Loran Smith’s Feature Column: Helen Reminisces

Published 3:15 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2023

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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