ASSESSMENT OF INHOLDERS
IN THE MOUNT ROGERS NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
by Kent Anderson
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER TWO: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MOUNT ROGERS NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
CHAPTER THREE: SOME INHOLDERS OF THE MOUNT ROGERS AREA
CHAPTER FOUR: CONCLUSIONS
PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION INDEX
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SOME INHOLDERS OF THE MOUNT ROGERS AREA
In 1934 Pauline Dixon and her husband, Jay, opened the Iron Mountain Grill on the crest of Iron Mountain near Troutdale. Jay's family had been in the Mount Rogers area for generations and he had inherited the land for this new enterprise. They struggled hard for many years with their diner and in 1952 they were able to build their home nearby. The years following were finally profitable for the Iron Mountain Grill and the Dixons were able to rent it out to different management for the fifteen years prior to their conflict with the Forest Service in 1973-1974. At that time the long range plans of the National Recreation Area called for a scenic highway to be built right through the Dixon's home and business. The Dixons did not want to leave what had taken so long to build up. In late 1973 they even refused to let Forest Service personnel on their property for an appraisal and in April of the following year they were served with a Declaration of Taking and given 21 days to vacate. Pauline Dixon said at the time the Forest Service had promised to help her house-hunt in the city of Marion, but this aid was never forthcoming. Bitterly, the Dixons relocated themselves and built a new house. They also contested the government's estimate of their land which the USFS said was $93,000. After the subsequent trial, the Dixons were awarded $160,000 for their approximately 150 acres, but they had already spent $22,000 for their lawyer and $80,000 for their new house. In the spring of 1975 the Forest Service moved their former home from its old site to a different one and asked the Dixons whether they would like first bid for it, a fact which further enraged them because had they known that such an opportunity was going to present itself, they never would have built the second home. Finally, after the Forest Service gave up on its plans for the scenic highway, the agency proceeded to rent it back to the same person that had been renting from the Dixons. Today, the iron Mountain Grill (Photo 2) stands where it always has, but Pauline and Jay Dixon have lost it as a source of income. When they drive by their former business nowadays, Pauline Dixon said, "I used to cry, but I don't look that way anymore."1
Robert and Helen Young
Like the Dixons, the Youngs were served a Declaration of Taking in the spring of 1974 by a Federal Marshal. This had occurred after seven years of what the Youngs called "harassment" by the Forest Service in trying to obtain their former land for part of the Fox Creek impoundment. They had lived on the land for 17 years and had raised tobacco and cattle. After they received the DT, Robert and Helen Young hired a lawyer who managed to get them a higher value for their land plus thousands of dollars in relocation funds, but as the Youngs said, "There are lots a things money doesn't compensate for." Helen Young went under a doctor's care after being forced off her land and had a nervous condition for two or three years. The Youngs do not like to go back to their former home especially since they are now under the impression the house is being lived in by Forest Service personnel in the aftermath of the cancellation of the Fox Creek impoundment.2
Arlene Crow (Photo 3)
The Crows have owned land in the Brush Creek area of the NRA since 1976. In July of 1978 Arlene, her husband and two sons moved onto the property with the hope of retiring there permanently after a 20 year period of living briefly in a variety of locations all over the world due to Chuck Crow's career in the military. That same year they were approached by a lands acquisition forester who wanted to purchase an easement on their land. Arlene Crow and her family had just recently been made aware of what had happened to their neighbor, the Reverend Roy Taylor (who will be discussed next) and, according to their understanding at the time, they were very much fearful of easements. Now, Arlene Crow admits that easements were not explained to her fully. She had been under the impression that they were non-negotiable. Even before the Crows settled into their home (Photo 4) , they had moved to Brush Creek fully intending someday to have Arlene's parents, Sherman and Mary Poland, live on the property also. Arlene's mother was in poor health and eventually the Polands did move onto the Crow property (Photo 17), but for many months Arlene Crow worried whether an easement restriction might prevent her mother from retiring to the healthful life found in Southwest Virginia. The Crows wish there was better communication links between the Forest Service and the inholders. They never received the FEIS, or "blue book," even though their property was planned for an easement. This was explained to this researcher by the Forest Service that an inholder's name must be brought to the attention of the headquarters of the Jefferson National Forest in Roanoke to receive important mail. Arlene Crow had written letters of concern only to the District ranger level, so apparently continuous linkage among the various Forest service channels might improve the needed and shared inholder-USFS discussions.3
Reverend Roy Taylor
Reverend Taylor had lived 15 years in the Brush Creek area until he was told about 1978 by the Forest Service that they wanted to purchase his land for use as a ranger station. Some time later the USFS changed its mind and said that they wanted the Taylor property only for a scenic easement. Reverend Taylor has since moved to North Carolina to a new ministerial position, but he recalled his reaction to the proposal in a letter:
... I asked the question "If I should take an easement and when I got older and not as much money coming in and couldn't keep it in good maintenance what would happen to me then?" the answer 'we would give you fair market value after appraisal were made it you failed to take the offer, your place would be condemned and then a price we would offer you would have to be take... I didn't want any part in paying for a home & someone else tell me what I could do and could not do.
