CURVE: Wiping Cullowhee Back Into Shape

Litter, old houses and dilapidated shops line Old Cullowhee Road, which is located on the back side of WCU’s campus. It is probably not the best spot for a picnic or a night out on the town. How can we make Old Cullowhee a much better place? A community group called Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE) is trying to answer that question. CuRvE is a group of community members dedicated to reviving Old Cullowhee. Mary Jean Herzog, a professor of education at WCU and committee member, said that the group already has one plan in effect. “We have a road side clean up,” Herzog said. “We have adopted a small stretch of Old Cullowhee Road between the intersection of the four-lane and it goes about three miles, stopping just about where the shops start on Old Cullowhee Road.” Rick Bennett, a committee member, said that they “try to involve a lot of people willing to help.” He said that several different groups volunteer each month to help clean the stretch of highway CuRvE has adopted. So far, the group has discussed several options that will help rehabilitate the town. According to the CuRvE website, the committee is dedicated to expanding and adding new shopping, dining and entertainment facilities. The group is also dedicated to building paths connecting Cullowhee to WCU, and creating recreational areas around the Tuckaseigee River. All in all, CuRvE hopes to make Cullowhee a thriving town, full of life and beauty. Known for its “ghost town” appearance, Cullowhee has not always been that way. Norman West, owner of Cullowhee Real Estate, remembers the time when Cullowhee was a thriving town. “There used to be up to fifteen restaurants, five clothing stores until the mid-70s,” West said. “Alpine Apartments had eight stores in it at one time. We used to be a town. Now, it’s a bunch of empty buildings.” A flyer, provided by CuRvE, gave a list of restaurants and other businesses that lined Old Cullowhee Road from 1975 to 1980, including:Nine restaurants:1. Cullowhee Truck Stop2. Bel Harbor Fish Camp3. El Gatos4. Cantebury Inn5. Pizza Hut6. Speedy’s Pizza7. Cullowhee Café8. Western Sandwich9. Hardees

Seventeen businesses:

1. Cop Shop Clothing2. Children’s Shop3. Smokes Jeans4. Nantahala Outdoor Ctr5. Bridge Sound Comp.6. Roadrunner Gas/ Groc7. Car Wash8. The Brown Company9. The Village Store10. College Gulf11. Moss’s General Store12. Cullowhee Automotive13. Cullowhee Bait/Tackle14. Freeman Insurance15. Mincey Real Estate16. Bradley’s Beauty Shop17. Basset Real Estate

West is happy to see a committee dedicated to making his town a better place. He said that anything positive was good, and that bringing in more businesses would help.Why did Cullowhee just fall apart? Christopher Blake, assistant professor of English at WCU and a committee member, said that the construction of Highway 107, which bypasses Cullowhee, was the main contributor to the disintegration of the town. West believed that the combination of the bypass and the degeneration of the summer school program at WCU contributed to the closure of many Cullowhee shops. He said that without the traffic the town just died. “No matter what kind of business you have it’s hard to stay open with only eight months of business you get during the school year,” West said. Now, the question is how to get Cullowhee back the way it was. Herzog said that the group has great expectations for Cullowhee. “What we want is for it to be a picturesque atmosphere,” Herzog said. “We hope that Cullowhee will eventually be a town.” Blake anticipates that one day Cullowhee will be a destination for many coming down the mountain, as well as a destination for local people. “We want people to feel ownership,” Blake said.Bennett stated that the committee has not had people “adverse to the project.” He said that everyone, so far, seemed to be in approval with the project. The ideas are on the table and all it will take is hard work and cooperation among the community to get the plans into action. “It’s about rolling up our sleeves and using the expertise we have,” Bennet said.