Mud, dust, potholes - the Crooked Creek Road story

Paul Clark

Residents of Crooked Creek Road were glad when part of their road in Broad River was paved eight years ago. Now some of them are pushing to pave the last half mile, a stretch they say is dangerous for them, for nearby livestock and the fish in a protected trout stream.

But at least one family who would have to grant right of way to their road frontage contends the dust and mud aren’t so bad. “We’re used to all that stuff,” resident Rosa Morris said. “That’s just a dirt road for you.”

Suzanne Fisher, who lives in one of two large housing developments on Crooked Creek Road, said the ruts and potholes are “far more than an inconvenience.”

“It’s really just unsafe on all kinds of different levels,” she said on a recent drizzly morning, sidestepping large puddles that pock the road. “It seems pretty surprising to me,” she said, “that in Buncombe County, a county that tries to keep things up and do good things, that we have a road that’s in this terrible shape. And it’s all of a half of a mile.”

The state Department of Transportation has no plans to pave the road “due to unavailable right of way,” district engineer Jason Willis said. Only two of the eight owners of property along the unpaved portion have signed right-of-way agreements, agreements that would allow the state 25 feet in to their property, he said.

Crooked Creek Road straddles the Buncombe-McDowell County line. Coming in from McDowell, it’s paved. But coming off N.C. 9, motorists slalom through a course of deep potholes. Rain and snow leave the road a sloppy mess that makes oncoming traffic a challenge in places. The traffic in dry summers fills the air with dust that coats the trees, houses and cows along the road.

Even during a recent wet, messy morning, the road was heavily used. It’s used by residents of Creston, a community of 130 lots and about 40 houses, and Catawba Falls Preserve, a development with more than 230 home sites. Increasingly, McDowell County residents who work in the Arden-Fletcher area use Crooked Creek Road, said Gary Davis, a Montreat business professor who has a house on the road.

“I don’t feel safe in my four-wheel-drive in the winter (driving) over it,” he said. “The ruts can be so deep that the bottom of the car will drag on it.”

Davis has a house on property there that has been in his family for several generations. He lives there in summer and visits in winter, when he lives in Black Mountain. What remains constant is the sorry state of the road, he said.

He was one of three frontage owners who deeded right of way to the state to get the McDowell County portion paved. Afterward, people thanked him, he said.

Paving the rest of it is more than a matter of safety and aesthetics. It’s also an environmental concern for him and other neighbors. During heavy rains, silt pours into Glade Creek, a trout stream.

Davis is also concerned for the health of his elderly uncle and aunt, who live by the road. He’s worried about the dust he said Floyd and Rose Morris breathe from passing cars.

The Morrises, however, aren’t nearly as troubled. “It ain’t all that bad,” Rosa Morris said. “It’s a little muddy. We don’t pay it much attention.”

She wouldn’t mind seeing the road paved, and neither would Floyd Morris. But “nobody ain’t going to sign” the right of way agreements, he said.

He wouldn’t, he said.

“All the people that lives on this road said they wasn’t going to sign,” he said.

Rep. John Ager hopes they’ll change their mind. The representative for state House District 115, which includes Broad River, said there’s money in the state Department of Transportation budget for projects like this.

But both he and Willis said the right of way issue has to be settled first. The state spends about $6,000 a year to grade the road, Willis told Fisher in a letter.

“In the long run – the ‘not too’ long run – paving would save the state money,” Ager said. “Grading that short section of road adds up pretty fast.”

Ager would like to act as a facilitator to get the project done. He offered to contact the six families and, in Raleigh, argue for the money to get it paved.

Fisher understands the concerns of the six property owners, that their taxes might go up or that motorists will fly over the asphalt.

But she wonders why their concerns should trump those of the several dozen nearby residents who have to bump along the road every day.

The support for paving is “universal” among Creston and Catawba Falls residents, said Fisher, who sits on the Creston residential board.

She cites the case of one Creston resident who, in severe pain, waited 20 minutes for an ambulance from Old Fort to arrive.

That’s not a bad response time, but what if the incident had happened in winter, the road was awful and the ambulance had to come from Buncombe County, she wonders.

“You worry (what would happen) if a fire truck or ambulance couldn’t get through because of the road,” she said.