My Turn, Marjorie Ritchie: Are dark days ahead for Gold Hill?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 22, 2021

By Marjorie Ritchie

Bluegrass music is alive and well on most Friday evenings at the E.H. Montgomery Store in Gold Hill.

After the long, dark year of 2020, songs such as “Keep on the Sunny Side” lift the spirits of locals and tourists who head to Gold Hill for music, dinner and shopping. This historic village, where gold was first discovered in 1824, is a celebrated destination and jewel in the crown of Rowan County’s tourist industry. That Carter family song would be an appropriate theme for Gold Hill and its surrounding community.

In late 2020, my husband and I decided to move back to his family home of Rowan County, and the first thing I noticed was the bright and sunny disposition of the people here. After 40 years of living in the greater Atlanta area, I had forgotten that people could actually be kind and friendly. Folks here still believe in an honor system for paying for flowers, honey and farm-fresh eggs. I have not seen such trust in people’s honesty since my early childhood.

What makes the folks here in Gold Hill so warm and welcoming? Could these traits be in their DNA or could it be because they are surrounded by the natural beauty of the area? In his book entitled “Rhinelanders on the Yadkin,” Carl Hammer, Jr. describes the landscape of southeastern Rowan and neighboring Cabarrus County as “gently rolling landscape … well-kept farms and pasturelands, amid a setting of wooded hills and peacefully flowing streams.” It was in this area of North Carolina during the 1700s that many German and Swiss Lutheran immigrants arrived and established family farms, practiced their Protestant faith and educated their children. Today, many descendants of these immigrants still farm the land their ancestors settled centuries ago.
Not only did my family and I come to Gold Hill to escape the frenzy of city life, but also many pilots, now residing in Gold Hill Airpark, moved here to enjoy flying and taking in the beautiful vistas of farmland along the Yadkin River Valley. These views provide a refuge for those seeking solace from this busy world.

Now, imagine in the coming years this lovely area of Rowan County covered with 560 acres of solar panels, a sea of black glass and steel spreading over farmland the size of downtown Salisbury. Imagine the destruction and devastation of wildlife habitat along the proposed site at Old Beatty Ford Road and U.S. 52. In 2019, part of the acreage, to be leased for the development of this mega-solar complex, was listed as a “natural heritage natural area” by North Carolina’s Natural Heritage Program. This area, called the “Gold Hill Flats” was given the highest rating of R-1 due to the rare biodiversity of plant and aquatic life located in and around Riles Creek.

Imagine the historic charm and atmosphere of Gold Hill greatly diminished by a mega-industrial complex which will produce electricity that the citizens of Gold Hill may not even be able to use. I wonder if this proposed industrial site will employ as many local residents as Stalite, Vulcan and Carolina Perlite do in Gold Hill? I wonder if these companies receive the same 60% tax reduction for doing business here in North Carolina? That 60% tax reduction has lured large solar development companies to North Carolina for years.

As a new resident of Gold Hill, I hope that when it comes time to vote the Rowan Planning and Development Department along with our county commissioners will consider the lovely and bright side of Gold Hill. I hope they will try to preserve the historic significance and inescapable natural beauty of this area of Rowan County. I hope they will come out and listen to some bluegrass on a Friday evening at the Montgomery Store. In the meantime, I will “keep on the sunny side” and spend some quality time with my kind and friendly neighbors here in Gold Hill, where we will all hope and pray for the best.

Marjorie Ritchie lives in Gold Hill.