By Kathy Dean
It might seem that the reasons for moving to the North Georgia mountains would be as varied as the people moving there, but that’s not really the case. It can all be distilled down to a few basic things that everyone wants – natural beauty, a relaxed lifestyle and friendly communities.
When it comes to the details, though, everybody has their specific needs. For Kathy and Dave Brown, their 20-year dream of a log home finally came true in March. It took perseverance and patience to find the perfect cabin for vacations, and eventually retirement – a place with plenty of land for their grandchildren to play.
“My husband and I are both retired law enforcement and we look forward to this quieter way of life,” Kathy said. “We come from the Tampa, Florida area where it’s a rat race. In the mountains, no one is a stranger and everyone is more than willing to help you.”
The Browns are ready to get back to basics and enjoy the tranquility and slower-paced lifestyle. They’d originally bought acreage in Sylva, North Carolina, but never built on it; they realized they wanted something a little closer to home.
“We’re just eight hours from our Florida house and within a few hours of Atlanta, Chattanooga and Cherokee,” Kathy added. “It’s the perfect vacation area, and I love the clean mountain air and beautiful landscapes of the mountains.”
The area also affords them a great place to enjoy outdoor leisure activities and antiquing. Throughout the years, the Browns had been collecting antiques for their dream cabin. Some remodeling is already underway to make it true to the early 1900s theme they’ve chosen.
“Their cabin is lovely, and so is their land,” noted Donna M. O’Neal, associate broker, Coldwell Banker High Country Realty, the realtor who helped them locate their mountain cabin in Morganton, Georgia.
For mountain living, it’s hard to beat Big Canoe, a beauty spot surrounded by even more natural beauty. Big Canoe’s North gate is 10 miles from Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, home of the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. And just five minutes from the gates of Big Canoe is Gibbs Gardens, recognized as one of the premier gardens in all of North America.
A bit farther, but still just minutes away, are the 750,000 protected acres of the Chattahoochee National Forest, which features more than 430 miles of trails and 2,200 miles of rivers and streams – 1,370 are trout streams. Just over the Tennessee border, there’s the 640,000-acre Cherokee National Forest, and the 530,000-acre Nantahala National Forest is down the road in North Carolina.
But it’s what’s in Big Canoe that brings people. Not only is it the perfect setting for events, especially weddings and retreats, there’s a range of new and resale homes, priced from $200,000 to $3 million+, that attract people looking for retirement homes, vacation homes and second homes. Hundreds of Atlanta families find their weekend getaway homes there. For one of those families, Bob and Carolyn Littell, it’s become their permanent spot of paradise.
In the 1980s, Bob was living and working in Dallas, Texas. He relocated to Atlanta in 1981 as chief marketing officer of an Atlanta-based insurance company. Soon after arriving, he attended a corporate retreat at Big Canoe that had already been planned before he arrived. He can remember saying: “I thought I’d found heaven!”
After returning home from the retreat, he told his wife, Carolyn, about it and on regular intervals over the years that followed, they returned for visits, renting homes for the weekend to catch up on some reading and hike the trails. What drew them back was an area dubbed “the Enchanted Land” by the Indians, a mountaintop retreat of more than 8,000 pristine acres of woodlands and lakes.
Cousins Properties in Atlanta began developing the area in the early 1970s. Bill Byrne of the Byrne Corporation of Georgia acquired the development in 1987. In 1997, Greenwood Development Corporation joined forces with Byrne to form the Big Canoe Co., LLC, which still manages Big Canoe today. While the area is carefully developed, about 30 percent of the land is set aside as usable green space.
Initially, the Littells had planned to downsize their Buckhead home and just have a weekend mountain get-away in Big Canoe. But one day Carolyn called Bob and told him, “The dogs and I are moving up to Big Canoe permanently and you’re welcome to join us.” Today, Bob works only a few days out of their condo in Buckhead and then heads north to their mountain sanctuary.
“It is really an amazing place,” Bob said. “And it attracts amazing people, including several retired university presidents, senior executives and other successful professionals, working and retired.”
There’s no shortage of activities in Big Canoe. The mountains cradle three lakes that invite swimmers, boaters and fishermen/women to get out in the water and enjoy the natural bounty. More than 300 members play on the indoor and outdoor courts of Big Canoe Tennis Club, one of the area’s tennis complexes.
For golfers there’s the challenging Mountain Course, a 27-hole championship golf course designed by Joe Lee that winds through picturesque valleys and along rushing streams; it’s been rated as a Top 20 course in Georgia.
“The gorgeous, new clubhouse is a great place to socialize, and one of the things I like best about Big Canoe is that you can own a $250,000 weekend get-away cabin and be sitting in the Black Bear Pub talking with someone who owns a $2 million home. Nobody cares,” Bob added. “The common bond is nature and the setting. Most Big Canoe residents check their egos at the door…and their lawnmowers.”
Another couple, Kathleen and Paul Greenlaw, moved in May 2014 from the Stone Mountain area to Talking Rock in Pickens County. They found their retirement home while searching through online listings, though they were originally looking for a plot of land to park their camper.
Tina Pritchett, owner/broker of Mountain Tracks Realty in Blue Ridge, Georgia, helped get everything settled. “Tina was really great,” Paul said, “and she did not pay me to say that!”
The Greenlaws agreed that the best part of living in the mountains is the small communities with little to no traffic, and the abundant wildlife and nature. They enjoy the privacy, peace, relaxation and silence, broken only by singing birds. Being in just the right place up on a mountain affords incredible views, they said, and lets them see amazingly colorful sunsets at night, and the fog-shrouded valley in the early morning (if they decide to get up early enough to watch the beautiful sunrise).
There’s a lot they love about their new homestead, and plenty to do, like fishing, hiking, and nature and wildlife photography. Local courses, like the nearby Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course in Elberton, offers great deals for golfers. When they get in the mood to shop, it’s just a 15- or 20-minute drive to get anything they need.
Kathleen and Paul added that one of their favorite activities is sitting on their deck or in the sunroom and watching the wildlife – deer, foxes, turkeys and the occasional bear.
“People are usually ‘wowed’ when they come to visit us. It’s not so much about our house, as it is about our location,” Kathleen said. “We live at 1,700 feet, completely surrounded by woods, nature and wildlife, all on more than five acres.”
Paul shared his advice for people considering a move to the north Georgia mountains. First, make a list of what you really want, what’s really important to you, and prioritize each point.
Questions to consider are: where do you want to be located, and in what kind of setting do you want your mountain home? Do you want to be in the woods, near a lake or on the top of a mountain? Would you like a pond, stream or river on your property? How much acreage would you like to buy? Do you want to live in or near a town, or in the country? Do you want to be able to see your neighbors or not?
Then do some extensive research to find the spot that’s right for you. “We narrowed a list of approximately 100 Internet listings down to a dozen or so and spent two weekends with Mountain Tracks Realty finding the perfect home,” Kathleen said. “Here in the mountains, there are so many possibilities to choose from. The deals are still incredible, but prices are going up. If you are seriously looking for a mountain home, don’t wait. Our home realized a 10 percent increase in value in less than a year.”
The Greenlaws look forward to each day in the mountains and the new things they see, hear and enjoy there, from sunrise to the sunsets – and the incredible amount of stars that the city lights didn’t let them see.
“All this and, should we miss the traffic, we’re less than an hour-and-a-half from downtown Atlanta,” Paul added with a smile.