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Staff Editorials

Climate change - just in case

By Dan Pool

Editor

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Realizing this is a not a popular subject, I ask readers to give a little thought but in a different manner to climate change. In the age of divisive politics, there is no middle ground so I am not advocating any extreme measures other than giving some consideration from this perspective:

In case there is something to man-made emissions causing climate change which subsequently causes extreme weather it wouldn’t hurt to see if there are things we could do now to limit damage in the future.

Nothing radical there, no plot to let the UN take over the country, not even a scheme with liberal elements to wreck the economy or force some kind of green code.

Consider this a better-safe-than-sorry position, much like the following:

• Insurance for your house – Even if you don’t think your house is likely to burn down this year, it is usually agreed that insurance is necessary to protect where you live.

• Wearing a seatbelt – If you thought it’s scientifically-proven you would have a wreck the next time you drove, you wouldn’t leave the house. However, in the face of an unlikely, but possible, scenario - car accidents do happen frequently - most of us put on a seatbelt just in case.

• If you were experiencing symptoms that medical experts say might signal a heart attack, how much convincing would it take for you to visit a doctor and maybe even make a few lifestyle changes?

I normally don’t address any national issues, and I’m sure a few responses will be this wasn’t the one to start with. But, in this case, it may very well be a local issue as well.

At the annual meeting of the Firewise community held in April at the Monument Road fire station, a forestry official said that he considers the Burnt Mountain area as at a “pretty high” risk of a wildfire. He noted he personally wouldn’t say the words climate change, but then pointed out that over his 20 year career the weather has changed. Specifically he cited a “crazy” increase in the number of days in the southeast with air humidity at very low levels, a noticeable change from the mugginess people associate with the south.

The city of Jasper is still trying to arrive at a cost to replace a culvert on Gennett Drive which has been blown out by floods twice in recent years. Flooding was rarely an issue in Pickens County in the past but in the past few years as one person said, “I will hop in my kayak and go check my garden.”

Weird weather is nothing new and the rest of this year and next decade may go back to  stable, normal weather for Pickens and the world. It’s impossible for anyone to say with certainty what the weather will do. But it’s also pretty plain with our weather here and around the world, we are in an unstable pattern and surely no one wants to see Mother Nature  even more turbulent.

• Earlier this summer Portland, a place where many didn’t even consider air conditioning a necessity, hit a high of 112, which broke a high of 108 earlier this year.

•The parched American west has more than 80 large fires burning at this point.

• The flooding in Germany and Belgium, which left at least 200 dead, shocked many as two of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries’ efforts to contain flood waters, were in hindsight, mostly ineffective.

• Finally, one group that has taken notice of the dollar costs of whatever is happening with the weather, are insurance companies where some are questioning how they will continue covering properties in areas now prone to flood or drought/fire.

Going back to our local situation, if our city keeps replacing the Gennett Road culvert (latest price unknown) or the county has more situations like the portion of Jones Mountain Road that went down in a 2019 mudslide (more than $1.8 million) or the city’s Cove Road, twice closed in mudslides, (latest repair in 2019 was $95,000) things can get expensive. 

Besides the costs, who wants the world’s weather to be more frequently turbulent and possibly will get even worse? 

Just like insurance, medical check-ups and seat-belts, maybe it’s time to see if there are climate change actions that might help down the road. 

The plan of only cleaning up damage after big weather events is no plan.

Go down memory lane with Progress archives

Since the late 1890s the Pickens Progress has had its newspapers bound in hardback books to archive. Unfortunately, a fire in the 1940s destroyed our building and most of the archived books. We have only sporadic copies from 1895 through the 1940s.

The earliest editions are mighty slim. During the late 19th century (and for many decades afterwards) newspaper employees had the time-consuming task of setting individual blocks of metal type to print an edition. That, along with the fact that the county had a small population with little news, made those first editions only a few pages long. Each archive book could hold several years of papers. 

But as time progressed our weekly editions got thicker. Technology improved and made printing less labor intensive; the county grew which meant there was more news to report; then in the 1990s advertisement inserts were added every week instead of just every once in a while (those are bound in the archives, too). Around the 1970s one book could now only hold one year’s worth of papers. Beginning in the mid-1980s one book could only hold a half a year. 

