Friday, May 09, 2008

Head for the Hills!

A couple of years ago I heard about a town in North Carolina that boasts a year-round population of around 3500, but a summer population of 18,000. It's called Highlands, has a Chamber of Commerce, and sits on a plateau at an altitude of 4100 feet, inside a bowl surrounded by mountains of the Great Smokies.
(View Map) 
It's a four hour drive from Charlotte, 2-1/2 hours from Atlanta.

From Chamber of Commerce Frequently asked questions:

What is the population of Highlands?
A. The year round population of the Highlands Plateau is 3,200 which grows to over 18,000 in the summer.

The woman who told the story of Highlands was a former planner from there who was now living in the Keys. She told us (I was with a group of people interested in what happens to resort places over time) that most of the housing in the area is seasonal, that is, the town more or less closes down between October and April and the 3500 full-time residents keep things going until the seasonal folks come back.  She said that the "governors" of Highlands, a mayor, five commissioners and a Town Administrator, as well as most, if not all, of the residents like things the way they are. Work hard for five months, then take seven months off to rest up. Some of them earn their living by caring for the properties left behind each year until next "season".

This is, I suppose, similar to places like Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Vail and Alta and others of the same nature.

Key West opted a long time ago for a different model, non-seasonal, short visits, a more frenetic pace of amusement, and of course, something Highlands can never have -- cruise ships. Unless global warming changes the outline of the continent more radically and sooner than now seems likely.

Is one better than another? Depends on where you want to be and what you want to do. Perusing the CofC site, I count a few dozen accommodation listings, but including a 576-room Harrah's Hotel and Cherokee Casino.

The town is not without workforce housing issues either, shrinking workforce population and all. Here's how one hotel owner handled it:
"But not for Gomes, who solved his employee-housing problem before it occurred. In 2004, while preparing to open the inn, he oversaw the creation of an employee village. Today, most of Old Edwards’ employees live in one of 35 houses on a 27-acre tract just four miles from the inn, and plans are in the works to build 10 more. Rent for a two-bedroom house is $524 a month including utilities, and $625 a month for a three bedroom, which also includes utilities."

And, oh yes, Highlands is the highest incorporated town east of the mississippi River, not to mention being the salamander and lichen capitals of the world.

Head for the Hills!

Postscript:  Highlands is one of the few temperate rain forests in America.


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