Taylor's reaction exemplifies the widespread mistrust and the lack of information regarding easements among the inholders of the Mount Rogers NRA. 4
Donna Taylor and her family are close neighbors of Arlene Crow. About three years ago they wanted to sell their small plot of land, slightly more than one-half of an acre, located on Virginia state road 602, also known as Brush Creek Road. They did not receive any offers which pleased them and the Forest Service, at the time, expressed no interest in their land. According to the recent FEIS, their plot is now earmarked for an easement and the Taylors have heard such negative comments about easements that they would prefer to sell. Since almost all of the land on the other side of Brush Creek Road across from the Taylors has been purchased by the Forest Service, Donna Taylor worries whether someday her home might be overrun by the problems which would accompany the campsites scheduled to be built across the road from her. She is particularly annoyed by a house which stands vacated directly across from her home. The property was purchased by the Forest Service and yet the former owner's house still stands. Donna Taylor said the property is strewn with litter (Photo 6) and that the soil is eroding (Photo 7). She was especially incensed by a recent incident she witnessed at the house. One weekend same Forest Service personnel were using the vacant house as a hunting lodge. When one forester discovered that no key had been brought along to open the house, he smashed open the door window in order to get inside. (Photo 80).5
Albert and Mary Byrd
Owners of one of the most attractive farmhouses in the entire eastern portion of the NRA (Photo 91), the Byrds have lived on their land for several decades. About four years ago the Forest Service took Albert and Mary and many of their neighbors on bus ride throughout their section of the NRA and pointed out the plans for the Recreation Area and why they wished to obtain various people's property. At that time the Byrds were told that the USFS was not interested in the land on the side of state road 602 where the 73 acre Byrd farm was. Six months later they were approached with a scenic easement offer which they refused to sign. They were also told by the lands acquisition forester not to communicate the "deal", or terms of the easement proposed, to their neighbors. So fearful of easements were the Bards that Mary thought she might have a nervous breakdown during this period. As many of their neighbors across 602 sold their properties to the Forest Service, Albert and Mary expressed puzzlement as to the great variations in prices for land offered by the USFS. According to the couple, some former residents received $5,000 or $6,000 per acre while their son Wendell was offered only $850 per acre. 6
Pearman is an inholder who has never been approached by the Forest Service in regard to his land, but, like Albert and Mary Byrd, he is disturbed by what he sees as the many inconsistencies of USFS policy all around him. Pearman lives near the proposed Bournes Branch recreation complex which had the one remaining impoundment in the FEIS. Pearman said there is no need for the proposed two and one-half mile road connecting state road 602 with Bournes Branch as there are sufficient roads and roadbeds already in existence. In another part of the NRA, he drove this researcher along NRA road 690(Photo 10) and 667 which contained numerous unmaintained campsites (Photo 11). These roads were built by the USFS in the mid and late 1960's, but appear to have been largely abandoned. Erosion is setting in off parts of the roads, probably due to motorcycling (Photo 12), and there were a couple of 20 acre clearings (Photo 13 and 14) in evidence which would seem to be appropriate foundations for campsites. The Forest Service explained that such clearings may actually have been intended for some of the wildlife usages of the USFS, such as for grazing or nesting. Frank Pearman questioned if the Forest Service cannot maintain and develop the land they already have, why does the agency continue to acquire so much acreage.
