High Country Magazine - December Issue 2021

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Volume 17 • Issue 3 December 2021

Merry Christmas

Boone’s 150 • White House Tree • Skiing to the Rescue • Hugh Cook Cone Manor Facelift • Trail Crew • Food For Hope December 2021





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Boone is Turning 150


From Ashe County to the White House

The Town of Boone is celebrating its 150th birthday on January 23, 2022. This story is part one detailing how Boone came into existence.

Rusty and Beau Estes, owners of Peak Farms in Ashe County, were chosen as the providers of the 2021 White House Christmas Tree.

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Ski Resorts Save the Economy During a winter of uncertainty last year, the ski resorts brought big crowds that filtered down to the local shops and restaurants that needed the business to survive.

World War II Veteran Celebrates 100th Birthday Local veteran Hugh Cook shares his story of leaving Boone in 1942 to go fight in World War II. Cook turned 100 years old on October 1.

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Cone Manor Gets a Facelift


More Trails in the High Country


Volunteer Food Pantries Lend a Helping Hand


Over 15% of residents in Watauga County experience food insecurity. Many small, volunteer-led food pantries are stepping up across the High Country to help alleviate food insecurity.


Nearly $3 million in privately donated funds helped provide a much-needed renovation of the Cone Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Trail crews have worked not only on adding new hiking and adventure trails in the High Country, but also expanding minority interest in outdoor exploration.

on the cover Joe Nitti Joe Nitti of Wonderful World Photography shared one of his favorite winter photos of a view near his house in Banner Elk. An avid adventurer and world explorer, he enjoys capturing images from a different angle and perspective. He takes you on a” Path Less Traveled” revealing pure and untouched beauty of Nature of these Blue Ridge Mountains and afar. Visit his website (wonderfulworldphoto. com) for more details of his work and ways to purchase his photos. 66


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A Publication Of High Country Press Publications

Editor & Publisher Ken Ketchie

Art Director Debbie Carter Advertising Director Jeffrey Green

Ken Ketchie

Boone Will Be Celebrating Its History In 2022


his coming year will be starting out with a bang as the Town of Boone will begin celebrating its 150th anniversary on January 23rd. Plans started coming together this past summer as interested parties have been meeting periodically to toss around ideas to see how they can be incorporated into a year-long recognition of Boone’s milestone birthday. The Cultural Resources Department has been tasked and funded by the Town of Boone to lead efforts to mark this Sesquicentennial event. There will be opportunities for the High Country community to learn about how Boone came to be Boone and who were the people and events that have played a role in shaping the largest community in the Northwestern Mountains of North Carolina. Mark Freed, who is the Director of Cultural Resources for the Town of Boone, has been hosting these meetings and leading the efforts for this opportunity for interested folks to become involved. Some of the ideas include live presentations, book readings, art projects, concerts, parades and more. For this issue, we hope to start out the celebration with a little sneak preview of what’s been going on so far as well as treating our readers to a little history lesson on the years leading up to the 1872 town incorporation. Then throughout 2022, we’ll be continuing to learn quite a bit of history about Boone since its incorporation. But for our preview story, we thought it would be interesting to ask some experts on how Boone became Boone and what the land was like and who were the people that visited this area going back 12,000 years ago. We talked with Tom Whyte, who is the author of “Boone Before Boone” and professor at ASU in the Anthropology Department. He tells the story of the Native Americans who occupied the mountains of northwestern North Carolina. Mary Moretz, whose family tree goes way back in this area, tells us how the first European settlers came to the area (including Daniel Boone) and how these folks who only visited in the summer eventually took a chance at living here year round. And then Eric Plaag, Chairperson of the Digital Watauga Project and author of “Remembering Boone,” shared his knowledge of what the area looked like leading up to 1872. The story begins with Native Americans, whose artifacts go back 12,000 years ago, and then it leads into the Europeans who used to sneak up here past the Proclamation Line in the 1790s until America gained its independence. Folks then rushed up here to claim land and become probably the first humans to ever settle in this area year round. So, let’s get ready to celebrate this history and Boone 150. It should be interesting to us current occupants to learn about those that came before us — a special breed that survived in these mountains that we love calling home. Look for our April issue of High Country Magazine as we continued to celebrate Boone. And mark January 23rd on your calendar when, as Mark Freed likes to joke, there will be cake! 8


December 2021

Contributing Writers Nathan Ham Harley Nefe Sherrie Norris Randy Johnson Joe Johnson Contributing Photographer Tara Diamond High Country Magazine is produced by the staff and contributors of High Country Press Publications, which serves Watauga and Avery counties of North Carolina.

Visit our online newspaper for the latest news happening in the High Country as well upcoming events and feature stories.

HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE P.O. Box 152, Boone, NC 28607 828-264-2262 Follow our magazine online where each issue is presented in a flip-through format. Check it out at:

HighCountryMagazine.com Reproduction or use in whole or part of the contents of this magazine without written permission of the publisher is prohibited. Issues are FREE throughout the High Country. © 2021 by High Country Press. All Rights Reserved.



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December 2021





Here Comes the Winter Forecast for 2021-22 B

anner Elk’s famous Woolly Worm Festival returned to an in-person celebration after a virtual year last year, and big crowds showed up to enjoy the two-day event on October 16-17. The 44th year of the event was even featured in two live spots on The Weather Channel on Sunday. This year’s winning woolly worm was named Let’s Go Brandon and if the prediction holds true, there will be plenty of cold weather and snow to begin the winter months. The 13 color segments on a woolly worm are used to predict the weather for the 13 weeks of winter. Black means belowaverage temperatures and snow, dark brown means below-average temperatures, light brown: means above-average temperatures and flick is a mixture of black and brown, which means below-average temperatures with frost or light snow. The first four weeks of winter will feature below average temperatures and snow thanks to three black segments and one flick segment on the worm’s body. Warmer than average weather returns for the final two weeks of January with two light brown segments before February brings three weeks of below average temperatures (dark brown segments) and one week of above average temperatures (light brown segment) to close out the month. March is predicted to have two weeks of above average temperatures (light brown) with the final week of winter having below average temperatures with light snow possible. Last year’s worm predicted a similar winter outlook with cold weather and snow for the first month of the year.

2021-22 Woolly Worm Prediction 13 Segments = 13 Weeks

Week 1 (Dec. 21 - 27) Below average temperatures with snow Week 2 (Dec. 28 - Jan. 3) Below average temperatures with snow Week 3 (Jan. 4 - 10) Below avg. temperatures with light snow/frost Week 4 (Jan. 11 - 17) Below average temperatures with snow Week 5 (Jan. 18 - 24) Above average temperatures Week 6 (Jan. 25 - 31) Above average temperatures Week 7 (Feb. 1 - 7) Below average temperatures Week 8 (Feb. 8 - 14) Below average temperatures Week 9 (Feb. 15 - 21) Below average temperatures Week 10 (Feb. 22 - 28) Above average temperatures Above average temperatures Week 11 (Mar. 1 - 7) Week 12 (Mar. 8 - 14) Above average temperatures Week 13 (Mar. 15 - 21) Below avg. temperatures with light snow/frost



ay Russell at Ray’s Weather Center released his annual Fearless Winter Forecast and if it holds true, winter will begin and end with cold weather and snowfall in the forecast. Both this winter and last winter will be La Nina years with last year being stronger than this year according to Russell. “La Nina years mean a little less snow than average so we put the forecast less than the long-term average but more than the last 10-year average,” he said. Russell is predicting 70 inches of snow for the highest elevations of Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain. In Boone, the forecast is predicting around 30 inches of snow and 35 inches of snow in Banner Elk. He is also predicting about 20 inches of snow for West Jefferson and 18 inches for Sparta. Looking at the forecast, Russell expects that once late November and early December rolls around, it will be a quick start to the winter season with cold temperatures and possibly some snowfall mixed in as well. “We also think we will have a chilly finish. March is trending to be a little colder than average,” Russell added. Last year, the higher elevations of Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain did not get as much snowfall as predicted (Between 25-30 inches less than expected), however, areas like Boone, Banner Elk and West Jefferson were roughly three inches below the predicted total. The 2021-22 Fearless Winter Forecast can be found at www.RaysWeather.com

Ray’s 2021-22 Forecasted Snow Totals City

Expected Total Snow/Ice

Asheville: Banner Elk: Beech Mountain: Boone: Galax: Hickory: Jefferson/West Jefferson: Sparta: Spruce Pine: Sugar Mountain: Wilkesboro/North Wilkesboro: Wytheville:

11 35 70 30 17 4 20 18 18 70 6 20

inches inches inches inches inches inches inches inches inches inches inches inches


