Bethel Telephone Survey on Land Use – Report and Analysis
In the spring of 2006, the Richard L. Hoffman Center for Assessment and Research Alliances (CARA) at Mars Hill College was contracted by the Haywood County Board of Commissioners to conduct a telephone survey of residents and landowners in the Upper Pigeon River Valley area, generally defined as the Bethel community. Funding was made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Rural Center. CARA was instructed to complete surveys of up to 300 residents and/or landowners, 18 years old and older. Using contact information supplied from voter registration files, teams of students from Mars Hill College and Duke University successfully completed 273 surveys.
The callers were trained in confidentiality and telephone-survey methods. On February 21st, CARA director Smithson Mills and Gerry Cohn, director of the Southeastern Office of the American Farmland Trust, attended a planning session with project director George Ivey and members of the Bethel Rural Community Organization to discuss survey formatting and the logistics of gathering names and phone numbers of potential survey respondents. Telephone calls were conducted over a two-week period in March and April 2006.
CARA was provided with a database from Haywood County with approximately 2,500 individuals on voter registration files from precincts in the target survey area; non-resident landowners thus were not interviewed, though consideration should be given to interviewing them in the future to assess their views.
In order to obtain a random sample set, CARA staff selected call lists for surveyors using a random numbering selection system. In the end, 1,788 phone numbers, or 71% of the total number supplied, were called.
Given a population base of 2,500 unique households, responses from the 273 competed surveys have a margin of error of 5.6%, with a confidence level of 95%. Cross-tabulations and responses from small sub-groups, such as those deriving income from farming or forestry, have much higher margins of error. Due to the small sample size of these sub-groups, consideration should be given to conducting focus groups as a means of gathering greater depth of information.
The results of calls made were as follows:
Attempted and Completed Calls
Surveys Completed 273
Wrong or Disconnected Numbers 651
Not Available 567
Refused to Respond 297
Survey results clearly indicate that the community of the Upper Pigeon River Valley is very firmly supportive of the rural character of the area in general and of farmers in particular. Certainly, a number of residents recognize that some growth is inevitable, and not necessarily undesirable. But the vast majority of respondents stated their desire to maintain those qualities that have encouraged them to call the community home – “scenic,” “relaxed,” “peaceful,” “close-knit,” to name but a few of those qualities expressed in the interviews.
In response to the question, “Would you like to see Bethel continue to be a rural agricultural community?,” 93.8% said yes.
When asked, “Do you think it is important for the issue of development and rural character to be addressed?,” 93.7% agreed that it is.
To the question, “Do you think it is important to help farmers protect their land from development if they wish to do so?,” 98.5% responded that they do indeed.
And when asked, “Would you support some type of public funding to help Bethel remain a rural community?,” nearly two out of three said yes.
Respondents were also given the opportunity to further elaborate on their views on life in the community and on the potential paths to its future.
When asked, “What do you enjoy about a community like Bethel?,” one respondent declared that it’s “God’s country.”
“Primarily, it’s not Asheville,” said another.
And to the question, “Is there anything else you’d like to say about the future of rural communities in Haywood County?,” quite a number reiterated a “stay rural” theme. “That’s what makes Haywood County Haywood County,” said one resident, “and it’s such a nice place to live.”
Precautionary notes were sounded” “I used to like it because it was a good country community, but it’s growing fast; the more people, the less I like it.”
And: “They’re tearing down our mountains. There should be a law against building on mountains. Destroying our forest, destroying our beauty …”
But others spoke of a need for balance: “There is a need to keep parts of the community rural; but people need businesses and homes. So that means there is going to be a need for development, and growth is inevitable. Farmers have the right to their land, but don’t be opposed to other development; we should find a happy medium.”
Almost without exception, though, those who responded to the survey underscored in some manner the rural character of the area as a defining feature of a distinguished community