Fast forward to current day: The Pickens County Library had also stored Progress archives over the years, both on microfilm and in hard copy. After their building renovations began a few months ago they gave the Progress their hard copies because the books take up so much space, and because most people use microfilm to do research. Lucky for us their copies were in better condition than ours – but storing  duplicate copies of the thick books wasn’t practical. We decided to sell the duplicate copies we had to the public. 

Over the years we’ve loved having these archives at our fingertips, being able to thumb through them and read about how things used to be - remembering the events if we were alive, or gaining new perspective if it was before our time. 

We’ve enjoyed looking at the old advertisements to see what people bought decades ago, and how much things used to cost. We’ve enjoyed seeing the difference in the way news was covered, the different language that was used, and how that has changed over the years. In the 1950s it was acceptable to write a headline like “Mr. Green Drops Dead Stringing Beans,” but we’re not sure that would go over too well these days. Front page news could be more mundane - events like a Sunday social at church - including how good Mrs. So-and-So’s potato salad was - or a list of people at the hospital and the reason they were admitted (HIPPA apparently wasn’t a concern in those days).    

It’s also interesting to see how the paper has become much more narrow over the years – our current editions are nearly half the cumbersome width they once were; and to see how layout has changed and how photographs were scarce originally, but became more prevalent over time. In the early 1900s, every photo was sent on the bus to Macon where a company would turn it into a lead plate and send it back for printing. Until the later part of the 1900s, almost every town had its own locally-owned newspaper and they had their own printing presses. The Progress is now the only family owned paper in north Georgia. But since 1997, the Progress has been printed elsewhere; first in Calhoun, until they merged into an even larger print operation at the Rome News where we are still printed each week.

Last week we ran an ad inviting people to come by the office to purchase our duplicate archives ($5 per edition or $50 for an entire book) and it’s been so nice to see them enjoy these time capsules of history as much as we do. We’ve overheard them get excited when they found the wedding announcement, obituary, or graduation coverage they were looking for. One couple stayed for several hours and left with three full books. Another man who bought four books said he just loved history, but also wanted a specific edition from the 1970s for coverage of a high school basketball game. 

We still get hard copies of our editions bound, but since 2012 we’ve had digital versions and digital archives online (and don’t forget the library has microfilm copies, too). Our digital versions are much more convenient to browse – with a handy search feature – but in terms of experience it doesn’t compare to holding a newspaper that’s several decades old. 

After a week we’ve sold about half of the duplicates, but anyone who wants to get their hands on local history come by Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays to see what you can find.  

The case of the cussing cheerleader

A case recently ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court sounds like something that could have come straight out of Pickens County. Perhaps we have a particularly contentious relationship between our school board, administrators and parents - interestingly the students themselves  rarely are involved the ongoing squabbles. For some reason Pickens has made a name for itself with school system controversy and this Supreme Court case might offer some insight into school criticism.

It’s also an interesting First Amendment study to see how the Supreme Court ruled in the case of a Pennsylvania cheerleader who took to social media to express her disagreement with not making her school’s varsity squad.

While acknowledging students clearly have the right to voice dissent abut their schools, the Supreme Court  recognized the importance of some limits.

In this case, the cheerleader after not making the varsity squad used her Snapchat to disagree with the decision by showing a picture of her and friend giving the middle finger while dropping the f-bomb repeatedly about “school,” “cheer” and “everything.” She was suspended from the junior squad for the post which someone screenshotted and sent to school officials.

Certainly not the soaring rhetoric of our Founding Fathers decrying tyranny but at a juvenile level it was someone expressing an opinion.

A key to the case is that the cheerleader posted from outside of school and over a weekend not during school hours – important points to the justices in their 8 to 1 ruling that she was within her First Amendment rights.

They didn’t extend this protection from punishment to all off-campus speech but ruled that school administrators need to show a darn good reason to question a kid about a post.