There were a number of other visible signs in other parts of the NRA noticed by this researcher which, at first glance, might have indicated that the Forest Service could not fully maintain the land which it already possessed. For example, several Forest Service signs were missing the center portion of the sign which carried the message or directional indication. All that remained was the wooden frame (Photo 18). This was explained by the USFS that several of the signs had been removed for cleaning. Along the Fairwood Valley area most of the evidence of the former owners has been "returned to nature" according to the mission of the NRA, but there was still an occasional house foundation present (Photo 19) and, in one instance, an entire house and shed stood vacant and deteriorating (Photos 20 and 21). These structures appear to have been probably abandoned for at least three years and, perhaps, dated back to the 1973-1974 period when much of the USFS land acquisition in that area occurred. There were also other small plots of Forest service property which contained some junked automobiles and other litter (Photos 22 and 23); and the most unsightly property seen by this author in or near the entire NRA sported the sign of a Jefferson Forest warden on the front lawn, a lawn which also included an old rusted school bus and several other junked autos (Photo 24). Such a sight may be totally beyond the scope of USFS power and also such wardens are not actually full-time Forest Service employees, merely local residents contracted by the government to be a reporting station for forest fires and other matters. Nonetheless, if the Forest Service had any choice in the matter, it would seem logical to assume that the agency would have chosen a more esthetically pleasing setting or a more conscientious property-owner with which to entrust its official designations and signs.
Returning to Frank Pearman, he felt that the 75c per acre that the USFS is supposed to pay to local governments in lieu of property taxes is not an equitable trade for the agency's tax exempt status. A recent 12 county survey by the Virginia Land Owners Association seems to confirm Pearman, saying that most residents and businesses in the area averaged at least $1.25 tax per acre with many going over $1.50 per acre. The MRPDC has also decried the loss of local taxes due to the expanding NRA. In fact, the executive committee of the MRPDC recently adopted the recommendation of its land use and environmental planning advisory, council that all further land acquisition by the Forest Service cease "until payments in lieu are increased and funded to offset the tax loss to local governments." 7
Larry and Lorraine Pierce (Photo 15)
Although they are relative newcomers to the area, the family of Larry Pierce is one of the oldest in the region. Larry was born in Nebraska after his father had left the Southern Appalachian region over 50 years prior. The original Pierce family cabin, in fact, still stands on the property of the Jarvises near Sugar Grove and the older half of the structure dates back to approximately 1800 (Photo 16). After Larry retired from his job as a carpenter in Los Angeles, he and his wife, Lorraine, and their family moved to the land of his "roots" in late 1977. The 103 acres Pierce purchased from relatives had been in his family for at least 100 years. When the Pierces first moved into the area, Larry went to the Forest Service to inform them that he intended to build his awn house on his land near Troutdale. At that time, the USFS told the Pierces of the possibility that the agency might want a scenic easement on part of their property. Shortly thereafter, in early 1978, the DEIS, or Unit Plan, appeared which indicated that approximately one-half of their property was a "must acquisition" for the Forest Service, meaning that if the Pierces did not want to sell, the only alternative was condemnation proceedings in the form of a Declaration of Taking. This threw the Pierce's plans for retiring in the NRA asunder. Lorraine Pierce began waking up in the middle of the night to cry. Determined to hold onto their property, the Pierces became active in Citizens for Southwest Virginia. When the FEIS came out in 1980, to their astonishment, Larry and Lorraine discovered that the other half of their land left free in 1978 was now "in the orange," or color-coded to signify that the USFS wanted the remaining acreage on a "willing-seller" basis. In effect, the USFS now desired all of the homestead of the Pierces. Presently, since Larry Pierce was hesitant in constructing his house after the 1978 DEIS appeared and he rented a house just outside the NRA, according to internal Revenue statutes, he forfeited the capital gains on their previous house by failing to buy a new "home" within 18 months after sale of the prior one. Therefore, the Pierces have withdrawn their entire savings to pay the $6,000 tax bill. Larry Pierce said he is "broked out," but will not quit fighting for the right to live on his land. 8
Some Willing Sellers
There were many inholders who willingly sold their land to the Forest Service within the boundaries of the NRA and the great majority of these people offered nothing but compliments in-the way they were treated by the USFS. One such inholder was Paul Jones, the brother-in-law of the aforementioned Rev. Roy Taylor. Jones has been partially disabled for 14 years and about three years ago he put his house and approximate three acres up for sale near Cripple Creek. He and his wife were getting tired of the frequent commutes to the hospital in Galax. The Forest Service approached him and asked whether he would consider their offer for his land. Jones stated that he never felt pressured in any way by the agency, calling the agency personnel he encountered "the nicest people." Jones was very satisfied with the government price for his property (more than $13,000) and, as for any regrets about leaving the beautiful surroundings of the NRA, Jones said, "I wouldn't trade where I am now for three places like that."