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December 2021

December 2021



Time For A Party

Boone IS


150 Story by Harley Nefe


he sights and sounds of Boone have changed over the years, but residents and visitors have all come to love everything that the lively mountain town has to offer, and now is the time to celebrate those aspects. January 23, 2022 is an important date for Boone, as it marks the town’s 150th anniversary since its incorporation in 1872. A celebration is being planned, as town staff and the historic preservation commission are in the early phases of honoring this moment for the town. “The spark is that it’s the town’s birthday,” said Mark Freed, the Director of Cultural Resources for the Town of Boone. Freed gave credit to longtime community member Bettie Bond for reminding him that the 150th was on the way. “I believe she was the one who alerted the Historic Preservation Commission,” he said. “They, in turn, informed the Town Council and made sure that the Town Manager had it on his radar, and from there, he asked me to help spread the word. Bettie Bond is the seed that blossomed it all.” Bond said, “It just seemed perfect. I think we’ve all been isolated from one another, and to find out that on the 23rd of January in 2022, Boone would be 150 — that seems to me just too 12


December 2021

As we get ready to celebrate Boone 150, we thought it might be cool to picture what “Boone” was like leading up to its 1872 incorporation. From the Native Americans 12,000 years ago, to the 737 people who inhibited Boone’s Township in the 1870s, there’s a lot to explore. But first, we’ll start by talking about what’s in the works for next year’s celebration.

good of an excuse to have a party and to celebrate!” Various groups have already been gathering and stepping up with ideas and projects to help acknowledge Boone’s 150th. The Cultural Resources Department has been tasked with supporting, coordinating and bringing people together and helping others find out what all will be taking place for the 150th celebration. “We had the first get together last January, almost a year ahead,” Freed said. “We do a lot of cultural events as it is, and we’ll be focusing a lot of those around the celebration of Boone 150.” The Sesquicentennial Celebration will kick off on January 23 — Boone’s official incorporated birthday — where cake can be enjoyed, words from elected officials and historians can be heard, and a special exhibition of Boone’s history at the Jones House can be seen. However, this event is only the beginning, as there will be a year-long celebration of Boone 150. Freed said that they want to use the occasion to “honor the history, stories, work, people, organizations, groups and events”

The following black and white images and captions are from Eric Plaag’s Remembering Boone book, just released in November. Taken around 1905 from the vicinity of Charles Street, this image offers an expansive view of Boone. The home of Judge Leonidas L. Greene (1845-1898) is at lower right, while the steeple of the first Boone Baptist Church is visible in the distance at center right. King Street runs to the east from the vicinity of Judge Greene’s home toward the upper left. Notable buildings on the north side of King Street (in the left foreground) include the 1905 courthouse with its distinctive dome; Sheriff Jack Horton’s house, one of the first built in Boone (behind the 1905 courthouse); and the 1875 courthouse. Notable buildings on the south side of King Street include the Blackburn Hotel, the old Boone Methodist Church, the Rivers Old Home Place, and the town well at the intersection of Water and King Streets. Image courtesy of the Historic Boone Collection, Digital Watauga Project.. that have helped shape the Boone that those in the High Country have come to appreciate. “We’ll be helping lead some projects, but we certainly are not trying to put off any impression that this is the Cultural Resources Department’s celebration or that it’s even just the Town of Boone’s celebration because it’s really everybody’s

celebration,” Freed said. “We’re all part of the community.” As many projects and events are still coming together in the early stages, folks are encouraged to reach out and participate in the planning by sharing their own ideas as well. “People can let us know how they would like to celebrate Boone’s 150th and

how they intend to celebrate 150th,” Freed said. “If they’d like to get involved with some of the activities that we have going on, we will be happy for them to do that.” Freed can be reached by email at Mark. Freed@townofboone.net, and he welcomes all input. “There’s excitement brewing, and ideas are continuing to be cooked up for how

December 2021



This c. 1885 photograph by L.A. Ramsour of Morganton, North Carolina, was taken from a point on the south side of Boone looking northwest. Notable landmarks include the first Boone Baptist Church at left, the 1875 Watauga County Courthouse at center left, and the steepled Masonic hall on the north side of Queen Street at upper right. Image courtesy of the Historic Boone Collection, Digital Watauga Project. people can be involved and be a part of celebrating the town,” Freed said. “And we welcome people; it’s completely inclusive of anybody who wants to jump in and be a part of it and help create the celebration.” The website www.boone150.com has been established to help document information and materials as well as to keep the public informed about the upcoming events. Some of the events being planned include a public art project that is being done in collaboration with the Downtown Boone Development Association and the Watauga County Arts Council. It involves telling Boone’s story with new panels that will be installed in downtown Boone. Another public art project will be taking place at the North Street Park in collaboration with the Junaluska Heritage Foundation to help tell the story of the Junaluska community. There will also be a number of live 14


walking tours led by local historians as well as a special event in the historic downtown cemetery that will celebrate the lives of a number of famous, infamous and lesserknown people buried there. These are just a few of the events that are in the works that will be happening in the upcoming year. “We want people to know that this is a great opportunity for them to come and visit Boone and learn about our history and what we have going on and participate in some exciting ways to celebrate that,” Freed said. “It’s fascinating history. Once you start hearing it, you want to know more, so hopefully that will unfold.” Even some of the regular celebratory events throughout the year like the annual Fourth of July parade and festivities will focus on Boone 150 in 2022. “We don’t need to invent stuff,” Bond explained. “We just need to do what we’ve

December 2021

always done and just tweak it to let it be a part of our celebration of the 150th, like the Fourth of July parade. Another example is that Watauga County Arts Council will really focus on local artists and art celebrating Boone.” The Appalachian Theatre is also finding all the movies made about Boone or that have actually been staged in Boone, and “there have been over 30 movies over time, so that will be fun for the theater to show those,” Bond said. “I want everybody to rejoice in this,” she said. “I think the 150th is a major achievement for the town. To find longevity in all the different groups, and then we are hoping that they take part in the celebration. There are lots of good opportunities to be proud of, and I think the celebration will be a really fun thing for everyone to enjoy and take part in.” This celebratory occasion is all about

Community members gathered to attend a meeting to discuss ideas for the Boone 150 celebration. Some ideas floating around include a book reading and speaker series on the history of Boone as well as a hometown music festival that would highlight Boone-connected artists. Ideas being discussed now are acting as planted seeds that will flourish over the year with various events. people and groups coming together and sharing their stories of the beloved area throughout history and what has made the town what it is today.

Native Americans in the Mountainous Region With all of the hustle and bustle of Boone in 2021, it can be difficult to imagine what life was like many years ago. However, if you remove all of the buildings, roads and cars and erase them from your mind, you can begin to picture what captured the attention of Native Americans all those years ago, even when there was a lot of wildlife and resources that are no longer in the area. “There were old-growth forests, massive trees and chestnuts galore,” described Thomas Whyte, who is a professor in the Anthropology Department at Appalachian State University, “with deer, bear, elk and porcupines roaming the area.” For the Boone 150 celebration, Whyte will be giving a special talk and presentation about the area pre-contact with Europeans. Whyte has been doing archeology research in the Appalachian Mountains for more than 40 years. He recently published a book in 2020 titled “Boone Before Boone: The Archaeological Record of Northwestern North Carolina Through 1769”, where he tells of the Native Americans who occupied the mountains of northwestern North Carolina for around 12,000 years. “Going back to about 12,000 years ago, we have intermittent evidence of human occupation in the mountains, but it’s all seasonal,” December 2021



L.A. Ramsour’s c. 1885 image of the Old Brick Row (left) and the Coffey Hotel illustrates the poor accommodations available to 19th-century travelers who found themselves in Boone. The Old Brick Row, which originally housed the Coffey brothers’ saddle and harness operation, offered budget rooms In 1888, writer Charles Dudley Warner called Boone “a God-forsaken place … There is nothing special to be said about Boone.” Image courtesy of the Historic Boone Collection, Digital Watauga Project. Whyte explained. “It’s migratory hunters and gatherers coming up here during the seasons when there is food here and when it’s not too cold.” In his book, Whyte talks about several campsites him and fellow archaeologists have excavated in the mountains. At the sites, they have found projectile points, hammer stones and sometimes even animal and food remains, which show that sites were occupied over and over again throughout time. One of these locations is the Gwyn Hayes site, which is where the Boone ABC Store is now off of Blowing Rock Road. “I think the first people migrated into the mountains toward the end of the Ice Age when things started warming up a little bit around 12,000 years ago,” Whyte said. “They camped out at places like the Gwyn Hayes site, which was an ideal place to camp because it’s a high plateau that overlooks where all the streams come together and make the South Fork of the New River. It has a beautiful view of that whole area where there would have been game, fish, freshwater, and it’s a defensible place with lots of sunlight and dry ground.” Archeologists have found artifacts at that particular site dating back from 10,000 years ago all the way up until about 3,000 years ago. “The first people occupying that place might have found a clearing or made a clearing to create a nice campsite,” Whyte said. “They gathered materials for a hearth 16


and made, used and reworked stone tools. Then they probably came back the following fall and thought, ‘Well, that was a good place to live. We succeeded there last year. Why don’t we camp out there this year?’ They probably even had a name for the place, and that became part of their migratory routine coming back to that

