Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lost Counties May Be Re-established in Georgia

Fulton County, Georgia
Formerly Fulton, Milton & Campbell Counties

Georgia, the largest state in land area east of the Mississippi River, has 159 counties - more than any other state except Texas. Before 1932 there were 161 counties in Georgia. Then during the Great Depression, both Milton and Campbell counties were merged into Fulton County (Atlanta) to form the odd-shaped elongated county which still exists today. Now there is a move under way that would restore the three counties to their original boundaries.
Unfortunately, the Associated Press has tried to sensationalize this and make it into a racial issue. Having lived for 15 years in Georgia, and having many family members who are lifelong citizens of Fulton County, I agree that the division of Fulton County would be a good move and I strongly object to the charge that the proposal is racially motivated.
By the way - most of my kin who live there are in the "original" Fulton County and would not be a part of the re-established Milton or Campbell counties if the division takes place.
Below is the AP release:

By DOUG GROSS, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 23, 2:27 PM ET

White Atlanta Suburbs Push for Secession

ATLANTA - A potentially explosive dispute in the City Too Busy to Hate is taking shape over a proposal to break Fulton County in two and split off Atlanta's predominantly white, affluent suburbs to the north from some of the metropolitan area's poorest, black neighborhoods.

Legislation that would allow the suburbs to form their own county, to be called Milton County, was introduced by members of the Georgia Legislature's Republican majority earlier this month.
Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with a population greater than that of six states. Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor.

"If it gets to the floor, there will be blood on the walls," warned state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus who bitterly opposes the plan. Fort added: "As much as you would like to think it's not racial, it's difficult to draw any other conclusion."

The legislation calls for amending the Georgia Constitution to allow the return of Milton County, which succumbed to financial troubles during the Depression and was folded into Fulton County in 1932.

The former Milton County is now mostly white and Republican and one of the most affluent areas in the nation. Atlanta and its southern suburbs are mostly black, are controlled by Democrats and have neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in America. (Buckhead, a fashionable Atlanta neighborhood of clubs, restaurants and mansions, would remain in Fulton County.)

"The only way to fix Fulton County is to dismantle Fulton County," said state Rep. Jan Jones, the plan's chief sponsor. "It's too large, and certainly too dysfunctional, to truly be considered local government."

Jones, a former marketing executive who lives in the Fulton suburb of Alpharetta, cited the county's troubled library and public transit systems and a jail that was taken over by a federal judge because it was filthy and unsafe. He denied the move is racially motivated.

Don Petree, the 62-year-old owner of Don's Hairstyling in Roswell, another northern Fulton suburb, said many of his customers "feel like they're not being taken care of like they should be with the tax dollars they're spending. I think there's some truth to that."

Milton County would have a population of about 300,000, instantly making it Georgia's fifth-largest county.

Residents of north Fulton represent 29 percent of the county's population of 915,000 but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group. A split would lead to the loss of $193 million in property taxes alone for Fulton County.

About 25 miles to the south in downtown Atlanta, the Rev. J. Allen Milner said he is afraid the tax revenue loss would have a devastating effect on those who need government help the most.

"If you take that money out of their coffers, human services will suffer greatly," said Milner, a black man who runs a homeless mission and is pastor of the Chapel of Christian Love Church.

Critics of a split also worry about the future of Grady Memorial Hospital and the Atlanta area's MARTA commuter-rail system — both of which have contracts with the county.

In addition, some warn that a breakup of Fulton could harm Atlanta's international reputation as a progressive city and hurt its appeal as a business, entertainment and convention destination.

While other Southern cities erupted in violence a generation ago, Atlanta came through the civil rights movement with little strife, earning the nickname The City Too Busy to Hate. It is now home to one of the nation's largest black middle-class communities.

"This would send a clear messages to companies around the country that Atlanta may not be as progressive as it would like people to think," Fort said.

The measure would require the support of two-thirds of both the House and Senate. Then it would have to put to a statewide vote. Also, residents of what would become Milton County would have to endorse the plan.

While Republicans have majorities in both chambers, they would need to win over three Democrats in the Senate and 14 in the House to get it passed.

The legislation has support from some of the Legislature's key leaders. Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson has referred to his top lieutenant, Rep. Mark Burkhalter, as "the member from Milton County."