Elbert Anders is another former inholder who experienced no problems with the Forest Service as he was glad to sell his one acre nearly three years ago off Brush Creek Road. A neighbor of Anders then was Allen Waller who now lives in Damascus. Waller also owned an acre bordering Brush Creek and bartered back and forth with the Forest Service three times before a price was reached with which he was well satisfied." Waller wishes he could have more business dealings such as the one he had with the USFS.
Bo Bailey now lives in Indiana, but about six years ago, like Paul Jones, he put his property up for sale and was soon approached by a lands acquisition forester who made what Bailey considered a very generous offer, or as he put it, "they offer you the moon." Even though he and his wife came from two of the older families in the area, Bailey was glad to sell his 115 acres near the Cherry Park Shelter and move from the area to a much better economic situation. Discussing the generous relocation benefits of the USFS, Bo Bailey related how his former neighbor in the NRA, elderly Norman Sheets, was moved from a decrepit shanty to a very nice brick house. Bailey said he thought that the Recreation Area had definitely raised the land values around Mount Rogers. He said he felt that many inholders who did not want to sell were merely waiting for higher prices for their land. For those people, though, who "actually went through con-damnation, he expressed sorrow, but added, "that's the only way we can have anything." 9
Arlie Swinney (Photo 25)
Swinney is also classified as a willing seller by the USFS, but the 50 year old textile mill worker now states that he regrets his decision to sell and felt pressured into doing so. He was assisted in his relocation by the Forest Service and even though his new house (Photo 26) rests on slightly more land than his prior residence, he said the quality of his living has declined. His new house is within the city limits of Fries, overlooking the well-traveled highway into town (Photo 27), while his former plot overlooked a beautiful valley from Iron Mountain. The new land has no good drainfills, he said, while his former land had two. Since his relocation, in February 1980, his property taxes have doubled. Arlie Swinney enjoys hunting and he has a very deep love for his beagle hunting dogs, but, unfortunately, they have all developed ticks since his move to "the city." He cannot understand why the Forest Service wanted his former land. His house there could not be seen from state road 602 below nor from the crest of Iron Mountain above so there was no question of it being "unsightly." As part of his agreement with the government, Swinney must dismantle his former home within 180 days, a task which he sadly does on a near daily basis (Photo 28). At government expense then, Arlie Swinney has moved into a larger house on more land, but this "poor country boy" as he called himself, has also moved into a much more "urban" environment, the ramifications of which he was unprepared for. 10
Doctor Elmer Cranton (Photo 29)
Even though the story of Dr. Cranton is long and complicated; and even though he is an inholder who has never been approached by the Forest Service for his land and, therefore, might be considered only marginal to the focus of this report, his experience might illustrate a unique case study of one who spoke out against the policies of the USFS for the Mount Rogers area. Dr. Cranton moved into the area in 1976 on a grant from the National Health Service Corps of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Such programs are designed to correct the maldistribution of medical care in this country by bringing physicians to rural and other areas greatly in need of health care. A clinic was set up for Cranton and, in return, the former jet pilot and Navy doctor signed a three year contract to stay in the area. He was the only physician within a 20 mile radius of the Troutdale area. Cranton brought with him an increasingly popular approach to medicine called holistic health care which emphasizes preventive care and patient participation in the maintenance of the "whole" person. Coupled with his interest in parapsychology, the health care methods of Dr. Cranton soon ran into a small, but vociferous group of local citizen opposition. Holistic health care soon became "Holyistic" health care to a minority of local ministers and a faction on the board which controlled the clinic. Unfounded and outrageous rumors began to circulate about the doctor and his family. One rumor was that he practiced spiritualism and had attempted to raise the dead. The accusers actually requested HEW to remove Cranton from their community. At this time, the Department declined to act on such charges. After the DEIS for the Mount Rogers area appeared in early 1978, though, the opposition to the physician reached new proportions of intensity and force despite the fact that he had built up a large practice and the vast majority of the surrounding residents found him to be an excellent and much-needed figure for the community.