Thomas Whyte, professor in the Anthropology Department at Appalachian State University, is the author of “Boone Before Boone: The Archaeological Record of Northwestern North Carolina Through 1769.” spot. Generations and generations later, people still went, and then later people going there had resources such as the hearth stones from the previous visitors. They even had broken stone tools that they

December 2021

picked up and could rework into smaller tools. They became tethered to these sites and dependent on them.” The Gwyn Hayes site is just one location in Boone, and there are many others across the entire Appalachian region where archeologists find campsites dating back to the early time periods of people living off the mountains. “There are thousands of Native American archaeological sites in Watauga County,” Whyte said. “We’ve documented about 400 now. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them have been destroyed or are significantly disturbed.” Throughout these sites, people can find a lot of artifacts if they know where to look, especially where there is “some level ground for a campsite, access to water, a good view, sunlight and an abundance of natural resources,” Whyte explained. “In other words, if you drive around here, and you map out all of the early frame houses and log cabins in the area, I guarantee you that in the yards of those, you’re going to find stone tools,” he said. “When somebody decided, ‘Hey, this is a good place for a house, with sunlight, a spring, some flat ground for a garden,’ they weren’t the first people to think those thoughts.” Throughout time, there were trails Native Americans followed that led them to the sites where they were settling and making their campsites. “They might have started out as game trails that were then used by humans, but it

The graves of several of Boone’s most significant founders reside in the Hayes-Bryan Cemetery, including Ransom Hayes. Hayes donated 25 acres of land, along with Jordan Councill, Jr., to establish the county seat of Watauga County. The first mayor of Boone, Colonel William Lewis Bryan is also laid to rest in the cemetery. was really the humans that maintained them while migrating into the mountains back and forth over and over again,” Whyte said. Today’s roads still follow some of those early trails such as Highway 321 coming from Lenoir and coming from Elizabethton. “There were groups of humans coming in the mountains from lots of directions and occupying lots of different sites,” Whyte said. Archeologists can determine where groups were migrating from by the artifacts found at locations. “Here in the Boone area, there’s hardly anything that you can make a decent spear point, arrow point, scraper or knife

from,” Whyte explained. “There’s a lot of rock around here, but it’s not the kind that breaks like flint does. There’s no flint or jasper here because of our metamorphic bedrock. The only thing that people found around here to make good stone tools from was quartz, and that’s not the best because it has cracks in it. It’s really hard to find a good piece of quartz that will survive the process of chipping it into its final shape.” At the sites throughout Watauga County, archaeologists have found artifacts made out of rocks that come from eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. They have also found stone tools made out of rhyolite that

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December 2021



Henry Blair built the original Blair Farm house in 1844; several alterations by Henry and his son George came in the following decades. This image shows George Henry Blair and his wife, Mary Adelaide (Rousseau) Blair, in a horse-drawn carriage outside the home around 1900. Located on the south side of Boone, the Blair Farm was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Image courtesy of the Historic Boone Collection, Digital Watauga Project.

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derives from the Piedmont region. “These artifacts are from migratory hunters and gatherers retooling when they’re here,” Whyte said. “They are coming from the lowlands to the east and west, bringing their fresh implements with them up in the mountains to hunt and harvest, wearing those out, breaking them and throwing them away on the ground and maybe retooling with the local quartz or materials they brought with them.” From 12,000 years ago to about 900 A.D., there continued to be a lot of migratory hunters and gatherers coming up to the area during the summer and fall seasons. “It would have been the ultimate grocery store in the summer and fall for people living down the slopes,” Whyte described. “Small groups of families would come up here and harvest the wonderful abundant resources in the mountains during those months. Hunting and gathering parties would come from lower elevations where it was warmer in the winter. They would travel in the fall because of the nut crops, deer with antlers, squirrels and turkeys. If you’re dependent on wild foods, that’s the time to go to the mountains, and then you get out in the wintertime and move back to lower elevations.” The Boone area was a seasonally busy place with the cool temperatures in the summer being an attraction. Then by winter, it would become more isolated. “It’s this constant oscillation, and life isn’t really that much different,” Whyte said. “I mean, spearpoint styles change, and

December 2021

tools change, and there are minor changes in people’s material culture throughout that time period, but not much in terms of their real livelihoods.” There is some evidence of isolated households in the mountains where people were living permanently in the area, even through the winter, between around 1100 and 1400 A.D., and then the Little Ice Age began. “It wasn’t an Ice Age with glacial advances or anything,” Whyte explained, “but it was slightly lower than average temperatures, harsher winters and shorter growing seasons, which probably would have prevented permanent village life in these high elevations at that time, especially when people were dependent on maize and horticulture for survival.” The first European settlers came to this area during the 1700s, and Whyte said there is no evidence of contact between them and Native Americans. “The church missionaries made it up here, and by that time, the Native American population had faded,” he said. “It was vacant territory.” One of the first recorded European visitors to arrive in the area was bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg in 1751, who was surveying the land for a Moravian mission. “He came probably from the Globe Area up the mountain and into the Boone valley here in December, and he didn’t encounter any signs of humans,” Whyte said. “And I’m not surprised because in my years of doing archeology here, I don’t find any

Native American materials dating to right before the first visits by European Americans. I’ve argued in my book and some articles that I think that’s because that was in the middle of the Little Ice Age. Had he come in September or October, he might have encountered some small groups of foragers who’d come up in the mountains just for that season.” There are no historical records of the first European settlers having encounters with Native Americans in northwestern North Carolina. Even when Daniel Boone led his party through the mountains in 1769, he found the same thing. “What he found was pretty much what the Native Americans were finding before then — just the land,” Whyte said, “And trails that have been there for centuries.”

First European Settlers in the High Country English settlers came to America throughout the 1600-1700s because they believed colonial life offered new opportunities. One of the first well-known early settlers in the 18th century to come to the High Country area was Benjamin Howard, who was born in 1742. “Benjamin Howard lived in Maryland, and he and some of his family members came to North Carolina, specifically western North Carolina, looking for cheap

plantations,” said Mary Moretz, who is a local historian. “Everybody was looking for cheap plantations. That was the standard of wealth back then — land. Benjamin Howard made it to the edge of what is known as the Happy Valley, and he prospered.” Moretz is also a descendent of Benjamin Howard, and she further explained that he had a cattle farm and kept cattle in the Boone valley. “They knew to drive their cattle up the mountains where it was cooler, and the cattle would be happier because they had lots of free forage,” she said. “Benjamin Howard referred to the area as his western lands, even though he didn’t have any legal claim on it.” This was after the Seven Years War that encompassed the French and Indian War. The war was between the American colonies settled by the British Empire fighting against French soldiers. Native American tribes took up arms fighting on each side of the war. Following this event, the British could not afford another with the Native Americans, so to prevent more wars, they made a line across the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, known as the Proclamation Line. “The British didn’t want settlers going past the line because they didn’t have the resources or the manpower to protect people,” Moretz said. “The settlers were


really ticked off about that because they were land hungry.” Along with Benjamin Howard, Daniel Boone also came up into the mountains on the sly for work and to make money. “Benjamin Howard was driving cattle up this way, and Daniel Boone was hunting,” Moretz said. “Even though they had different perspectives on how to make money and what to do, they were friends.” Daniel Boone was probably able to find his way up the mountain to hunt because of all the trails that were created in the area from animals and Native Americans. “To us, that would have been quite a hike to come from the Happy Valley on the edge of what is now Wilkes County, but for them, it was nothing,” Moretz described. “Then Daniel Boone stayed in a little cabin that Benjamin Howard had built for himself. He allowed anybody who was hunting in the area and needed shelter to use it.” The cabin would have been located on what is now Appalachian State University’s campus. From all of this, Benjamin Howard started a presence in the area; however, he wasn’t the only one that came to the High Country. This reflects that there were probably other people doing the same thing, but he was the one who specifically came to what is now the Boone area. As the years went by and the Ameri-