The decision stated, “When it comes to political or religious speech that occurs outside school or a school program or activity, the school will have a heavy burden to justify intervention,” according to Justice Stephen Breyer’s decision from the New York Times.

In this case and in several local incidents, it is worth pointing out that snarky comments only intended for a few eyes reach a wider audiences and result in unintended consequences. It’s doubtful this teenager planned on becoming a First Amendment crusader. As we all see way too often,  private messages have a bad way of popping up in court exhibits or projected on a wall at a town hall recall meeting. “Be careful little fingers what you text” would be a great new verse to an old song.

Another key point is that the Supreme Court didn’t throw the door wide open protecting all students speech outside of school.

Parents and students need to heed this, the decision made clear that the free speech protection does not extend to a wide range of exceptions including threats or “substantial disruption of learning-related activities.” 

Our local school resource officers and administrators deal with threats made on social media way too often, according to recent comments by the superintendent.

In this day and age, threats against the safety of any students or staff members have a zero tolerance policy – meaning any misguided joke involving guns, bombs, violence or attacks is going to stir up trouble for whoever made it and this case does not offer any protection.

The ruling also excluded any protection for speech that targets individuals. The most recent conflict between school board and public saw several posts on adults’ Facebooks that skirted dangerously close to threatening. It’s a fine line, as the court made clear, but one that bears some consideration even when tempers are raised.

Ideally our school system has all its ducks back in their row and we’ll enjoy a calm period down at the central office.

But acknowledging the reality, when the next tumult, begins we encourage everyone, especially the board members who rarely offer any comment or explanations, to voice their opinions -- but within the bounds of decent debate.

It’s a two way road for cyclists and motorists

By Dan Pool

Editor

The reaction online after the state put out information regarding new laws for cyclist safety was much what I expected – get off the road.

I generally don’t mention the fact I have enjoyed riding a road bike around north Georgia for the past 20 years as I’m aware the hobby ranks alongside phone scam criminal in public approval.  But I can draw on my experience over the past two decades to offer some insight for both my fellow drivers and cyclists, knowing full-well this editorial will make both groups, plus road planners and tourism advocates, angry.

I would like to first note I’ve never had any serious interaction with a car or driver in all the years of regular riding. Maybe the luck will hold (knock on wood).

Here are a few points I would ask you to consider both as a driver and for any cyclists reading this:

• “Bicycles shouldn’t be allowed in public streets.”  They are allowed, it’s legal, get over it. Keep in mind that many (some estimates are a majority) of those riding aren’t out for fun, but use a bike because its affordable or they can’t legally drive.

Certainly not speaking for fellow cyclists, but myself and several other bike riders I know are mostly one step ahead of people asking us to get off the roads. Quite a few people who have ridden in this area for decades prefer to ride more and more on gravel roads or in the area to the west of Highway 411 and Carters Lake. The increasing traffic on most north Georgia roads have made quite a few riders re-think routes. 

• Motorists should respect cyclists, but cyclists also need to respect traffic – Pardon the pun, but it’s a two-way street. Drivers need to show caution when passing bikes. Despite the jokes over the years, no one wants to kill a guy in spandex – it would be a real hassle legally and shoot your insurance bills out of sight. 

However, many online commenters are right when they complain that not all roads are suitable for biking. It’s ludicrous, rude and reeks of entitlement to ride Cove Road, the main thoroughfare between our county’s large gated communities and Jasper, late on a Saturday morning. But keep in mind that someone from outside the area may incorrectly assume a road leading to mountain retirement communities would be slow-paced and friendly. In reality Cove, Yellow Creek and all of Highway 53 are filled with rises and sharp curves, no shoulder and way too much traffic for a group of cyclists to clog up at 10 miles an hour on the uphills. 

• Pickens is not a great cycling destination, except for the Talking Rock Nature Preserve – The area has had some success bringing the BRAG ride with its hundreds of tourists to town a few times over the years. BRAG (Bicycle Ride Across Georgia) organizers change routes every year so it’s not often that Jasper will have a chance to host and reap the economic benefit.

However, it’s false advertising to promote this area for cycling on a regular basis. Sure, the scenery is great and the terrain challenging but there are simply not enough back roads to link together. It’s odd that in the more populated Gordon and Bartow counties, there are more less-travelled backroads.

