Highlands By Moonlight

I made a day trip up to Highlands, NC on Saturday (Aug14).

True to form, I found myself stuck behind two SUVs creeping along the mountain road – completely ruining any chances I might’ve had racing around the twisty turns leading up highway 106 to Highlands.

The trip was partly for business, partly for pleasure, it was great to see the old town again. As I turned off of main street I noted that the old Edwards Inn was undergoing a fantastic expansion, and mentioned this to my hosts. They explained that former high school coach turned insurance magnate, A.L.Williams, has been busy with several construction projects around town – and not necessarily making friends in the process.

A bit of googling pulled up an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times detailing how Art and Angela Williams began this project, and what they plan for it to become. From what I’ve seen it looks like Highlands is getting a world-class addition to downtown, but not everyone sees it that way.

Many locals sense that the Williams are meddling carpetbaggers, which is funny because the couple actually moved north to join the Highland crowd from Cairo, Georgia; hardly the kind of people you’d mistake for stereotypical scheming developers. But what the Williams have might be even worse…enthusiasm, and the financial resources to back it.

It was only in the 1980’s that Highlands began considering the town’s future from a “modern” planning perspective, but planning guidelines cannot anticipate personalities or conflict. Already there has been a migration of traditional Highland businesses from the main drag. The Mountaineer, a homey meat-n-three restaurant favored by locals, found itself unable to afford its prime real estate and relocated toward the highway but closed its doors soon after, unable to make it in the “new” Highlands.

Introduce two development-happy outsiders into this environment and you’re bound to attract villagers with pitchforks, or in this case, local business owners with spreadsheets showing how construction has impacted their normal sales. A potentially ugly relationship as you can see.

Highlands will weather this tempest, but it is being changed in the process. More hotels, more restaurants and longer traffic snarls are sure to make the town fathers consider ever stricter measures for future development in the area.

Driving back home at 9pm I was delighted to find that the road back down the mountain was clear, perfect for mountain racing. Thanks to XM for the Irish fiddle music on the first half, Spanish guitar for the second. It was perfect.

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