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December 2021



can Revolution came about, Benjamin Howard remained a Tory, or an American colonist who supported the British side. “He was a Tory because he still felt this connection to his relatives back in Great Britain, which had been passed on through family traditions,” Moretz explained. However, this was dangerous for Benjamin Howard, because certain people like Benjamin Cleaveland and Robert Cleaveland were after him. “Benjamin was this huge, enormous man, and his brother was Robert,” Moretz described. “And they were passionate Patriots. They would just go and find anybody that they thought was a Tory and hang them, and they were after Benjamin Howard because he was a prominent, well-known person in his neck of the woods. So, Benjamin Howard hid up on what is now known as Howard’s Knob, which was an outcropping of rocks that was a great place to hide because if you’re up there, you can see for miles around if somebody is coming.” Eventually, Benjamin Howard This c. 1885 image by L.A. Ramsour shows Boone residents gathered around the 1875 Watauga County Courthouse, frequently misidentified as a school, with its entrance facing North Water Street, changed his mind and became a PatriThe distinctive chimneys, belfry and gabled roof were removed in 1906 when the building ot, and he went back to Maryland and was converted into the first Watauga County Bank. . (Historic Boone Collection) joined the militia. When the war ended in 1783, the After the war, people started moving here different counties: Ashe, Wilkes, Caldwell Proclamation Line also came to an end. because they continued to look for cheap and Yancey. The bulk of the land came out Boundaries were open, and more people land, and they were establishing farms. of Ashe County, but pieces of the other started moving up into the mountains Some of the people to move into the counties were involved, too. “The story that John Preston Arthur area included Benjamin Howard’s daughter and son-in-law, Jordan Councill, Jr. As tells in his 1915 history of Watauga Counfolks were getting settled in, they realized ty is that in essence, the state house reprethey needed a place to buy supplies, so Jor- sentative that was from Valle Crucis had a dan Councill, Jr., started a store in the area really long trip to go to Jefferson, which to buy and sell goods. The general store was the county seat for Ashe. So, from his would have been located on what is now perspective, he was hoping that the state might form a new county to take the burKing Street in downtown Boone. “It was really all about Councill’s den off of him for that journey,” said Eric Store,” Moretz said. “Everybody went to Plaag, who is the chairperson of the DigiCouncill’s Store, and they called the area tal Watauga Project, which is an initiative Councill’s Store; the name of the town al- of the Watauga County Historical Society and the Watauga County Public Library. most became Councill’s Store.” In preparation for the Town of Boone’s However, instead, it was named Boone, probably as a shout out to Daniel Boone 150th anniversary, Plaag narrated a newand the extended record connecting Dan- ly released book titled “Remembering iel Boone, Benjamin Howard and various Boone” as part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America Series, where the focus is other early settlers to the area. Mary Moretz, local historian, whose family ties “It was a great marketing tool since on Boone’s historical evolution from the go back to pre-revolutionary days in this area, Daniel Boone was famous in Europe as 1870s to the present. loves researching her family history. And since the state legislature made the well as in America,” Moretz explained. from the Happy Valley. Then as more and more people started area a county, there needed to be a county “A lot of people who established Boone arriving in the area in the 1800s, they re- seat in order to have a place to keep all the and have big names like the Winklers and ally did start to envision it as a town. records and to have law and order. the Hortons — they all came up here,” “The Brushy Fork and Valle Crucis Incorporation of the Moretz said. “Councill, Hayes, Bryan and areas were considered as possible county Town of Boone other prominent family names — this is seats, but because of Jordan Councill, Jr.,’s where we start seeing these names because Watauga County was formed in 1849 influence in the area, and the fact that he they came up here, and they claimed land.” by act of the legislature from parts of four had really the only significant store at the 20


December 2021

Eric Plaag, Chairperson of the Digital Watauga Project, is the author of “Remembering Boone,” which is designed to celebrate Boone 150. time in the area, Councill played a role in why this location was chosen,” Plaag said. Another reason as to why the area was chosen as the county seat was because the land was donated to the county by Ransom Hayes and Jordan Councill, Jr., each of whom provided 25 acres. “They allegedly donated the land to the county, and that was part of the appeal to creating the county seat here because it didn’t cost anything in terms of actually acquiring land,” Plaag explained. “And this was fairly common to get a landowner who had some sort of business interest he wanted to promote when a new county was formed. A way to ensure that his business would thrive would be to say, ‘Well, I’m such a good guy, and I really want to do right by my new county, so I’m going to give the land,’ which would just happen to be located next to the donor’s business interest. And in Councill’s case, when everybody came to the county for court days, they stopped by his store on the east side of town, so it was a way of ensuring the success of the business.” Jordan Councill, Jr., was also one of the first commissioners of the county. “What’s interesting is that almost immediately after the county was established, the commissioners began the process of laying out the unincorporated town from the donated land and auctioning town lots for the community surrounding the courthouse, which they called Boon,” Plaag said. “The town boundary roughly stretched west to east from present-day Straight Street to Depot Street, and south and north from present-day Rivers Street to North Street. And between 1849 and 1872, depending on what source you’re looking at, the unincorporated town was referenced as being Boon with no E or Boone with an E. I don’t have a good answer for you as to why there was a dis-

crepancy, other than possibly bad spelling. Clearly, Jordan Councill, Jr., would have been in on the name choice, given the role he had as a county commissioner.” Plaag further wrote in his book that officials laid out the streets of Boone by 1850, and by 1851, a courthouse had been built on the present site of the Frank A. Linney House. While still a rural, backcountry community, the area continued to grow and evolve. In 1870, Boone got its first hotels — the Coffey Hotel and the Blair Hotel, which provided accommodations during court weeks. “You would have people certainly coming up from Wilkes and Ashe probably more often for court days than anything else,” Plaag said. “But don’t forget that Blowing Rock by the 1870s was already established as a tourist destination. It wasn’t well developed yet, but it was a place that people who were capable of doing that kind of travel came to. They were going there to see the sites. And if you had the money and the means, that was something that you might do. It wasn’t an easy journey back then. It was not easy on horseback or by wagon to come up there, but they did it.” As Boone was becoming more populated, there was a push for the county seat to be incorporated. “You can speculate as to why that was done,” Plaag said. “I imagine that there was probably a desire to have greater micro-level control over what was happening within the county seat. So, in other words, when a town is incorporated, it creates a local government, and it enables additional laws to be set for what happens on the streets of the town, which may be different from what the county laws are. Boone was also growing in size and population, and the locals needed the ability to expand its borders in some official capacity. Incorporation allowed the locals to set their own corporate boundaries.” The Town of Boone was officially incorporated on January 23, 1872. According to the 1870 Census, there were 737 people living in Boone Township at the time. Among this population were surnames that are still recognizable and continue to be known today, like Rivers, Dougherty, Hodges, Greene, Hardin, Horton, Grimes, Greer, Jackson, Walker, and many others. These families laid the foundation for the town, and have had a lasting impact. Stay tuned for the April/May issue of High Country Magazine for the continued history of Boone. t




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December 2021



Another North Carolina

Christmas Tree Heads to

The White House Christmas Trees Remain a Steady Economic Boost to the High Country


Story by Nathan Ham

or the 14th year, it will be a North Carolina Christmas tree that stands tall in the Blue Room of the White House. Peak Farms, owned by Rusty and Beau Estes in Jefferson, will be supplying the White House Christmas tree for the third time since Rusty first started growing Christmas trees in 1979. This also marks the eighth time in Ashe County’s illustrious tree-growing history that a tree from the county will be making the trip to Washington D.C. “We are honored to have the opportunity to represent the Christmas tree growers of America by continuing the tradition of providing a tree to the White House Blue Room, which will be viewed by millions of people,” Rusty said. “We are blessed to live where we live and lead the kind

of life that we lead. It will be a good experience going to Washington D.C. This will be our fourth trip, and we’re really looking forward to it.” Peak Farms was previously named Grand Champion Growers in 2008 and 2012 and presented Christmas trees to First Ladies Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama. They also provided a Fraser fir tree for Vice President Mike Pence’s residence in 2018, when they were named Reserve Grand Champion of the National Christmas Tree Association Tree Contest. Rusty Estes has been involved in the Christmas tree industry since 1979, when he started with just a small farm of 200 trees in the ground in Avery County and a retail lot in Lenoir. “I was in the golf course business — that’s

A good crowd of people gathered at the Ashe County Courthouse in Jefferson on November 17 for a special celebration and send off for the Peak Farms Christmas tree heading to the White House. There was even a specially decorated cake to celebrate the momentous occasion. 22


