farmers for selling out to smooth-talking developers from New York, Florida, Alabama? Still, honest zoning initiatives could make a difference in the face we present to the world and to our inner selves. As Sevier County native Abe Whaley wrote last November in a Newsweek article, “No ridge is too steep, no mountain is too high, no creek too pristine to bulldoze and build on.”
We're destroying the best parts of ourselves—Smoky Mountain scenery, diversity of life, ancient trees, the purity of our water, family history--in slapdash development.
You don't have to navigate a river of cars to view the consequences. Visit www.SaveOurSmokies.org, Website for a conservation group, for a quick study. There you may see, for instance, “the ugliest subdivision in all of Sevier County... Legacy Mountain,” according to the website. “The Alabama Developers scraped the mountain and cleared the trees so they could build 150 cabins. But wait, it doesn't stop there. They just got approval from the Sevier County commission to build a total of 400 cabins for our viewing pleasure.” They stand stacked in rows across denuded hills. What kind of legacy is this?
About 15 years ago I wrote a series about Wear's Valley. My editors splashed it all over the front and two inside pages of the Living section. To get those stories I drove along winding roads in the shadow of Cove Mountain and other majestic peaks bordering the park, and asked residents what they saw for the future of Wears Valley. Most scoffed at suggestions rampant development of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg would leak into their beautiful valley. And yet….
Cove Mountain's Phase 1 development plans include “900 acres with 257 homes, 78 condo units, a restaurant, a clubhouse, and 14 miles of roads, all along a beautiful mountain bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” according to SaveOurSmokies.org. Friends of Wears Valley, a group of about 400 residents, oppose the plans.
“The Planning Commission also has approved a concept plat for Phase I Development on 1,865 acres of Webb Mountain that will include two golf courses, 700 to 900 single-family dwellings, about 300 condo units, a five-star hotel on top of the mountain, and a golf villa,” the website declares.
Welcome to the new skyline of East Tennessee. In the Happy Valley region of Blount County, slopes of Chilhowee Mountain likewise are under assault. Here and there citizens fight back. The Democratic Party in Sevier and Blount have mustered slates of candidates opposed to unchecked development, but it could be years before we strike a sane balance.
On Tybee Island, south of Savannah, a historic lighthouse and museum stand guard over undeveloped beachfront properties. My wife and I camped at nearby River's End Campground last week before moving on to Edisto. A local store clerk told us the City of Tybee Island had saved the dense, green campground by voting to buy it from developers who would've bulldozed it all for resort housing. Instead, Tybee Island voted to save this most colorful and openhearted portion of itself, to increase the variety and livability of their community.
Quite a concept.