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May 20th, 2009
Cheoa Lake, Todd Knaperek
As Memorial Day signals the beginning of the annual vacation season, North Carolina’s tourism communities are happy to note that the soaring gasoline prices of the summer of ’08 have settled back down to reasonable. More families should be “getting away from it all” this season, seeking the comfort of natural beauty and feeling close to the land to leave behind for a little while the stresses of normal life in uncertain times.
The mountainous western region of the state is among the most popular destinations for out-of-state visitors, and not all of them are among the millions who populate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hike the highland portions of the Appalachian Trail, or cruise along the lush peaks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are many rural and somewhat city-fied attractions in western NC to tempt the family vacation planner.
WLOS Channel 13 in lovely Asheville offers a total of five (5) mapped day-trips in the western counties that look to be great fun to the inveterate sight-seer. There are viewable and printable maps, photos from each trip, lists of attractions, activities and goodies to keep an eye out for along the way. The drives are loops and do not take more than a couple of hours if driven straight through, though they can easily last all day at a leisurely pace with some stops planned-in. There are also hints for making the trip more pleasant, and even some detail about where to pay special attention to the speed limits.
Most of these day-trips meander through wilderness, occasional towns, and rural byways that, depending on when you visit, offer all sorts of agricultural goodies. There are farms where your family can pick your own fresh produce, fruit and berries straight from the fields, and others that maintain convenient off-road market stands for what’s fresh. Some offer delicious mountain delicacies such as sourwood honey, apple and cherry ciders, fruit and pumpkin butters, exotic jams and compotes, and often there will be a fine display of regional crafts as well. Bird and bat houses make of gourds, various styles of hand-painted decorative and/or musical gourds, yard and garden ornaments and scarecrows, even textile offerings destined to become heirlooms.Adventure, Agriculture, Blue Ridge, Family Activities, Hiking, Lakes, Nature, NC Living, North Carolina, Tourism | Comment (0)
January 21st, 2009
My family watched the movie National Treasure the other night, in preparation for Tuesday’s historic inauguration ceremony swearing in Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
The film stars Nicholas Cage as the last in a long family line of treasure hunters seeking the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar-turned-Freemasons, said to have been brought to this country before its beginnings and carefully hidden by the Founding Fathers beneath Trinity Church in New York and found only after following a trail of clues long thought to have been lost to time.
But there are other, less obscure treasures in our nation that we can proudly protect and gratefully enjoy. Some of them are included in Brainz’ scenic post about 16 Incredible North American National Parks, though most of those are out west or up north, including that ‘other’ North American nation, Canada. What was not included is North America’s most beloved, most visited National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border and includes some of the tallest peaks and most folded landscapes east of the mighty Mississippi.
Whether your family pitches a tent in one of the well-kept campgrounds, makes use of the rustic shelters along the park’s portion of the Appalachian Trail, stays in luxury hotel accommodations in one of the nearby towns or cities, or rents a cabin or chalet nearby or in the park, there’s plenty to see and do that keeps millions of visitors coming back year after year. 2009 is the year of the park’s 75th Anniversary, so be sure to make your plans well in advance if you’re planning to stay for awhile.
Hike some of the 800 maintained trails, take in some beautiful scenery along the Parkway, play some golf in a landscape that harkens back to the Scottish Highlands where the game first began. Take up mountain biking or engage in a leisurely horseback ride. Attend a festival in a nearby city or get good and wet at an area ski resort, most of which offer summer activities for the whole family. Take a tour of area organic farms or artists’ studios, hit some of the westernmost hotspots on the Mountain Music trail and get to know some of the best fiddlers, banjo pickers and washtub base pluckers anywhere!
You’ll love our beautiful National Treasure nearly as much as we who live here do, I promise. See you there during the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 75th Anniversary year!
Links:Adventure, Blue Ridge Parkway, Family Activities, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Nature, North Carolina | Comment (0)
November 17th, 2008
…and Visit the North Pole!
