The state’s broken promise at Mt. Jefferson

March 24, 2014

A broken promise is hard to stomach, especially when it involves a promise offered several years ago by the state of North Carolina to purchase and protect property that adjoins the Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area.

When a person breaks a promise, it leads to questions about that person’s character and we are forced to make a judgment about how to interact with that person moving forward. But when the government does it, how can we respond?

The state had agreed to purchase all of the land in three separate segments. Of the original 372 acres, the state now owns approximately 261 of the acres. The state’s broken promise is an expansion of the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area for locals and tourists alike to have greater public access to the area’s natural lands.

When it came time to cut that final check for the rest of the land, the checkbook slammed shut. Then again, how much was ever known by the people of this county about the project?

There were plans for additional hiking trails, a picnic shelter and additional parking spaces, all for use by the public.

The land is now listed for sale at $2,659,416 and is open for anybody to purchase.

In this situation, the state’s “Coolest Corner” has gotten the cold shoulder from Raleigh.

Now, we have no idea what this land, when purchased, will become in future years. Will it become another private development? Could it become a tourist destination? Could it become a restaurant, a big box store? Nobody knows.

Also, we have to ask what will happen to the land that is already acquired? Remember, this land is located along Naked Creek, which flows into the New River. The market will now determine, with some county oversight, what will eventually be the fate of the now unprotected property.

That is the most frustrating part about this broken promise, we just don’t know what will happen now. Just like how we don’t know what the ultimate outcome of the sweeping changes in how the state operates implemented by the Republican-led General Assembly will have in future years.

Over the last year, the state cut unemployment benefits, balked at raising teachers’ salaries, declined to expand Medicaid, and have changed the philosophy of how to administer environmental regulations, all in an attempt to “lower taxes.” One would think that with the money they had been saving by modifying every other budget, they could have found just enough to finish the work they started, work which would have brought jobs and money to Ashe County.

This isn’t the fault of Ashe County. This isn’t the fault of the property owners and it isn’t the fault of the Town of West Jefferson. The blame all lays on one entity, the state of North Carolina.

All of the actions made by the state and its voters have consequences. Maybe this was what voters wanted. Now, the future development of this pristine property is uncertain.

Only time will tell how everything will play out. For the time being, however, it looks like the state dropped the ball and left its constituents coming to terms with how to respond to this particular broken promise.