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A Quiet Hideaway

A couple finds peace – and some nice rainbow trout! – in western North Carolina

By Christy Heitger-Ewing
Published: February 17, 2011
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Photo by Cabin Creek Timber Frames / Tim Arrowood Photography
Despite being a huge fly-fishing enthusiast, Gary Watkins did not seek out and buy land and then build his dream cabin on the fly. In fact, he spent several years searching northern Georgia and western North Carolina for just the right piece of property that would offer great trout fishing and scenic views. He and his wife, Susan, also envisioned a fairly secluded locale where they would feel like they were getting away from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, Ga. (Their year-round residence is in Sandy Springs, just outside Atlanta.)

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When Gary and Susan Watkins began searching for a cabin, they specifically looked for property on trout water. They found it on western North Carolina’s Nantahala River. “Upstream from us about a mile is a fairly exlusive hunting and fishing club,” says Gary. “Many of the residents there catch-and-release, so it’s not an overfished area.”
Photo by Cabin Creek Timber Frames / Tim Arrowood Photography
Paradise Found
   
In the summer of 1998, the Watkins found a beautiful piece of property two and a half hours from home, located on the Nantahala River in Franklin, N.C. With the Nantahala known as one of the finest trout streams in the eastern U.S., Gary was immediately hooked.
   
“We own a strip of land that runs along the river that is otherwise surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest,” explains Susan. The back side of the property is the National Forest boundary. To get to the cabin from the highway, it’s a 20-minute, six-mile drive on a gravel forest service road. Accessing the property requires fording the 75-foot-wide, knee-to-hip-deep river with their four-wheel drive, but that has never fazed the Watkins.
  
“The second we stepped foot on the property, we knew it was exactly what we wanted,” says Gary.
   
The next order of business was deciding what kind of seasonal retreat to build. Initially, Gary saw a floor plan he liked from a log home manufacturer, but upon further research he determined that log homes required a good bit of maintenance. The cost of log construction was also a factor, so the Watkins decided on a stick-built house and hired Joe Murray of Murray Builders.
   
“This was the first house I’d ever built where I knew I wasn’t going to be spending a lot of time there during construction, so I wanted to hire a competent, trustworthy builder,” says Gary. “I liked Joe both professionally and personally.”
   
Having a good rapport with the builder was especially important given the tricky nature of this particular building process, which involved hauling equipment and materials across the river in order to erect the two-floor, 2,100-square-foot cabin.
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Photo by Cabin Creek Timber Frames / Tim Arrowood Photography
Timber Frame Construction with Picture-perfect Views
   
A few months into the design phase of the project, Gary stumbled upon a website for Cabin Creek Timber Frames, based out of Franklin, N.C. Timber framing is the art of building structures of massive timbers, joined by interlocking joints held together with wooden pegs. People often build them because of their beauty, strength, durability and efficiency.
   
Website photos featuring intricate hammer beam trusses caught Gary’s eye and prompted him to get in touch with Joe Bell, owner of Cabin Creek Timber Frames. Ultimately, the Watkins chose timber framing on the main floor, which consists of the family room, kitchen, sunroom and dining room. The master bedroom is also on the main floor, with a deck that expands across the side of the house that faces the river. The lower level has two additional bedrooms, a mudroom, a utility room and a deck that mirrors the upper deck.
   
The entire main floor on the riverside is nothing but windows, which offers stunning mountain views of the Nantahala National Forest. With the river only 40 yards away, they often open the windows to “let the outside in.”
   
“We love that when we’re inside, it feels like we’re in the forest,” says Gary.

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When guests visit the Watkins’ cabin, they like to sit on the upper deck and look out over the water. Inside, the family room boasts a floor-to-ceiling fireplace that exposes stacked stone on all four sides. Although the stone is manufactured, it looks authentic. The mason who built the fireplace placed one real stone amidst the faux stones, so the Watkins often challenge guests to see if they can find it.
Photo by Cabin Creek Timber Frames / Tim Arrowood Photography
Remote Control
   
One reason the Watkins appreciate the property is that it’s so remote. Their visitors are surprised to hear that in order to gain access to the cabin by vehicle, they must ford the river with a four-wheel drive.
   
“We find this keeps the riff-raff out,” jokes Gary.
   
The swinging footbridge is another way across the water. Visitors get a big kick out of the adventure.
   
“We warn our guests that if they can’t live without a certain brand of coffee, they should bring it with them because it’s 45 minutes to the nearest grocery,” says Susan.
   
The area is so remote, in fact, that one day Gary encountered a bear in his driveway.
   
“I was loading the SUV when I heard something stirring behind me. I turned around and there stood an adult black bear 15 yards away,” recalls Gary. “Thankfully, he scurried off.”
   
One kind of animal Gary doesn’t mind seeing is fish. And he’s elated that he can walk outside and be fly-fishing in less than a minute. Being a limited access stream, the fishing is good. He often catches (and releases) rainbow and brown trout.
   
“The largest I’ve caught is a 24-inch rainbow,” says Gary.
   
The couple has no cell phone or Internet service. They do have satellite television, but they rarely use it, as they prefer sitting on the deck reading, visiting and communing with nature. They particularly like pitching horseshoes, hiking the trails along the Nantahala National Forest and watching owls, hawks, kingfishers, mallards, hummingbirds and cardinals. They also enjoy relaxing in their rocking chairs, listening to music, snuggling in the hammock and building campfires down by the river.

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The kitchen’s island is the same stacked stone used in the fireplace.
Photo by Cabin Creek Timber Frames / Tim Arrowood Photography
Year-round Getaway
   
The Watkins often make it to the cabin for weekends and holidays. Gary also uses the place twice a year to host “guys’ weekends.” In January, he goes up with some buddies for the National Football League playoffs. And in June, Gary and his father, brothers and uncles also enjoy a male-bonding trip.
   
“We fish, make homemade ice cream, sit around the campfire, and talk sports,” says Gary. “I treasure that time even more as my father has grown older.”

A Cool Place to Hang Out
   
Because their retreat is at 3,000 feet elevation (as opposed to 1,000 feet in Atlanta), and they are surrounded by forest, it is typically 15 degrees cooler at the cabin.
   
“It’s amazing. Even in the heat of the summer when it’s blistering hot in Atlanta, at the cabin if we get up early in the morning, we can see our breath,” says Gary, who has never turned on their cabin’s AC system.
   
“We just open the windows, feel the breeze and relax to the soothing sound of the rushing water,” says Susan.
   
Joe Bell says he got into the timber framing business because “there’s something peaceful about walking into a timber frame structure.”
   
The Watkins certainly agree. “When we’re at the cabin, we transcend into a different world,” says Gary.
    
Having built two houses, frequent contributor Christy Heitger-Ewing thinks that finding the right builder is almost as important as finding the right spouse. Almost.

READER RESOURCE:
Cabin Creek Timber Frames,
www.cabincreektimberframes.com.


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Photo by Cabin Creek Timber Frames / Tim Arrowood Photography


FUN FACTS


The Nantahala River:

•  produced the North Carolina state-record brown trout, weighing 24 pounds, 10 ounces, in 1998.

  originates from the lower end of Nantahala Lake, where it forms at the base of a hydroelectric dam.

  is a cool 50 degrees year-round.

  flows downhill headed toward Fontana Lake, an enormous lake with just under 12,000 acres of surface area, held suspended in place by Fontana Dam. The dam is the highest east of the Rockies, and it holds back 30 miles of water.

  is near the Appalachian Trail, which meanders for 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine.

Sources: www.nantahala-river.net, www.northcarolinasportsman.com.

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