The economic news has been getting progressively worse and worse through the fall, politicians tell us we’re in for hard times, something the resourceful people of North Carolina are quite accustomed to. In the mountainous west of the state – designated in the best of times as an officially “depressed region” – the #1 source of income is tourism and our tremendous natural beauty in all seasons still draws millions of appreciative visitors from all over the world.
One of the most famous of the WNC attractions is America’s only genuine castle, the beautiful Biltmore Estate, once home to George Vanderbuilt and his wife Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, the estate continues the tradition of holiday festivities begun by the Vanderbuilts on Christmas Eve of 1895. With 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces, there’s plenty to decorate in the ornate style of the estate’s roots in America’s “Gilded Age.”Architecture, Art, Carolina History, Family Activities, Holidays, North Carolina, Resorts, Ski Resorts, Tourism, Winter Sports | Comment (0)
October 28th, 2008
I woke up this morning – a few days before Halloween – to snow flurries only 2,000 feet up the ridge to the continental divide. That’s the earliest snow that wasn’t blow-by from Mitchell we’ve had for 16 years! No, the leaves haven’t quite hit peak here yet, so even if there were accumulation higher up we probably couldn’t see it. But we haven’t had the regular winter coverings we used to get around here, and it hasn’t snowed enough to sled on for at least five years at my house. Global warming, I guess.
We really like to have four real seasons in a year. That’s why we chose to live here in Western North Carolina. So it’s not so strange that a little bit of white stuff makes us giddy. The summer tourist season was mighty slim this year when gas went to $4 and $5 a gallon and hundreds of thousands of people stayed home. Then came hurricane Ike, and we had no gas at all for three full weeks in September. Schools and factories and businesses had to shut down, people took to walking and riding their bikes to the store, even as deliveries stopped and there was no fresh bread or milk to be had. The leaves are a bit late this fall too, by this time they’re usually few and far between. What could save us, in a region where tourism is the #1 economic activity? Why… snow!!!
Thus it was with great delight that I noticed Cataloochee Ski Area’s ski and snowboarding season started today, October 28 with fresh made snow 8 to 12 inches deep. The weather pundits are predicting that yes, our ski season will start early and last long, which is the best news we’ve had all year. Cataloochee’s the only one open now, but others will be up and sliding sometime between the first week of November through the week of Christmas, depending on snow-making conditions.
Hawksnest Resort is aiming for any time after November 1st, looking good for that right now, too. Sugar Mountain is planning to open November 7th, and several other areas may open earlier this year too. If you’ve a favorite, be sure to call and find out if they are planning to move up their opening dates to take advantage of what is shaping up to be a spectacular ski season here in the beautiful NC mountains!
Check out the links below to get contact and ski package information from the resorts themselves, as several are offering great season passes and combo lodging/lift and slope deals this year. Book yourself and your family for a fine getaway early, and wax up the gear!
Links:Family Activities, North Carolina, Ski Resorts, Snow Tubing, Snowboarding, Sports, Tourism, Winter Sports | Comment (1)
October 9th, 2008
It’s Official Leaf-Looker Season
Western North Carolina, showplace of the Southern Appalachians, the Great Smoky Mountains and the venerable Black Mountains is a favorite destination for autumn leaf-lookers far and wide. The crisp mountain air – still warm in the day and jacket-cool at night – combines with cobalt skies and flame colored trees to provide a feast for the eyes and seasonal connections between the earth and the soul. Put that together with our many fine restaurants, local festivals and attractions, and fine accommodations, and pretty soon you’re talking about some of the best vacation getaway experiences the world has to offer.
The spectacular colors of autumn arise in hardwood tree leaves, which contain several different color pigments that appear as chlorophyll production shuts down and the tree prepares for winter by pulling the remaining chlorophyll/sugar energy out of the leaves. Brilliant reds, yellows and flame-bright oranges blanket the hills and valleys. Frost, which has already hit the high country, serves to break down the chlorophyll all at once, resulting longer lasting fall foliage. The result is a feast for the eyes and the heart that keeps visitors coming back year after year.
