Loran Smith’s Feature Column: Helen Reminisces
Published 3:15 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2023
HELEN – I have had a love affair with this community dating back to
the first time I ventured here in the Sixties which came about when a far-
sighted man suggested that Helen was an especial place. He was right.
Dr. Hugh B. Masters was an aficionado of the Chattahoochee and the
North Georgia mountains. He was also an aficionado of all things
outdoors, everything from wildflowers to the river rocks with which he
collected and built a fireplace for his home up on the mountain which was a
short distance from downtown Helen.
His home, immersed in natural surroundings, gave him isolation
amongst the sights and sounds of nature. He could read by an indolent fire
in winter and in soul cleansing sunshine and an inspirational mountain
breeze from his porch in spring and summer.
He gloried in seeing white tail deer encroaching on his yard and
admired their natural instincts. They were for observing in their natural
state. He could never have pulled a trigger to take one of them for a trophy
for his wall.
Dr. Masters was the first environmentalist I ever knew. In the mid-
fifties when he became the first director of the Georgia Center for
Continuing Education, one of five such centers across the country, partially
funded by the Kellogg Foundation, he made the chef and the gardener two
of the highest paid staff members.
His reasoning was that if you ate well and you were in a becoming
and inspirational environment that you would want to come back and would
leave with a favorable impression of the University of Georgia.
The Georgia Center was built in a pecan grove in which no pecan
trees were damaged or destroyed. That was not a happenstance. Dr.
Masters put a clause in the construction contract that would have resulted
in a hefty fine being levied against the contractor had that happened.
It was Masters’ idea to build the courtyard, the most fetching feature
of the complex, with the centerpiece being a stately pecan tree. At the
peak of the spring and fall, that is the best place on the UGA campus to
enjoy a cup of coffee.
As I drove through Helen recently, I thought of Hugh Masters who
bonded with the late Peter Hodkinson whose idea was to make Helen the
Alpine themed village it became.
However, I don’t think either of them would have ever been
compatible with the tattoo parlors and cheap trinket emporiums that
became so entrenched with the passing of time.
The most nauseating experience is to be standing in the
Chattahoochee with a fly rod in your hands and a disrespectful motorcyclist
comes through, allowing his repugnant engine to repeatedly backfire and
pierce the peaceful air.
I belong to those who think about what might have been with Helen
had Hodkinson not lost his life in a hot air balloon accident. Looking on the
bright side there still is ample opportunity to fly fish the Chattahoochee.
Book an outing with the congenial and sociable Jimmy Harris of
Unicoi Outfitters. Jimmy loves the Chattahoochee and the Helen environs
as Peter Hodkinson and Hugh Masters did.
I am drawn to Helen today because of trout fishing and a warm
friendship with Jimmy Harris who is a fly-fishing aficionado non-pareil. You
find many gentlemen in any gathering of fly fishermen. Jimmy has one of
the most redeeming qualities there is when it comes to fly fishing—he
enjoys seeing you catch a nice trout as much as you do.
He chuckles happily as he offers encouragement as you bring your
quarry to the net. He enriches the fly-fishing experience with his kindred
and neighborly manner forever making your day.
You hear the Chattahoochee crashing over abundant rocks and
become enthralled. As the water churns downstream, you cast a fly into all
that rampant movement and suddenly the slack in your line disappears and
you enjoy the most uplifting of highs.
A three pound has sucked down your tiny fly and heads downstream
with alacrity, intent on NOT making your day. However, patience can give
you the advantage. There is no greater fulfilment than fishing with Jimmy
Harris on the Chattahoochee. Hugh Masters and Peter Hodkinson would