“Natives went elsewhere in search of a livelihood while outlanders came here in search of refuge from the urban blight. It is one of the ironies, and perhaps one of the hopes, of much of Appalachia that many of its people have found the secret of making a way of life where they often could not find means of making a living.” – Wilma Dykeman, The French Broad.
Dykeman captures a paradox of life along the French Broad river. Through the past few hundred years, the people who have grown up along it have had to leave to find work. At the same time, outside people have moved here to get away from larger, messier cities. These people have money and cause the price of land and homes to increase. This is causing more native people to have to leave because they cannot afford the higher prices. Outsiders are floating in while natives are getting washed down. Tourists flow in and out with the current.
I can attest to this fact here in Asheville. There is a housing crisis. Young people who try to make a living end up having to leave because they cannot afford to live here. Money is only good when the tourists are here, so many people rely on crafts, events, food, music, and outdoor adventuring to make their livings. But, that all slacks up in the fall and winter. With the pandemic, it is all worse. My older sister, who has been living in Asheville longer, has watched many of her friends, favorite restaurants and bars, and bands, dissolve or leave. They have been rushed away by the rapids of economic collapse.
A river is made up of what washes into it and down it. People have been fluctuating around it and so has the industry. The French Broad River’s cleanliness has been problematic for years. Forty years ago, it was not remotely clean. Along it, industry and production was booming and its trash was flushed into the French Broad. Car parts, appliances, and dead animals were often found in it. It required river clean ups and was not safe to play, fish, or float on (Clarke). It has improved with the diminishing of manufacturing along its banks and with the help of river cleaning companies, but it is not perfect. It is a resilient river and one of the oldest, but can it live forever?
The stretch of the French Broad in my location, the greenway, seems to be in danger. Further down it, another more recently improved section, sits below old, crumbling, factory buildings and railroads. That section, with its recent improvement and construction runoff, is more beautiful. However, the land holds many imperfections because of past pitiful and shoddy construction. Asheville sits on old pipes with no schematics to tell where they are. They cave in and cause sinkholes all over. I know of at least three that have occurred since I moved here last summer, and one just recently caved in along the banks of the French Broad in that newly improved section and mere feet outside my stretch of greenway for this blog. This shows some of the weird old problems of the past that are still popping up for us in the present. It’s crappy design. It’s cheap design.
This all connects to my place, the French Broad River Greenway, because of the water cycle. What is falling, sloshing through pipes, leaking through the ground, and spilling down hillsides ends up in the valley. It ends up in the deepest part that is the river. It swirls around in the river and travels further down it. It may seem that it flows away, but it does not. It seeps into the ground and is licked up by animals. It gets in their bodies and our bodies. It makes life gross for us and the animals. It makes life gross for the earth. We are spitting on our own mother.
My location is one of many along the French Broad that has construction, roads, railroads, homes, and pastures just above its banks. What is up there ends up down in the flow of the river because of the height changes, substantial rain, and consistent flooding this area of North Carolina must tread and stay afloat in.
Clarke, Jess. Back from the Brink: The French Broad River. 1 Mar. 2010, www.ourstate.com/french-broad-river/.
Dykeman, Wilma. The French Broad. Wakestone Books, 1955.