My Brother-in-law, Eddy Robbins, who lives in the Atlanta area, had this to say in an email about the possible split of Fulton County:

"Once again, it seems like something is racially motivated when it is really not the case. Fulton County is a very long county north to south. If you live in Alpharetta and you need to go to the county for anything, you have to drive through the traffic to get to downtown Atlanta. it is no fun. So, what is proposed is a split of the county on the north side, forming Milton County that would include Sandy Springs, Roswell and Alpharetta. It would be the 6th largest Georgia county. It was set up that way originally but was merged into one county for financial purposes many years ago.
"This article makes it seem like it's racially motivated. There are plenty minorities on the north side. Also....what is not mentioned in this article is the fact that a mostly black area on the south side is wanting to do the same thing and form Campbell County."


Here's a link to the article on Yahoo news:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Collecting Counties - Boston Globe Article

Collecting counties -- even crossing the border into obsession

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Globe Correspondent August 22, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- After their annual meeting last month, members of the Extra Miler Club set out on their first group trip, a modest afternoon swing through five counties. Didn't sound like much of a challenge for a crew that has flown into Alaska's Aleutian Islands, scaled mountainous Kalawao County on Molokai, braved the upper reaches of Door County, Wis., and felt the barren expanse of Loving County, Texas.

But just as they were speeding south on Interstate 95 in Reid Williamson's gold Volkswagen Passat station wagon (the 2003 model on which he already has logged 44,000 miles), he spotted a suspicious sign.

" 'South County,' " the bearded Army management analyst from Annandale, Va., said. "Which I believe is a touristic designation."

Every Extra Miler's goal is to visit all 3,143 counties in the United States. Fewer than two dozen of about 300 members have gotten there. Most devote decades to the quest, spend thousands of dollars, run down their cars, hop prop planes, rack up speeding tickets, lie to their spouses, and become obsessed with geographical trivia. All in pursuit of a complete, though intangible, collection of county experiences.

Club president Mike Natale, who was sitting beside Williamson on the July 23 outing, dismissed the South County sign. An education consultant from the Pittsburgh area, Natale, 27, has been an Extra Miler half his life. He already had "completed" the five Rhode Island counties before the annual meeting, and reeled off their names as Williamson drove: Bristol, Kent, Newport, Providence, and Washington. South doesn't count.

Just what does count as a county is a popular subject of debate among club members. They generally agree on county boundaries and use the same black-and-white map to color them in as they go. But do they have to visit independent cities that lie outside county lines? What about Indian reservations? Alaskan census areas? Louisiana parishes? When a new county is created, such as six-year-old Broomfield in Colorado, do they have to return? Does flying over a county count?

Williamson arbitrated such disputes as club treasurer, secretary, and editor of the newsletter. He answered questions that arose during the meeting, when members rose one by one to announce their totals. Many were wearing blue club T-shirts that read, "The shortest distance between two points is no fun."

Those who have been to the county from which Broomfield was created don't have to return, Williamson said, but it counts from now on. Indian reservations don't count, although some members visit them anyway. (Lenny Fetterman, a retired mail carrier from Oregon, Ohio, has seen them all.) Parishes count, and so do independent cities and Alaska.

"I had a gentleman write to me recently to say he had completed everything except Alaska and the independent cities," Williamson told the group. He did not issue the man a certificate or engrave his name on the plaque that commemorates completers at the Piccadilly Museum of Automobile Memorabilia and Advertising Art in Butte, Mont.

"I'm sorry," Williamson said, "but that's not a good enough effort."

Picture Alaska. Williamson just returned from a 15,000-mile, 23-borough-census area trip. He announced at the meeting that he has six counties left to visit. Everyone clapped.

"If you all go and need a really good pilot in Kotzebue to get into the bush," he said, "I got a great one."

Alaska was a highlight, too, for Fetterman, who completed his final county seven years ago. He has gone to extremes along the way, such as hiking down a 1,600-foot mountain and braving a leper colony (Kalawao County). But he said nothing beat Alaska.

Fetterman, a former Marine who's a trim 60 and still sports a crew cut, remembered flying on a chartered Piper cub into Hooper Bay, out west on the Bering Sea.

"Eskimos were waiting and they took me and the pilot past all these drying fish, and it smelled like whale blubber," he said, "You don't get that on TV. You can read about it in a book, but it's not the same."

His companion, Marge Brown, accompanied him. Brown is a teacher and mayor of their Ohio town. She became an Extra Miler during their 11 years together, but still has reservations. Looking out the window as they soared toward Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's northern shore, for instance, when all she could see was tundra, she had visions of their demise.

"I said, 'My God, this plane goes down, they're never going to find us,' " Brown recalled.

Many members were as impressed by Brown as they were by Fetterman's travels. Few lay claim to enthusiastic companions. For them, the club is a sideline. By day, they are settled teachers, businessmen, farmers, bus drivers, lawyers, and park rangers.

