Editor’s Note: Due to the amount of material covered at the Planning Board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6, we have divided the story into two different parts. Part I was published in the Tuesday, Feb. 11 edition of the Jefferson Post.
The Ashe County Planning Board, during its regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6, discussed demographics related to the county, following the board’s land use survey.
Planning Director Adam Stumb said the demographic information provided is a draft until the Planning Board approves it, meaning if the board wants additional information to what is provided in the document, they can add that information in.
“We can add what we need to and what we want to,” he said. “If you have any suggestions we can go ahead and put those (in the survey).”
During the meeting, the Board focused on the land survey history, Ashe County’s population and housing, as well as the subjects below.
Commuting patterns and employment
Continuing on the talk of demographics in the County, the presentation focused on commuting patterns of those who live and work in the county.
“We got some figures from other states, because we are stuck in the corner of the state,” Stumb said. “Some folks do drive to Virginia or Tennessee for work. Others are doing the reverse and coming to Ashe County.”
According to the data compiled by Stumb, 1,350 workers who commute from Ashe County to work are going to Watauga County, while 246 workers from Watauga commute to Ashe.
Over 500 people commute to Wilkes County and 351 workers commute to the Commonwealth of Virginia from Ashe County. Over 100 people commute to Ashe from Wilkes and Alleghany counties, Grayson County, Va. and Johnson County, Tenn.
“You could make the arguement that at this point, Ashe County is not a bedroom community,” Stumb said. “Not everyone is leaving to go somewhere else for work.
Of Ashe County’s employed workers, 49.2 percent live and work in the county, according to the High Country Workforce Development Board.
“Almost half of the county lives and works in Ashe County,” Stumb said. “They are not leaving the county for a job.”
The numbers also took into account Ashe County’s high unemployment rate and its retired population.
“And part of that (percentage of those not working) is we have a large retiree population as well,” Darrell Hamilton, board member said.
The last focus of the demographics presentation was agriculture and its importance to the county.
“I met with the Farmland Preservation Board and the Farm Bureau Board to get some input (on the survey),” Stumb said. “They may come join y’all when we discuss that part of the land use survey.”
The meeting on agriculture is set to take place on Thursday, April 3. The meeting will also cover other forms of employment in the county.
“We thought it was important to show how much land is involved with agriculture in Ashe County,” Stumb said.
Among the statistics Stumb presented, Christmas trees cover 12,642 acres of Ashe County and the county produces the most Christmas trees in the state. According to data, there are 16,490 head of cattle (No. 15 in N.C.) and the county uses 11,340 acres for producing hay (No. 25 in N.C.).
“These numbers show, surprisingly for agriculture, have not changed a whole lot,” Stumb said. “You see some changes, but nothing significant.”
Between 1997 and 2007, the number of farms within the county increased from 1,043 to 1,125. As of 2007, Ashe County had 108,452 acres in farmland with the average size of the farm being 96 acres.
According to data, most farms in Ashe County are between 10 and 49 acres (461 farms) or between 50 and 179 acres (402 farms).
Board chairman Gene Hafer asked why there was no data for 2012 as of yet. Data Stumb provided was from 1997, 2002 and 2007.
Stumb said the data was compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and would not be out until between February or April of this year.
“When it is released, we will certainly add that into our program,” Stumb said.
The board also mentioned there is a large amount of land, within the county, that is owned by the federal and state governments. Those lands include: the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mount Jefferson and New River State Parks, and Pond Mountain and Three-Top Mountain game lands.
“It would be nice to see what kind of percentage all of that land is,” Hamilton said.
Stumb said he would talk to the Ashe Cooperative Extension to have additional statistics on agriculture in the county.
Board member Arvil Scott said the numbers show Ashe County has been active in preserving agriculture.
The next board meeting will take place Thursday, Feb. 20 and focus on the results from the land use survey.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.