After a class he voluntarily gave in emergency medical techniques for the citizenry, Cranton voiced some environmental concerns about the DEIS and urged everyone present to read the Unit Plan and the extensive plans for the area. At this same time, Elmer's wife Nancy, was running for a seat on the town council and she soon began writing extensively to the local newspapers in opposition to much of the Forest Service plans for the area. Most of the Crantons concerns about the DEIS were regarding the potential ecological damage, but they also opposed condemnations. Shortly after the articulate viewpoints of the Crantons became known, several local politicians, including the mayor, joined with the previous religious opposition to the doctor in calling for his transfer from their locality. Cranton is convinced that those local politicians were so pro-development in their outlook for the area and had such an economic stake in seeing the full fruition of the USFS plans for the Recreation Area that they fostered the continuation of rumors and gossip about the Crantons' personal lives. Cranton was compared to a cult figure such as those associated with the "Moonies" and his family was rumored to worship a dead cat which was supposedly tied up on a pole in their backyard. The scurrilous stories persisted that spring. Nancy Cranton went west to visit her mother and a widespread rumor resulted that she had left to communicate with her dead mother. In, fact, the mother of Nancy Cranton was very much alive and even visited her daughter's home. Due to the persistent local political pressure, the National Health Service Corps took the extraordinary step of ordering Dr. Cranton transferred to Yukon, West Virginia despite the fact that there was a year and one-half to go on his contract. In May of 1978 Cranton filed for an injunction against HEW in District Court, The Court quickly ruled in favor of the doctor saying that the transfer was unwarranted. In his decision the judge said:
... it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Dr. Cranton was transferred on the request of the Committee because of his association with the holistic healing group and because of the speech that he had made concerning the Mount Rogers Park ... he was transferred because of a violation of his First Amendment rights of freedom of association and free speech.
Following his victory in court, Dr. Cranton then sued HEW and, in an out-of-court settlement, HEW let him out of his contract without the $15,000 penalty in return for the doctor dropping his lawsuit. Unlike 95% of NHSC doctors, Elmer Cranton has chosen to remain in the once "physician-poor" area he serviced as a government doctor. In this regard, the Smyth County Medical Society said that, "Dr. Cranton may be considered to be one of the few successes of the NHSC." In a continuing bureaucratic nightmare, the successor Department of HEW, Health and Human Service, seems determined to bring another doctor to the area under the auspices of NESC despite the fact that both the local medical society and the Virginia State Medical Society have declared that such an action would be totally unnecessary since Dr. Cranton intends to stay in the area. In other words, even according to government guidelines, the greater Troutdale region is in no need of another physician, especially one financed by the taxpayers. Dr. Cranton's account borders on the unbelievable, but it is all thoroughly documented. In no way should it be inferred that the Forest Service was responsible for what happened to him. The recent life of Elmer Canton and his family in the NRA may only be indicative of the fanaticism and zeal of those inholders and local interested parties who would have the most to gain economically from a greatly expanded and fully developed Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. 11
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