By Kathy Dean
The mountains of north Georgia have a strong draw on people, especially city dwellers. Mountain vistas offer a spectacular beauty that calms the spirit and wakens the soul. Woodland trails entice hikers, and lakes invite boaters and fishermen and women. Friendly neighbors, arts and craft festivals, delightful shops and top-notch restaurants are everywhere. It’s no wonder that so many visitors claim a piece of the mountain for themselves.
For Cathy and Ted Day, the search for a mountain retreat was, in a way, a return home. “We both grew up with a love of the mountains,” Cathy explained. Originally from Gainesville, GA, Ted spent much of his time enjoying activities in the great outdoors. Cathy grew up in Florida and always thought of herself as a beach girl. Still, her parents had a mountain house in North Carolina, and her sister’s family still has one there.
“As our children got older, married and had children of their own, the mountain house became our gathering place, our memory maker,” Ted added. “Now we have the opportunity to create that same kind of family gathering place.”
The couple spent several years looking for a cottage in the Blue Ridge area, with the help of Kim Knutzen of Harry Norman Realtors, Blue Ridge. During one of their ventures, they overheard someone ask Kim about Old Toccoa Farm, and it piqued their curiosity. Kim took Cathy and Ted to see the development; the more they saw and learned, the more they became convinced that Old Toccoa Farm was the perfect setting for their next home.
According to Cathy, they were impressed by the love and commitment that the developers, including Managing Partner Peter Knutzen, have for Old Toccoa Farm. “Their concept is just what we wanted. They believe in being part of the community and giving back to it.”
All the main requirements for their new home were met: a place to retreat and restore their souls; a place to enjoy and share fellowship with their very full family of ten; a place to create community with other residents and friends; and a place to potentially enjoy an active retirement.
“We invited our kids up to Old Toccoa Farm around Thanksgiving,” said Ted. “Before they left, they turned to us and said, ‘It’s perfect! What are you waiting for?’ That same day, we signed up and bought our piece of the Farm!”
Karen Rowell and Steve Frick recently purchased a vacation home in Mineral Bluff, near the Georgia/North Carolina border. “We absolutely love it!” Karen said. “It’s been a dream in the making, and Nathan Fitts, our Realtor with Remax Town & Country, helped make it come true.”
Steve and Karen agreed that their two biggest draws to the area were the beauty of the mountains and the outdoor lifestyle. They regularly ride their bikes, hike with their dogs and enjoy beautiful Lake Blue Ridge.
While they still work in Atlanta, Karen noted that it would be a perfect place to retire or reinvent themselves one day. “Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s amazing how less stressful life seems here than in Atlanta, where I’ve lived all my life.”
Steve Baker and Sally Farr love to travel, though they found a perfect place to take a respite in the north Georgia mountains. Steve, originally from Illinois, worked in the university system there for over 30 years, and is now retired. Throughout the years, he regularly traveled back and forth between the Champaign-Urbana area in Illinois and the St. Petersburg-Sarasota area of Florida.
He often dropped in on friends along the way – Joe and Diane in Mineral Bluff, GA, just outside of Blue Ridge. In 2013, he asked Joe to show him some homes in the mountains that fit his needs and price range. He and Sally picked out Dogwood Cabin in Mineral Bluff and bought it, with the help of Mountain Tracks Realty of North Georgia.
“It was originally friends that brought us to the area, and it didn’t take long for the gorgeous views and central location to convince us to stay,” Steve explained. “We like most of the things the area offers, like antiquing, festivals and art shows.”
The cabin isn’t terribly secluded, so they can retreat there, but still enjoy the friendly neighbors. And they’re just 7 ½ miles from Blue Ridge, 5 ½ miles from Blairsville, one hour from Chattanooga and one hour 20 minutes from Atlanta. They can easily drive to visit friends in Canton, Lexington and Asheville, and tailgate with friends at Clemson games.
Sally grew up in West Virginia and feels at home in the mountains. “I love this place! I love the area and my friends here,” she said. Eventually, Steve and Sally may settle full-time in their cabin, but in the meantime, they continue to travel and rent out the 2-bedroom Dogwood Cabin, through cuddleupcabinrentals.com, while they’re on the road or visiting friends.
“This is a beautiful area,” said Barbara. “Both the land and the people are wonderful.” Now retired, she moved in 2007 from California to her home in Hayesville, NC.
Barbara enjoys walking and hiking in the mountains and around Lake Chatuge, a reservoir that reaches into Georgia and North Carolina with 132 miles of shoreline and opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing. Water sports are also available on the Hiawassee River and Valley River.
According to Barbara, vegetable gardening – spring through fall – is a must, even though there are some very good farmers’ markets in Murphy and Blairsville. “There are also many classes offered through the John C. Campbell Folk School, Young Harris College (through the Institute for Continued Learning) and other venues on a variety of subjects,” she said. “I just finished a weekend class on dog training through Cold Nose College in Murphy, NC.”
There is so much to do that Barbara was surprised by it all. In fact, it seems there’s always something happening, whether it’s a festival, theatre production, musical event or gathering. She noted that a person can get overwhelmed choosing what to do!
