By Bob Keith

Mayor of Lake Lure, NC

Yes, as the title above indicates, the smoke has cleared, but the memories will last on. One lasting effect of the Party Rock Fire that remains so vivid was the way the community responded and came together. There was an outpouring of compassion and mutual support, residents helping evacuated neighbors and firefighters, first responders and police giving so much of themselves to save our communities. The bottom line of some 26 days of struggle, toil and sacrifice was that there was no loss of life or structures within an area of more than 7000 acres of towns, communities, farms and forest.

Early in December, once the smoke had cleared and things got back to near-normal, there was a universal desire to recognize the local firefighters. The looming question was, “How can we contribute and adequately thank those who were involved in the enormous effort?” Community leaders assembled and a “firefighter recognition and fundraiser” event began to take shape over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Rumbling Bald Resort took a leadership role in providing the facility, plentiful, delicious food and good service. Lake Lure Classical Academy jumped on board by offering to sponsor an afternoon chili cook off and silent auction to provide some fun, good food and most importantly, raise funds. The Hickory Nut Gorge Foundation stepped forward to handle donations and ultimately distribute funds to designated fire departments. Lastly, the Rumbling Bald Homeowners Association offered to act as a facilitator and coordinator of the evening program including sponsoring and paying for a DJ to complete the day’s festivities.

After the aroma of the chili cook off subsided, the formal evening program was introduced by HOA President Randy Snyder, who extended, on behalf of all the residents of the Resort, his sincere praise for all the dedicated hard work by the local firefighters and all who supported their efforts. The fabulous documentary video of the Party Rock Fire was shown and applauded. This video was produced by Kat Canant, Valerie Hoffman and Russ Pitts and can be seen on You Tube – Party Rock Fire. It’s a must see and definitely worth the viewing. The video was followed by presentations by Ron Morgan and the Chiefs from the local fire departments, each providing a unique and different perspective of this exhaustive and potentially devastating event. Further recognition of the amazing work of the firefighters and thanks for all the involvement by local volunteers was given by the Forest Service, Mayors O’Leary and Keith and Resort Board Chairman, Jim Rhodes.

An estimated 350 people including 70 firefighters attended the day’s activities. Although most of the fire departments had received direct contributions during and after the fire, almost $27,000 was raised as a result of this recognition event. The VFD recipients were Chimney Rock, Back Cave, Bills Creek, Fairfield Mountains, Lake Lure, Broad River, Shingle Hollow and Green Hill. Once again, the community responded generously.

Again, kudos to Rumbling Bald Resort, the Resort’s HOA, Lake Lure Classical Academy, the HNG Foundation and all of you who contributed your time and/or money in making this such an overwhelming success. It’s all about community spirit.

Speaking of successful projects: 1) The Greenline project is ahead of schedule. We are working with Spindale to draft a long range interlocal agreement. You will be able to experience the Greenline progress as you encounter survey crews on 64/74A over the next few months. 2) The Buffalo Creek trails have been repaired and ready for hiking/biking. The repair work was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Great news! 3) Plans for the move of the ABC Store are progressing. Renovation of the strip mall will take place shortly with a planned move to the new location in late spring or early summer. 4) With the move of the ABC Store, we will renew our attention to the downtown center plan and new entrance to Chimney Rock State Park. 5) Dredging in the river has been completed for the spring cycle. Hydraulic dredging will resume in the fall. 6) The lake is at full pond or coming up depending on when you are reading this article. Work on the generator will continue for several weeks before resuming full operation. Have a happy and healthy spring!