December 2021

Photos by Lonnie Webster The Estes Family is pictured here standing in front of the Christmas tree chosen as the centerpiece for the Blue Room at the White House. From left to right: Colin Estes, Riley Estes, Amanda Korevec Estes, Beau Estes, Ann Estes, Katirie Estes and Rusty Estes. December 2021



Life on the Family Farm A

t Rash’s Tree Farm in Ashe County, you’ll find a familyowned and operated Christmas tree farm that has been in operation for over 40 years. “My grandpa, great uncle, dad, and his brother planted the first trees in the late 70s, and we have been selling Fraser firs since around 1986,” said Tyler Rash, who works a full-time job in addition to the work that goes into the tree farm. Most of their wholesale trees are delivered to Florida, but they do have a tree lot, Rash’s Tree Patch, set up at 1206 Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem. On a typical day during tree season, Tyler says the day will include cutting, baling and loading trees for transport as well as unloading, sorting and counting the trees. Workers have to keep up with the basic maintenance of tree balers, tree elevators and the tractors that are used throughout the day. They also have to keep up with inventory numbers to make sure that they have plenty of trees in stock on their lot. “It’s definitely a busy schedule, from planning which fields to cut trees in, to ensuring the quality of greenery produced, it’s a lot,” Rash said. “Also, the actual harvest of the trees, the cutting, baling, and loading, definitely makes it the most labor-intensive part of the year for tree growers.” Tyler said they typically have about 10 workers in the tree fields and have an Tyler Rash and his son, Atticus, during a additional 20 workfull day of work on the tree farm. ers on the retail lot in Tyler and Atticus represent the third and Winston-Salem. fourth generations on the family farm. During the planting season, they will plant new rows of trees each year. Being able to produce good, quality Christmas trees is really a year-round job. “You have to test the soil, prepare the ground and plant seedlings, and constantly keep watch for insects and disease. You also have to spray the trees and shape them,” Rash explained. Their farm consists of roughly 30 acres of planted trees; they started harvesting trees this year on November 6. Rash said they will keep the tree lot stocked until around December 12. Workers on the tree lot in Winston-Salem will also deliver and set up the tree for a small fee. “We say we have been saving marriages for over 30 years with that service,” laughed Tyler. Tyler and his wife Micala currently have one son, Atticus, with another son on the way. He is the third generation of his family to be involved in Christmas tree farming. “I would like to see the farm transition into a four-generation operation and have my two sons carry the torch and continue to provide fresh Fraser firs like their father, grandfather, and great grandfather,” Tyler said. 24


December 2021

A view of one of the fields at Rash’s Tree Farm located about five miles from downtown West Jefferson.

Christmas trees can be seen on many mountainsides in the High Country. Ashe, Watauga, Avery and Alleghany are four of the largest tree-producing counties in the nation.

Eddie Rash runs a large Christmas tree through a baler as they prepare to send their first batch of trees to their wholesale lot in Winston-Salem.

what I had gone to college for. I was working at Grandfather Golf and Country Club, and one of the workers there came in and said he had some extra seedlings and asked if I’d be interested in them. It was a couple of hundred Fraser fir transplants. So, I took them and planted them out in 1979,” Rusty said. “It was a side job. Our work at the golf course was seasonal, so it worked out good for me in the wintertime.” Rusty maintained the tree farm for 15 years when he decided to sell the farm in Avery County and move with his wife Ann and two children, Beau and Katirie, to Ashe County with dreams of a much bigger tree operation. “One thing led to another, and we moved to Ashe County in 1993. My wife’s sister lived over here, and land was a lot cheaper, and there

Rusty Estes (left), owner of Peak Farms, briefly spoke to the crowd that gathered outside the Ashe County Courthouse for the celebration ceremony as the truck loaded with the White House Christmas tree prepared to head north. Rusty is also pictured here speaking with a small group of people, including a pair of park rangers. The area where the tree was harvested is at the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area. Photos by Lonnie Webster

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Fraser fir trees are native to the Appalachian Mountains and represent over 94% of all species grown in North Carolina. North Carolina growers harvest over 4 million trees annually. Other Christmas tree species include Balsam fir, Douglas fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and White pine. was more of it than there was in Avery County,” Rusty recalled. “We bought a 70acre farm here, and we had about 25 acres of trees, and it has grown quite a bit. We probably have over 800 acres of land that we own and probably about 400 acres of that is tree ground that we farm now. We’ve come a long way since 1979.” After working Peak Farms through the 90s with a business partner, Rusty would soon get some help from Beau following his graduation from NC State University in 2002. Beau made a brief stop working in golf course management, similar to his father, before returning to Ashe County in 2003 to

jump into full-time Christmas tree work. “My son went to NC State and got out of school and worked in Seattle, Washington for a while on a golf course and worked in Banner Elk at Diamond Creek Golf Club. Our business grew enough to where he was

It all starts with seedlings

wanting to get back in the tree business. I was tickled to death,” Rusty said. “Beau left that position at Diamond Creek and came to work at Peak Farms, and he is the guy running the show now. I’m the guy back in the background that is semi-retired. My son does everything and does a good job at it.” To compete for a chance to send a Christmas tree to the White House, the process starts by entering a tree in a contest held at the state level. Rusty and Beau had the top tree at the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association meeting and got to challenge other states who sent their winners to the National Christmas Tree Association’s bi-an-

North Carolina Fraser fir farmers have now put 14 trees in the White House since the tradition began in 1966. Those years included 1971, 1973, 1982, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2018 and now in 2021. North Carolina ranks second in the nation for trees harvested and total number of Christmas tree acres. 26


December 2021

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There are close to 13,000 farms growing Christmas trees in the U.S. and an estimated 100,000 people employed full or part-time in the industry. It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of typical retail height (6-7 feet), but on average it takes 6 to 8 years. “From when you plant a seedling in the nual meeting, which happened to be in Ashe ment. Rusty estimated that the tree that County this August. It was fitting for a home- White House groundskeeper Dale Haney field, it’s about a seven-year process before town farm owner to be able to take home chose was a six-year-old seedling that was you harvest a tree and get some money back. We grow just about all of our trees the Grand Champion honors for 2021. Two placed in the ground in 1998. “That tree is roughly a 28, 29 or from seed,” Rusty explained. “We have Grand Champions and two Reserve Champions are chosen at each meeting, with one 30-year-old tree. It’s about a lifetime pro- trees in Ashe, Watauga, Avery and Grayson County, Virginia. We grow trees all over in grand champion and one reserve champion cess,” he said. providing the Christmas trees for President While that tree is almost 19 feet tall, the different places. We’ve probably got at least Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris average tree is still between seven and eight 50 different locations where we grow trees. this year and the other two presenting them feet tall when harvested, and it still takes a We have some patches as small as 8,000 with trees in 2022. lot of work to get healthy trees out of the trees, and we have some farms that have over 200,000 trees. You’re basically around Rusty takes great pride in the success ground at that size. 2,500 trees planted per acre. With his farm has had as he gets ready to real estate prices the way they are, make his fourth trip to Washington you couldn’t afford to own all you D.C. needed, so we probably lease about “It’s quite an honor. Politics as much ground as we own.” don’t make any difference to us Rusty already has several fond concerning who we’re delivering memories of his family trips to the the tree to,” he said. “We won in White House, but will be excited to 2008 in Des Moines, Iowa. That’s add a few more as well. when I was in partnership with Jesse “I can’t help but think back to Davis. We got to present the tree our very first trip up there — Mrs. to the Bush’s. In 2012, we won in Bush carried my one-year-old grandSacramento, California, and we got to present a tree to the Obama’s. son around for probably over an In 2018, we were named Reserve hour in the White House, and those Champion in Green Bay, Wisconsin, are just priceless memories,” Rusty and we got to present a tree to Vice said. “We haven’t done this on our President Pence.” own. We had a lot of help getting A member of the Nationstarted with what to do, when to do it and how to do it. We greatly apal Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) who has won the National preciate everyone who has helped Christmas Tree Contest has preus along the way.” This year’s White House tree sented a tree to the White House was cut on November 17 and deeach year since 1966 when Lyndon Johnson was President. This year’s livered the following day. The tree tree from Peak Farms is the 56th presentation to Jill Biden took place tree presented by a member of on Monday, November 22. NCTA. The tree must be between 18 and 19 feet tall and reach the A Boost to the High ceiling of the Blue Room. Country’s Economy To say it takes hard work and Christmas trees have been a patience to make a living growing A family is pictured here measuring how tall this Christmas cornerstone of economic growth tree is to decide if it will fit in their house or not. Christmas trees is a true understate28


