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From Ellijay, state Highway 52, soon to be the backbone of the Appalachian Corridor, winds through 38 miles of mountains before it gets to Dahlonega, a vacation and college town that's undergoing its second big boom -- the first happened during America's initial gold rush in 1828.
Only 3,638 people live in Dahlonega, according to U.S. census data -- but the 18 percent growth the city has seen in the last 10 years was tough for the small town to handle.
"The mountains are in danger," says part-time city planner Larry Sorohan. "Clear cutting affects water supply so dramatically with runoff. If you get anywhere north of Atlanta, you can look at the streams and if they're brown, it's because of runoff."
Sorohan has been working for more than a year on a tree-protection ordinance and has had to revise it three times because "originally it had elements in there that a lot people thought didn't protect individual property owners," he says. Now though, he thinks the current version has enough exemptions that it will pass when it's before the city council Sept. 10.
Sorohan knows of at least four, maybe five, developers looking to build in the city right now. But he hopes the Dahlonega City Council will pass the tree ordinances this time before the bulldozers start rolling.
"The ordinance is to protect against, let's see, unconcerned developers. That's trying to say things in a nice way," he says. "We mainly want to avoid all the clear cutting and make sure [developers] don't detract from the natural beauty of the area. Clear cutting leads to runoff problems and poorer air quality, and just as significant is aesthetics. This is a very pretty, attractive little town.
"We all know growth has real positive aspects. We also know if you aren't careful, you end up with a mess out of control. If you want to see out of control, drive down to Gainesville and look at Brown's Bridge Road."
Thirty years ago, waves of sprawl began to ripple out from Atlanta's then-new perimeter highway. First, places like Tucker and Sandy Springs filled up with strip shopping centers, fast-food joints and ranch-style subdivisions.
Then, the quick-development scheme inundated Norcross, Alpharetta, Kennesaw and, eventually, Canton. Now, it's gotten to places like Brown's Bridge Road in Gainesville.
One single block of Brown's Bridge, heading out from town toward the mountains, is loaded with a Red Lobster, an Applebee's and a Ruby Tuesday. In land mass though, all the businesses are dwarfed to car dealerships. Besides Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Hummers -- the city probably can claim it has a dealership, maybe two, for every one of the world's auto manufacturers.
Drivers looking through their windshields beyond a red light see a strip of asphalt five lanes wide, surrounded by neon and cookie-cutter buildings.
You get the feeling you've been here before. Though Gainesville is tucked away in Hall County 57 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, you may as well be on Buford Highway or Jimmy Carter Boulevard.
It's also less than 20 miles south of the Appalachian Scenic Corridor. As you head north, for now, traffic isn't backed up so badly. The road toward Dahlonega narrows to two lanes. McDonald's and Jiffy Lubes fade into fresh fruit and boiled peanut stands.
And it begins to feel again like rural Georgia. Farms are scattered through the woods on hills that grow into mountains.
Maybe you can tell your children about the sweet memory of what they used to call scenery.
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