This is how the story goes: My grandmother thought my mother was crazy to leave Athens, Tennessee and move to the tiny speck of a town, Jasper, Tn. She filled my mother's head with grizzly tales of murderous roughnecks and the absence of running water.
I imagine my mother expected the worst: mountaintops strip mined and barren, unfriendly souls peeping at her suspiciously through closed blinds, outhouses. But she sat in the passenger side of the car, clutching her pocketbook nervously, as my father drove her down Highway 41, past tourist stops with live bears.
When the highway opened up over the Tennessee River, and blue-green mountains spilled down into the river and islands floated in lush clumps of scalloped tree tops and the rock bluffs stood guard at tops, she gasped.
"You never told me it was so beautiful!" she said, stunned at the incredible beauty before her.
"I didn't want to get your hopes up," my father said sheepishly.
Thunder Thornton and Dane Bradshaw are developing 9,000 acres on Jasper Mountain the right way. Named Jasper Highlands, the development has much to live up to because of the natural beauty of more renowned highlands in Scotland, Switzerland and North Carolina, but it can hold its own among all of them. As soon as I turned up the road leading up the mountain, I knew the development was aptly named. Even the road turns and curves gracefully through rock boulders, opening up to staggering views of the valley on the way up.
The Highlands Pavilion, a rustic open-air structure with 180 degree views that take your breath away, welcomes us. Reminiscent of the understated pavilion at the Chattooga Club in Cashiers, N.C., the Jasper Highlands Pavilion offers pizza ovens and fire pits, and is the perfect venue for special events, from weddings to family reunions to milestone birthday celebrations.
Nearby, the Highlands Park offers tennis, soccer fields, horseshoes and a playground, all beautifully landscaped as well. Hiking trails wind throughout the entire property, but Prentice Cooper State Forest, South Cumberland State Park and Franklin State Forest are all nearby.
The lots are big, no fraction-of-an-acre nibbles of land, but big chunks of acreage, from just over an acre to just under ten. And the prices are incredible, starting at $30k. Less than a car!
Jasper Highlands is rich in Native American and Civil War history, but its greatest asset by far is its natural beauty. Rivers, creeks, waterfalls, mountains and valleys, as far as the eye can see, are somehow restorative to the soul. People can search all over the world to see something this beautiful with their won eyes, yet here it is, a hop, skip and a jump from Chattanooga (repeatedly on national 'Best City' lists) and minutes from a Wal-Mart and a hospital (what else do you really need?), yet you feel like you're a world away from anything having to do with emergency rooms and cut-throat prices. It's nice to know you don't have to drive for hours (unlike some of the other Highlands) to have access to them.
This Saturday, the mountain top will be dedicated to Pat Summitt, and a generous portion of all proceeds from land sales will go to her foundation. The festivities last all day with tours starting at 9 a.m., and the social with this legendary coach is from 12-2 p.m. If you want to schedule a tour, call 888.777-5758 or go to www.tnland.com.
This Saturday my parents will drive over the Tennessee River on their way to Jasper Mountain. I don't know how many times my mother has seen the magnificent splendor of the river gorge. Equally stunning in the early morning mist, in late afternoon with the sun setting, in the fall with the colors blazing, in spring with new green bursting...
But I do know one thing: after over 50 years, it still takes her breath away.
(Ferris Robinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)