December 2021

for many High Country counties, especially Ashe, Alleghany, Avery and Watauga, four of the five most popular Christmas tree locations in North Carolina (Jackson County is ranked number 5). The North Carolina Christmas Tree Association is headquartered in Boone and has been around for over 60 years. The organization is led locally by Executive Director Jennifer Greene. She has held the position since November 1, 2009, and considers this job to be part of a very fulfilling career. “I feel like I am very passionate about my job and very passionate about agriculture in general, especially what the Christmas tree industry brings to the state and to this area,” Greene said. “I love my job. Never once in 12 years have I had a boring day. It’s a fun job, but it requires a lot. It allows me some great opportunities that I really appreciate. It has allowed me to travel all over the United States to go to nursery shows. I’ve been to the White House, getting ready to be three times. How many people can say they have shaken hands with the President of the United States?” Approximately 94% of all the Christmas trees grown in North Carolina are located in the Appalachian Mountains since Fraser fir trees, easily the most popular in the state, are a native species to the High Country. “They are very finicky as to where they want to grow. They will not grow in the sandy soil in the eastern part of the state. They like the soil here, the climate and the cooler temperatures. We have an abundant amount of rainfall, and they like growing on the mountains,” Greene said. “I go to other Christmas tree meetings across the country, and we take a farm tour, and the field is just flat. Of course, people love coming here to our meetings from out of state because it is so unique compared to the other growing regions. They come, and they are amazed to see Christmas trees growing on the mountain like that.” North Carolina ranks second in the United States in the number of Christmas trees harvested with only Oregon supplying a larger number of Christmas trees. North Carolina growers typically harvest over four million trees annually. According to the latest available data from the North Carolina Census of Agriculture in 2017, Christmas tree sales in the state totaled over $86 million. Overall, North Carolina has over 850 Christmas tree growers, with approximately 58 million trees growing on some 38,000 acres. It takes as long as 12 years to grow a Fraser fir tree to an average retail height of 6 to 7 feet, and each average Fraser fir Christ-


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Christmas Trees # 9

The 2021 White House Christmas Tree was delivered on November 18 with a reception for the Estes Family and First Lady Jill Biden held on November 22. Pictured here (left to right): Ann Estes, Rusty Estes, Athena Estes, Katirie Estes, Amanda Korevec Estes, Beau Estes, Riley Estes and Colin Estes. mas tree has been visited by the grower more than 100 times during its life. “It’s not one of those crops with instant gratification. Every year, especially once it gets up to about eight years old, it starts to grow about a foot per year. The first six to eight years of its life it’s slower growing, but then it starts to grow about a foot a year. Farmers are always doing something, whether it is fertilizing, scouting for pests or sheering,” Greene said.

Choose and Cut Industry is Still Thriving A lot of childhood memories during the holiday season center around a family going through a tree patch searching for the perfect Christmas tree. Choose and cut tree farms are still very popular for both residents and visitors in the High Country. “Over the course of the pandemic, one positive thing that I think came out of it is that it has inspired people to get back to traditional things like choose and cut family traditions. Even if they don’t get a choose and cut tree, just getting real trees in general — a real tree brings much more enjoyment than an artificial tree. It’s just such a better experience all around. The 30


smell, the feeling, and the nostalgia of having a real tree. You can’t compare that to pulling a tree out of a box in your attic. ” Greene said. “Whether you buy a Fraser fir at a retail lot, whether you buy it at a grocery store, or whether you buy it at Walmart, it was still grown by a farmer. That’s one of the things that I stress is the importance of knowing where it came from and knowing the product. Somebody had to grow that tree, regardless of where you buy it from, you’re still supporting farmers and an American product.” Rusty has seen the Christmas tree industry go through several changes over the years, but the choose and cut farms seem to keep hanging around through good times and tough times. Currently, Rusty and Beau Estes are involved in a partnership with Appalachian Christmas Mountain, the large choose and cut farm located just off of Highway 421 between Deep Gap and Boone. This is his third year being involved with that group of farmers. “Choose and cut is really popular. There aren’t as many places as there used to be, but people really like coming, and they will come and spend the whole weekend. It’s a win for everybody. Restaurants, hotels,

December 2021

stores — everybody reaps the benefits of choose and cut, it’s not just the tree farmer,” Rusty said. “It seems to be here lately that people like coming to the mountains and doing the whole tree experience that way.”

National Christmas Tree Association Grand Champion Christmas Tree Growers The National Christmas Tree Association was founded in 1955 and represents more than 3,000 people involved in the production and sale of Christmas trees and in related industries and services. According to the Census of Agriculture, there are approximately 17 million Christmas trees harvested in the U.S. every year, and there are approximately 300 million real Christmas trees currently growing on Christmas tree farms in the U.S. alone. It takes a special tree to be chosen as the centerpiece of the Blue Room in the White House. Each year since 1966, a tree has been chosen from one of the estimated 13,000 farms growing Christmas trees in the United States. Being able to have your name and farm represented on this list is a tremendous accomplishment. t

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Last Winter Was A Terrific Surprise B

Story by Nathan Ham

eing able to enjoy outdoor recreation became a haven away from a global pandemic for many people, especially here in the High Country. In the spring of 2020, no one was really sure what they were going to be able to do, if anything. Dine-in restaurants were closed down and allowed to just do take-out orders only. Bars were closed, sporting events were canceled, concerts were canceled and all indoor businesses that were allowed to remain open had to deal with masking and social distancing rules. That’s when people started to turn their attention to finding other ways to have fun, primarily outdoors. What better place to accomplish that than in the High Country. Whether it was a summer hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a kayak trip down the New River or a bike ride on a curvy mountain road, last summer proved to be the time for people to reconnect with nature and enjoy the outdoors. As ski resorts started planning for what they were going to do in the winter months, there was still a lot of uncertainty about what sort of directives might come from Governor Roy Cooper’s office, or whether people would even show up to ski as COVID-19 continued to spread like wildfire across all parts of the globe. “Like every other ski area in America, we were worried about being closed down unnecessarily,” said Brad Moretz, co-owner of Appalachian Ski Mtn. “We were fortunate in that people were ready to get out-



side. There has been lots of stimulus spending, and the economy was booming. Our timing was fortunate being an outside type business. Tweetsie had been shut down all summer, so we didn’t know if what we had invested in Covid mitigation measures was a futile expense or not.” Other area attractions such as Grand-

“I think Brad, Gunther, Kim and Ryan (Costin) all worked hard on ‘Ski Well, Be Well.’ We were able to put the guidelines on our websites and push that out to our customers.” Talia Freeman, Director of Marketing at Beech Mountain Resort

father Mountain were also closed down for a while due to COVID-19. Some places, though, had been able to weather the storm. Beech Mountain Resort had gotten some valuable experience on operating with an ongoing pandemic thanks to the many activities they offer during the summer months. “Fortunately for us, we operate Memo-

December 2021

rial Day through early October, so we were really getting a good taste of this in the summer months, not only just with the increase in traffic but also seeing our society take a more vested interest in outdoor recreation,” said Talia Freeman, the Director of Marketing at Beech Mountain Resort. “We were seeing an increase in our numbers early on, paired with a significant increase in call volume. Comparative to years past, the volume of the general inquiries we were getting was so substantial, so we knew that it was going to be a pretty impressive and busy winter.” That was when the staff at Beech Mountain had to start putting together their plans for providing a safe and fun time for the upcoming ski season. “At that moment, we were just trying to switch gears and figure out what can we do to continue to keep our staff safe. We made it through the summer without any of our staff getting sick, so obviously we felt it important to continue that trend” Freeman said. “We had to strategically figure out how we go into winter keeping everyone safe and informed, while understanding new protocols. We really just worked to ensure our staff was safe and educated safe and then from there trying to figure out how to enforce that with the skiers.” The North Carolina Ski Areas Association, comprised of the six ski resorts in the state (Appalachian Ski Mtn., Beech Mountain Resort, Sugar Mountain Resort, Cataloochee Ski Area, Wolf Ridge Ski Resort

