What’s new on the plateau

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Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor

I was perusing the June/July issue of Fly Fisherman when I came across this statement by Takaknotire, a Kayapo Tribal Elder and Warrior living on the Amazon River.  He declares, “ Our river does not have a price, the fish we eat do not have a price, and the happiness of our grandchildren does not have a price.”  

That statement made me pause and reflect about my vision concerning preservation and progress.  I have viewed these concepts as not mutually exclusive.  Since its founding, Highlands has sought progress initiatives while at the same time embracing a strong commitment to preservation of our beautiful, natural environment. Over the decades there have been voices calling for the preservation of this unique ecological system.  The Highlands Improvement Association began around the founding of the town, and evolved over a century ago into the Highlands Cashiers Land Trust. The Highlands Biological Station was founded in the 1930s.  Scientists like Harbinson,  Zahner, to name a few, have conducted  botanical and zoological research on our remote unique plateau.  All these organizations and voices have spoken for preservation.

I find it ironic, and with a level of guilt, that I am here.  I want all the amenities of life, while at the same time I am an advocate for preserving natural resources of the plateau.  I assume a somewhat arrogant attitude that us folks on the plateau are more sensitive to the environment than those people in the cities and suburbs.  But, save for the national forest, much of our land is like in other areas,  “suburbanized.”

On the other hand, I realize we need a thriving business community where people can make a living.  It was not that long ago that local residents had to leave Highlands in the winter to find work in those same cities and suburbs.  We certainly do not want to bring back “the good old days” of financial stress once visitors leave.  With the onset of the pandemic, we have many businesses and workers in a tremendously stressful situation.  We should all hope our reopening will bring back the prosperity of recent times.

I don’t have all the answers.  I’m only one voice, although I have a leadership role to play, which I accept.  I also believe we need many voices of the community to set a new direction and plan for Highlands.  That is why I am enthusiastic about Highlands developing a new comprehensive plan in the coming months.  

Several specialists in comprehensive planning, have expressed an interest in guiding us through the process.  The planning board will take the lead in developing the comprehensive plan, but organizations throughout the community will participate.  

Major community issues will be addressed.  For instance, how does Highlands preserve our natural assets while at the same time promote economic prosperity?  How much should we grow, if at all? How many more people can we accommodate, provide services, and maintain social and infrastructure support systems?  

This census year will be a good time to start this process. What price will we put on preservation? What price will be put on progress?  What value will we place on that special happiness of living in Highlands for generations to come?

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