The exception to this is the Talking Rock Nature Preserve, locally called “the mountain bike park.” Bill Jones and Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land have never been given enough credit for dropping this tremendous asset here, nor are the mountain bikers who maintain their own park  – no tax money went to that awesome set of trails and it draws a tremendous number of mountain bikers who don’t get on any pavement but still bring tourist dollars.

• Bike lanes are rarely a solution – That extra stretch of asphalt may help but it’s not a practical widespread answer. In big vacation towns around the country, having whole separate lanes dedicated to bikes, walkers, and other recreational uses is a great draw and asset. The Silver Comet Trail is a big boost to tourism along it but it was a regional effort. Something piecemeal that doesn’t link together is more a waste of tax dollars and asphalt. The problem from a cycling perspective is the lanes along the sides of the road are often filled with debris, car parts and broken bottles waiting to cause a flat tire or crash and the lanes tend to end abruptly at narrow spots on the roads.

One idea that has surfaced several times in the past 10 years is to create some kind of dedicated path along the railroad from Tate to Talking Rock. That would be a home run in drawing some of the tourists heading north into stopping here. It has never gotten off the ground, but remains a heck of an idea.

There is nothing finer than cruising down a pleasant country backroad with mountain scenery on a cool morning in north Georgia. There is no better way to see the countryside and get some exercise. And hopefully drivers will be cautious as they pass cyclists. 

And to fellow cyclists please find routes where you aren’t creating a rolling traffic jam and recognize that the people who live alongside those country lanes also have fun hobbies they want to get to on a weekend morning and do your part to let them get by and on with their lives.

 

Let’s turn out in a big way this Independence Day

As the nation, the state, and our little county reopen after months of isolating COVID-19 restrictions, we encourage people to show up and show out for this year’s July Fourth celebration – which like most everything else was cancelled last year. There was no parade in 2020. No fireworks. No nothing. Since they began back in 1939, 2020 was the only time except for one year during WWII that the Jasper Lions didn’t lead the charge with Independence Day festivities for us.

While there have been some things return over the last few months – graduation, egg hunts, 5ks, to name a few - we see Jasper’s Independence Day celebration as the unofficial return of our beloved local events and a return to some semblance of normalcy. 

We can’t overstate how much we appreciate the efforts of the Jasper Lion’s Club and their volunteers– and we don’t want to see it go in vain, especially this year. It’s a perfect opportunity for us to gather again as a community and celebrate our life, our liberties, and our ability to pursue happiness after what was one of the most difficult social times in recent history.

The party’s going to be a little bit different in 2021, as July 4th falls on a Sunday. Organizers have made some changes that will split the main events up over the two-day weekend. The fair will still run Thursday through Sunday.  

This year the parade will be on Saturday at 1 p.m. instead of the standard 10 a.m. With the later start time people will be able to leave the parade on Main Street and go directly to the fair at Lee Newton Park without having to kill time in between. The fireworks will be on Sunday, July 4th to close the weekend.

We’d love to see a ton of floats from our community, from our local leaders, from individuals, businesses, non-profits, and social groups and make it the biggest parade this town has ever seen. The deadline for the early entry fee price was June 25, but anyone can participate in the parade even if they show up and register that morning. 

We’d love to see a thick crowd lining the street to greet the parade, then head to the park to ride rides, play bingo, eat some fair food, and enjoy being in the company of friends, family, and the community after we’ve had to be apart for so long. 

We’d also love to see people come hang out for the headlining band that will play leading up to the fireworks display on Sunday night.

We don’t think we’re alone hoping for a stellar, rain-free event. We’ve seen so many people on local social media pages/groups ask if the Fourth celebration will return this year, and we’ve had them ask us personally what plans are. People want to get out and have fun again, and celebrate our country and all the things that make it great. 

Let’s make this year’s Fourth our best one yet, Pickens County, then look forward to other fun events down the line – from the Sheriff’s JeepFest to the Marble Festival and the Christmas parade.  

 

Happy Fourth of July 

from the Progress