Lots of People Came Skiing! and Sapphire Valley Ski Area) came together and agreed to adopt the “Ski Well, Be Well” plan that was implemented at each resort as a way to show the governor that they all had a plan for how to deal with COVID-19 at their ski resorts. “We did have all our ducks in a row. Kim spent endless hours, starting in July, researching, and working with the National Ski Areas Association in hopes of creating a plan that would keep the ski resorts open during the COVID-19 pandemic. We ended up with ‘Ski Well, Be Well’,” said Gunther Jochl, President of Sugar Mountain Resort. Kimberley Jochl, Vice President and Director of Marketing for Sugar Mountain Resort and the President of the North Carolina Ski Areas Association, lead the six North Carolina resorts in creating, adopting, and implementing Ski Well, Be Well. “During the NCSAA’s spring meeting all six North Carolina ski area owners agreed that a plan was needed to ensure we would have a ski season. We discussed the National Ski Areas Association’s ‘Ski Well, Be Well’ program and decided to make it specific to North Carolina skiing. It was imperative to not just talk about it, not just post it on our website, but to enforce it. It was important to work together, to be a united organization to ensure the safety of our entire clientele,” Kim said. “We experienced some pushback from guests, mainly because everyone had varying opinions and the pandemic was new to all of us. Certain guests wanted to do it this way, others wanted to do it that way, but each ski resort stuck to the Ski Well, Be Well guidelines

and protocols. Ultimately, most guests appreciated the proactive policy. They knew what to expect when coming to a North Carolina ski resort. As a result everyone benefited, consumers, the community, and local businesses. Ski Well, Be Well proved to be the tool that gave us the opportunity to open for the 2020-21 season and kept us in business.” As part of the “Ski Well, Be Well” ini-

“I think it showed the government that they had a plan. I think because they were proactive in how they approached it, then it was an easier approval process for them.” Wright Tilley, Executive Director of the Boone Tourism Development Authority

tiative, face coverings were required in lift lines, while riding all ski lifts, and inside except when eating or drinking. Extra social distancing was required in ticket lines, lift lines, and indoors where people could stop for a drink or something to eat. Indoor capacity limits were also reduced. Ticket sales were limited and resorts had to be closed by 10 p.m. at night, which eliminated the Midnight Blast skiing at Appalachian Ski

Mtn. and kept Beech Mountain from hosting their annual winter music events at the brewery. The “Ski Well, Be Well” initiative was endorsed by over 20 organizations and groups in North Carolina. Local endorsements included the Alpine Ski Center, Avery County Chamber of Commerce, Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce, Banner Elk TDA, Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce, Beech Mountain TDA, Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, Blowing Rock TDA, Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, Ski Country Sports, Village of Sugar Mountain TDA and the Watauga County TDA. “I think Brad, Gunther, Kim and Ryan (Costin) all worked hard on ‘Ski Well, Be Well.’ We were able to put the guidelines on our website and push that out to customers. Half of the call volume we were getting was just people that were looking for an experience outdoors,” Freeman said. “They wanted to travel, but they didn’t want to fly; they wanted to drive somewhere close. They wanted to make sure where they were going was going to be a safe experience, and they wanted to hear about our safety plan.” Wright Tilley, the Executive Director of the Boone Tourism Development Authority, agreed that the “Ski Well, Be Well’’ plan was very helpful for the ski resorts to be able to open and have a good season. “I think it showed the government that they had a plan. I can tell you that we as the TDA wrote a letter of support for their plan and encouraged the governor and state officials to allow them to open as well. I think because they were proactive in how they

December 2021



Photo by Sam Dean

approached it then it was an easier approval process for them,” Tilley said. Nancy Owen, the Director of the Banner Elk TDA, said she also sent the governor a letter recommending that the ski resorts be able to operate last winter. “Ski resorts are essential to our survival here to the restaurants, to the bed and breakfasts and to the hotels. Without the skiing industry in the winter, we’re in big trouble. So, we did whatever we could in support of the ski industry to get them open and operating. We are just very thankful they had a great season,” Owen said. Having a terrific weather season helped the ski resorts make sure they had near peak-season conditions for almost the entire ski season. “One of the big factors was the weather. We had almost a perfect season. We didn’t have a big thaw in January. We had good skiing conditions pretty much through the whole year. It makes a big difference,” Gunther Jochl said. At Hawksnest, snow tubing was able to carry on as usual, and similar to the ski resorts, owner Lenny Cottom said they had 34


one of their best years ever. “Once we got into December, it started picking up right away. Then Christmas came, and it was just selling out, and then because we book online, it was selling out so far ahead. It would be three weeks out before you could get a ticket. It was great for business, but it was rough on people because they weren’t used to it either,” Cottom said. “Once we got into January, the weekends were sold out right away. If you weren’t really someone that planned, you were shut out, but then they started coming during the weekdays, and the weekdays would sell out too.” At the time, Hawksnest staff required masks indoors and outdoors, and people were only allowed to go inside the lodge to use the restroom. Food trucks and drinks were available outside for purchase to keep people from being cooped up indoors waiting in line for something to eat or drink. “Luckily we were able to be open. The town and the state didn’t try to shut everything down like they did out west because those guys got hammered out there. States like California shut down everybody,” Cot-

December 2021

tom said. “So, we were fortunate that didn’t happen to us. And because we didn’t get closed down, we opened ourselves up to a lot of repeat business down the road. This summer was busier for everybody, and the winter was busier last year. I think we’ll be busy again because we opened ourselves up to all this new pool of people that would have done something else. We were one of the few games in town.”

Ski Season Kept the Economy Strong in the High Country The popularity of the ski slopes always brings additional economic benefits to hotels, restaurants and shops across the area. Even daytrippers that come up here just to ski will typically stop and eat a meal or two while they are here. Others that want to make a week or a weekend of it will take advantage of the numerous lodging options available through hotels, bed and breakfasts and other short-term rental options through Airbnb and Vrbo. “Fortunately, we had a great ski season last year. Obviously, we didn’t know what to expect going into the year with Covid,

but it was a really strong ski season for us,” Tilley said. “Lodging was solid during that time period for both hotels and the rental management companies and Airbnb and Vrbo type properties. Everybody did well. It was terrific for the local economy in terms of restaurants and businesses.” Tilley said that the influx of visitors came from decisions made by people in the southeast to not travel as far as they might normally have for a winter vacation. “We saw an increase of people from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, the southern states that were nearby to us, coming to us because we were the closest option for them without getting on an airplane,” he said. In the smaller towns outside of Boone, such as Banner Elk, Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain, the economic success was felt all the same. “During the winter, we had record occupancy tax. The summer of 2020 was very strong even though we were in the middle of a global pandemic. The fall was really strong, but we didn’t know what winter would bring. We didn’t know what kind of restrictions would be placed at the ski areas,

so we were worried about that. But turns out, we had the strongest winter ever,” Owen said. “Every restaurant was booked, even throughout the week, we were seeing record numbers in Banner Elk.” Owen added that Banner Elk also had a record high for occupancy tax collection last year, breaking a record that was set in 2019. “Our hotels, our bed and breakfasts, everybody benefited greatly from having such a great ski season,” she said. “The ski slopes were faced with a challenge, and they figured out how to do it, and they safely were able to accommodate big crowds. Without the tourists, we’re another dried-up small town in America, and we can’t survive without them. It’s a little bit of a doubleedged sword, but we have to have them, and we have to have them in the winter. The resorts provide so many jobs to locals and high school kids, it’s an essential part of our survival.” Beech Mountain experienced similar economic success last winter despite COVID-19. “Being able to be open during the pandemic was helpful because not only did it

bring people to ski, which always puts a lot of money into the local economy, but we also have this huge industry of lodging up here on the mountain. So, we were able to more than double our occupancy tax collection over the year, and we hit over $1.2 million last year. The previous best year was the year before when we had $542,000. We thought that was really good, but then we hit last year, and we didn’t know. We were very thrilled with that,” said Kate Gavenus, the Director of Tourism and Economic Development for the Town of Beech Mountain. According to Gavenus, not a single business in Beech Mountain had to close last year, thanks in large part to the many tourists that came through, as well as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that were available for the many small businesses that call Beech Mountain home. “Overall though, it was just a really formational year for us. You know we were going into it with some trepidation. Were we going to be able to keep people safe? The resort did that, our restaurants did a very good job with that, and our lodging partners were wonderful. We came out of

December 2021



it with a lot of new information about best practices, how to treat the customer and how to make the bottom line work as well,” Gavenus said. Something that can get lost in the shuffle at times in smaller towns like Beech Mountain, is just how important an industry is to the employee base there. Beech Mountain Resort hires many workers, not only from the town but also other parts of the High Country. “It’s pretty scary to think about the impact that could have on our economy if we weren’t able to operate. I hope people realize that now. After last winter, it’s not just the resorts but the community around you being impacted,” Talia Freeman said. “I grew up here. My parents live in Vilas. 36


I didn’t realize the economic impact of the ski industry as somebody that has lived here since the early 90s. I had no idea until I started working in it, but it’s huge, and it keeps a lot of people employed.” Mary Kate Ollis, the Tourism Development Coordinator for the Town of Sugar Mountain, said that the 2020-21 ski season was also a record-setting year for her town. “Our last year’s fiscal year was by far the biggest one that anyone had ever seen, and hopefully we can continue to maintain something even remotely close to that,” she said. “I think the biggest thing was last year, people who live on the east coast and always fly out west or go north or wherever else, weren’t hopping on a plane. They hopped in the car and came here and discovered us