There are well-planned drives, whether you’re traveling by car, motorcycle or bicycle, well-worn hiking trails and fall festivals all over the region. Western North Carolina’s many beautiful resorts and golf courses beckon as well, with rest and recreational exercise in the clear mountain air. Check out some of the links below to find just what you’re looking for, and take some time off from the rat race to enjoy our natural beauty, talented artisans and musicians, fun family festivals and activities, and fine Southern hospitality. You won’t believe what our leaves can do!
MSNBC: Autumn is in the NC air
Leaf-Lookers Guide: Perfect Drives
High Country Outdoors
GolfNorthCarolina: Best Courses
High Country Reservations
High Country Attractions
Carolina BalloonFest 35
Crossroads Pumpkin Fest
July 1st, 2008
Bloomberg reported last week that according to MasterCard, demand for gasoline has fallen 2.7% from the same time last year as consumers cut back on vacation plans. The Greater Triad Area Business Journal also reports that vacation house rentals along the NC coast are down 5-8% from last year, with more available houses staying empty. There are no current reports on the number of visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, but those figures are expected to be down significantly this season as well.
The Raleigh News & Observer reports that North Carolina’s tourism office is responding by putting more money and effort into getting in-state residents to stay closer to home this year for their vacations, and that other states are doing the same thing.
Luckily, North Carolina is so rich in natural beauty and fun family events as well as attractions, that North Carolinians can always find fun things to do on their vacations without having to drive far at all. Even better, a good many of the summer festivals, rural attractions and outdoor opportunities cost them little to nothing!
So no matter where in North Carolina you live, there are things to do, places to go and fun to be had within 100 miles of your residence. You can take the family camping on any of our beautiful lakes, at our many state parks, or even in the nation’s most popular national park. You can go boating at the coast, tour some lighthouses, do some surf-fishing and collect seashells from our beaches. You can tour organic farms and orchards, attend a small town festival, enjoy great music of all varieties, and learn new things about our state without going far from home.
So, all you proud North Carolinians… discover something wonderful about your own region this summer, and don’t worry that it’ll cost you an arm and a leg. We never have to go far from home to have a wonderful time with our friends and families, to learn and experience new people and new vistas and new things. Don’t give up your necessary vacation this year just because gas prices are high. Just don’t drive so far! In North Carolina, you don’t have to!Filed under Adventure, Family Activities, Family Events, Holidays, NC Living, North Carolina, Tourism | Comment (0)
June 18th, 2008
If your family is wondering where to go and what to do to celebrate Independence Day this year, consider some of the great events North Carolina has on offer, from the mountains to the piedmont to the coast, and everywhere in between!
For instance, Fort Bragg near Fayetteville is hosting Operation Celebrate Freedom VI on the Main Post Parade Field on base. Wynonna Judd and Dakota Rain, the Golden Knights Parachute Team and other musical guests will entertain the crowd. There will be plenty of food and drinks, and camping is allowed. The fireworks are spectacular every year at this event, almost as great as I remember on the Potomac in DC in my youth! The event is free and open to the public, the contact number is 910-396-9126.
If you’re on the coast near Southport/Oak Island in the Cape Fear area you’ll want to make plans to spend the day and evening in Southport, where there will be a car show on Bay Street in front of the Garrison House and all-day arts and crafts shows at Franklin Square Park and in the Franklin Square Gallery. Concessions, water stations and comfort stations will be along Howe Street, and on the Waterfront Stage there will be all-day stage entertainment even as the Decorated Boat Flotilla sails past the Southport Waterfront. Stay on your blanket for the wonderful fireworks at 9 pm!Blue Ridge, Carolina Coast, Family Activities, Family Events, Festivals, Holidays, North Carolina, Regional Crafts | Comment (0)
May 26th, 2008
I’m a bit of a military history buff, got it from my father. Though he spent 27 years serving the country in the U.S. Navy and participated in both WW-II and Korea, he never wanted to talk much about his own experiences. He was big on Civil War history – we often spent our summer vacations touring battlefields from Gettysburg to Wilderness-Fredricksburg-Chancelorsville, Shiloh to Bull Run to Antietam, Fort Sumter to Vicksburg and lots of places in between. We’d stand on the hills where the generals plotted their strategies and ordered their troops, we’d walk the fieldstone walls that still bear the bullet and cannon scars, we traced the trenches and fortifications, imagined we could still feel the ghosts who snuck through the thick woods to flank the enemy by early morning, traced the names of the fallen in cemeteries formal and overgrown.
