Celebrate Lake Junaluska's past, but also act wisely as the future unfolds

By Vicki Hyatt | Jul 01, 2013

As Lake Junaluska’s celebrates its 100th anniversary it is a fitting time to not only look back, but to look ahead. There’s a ripple brewing that could again spell trouble, and perhaps even threaten the Assembly’s future.

All of Haywood County has a vested interest in what goes on at Lake Junaluska as the lake has become part of the county’s innermost fabric.

In putting together our April publication “Lake Junaluska: Celebrating 100 Years,” I was particularly struck by the number of hardships the Methodist conference and retreat center has endured through the years.

Fires destroyed two signature buildings, the Junaluska Inn and the Auditorium Hotel, within the first decade of operation.

Financial issues plagued leaders in the 20s and 30s, culminating in a forced bankruptcy that lasted between 1932 and 1939 when assembly property became part of the United Methodist Church.

The assembly started out as a private stock corporation and while eventual church ownership made sense, the church refused to take ownership of the property as long as there were debts to be paid.

Through the years, siltation in the lake has been a constant headache. The ongoing struggle is evident each time the lake is drained so accumulated dirt can be excavated and hauled away.

The process is a costly one and takes away from funds that could otherwise be used to make more visible repairs or chip away at the building plan for the future.

The assembly also navigated the troubled waters in segregation, and is now a stellar example of diversity.

Despite the challenges, strong leaders and a dedicated, enthusiastic following has helped the assembly not only grow, but thrive.

Part of the success of Lake Junauska Assembly, I’m convinced, is that their vision is one that’s broader than themselves.

The very first conference 100 years ago raised $150,000 to contribute to mission work.

The assembly’s mission is to be a “place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body.”

For sure that involves personal spiritual development, but the vision to be found at Lake Junaluska is not just a personal, local, or even a church vision. It is a vision that takes a global view of humankind and one that brings diverse and renowned speakers to conference after conference.

An international peace conference is held on the campus, and as the home of the World Methodist Museum and the World Methodist Council, topics on the agenda are necessarily all encompassing.


The next challenge

As the assembly faces the next decade and beyond, there seems to be yet another challenge to overcome.

Funding is still a difficult issue at the lake, especially since the jurisdictional funding has been phased out and the lake needs to capitalize a growth plan geared toward self-sustainment.

A dedicated study committee spent a year flushing out the options, and the one that rose to the surface was merging with Waynesville.

At present, the lake is not eligible to borrow money, or to qualify for low-interest government loans or grants for infrastructure improvement. The looming costs to upgrade an aging — and deteriorating — infrastructure are staggering.

Incorporating would allow for loans, but the cost was also higher. Staying the course was shown as the most expensive option.

Numerous meetings were held on the issue and a property owner survey, along with a vote from the board, seemingly set the course.

A survey of the Assembly’s 811 property owners showed that more than two-thirds chose being annexed by Waynesville as the favored option.

Recent events, however, threaten to delay the action, if not derail it. That would be a shame.

While the task force process was an open and transparent one, there appears to be behind-the-scenes gamesmanship involved in the effort to halt annexation.

At the General Assembly, many legislators are philosophically opposed to annexation, even if it is a move that suits the majority.

They are leaning toward a public vote, which is problematic in that about 60 percent of the property owners at the lake aren’t full time residents, and only those registered to vote in Haywood and who live in the area to be annexed will be able to vote should an election come to pass in November.

While the idea of an election sounds fair, it essentially disenfranchises a good portion of those who have a vested interest in the matter.

There are other behind-the-scenes efforts to oppose the results of a methodical and democratic process. Hopefully those involved have fully considered the ramifications of their actions.

It will take energy, leadership and lots of money to choose another path. Considering the lopsided numbers detractors are faced with, their efforts could do more harm than good.

Those dissatisfied with the current task force study must do more that simply poke holes in the proposed solution. They must arrive at a viable alternative and show the two-thirds majority who favor annexation their way is better.

While it is fitting to celebrate the past 100 years, as a Lake Junaluska lover, I am equally interested in the coming decades.

I’m hoping the chasm that’s developed over the annexation issue can be solved amicably and in a way that protects the assembly’s future.

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