In 2009, Franklin became the first town in the nation to gain the Appalachian Trail Community Designation. Now, almost five years later, 35 towns are known as AT communities. In 2015, the designation is up for renewal. At Monday's Board of Aldermen meeting supporters spoke out to recommend keeping the designation.
Rob Gasparro, co-owner of Outdoor 76 – an outfitters store that specializes in outdoor recreation specific to the region and located on Main Street – was among the first to address the board.
“Our market is the AT community. If there's one thing that our town has to hang on to, it's that designation,” he told the board. “It's a really big deal for us. There's communities around us that would love to have that designation. Not only do we have that designation, but we have the first one. We were the first designated AT community in the nation.”
Citing the economic impact that the AT hikers have on Franklin and the surrounding area, Gasparro requested that the sitting officials embrace the title that the town received and make strides to hold on to it as it comes time to renew it.
David Lippy, president of the Nantahala Hiking Club high lighted the expanding community of hikers in the area. He gave a brief history of the club starting with its beginnings back in 1968 when Rufus Morgan along with his family and some local boy scouts began keeping up the section of Appalachian Trail that runs through Macon County. Today, there are 200 hiking club members. In 2013, the volunteers put 7,268 hours of work in on the trail, all in order to welcome the influx of hikers.
“Back in 2009 we joined this partnership with the town, the county, the Forest Service, Rob, and a lot of the other nonprofits to encourage tourism and positively affect our economy,” said Lippy. “This is the best internationally known trail in the country. People come from overseas and all states to walk on it. There's millions of people that walk on the AT every year and tens of thousands of those come right by Franklin.”
Bill Van Horn attended the meeting on behalf of the Appalachian Trail Community Committee to talk about the program.
“The intent of the designation program is to the benefit of the trail and the hikers, as well as the local community. There are four criteria in the application – only two had to be met, but Franklin met all of them,” said Van Horn. "The first is to establish a committee made up of 11 entities that are represented on that committee. The second is to host a project or an event during the year and so far to date, the committee working with the town has put on a Trail Days event. The third part was to support the trail and education. Dave Lippy talked about two of the programs where a teacher went to a workshop to get information about the Appalachian Trail so they could bring it back to their classroom. Also, the local club supports the schools and their hikes on the trail. The fourth item was to look at the AT and what could be done to protect it when looking at land protection and ordinance.”
Next year Franklin and four other communities will have to decide whether they want to renew their designation.
Delinquent tax advertisement
Town Tax Collector Jessie Wilkins was present at the meeting to seek the board's approval to publish a notice in local newspapers advertising delinquent taxes. As of Monday, there were $140,629 worth of unpaid taxes in the town.
“People can pay the taxes by Feb. 28 to avoid being advertised,” said Wilkins. “So far, I have collected 97 percent of what's due to the town.”
The board voted unanimously to allow the advertisement to move forward after the 28th.
Board denies bid on Old Town Hall
The town received a second bid on the old Town Hall property. The second bid came in at $25,000 more than the first at $200,000.
“You've got some options here,” said Town Manager Warren Cabe. “You can flat out deny it or you can accept it and let it go to an upset bid process. At the end of that process, you can still go back and say no to the bid even if you don't get anything higher and you feel like $200,000 isn't sufficient. It may get things going though if you go this route.”
In May 2013, the property appraised at $725,000.
“I think $200,000 is practically giving it away,” said Alderman Billy Mashburn.
“I don't want to go into the upset bid process and give the idea that we're playing a game,” said Alderman Joyce Handley.
After a motion was made by Alderman Verlin Curtis to decline the bid, the board voted unanimously to uphold the motion.
The next Board of Aldermen meeting will take place on Monday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.