The other half of the summers we mostly spent touring Revolutionary sites. Valley Forge, Frontier, more Charleston and the banks of the Potomac that stayed war-torn year after year. People my generation and younger tend to think of America’s wars as blood shed on foreign soil, but our own ground has been amply watered with blood over the centuries. And of all the states of the now-50 whose stars grace our flag, North Carolina has the distinction of being “the most military-friendly state in America” (by declaration of Governor Mike Easley).
For visitors who enjoy military history as much as I do, North Carolina hosts bases and museums and battlefields and attractions that can fill weeks with knowledge and photo opportunities and memories and material covering the whole history of this nation and its military ventures that collectors, history buffs and diverse descendants of warriors will treasure.
The coastal town of Wilmington hosts the Battleship North Carolina anchored in the famous Cape Fear River as a World War 2 memorial. It hosts a museum for all ships to bear the name North Carolina, beginning with a wooden ship-of-the-line in the 1820s, a Confederate ironclad, the WW-I armored cruiser, a never-finished battleship for that same war, and the WW-II battleship visitors can tour. The ship was deployed to the Pacific theatre where it e arned 15 battle stars, and hosts collections of many artifacts, documents, photographs and works of art.
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April 30th, 2008
Biannual Black Mountain Tradition
It’s not too late to get your tickets for the 2008 spring Lake Eden Arts Festival, at beautiful Lake Eden in Black Mountain. Word has it that vehicle camping permits are all sold out, but there are still tent permits available as well as weekend and day tickets for those who don’t mind staying at one of the many great hotels and motels in the Black Mountain and Asheville environs.
LEAF holds its festivals every spring and fall (this year the autumn festival will be October 17-19) to showcase the LEAF in Schools and Streets arts mentoring projects for youth, its LEAF International music collaborations from Panama, Guatemala, Rwanda, Bequia and Mexico, and dozens of great, culturally significant musical groups, individuals and artists from everywhere.
This year there will be more than 40 Healing Arts Workshops during the day, featuring Yoga and Tai Chi, Folk Art, Juried Handicrafts, a national $1,000 Poetry SLAM, a children’s village with clowns, jugglers, puppeteers, games, stories and art projects. There are joyful parades, jam sessions, circus arts and zipline fun out over the lake.
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April 14th, 2008
Disc Golf Takes Off in NC!
We once got to take care of a wonderful old Border Collie after his kids went off to college and he got arthritis. He’d been “The World’s Best Frisbee Dog” in his day, and still made a valiant effort to chase down the stray discs our grandchildren would toss in the yard. Unfortunately, our property is seriously up-and-down, and poor old Angus had almost as much trouble with his eyesight as he had with his joints, once rolling halfway down the hill before we could rescue him.
So we quickly learned not to let him outside when playing the first 9 holes of our newly-installed disc golf course, complete with metal poles, bicycle wheels and swing chains as ‘holes’. Now we’ve 20 holes along with plans for another nine on the flatland at the top of the driveway. Hold an informal tourney every January called the “Kudzu Open,” and have a big basket full of pro discs – Archangels and Orcs, putters and drivers, most bright enough in color to be readily found even if they go off the side of the fairway and end up 200 feet down the mountain in a pile of leaves.
The garden sits squarely in the fairway of the 2nd and 4th holes, lose a stroke if you land on anything growing (compost pile doesn’t count). Still have 4 broken windows in the library from when my nephew’s shot went wild and managed to break every single one of the panes one right after the other (he got extra credit). Still, it’s fine exercise, it’s fresh air, and it’s something to do with a disc if your frisbee dog can’t jump anymore.Development, Family Activities, Nature, North Carolina, Sports | Comment (0)