But, oh, to be understood by someone who sees the world as a Monopoly board with counties, countries, even continents they "need" or "don't have yet," Extra Milers say, who feels the push to get states "down" and shares the rush that comes with "completing" a state. Someone who sees a business meeting in Topeka, Kan., as an opportunity to drive from New York and "knock off" a few counties, even if it means driving overnight and racking up speeding tickets. Someone who can rattle off the number of Washington counties (27) or see the humor in Deaf Smith County, Texas, or Hooker County, Neb. Perhaps they even know if Hazzard County, popularized by "The Dukes of Hazzard" television show, does border Chickasaw County, Ga., where the Duke boys used to flee. (Neither exists, though there are Chickasaw counties in Iowa and Mississippi.)

As members rose during the meeting to share their counts, those who had made little progress often blamed resistant families. They don't understand that seeing Niagara Falls is not the same as seeing all 62 New York counties, one man said. They're not road geeks like us, offered another. Somebody mentioned Roy Klotz, the Extra Miler who fooled his wife into thinking he got lost on family trips instead of telling her he was collecting counties along the way. Others admit to following his example, "klotzing" spouses into secret detours. Not a good plan, Williamson reminded them: Once when Klotz was sharing his story at a meeting, his wife sneaked in and his plan was foiled.

It's not surprising that members resort to subterfuge; many see collecting as a race, with added pressure as they near the finish. The monthly newsletter includes an "Extra Mile Post" listing each member's latest total. A handful of the most senior members are within a few counties of completing, including John Fitzgerald, a clean-cut Chicagoan who said that until recently, he was leading the pack in Illinois with 2,632 counties.

"I know it's not a competition, but I noticed in the newsletter that somebody else from Illinois has jumped ahead of me," Fitzgerald told the group. "I used to be number one."

He hadn't seen his rival at the meeting, and figured that since he had hit a few new counties during the trip east, "I may be ahead. Unless he's out there doing something I don't know about."

Fitzgerald drove east because flying over counties doesn't count. Some travel by bicycle, but most only check off counties they've driven through, as the club's late cofounders did. Both were license plate collectors who started Extra Milers 31 years ago to keep track of counties they visited to find plates and attend Automobile License Plate Collectors Association conventions. Many Extra Milers insist on driving to the county seat, photographing themselves there or at the county line. Some even travel with metal detectors to collect a piece of metal near each county seat.

Like so many collecting compulsions -- license plates, stamps, toothpick holders -- county counting tends to spawn similar pursuits. Most Extra Milers say the more they see, the more they want to learn and "collect." Williamson also belongs to the Highpointers Club, whose members climb the highest point in each of the states (see accompanying story), he "collects" lighthouses, and plans to see each state bird in its home state. Fetterman wants to visit every continent, Natale every major league ballpark. There are Extra Milers who have tried to eat a Big Mac at every McDonald's in America, a Blizzard at each state's Dairy Queen.

As Fetterman said of their quest: "It can be completed, but you're consumed by it. It's a beautiful America, from sea to shining sea."

Molly Hennessy-Fiske is a freelance writer in Albany, N.Y.
From the Boston Globe

Friday, January 19, 2007

Counties and their Equivilants

Entering Denali Borough, Alaska

How many counties are there in the United States? That's a question often asked a county counter, and the normal answer is 3,141 - as of January 2007. However, that answer is not exactly correct. Only 48 of the 50 states have jurisdictions which go by the name of "County."

Louisiana is divided not into counties but Parishes, reflecting the French and Catholic heritage of that state. Alaska has neither counties nor parishes, but rather two other geographical divisions - Boroughs and Census Areas. A Borough is organized very similarly to a town, with a mayor and council, however it may cover a much wider area than the typical "town." For example, the North Slope Borough of northernmost Arctic Alaska is larger than the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland combined, yet with a population of only about 7,350. Many of these live in small remote Eskimo villages. A census area in Alaska is a geographical division which is administered by the state and has not been incorporated into a borough for local government.

