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Beauty and the beast: Asphalt plant meets historic Trade

By: Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer/Photographer

As the sun dawns on the summer solstice in Johnson County, the season is greeted by waves of lush greenery, as far as the eye can see. Majestic peaks comprised of rock some 480 million years old rise above fertile valleys and rushing streams, displaying themselves proudly for the enjoyment of fortunate onlookers.

These hills have history and in Johnson County, Trade is perhaps one of the areas richest in heritage. Formerly known as ‘Traders Gap’, the area now simply referred to as Trade, was once a bustling trading post for the people of the Cherokee tribe as well as pioneers. The easternmost town in Tennessee, Trade also acted as a gateway to early pioneers traveling west. Stocking up on furs and other provisions, Trade was often the last place early pioneers saw before the long journey westward.

Though Trade, along with the rest of Johnson County, has changed throughout the years, one thing has remained unchanged; the same peeks that beckoned exploration from the likes of Daniel Boone and other less celebrated pioneers, still soar proudly above the dips and valleys that make up this glorious county. North America is a vast continent but as the East Coast population grows, unspoiled miles of country are becoming a rarity. In this county, I fear at times all of the natural blessings are taken for granted.

It’s no secret that Johnson County has a struggling economy. Industrial jobs have come and gone leaving residents fearing for their financial futures. I know this struggle all too well. I know what it’s like to take an undesirable job simply because it’s the only thing available. Thankfully, I was able to finally find my niche in this county, after nearly six years of working here, there and everywhere just trying to make ends meet. I know that for many county residents, this story is their biography and there’s no end in sight.
Because of these struggles, I realize how attractive it may be to some when a sizeable company aims to set up shop in Johnson County. It gives way to dreams of increased employment opportunities and the possibility of financial security –lucrative prospects to say the least. However, I think there’s a certain point where we have to ask ourselves “is it worth it?” If the said industry will prove itself destructive to our beloved county, shouldn’t we question its worth?
Tourism is the future of Johnson County. I distinctly remember visiting Boone when I moved here in 1996. Back then; it was little more than a quiet haven for artists and outdoor enthusiasts. Today, it’s nearly unrecognizable with the enormous growth of Appalachian State University and the influx of tourists. Driving through King Street is now chore rather than an enjoyable stroll and making it from one end of Boone to another is nearly a forty-five minute commitment. But we have something Boone doesn’t have. Johnson County has room to grow. And if planned properly, the struggles Boone has faced will never be at the forefront of Johnson County’s problems.
The key is forward thinking. Rather than inviting industry that will destroy our historic peeks, pollute the sound waves and raise health concerns, why not instead choose an industry that will promote the beauty of this town and invite others to enjoy it? Johnson County has vast potential that if utilized properly, will propel Johnson County into economic health. The coming of Doe Mountain is a golden opportunity to keep moving in the direction of ecotourism. By investing in alternative energy and keeping this county green, Johnson County could not only be a pioneer in the ecotourism movement but residents will benefit from the inundation of jobs while still keeping the county pristine.
I hope that each resident will think about whether or not the opening of a Radford Quarries Asphalt Plant in Trade is beneficial to our town. The next time you’re driving down one of our many scenic roads and you witness a lone sunbeam breaking through the clouds only to brush one of our vast peeks with golden sunlight, take a moment to ask yourself, “Are our mountains worth fighting for?”