Barbara said that, when it comes down to it, she believes the best part of living in the mountains is the people. “They’re so friendly and willing to help with anything and always smiling,” she said. “There’s great energy here that’s not found in many areas.”
Like many others, Jackie and Jonathan Griffin fell in love with the scenery, cooler weather and friendly people of north Georgia. They found the mountain homes had just the right balance of warm-and-cozy with trendy new touches – rustic meeting industrial with a splash of modern features. They strolled through towns that had a very cool vibe and a hip/urban culture.
The couple is still working, but plan to retire in the next five years. Their plan includes a home in the mountains, so they had one built; it was completed and became theirs at the end of March this year. They expected, and got, a relaxing retreat. What they didn’t expect was that they could still enjoy all the modern conveniences of city life.
“Moving from a city to the mountains, it was a natural concern that I would not be able to get a Starbucks coffee when I wanted one, and that my favorite shoes would be a day trip of shopping away,” Jackie said. “Surprise! Starbucks is around the corner…and I traded in my favorite shoes for new favorite hiking boots.”
In fact, the mountains have provided them with lots of new experiences. Jonathan and Jackie have discovered kayaking down the river, fishing in the stream and hiking the mountain trails. In the evening, they enjoy trying out the variety of restaurants, each featuring unique menu items. “It’s surprising that there are so many things to do in a very small town,” added Jonathan. “We’ve discovered something new each week, and yet we live in the peaceful quiet of the mountains.”
“When we first started looking for a ‘cabin’ in the mountains, we didn’t really know what we were looking for,” said Debbie Prantl. She and her husband Jim kept looking, and the more they saw, the more they determined that the view was key. Debbie said that Realtor Suzi Henry was kind enough to work with them for months, and although they saw many lovely homes, none were the right fit.
They decided that they wanted a view of Lake Blue Ridge and the mountain ranges. That’s when they found Realtor Nathan Fitts and his group.
“At the time, the land was still full of trees and we couldn’t see the view,” Debbie said “We were going on faith and Nathan’s word that our perfect view was out there. Once we saw the aerial photos taken by a drone, we knew he was right, and we fell in love with it.”
The building of their perfect mountain retreat was complete in May of last year, and their dream was realized. Since Jim is still working, he sometimes commutes to Atlanta or they occasionally stay in their Atlanta home.
But Jim and Debbie can’t get enough of the peace and beauty of the mountains. They wake up to the sounds of birds singing in the morning, and see families of deer strolling through their yard in the evening. During the day, they sit on their deck and enjoy the view, or take a ride into town and browse through the many shops. They dine at the area’s fabulous restaurants, or engage in some of the many activities – like golf, hiking, boating and rafting. They’ve also attended the community theatre in Blue Ridge, and highly recommend it.
“I think we’re really surprised at how much we feel at home here. We never want to leave,” Debbie said. “We’ve been informed by our son that we can never sell this home because it has a history already. Last 4th of July, he proposed to his girlfriend here on our ‘Juliette balcony.’ Hopefully, it will stay in the family for many years to come.”
In 2000, Natalie Sharp found herself in need of a hobby as stress relief to her hectic career in the orthodontic industry. She visited Blue Ridge and cast her way into a new hobby of fly fishing. “After a short weekend learning the sport, it was apparent that the beauty of the mountains and the small town of Blue Ridge were tugging at my heart,” she said.
The beauty of the mountains, rivers and creeks touched Natalie deeply. She loved the quaintness of the Blue Ridge community, its town and the ease of meeting and making friends. Fly fishing and the north Georgia mountains quickly became her passion. Throughout the next year, all of her free time and holidays were spent in a rented cabin so she could further explore mountain living and enjoy a simple, peaceful way of life.
Natalie met Nathan Fitts, a meeting that eventually led to her purchase of a mountain home under construction. In 2002, she relocated to Blue Ridge from the Atlanta area. Natalie credits Nathan’s knowledge of the area for her wonderful mountain home and mountain life. According to her, Nathan has an understanding of the area that helped him locate just the right mountain home to meet her needs.
“I moved to the mountains to escape the city traffic and find a quieter lifestyle,” Natalie said. “Lifestyle is really a choice in Blue Ridge; you can sit back and relax or stay busy. Fly fishing is my passion and way to relax, so my free time is usually spent on or around water. But I also enjoy gardening, going to the farmers’ markets and learning to can jellies, jams and other vegetables.”
Even though she’s enjoying her mountain ‘retirement,’ Natalie found that she needs to stay active and can’t ever imagine not working. She surprised herself when her fly fishing hobby turned into a part-time business in 2002. It was then that she started SharperBites.com, “fly fishing with a gourmet bite.” SharperBites caters each fly fishing experience to meet the needs of clients, for corporate teambuilding events, ladies’ fly fishing clubs, couple or family outings or just friends getting together for a relaxing day on the water.
“Fishing private water is ‘where fly fishing meets a touch of heaven,’ and living in Blue Ridge is as close as you can get to heaven on Earth,” Natalie explained. “The quality of life, the people and the mountain way of life here are a true blessings.”