Another county equivalent is the Independent City, which does not lie within the boundaries of a county. There are 42 such independent cities which exist in four states. These include: St. Louis, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland and Carson City, Nevada. All of the remaining independent cities are within the state of Virginia. This makes Virginia particularly challenging for the county counter because many of the 39 independent cities are small and scattered among the state's 95 counties, giving Virginia a total of 134 jurisdictions.
In addition to counties, parishes, boroughs, census areas and independent cities, there is one other unique county equivalent - the Federal District. This is, of course, the District of Columbia, or Washington, D.C.
So here is a breakdown of the counties or their equivalents in the United States:
3,007 entities named “County”
16 Boroughs in Alaska
11 Census Areas in Alaska
64 Parishes in Louisiana
42 Independent Cities
1 Federal District or District of Columbia.
3,141 Total Counties or equivalents
The above does not include Commonwealths or Territories, which are not technically within the United States and therefore do not concern the typical County Counter. These are:
Puerto Rico - 78 Municipios
U.S. Virgin Islands - 2 Districts
Guam - 19 election districts
Northern Mariana Islands - 17 districts
American Samoa - 5 districts

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Build Your Own County Travel Map Online

My Arkansas State/County Map

Anyone who collects counties will also enjoy coloring in the maps of the counties he or she has visited. The most fun county travel map you can make is by using a very interesting free website built and maintained by Marty O'Brien. Marty cleverly calls his site: "Why do you think they call them counties?"

Visitors to the site can record their counties by using a guest account. However, most will want to have their own permament page. You can get one by emailing Marty at the addresss you will find on the site. Just click on "How do I get an account?" on the left side of the front page.

One of the great things about the site is that it allows you to keep up with your progress in comparison to others who are in the same pursuit. There are also interactive maps in which you can compare your own county map side-by-side with those of a fellow traveler. These features help make it even more interesting, and are an incentive to those with a competetive nature. There are also several county related bits of information and other items of interst.

It may take Marty a short time to get back to you for your account to be activated, but remember that he does this for free, out of the goodness of his heart. I greatly appreciate this very valuable service he offers to us County Counters.

Here's the Link:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Counting Begins

There are 3,141 counties (or their equivalents) in the United States of America, and there are a relative handful of obsessed people who are hell-bent on visiting every one of them at least once in their lifetimes. I'm one of those people - a County Counter.

I began collecting states as a child, traveling across the country with my Dad and brothers. But it was not until 1995, at the age of 50, that I consciously began counting counties. I had taken a vacation to New England, and on that trip fulfilled a lifetime dream by visiting my 49th and 50th states, New Hampshire and Maine. After spending a couple of days exploring a few spots in New Hampshire (Mt. Washington, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, etc.) It was time to travel on to Maine. I felt it somehow appropriate that I should visit my 50th state at the age of 50.

It was a momentous occasion for me, so I parked the car on the side of the road about 50 yards short of the Maine state line on US-2 and ceremoniously walked into Maine as my son, Jeromy, snapped my photo. We were in Oxford County.

Not content to just step across the line I felt I should at least see a little something in the Pine Tree State, although our time was limited. We drove about a dozen miles into Maine to the little town of Bethel, where we got out, walked around the village center and browsed in a couple of the shops. Then we drove all the way back across New Hampshire to Vermont where we spent the night in a condo.

Feeling proud and satisfied with my accomplishment, I pulled out the road atlas that night to reflect back on my travels - to all 50 of the United States. My feelings were the same I have heard other travelers speak of after reaching the end of a long-time goal - both a sense of elation and of being let down all at the same time. The list of 50 states was complete. I felt I had been everywhere in the country and there was no where new to go - at least not in America.

It was then, while pouring over the atlas, I realized that although I had been in every state there were hundreds of spots on the map that I had not yet explored. That very evening I determined that I would begin my travels again - this time to visit every county. A tingle of excitement swept over me as if experiencing a new revelation. I had a fresh goal; my travels had just begun.

Over the next couple of weeks I carefully went over the records of my past travels and memories with a county map of each state. I listed only the counties for which I had a clear recollection of having visited. I had been to 1,035 counties - less than one-third of the whole. I determined that within the next ten years I would travel to them all, at a little more than 200 counties per year.

It's been 12 years now and I'm still far short of that initial optimistic goal. It's not that I've been slack, but that I had simply underestimated the enormity of the task. As of January 1, 2007, I have now visited 2,518 counties (just over 80% of the total) and have completed every county in 14 states. At my present rate I figure I have a fairly reasonable chance of visiting the last county within the next five years, but not without a very concentrated effort. The counties yet to go keep getting harder to reach.

I have begun this blog to record my personal record, as well as thoughts, statistics, county information and travel adventures. Occasionally I will also be sharing stories of other County Counters like myself. If you happen to discover this blog, and the idea of county counting intrigues you, please check back from time to time as I expect to make updates often. If you have thoughts, ideas or adventures in county counting to share, I'd love to hear from you.