December 2021

for the first time in this area. So, they have seemed to have taken advantage of it, and hopefully, they’re coming back this year.” Sugar Mountain had its best season ever despite so many unknowns heading into the ski season. “It was an unbelievable time when you think about it. Last year, we were scared people would get sick. Plus, we already had a problem with labor, and people were afraid to come to work thinking they were going to get Covid. We had big uncertainties, but to end up with a season like we had, it was amazing,” Gunther said. Businesses associated with the ski industry had to find ways to adapt to the pandemic. Bill Leonard, owner of Ski Country Sports in Banner Elk, invested in a new

MOUNTAIN LAND . . . never a better time! computer system for this store and was able to enjoy similar financial success as the ski resorts themselves. Leonard said it was very important to be proactive in dealing with pandemic issues instead of having to react and scramble to fix issues later on. “We made a huge investment last fall to streamline our rentals with a computer system. So, there were a lot of online reservations, the turnover picking up the equipment was so much faster, and returns were also much quicker. That’s how we were able to accommodate the increased business that we had and still keep social distance,” Leonard said. “Last year was really good. We were surprised by the number of people that either moved here or were working or

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learning remotely and took time off midweek, so our midweek business picked up considerably, and it wasn’t so concentrated on the weekends. The weekends were still busy, but the weekday business really picked up. It was one of the better winters we’ve had in 30 years, between people shopping locally and skiing locally.”

What the Ski Industry Learned from Operating During a Pandemic Adapting to change was one of the biggest hurdles that the ski industry in the High Country had to overcome last winter. 38


At Appalachian Ski Mtn., one of the biggest changes to how they operated was implementing an online system for practically everything at the mountain. “Covid produced the necessity for innovation for us, and I would say it would not be an exaggeration to say that it improved our customer service experience more than anything we’ve ever done, and it changed our business model more than anything we’ve ever done,” Brad Moretz said. “We probably spent $200,000 - $250,000 in Covid mitigation measures, including this custom online platform and lots of other things at the ski area that we will probably

December 2021

continue to carry forward. There are 480 ski areas in the United States, and I don’t think anyone did anything else like we did. We had a five-minute time slot reservation system, so we had a limited number of ticket transactions, ice skating transactions, clothing rental transactions and ski and snowboard rental transactions every fiveminute period.” With this online system, Appalachian Ski Mtn. was able to worry less about congestion inside the lodge and be able to still process people quicker and avoid overcrowding situations. “In terms of the way people were pro-

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cessed last year, we operated more like a golf course than a ski area. We were able to flatten the congestion curve. We had a steady, heavy trickle of people. It would seem like a slow weekday, but step outside, and it was a normal day outside,” Moretz said. “The vast majority of people had already paid and registered online. People walked up to the cashier, gave them their names, and the cashier printed the form and handed it to them. All they had to do was sign it, we hand them their tickets, and it was done. Having everyone prepaid spread out the experience.” There were some challenges out of the

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starting gate, like with most operational changes like this, but for the most part, customers were pleased with the online system implemented last winter. “It wasn’t perfect, but we were able to work through the bugs and by and large, people had a great experience with it. Now, I don’t see us ever going backward. It made it so much faster, so much better and so much more organized. It equally improved almost every area of our operation. You didn’t have everyone there at the same time for clothing rentals, ice skates, ski and snowboard rentals. It just really spread out the traffic flow more evenly among all areas of our operation,” Moretz explained. In addition to the changes that will remain in place from last season, Appalachian Ski Mtn. is adding kiosk stations to handle the additional traffic that might arrive on days that are not sold out for the few inperson transactions that take place. They have also added an additional gatehouse for their parking lot for people to arrive at and be processed through even quicker. Touchless faucets and touchless soap dispensers were added in the restrooms. “I think in a year with a lot of demand and difficult circumstances, we were able to give people the best experience that they had ever had here. A lot of positive things came out of what could have been a disastrous situation,” Moretz said. Talia Freeman said that Beech Mountain had one of its best years ever last winter and attributed a lot of the success to the resort also moving a lot of their customer service operations to an online format. Beech Mountain had been selling tickets online for a while, but with having to limit

December 2021

the number of people on their slopes due to executive orders from the governor, it made more sense to put as many options online as possible. “We had previously sold products online, and then as part of our sustainability initiative, which is something we’ve been working on over the last three years, we’ve been trying to go paperless,” Freeman said. “Shifting our point-of-sale systems and our rental waiver systems to our new online sales system was already in the works. It really worked out for us given the shift in consumer expectations with Covid. We offered lift tickets online, rentals online and all of our childcare programs online. We went completely paperless with rental forms. Customers want to be happy, but the American consumer wants a quick experience. They’re impatient; that’s how our culture is and even more now after Covid. So, that really did help speed up the process.” The staff at Beech Mountain had to figure out pretty quickly how to deal with a lot of visitors while also enforcing masking mandates and still trying to please the customers. “The mask element was really challenging for the entire community. It was hard to put our staff in a situation where they had to enforce the mandate. It was difficult to make people happy because they were either upset that you’re enforcing mask wearing, which was a state mandate, or they felt like you weren’t doing a good enough job of enforcing masks. We felt like we could not win,” Freeman said. “That made us really just pay attention to the employee experience here and how important it is to keep our staff happy. We’ve always had a loyal

staff, but that was just defeating at times.” Along with the online ticket sales and rentals, Freeman said that Beech Mountain Resort is planning on offering a shuttle service this year to help alleviate parking and traffic issues. The resort is also expanding its outdoor offerings and will be bringing back programming that had to be canceled last year due to the pandemic. “Through our experience with Covid we realized there is a need for more functional outdoor spaces. In front of the cafeteria, we built a new outdoor facility called Play Yard Provisions. You can go up to a window and buy a sandwich, burger, soup, a beer or a drink. Just like an outdoor bar,” she said. “Last year we canceled our music and race series, and eliminated all of our events. Our events are the reason why so many love Beech Mountain and just an integral part of our culture. That was pretty disappointing, but getting to reintroduce those this summer has provided some normalcy that we all needed. It will be nice to reintroduce our music series again.” The resort is hoping to continue its sustainability program as well and make a larger impact with the work needed to keep the resort and town cleaner. There are now refillable water bottle stations around the resort to help eliminate single-use plastics. “As a direct result of last season’s volume of tourists, the High Country saw a significant increase in littering. After witnessing this and noticing our consumers taking an interest in sustainable businesses,

we began pushing our sustainability initiative. We plan to push our recycling efforts, avoid single-use plastics, and take additional small steps to become more eco-friendly. We hope that our customers will notice our efforts, and in turn, we can make an impact in the High Country.” Unlike the other two ski resorts in the High Country, Sugar Mountain did not move their ticket and rental purchases online. Instead, they focused on other ways to communicate with their customers and keep them safe during the early days of the pandemic. “One of the lessons that was learned, is that effective and timely communication is critical. We experienced huge crowds and the most efficient way for us to provide timely information was in person, by telephone, by internet, and by social media. We knew communication was important but with the Covid-19 pandemic, we realized how valuable it is and how effective updating information at a moment’s notice by utilizing all outlets really is. For example, when ticket sales sold out, it went immediately up on our website, on digital street signs, and the front end staff knew instantly as well,” said Kim Jochl. Addressing staffing shortages was also one of the challenges the pandemic intensified,” Kim said. “We were inundated with phone calls and that was a bit more challenging because we didn’t have the volume of staff needed to handle the overload. With the demand

and people wanting information instantly, we realized that we needed to work quickly and creatively,” she said. “To manage the increased volume we transferred calls to varying departments throughout the operation. But in doing so we ran the risk of taking the focus from the customer who was here. Thankfully the ski business breeds a changing, adapting and accommodating workforce. We just had to move quicker and communicate that to employees. The entire team, hundreds of them, shined during the pandemic.” Gunther Jochl said, “Our number one priority, is to simply take care of the customer. That will never change.” In a time when business owners didn’t know if they would be able to open their doors the next day, the local economy was able to sustain itself thanks in large part to one of the best years ever for the three ski resorts as well as Hawksnest’s snow tubing. People that had never considered coming to Boone or other parts of the High Country before for vacation made the trip and will be sure to come back again to see what else the area has to offer. What could have been a disaster for the local economy in the winter of 2020-2021, the season turned out to be a fantastic year for the ski resorts through their hard work and preparedness that was a godsend for local businesses. While most of the state continued in a business slump during that winter, many have said that the local ski industry came to the rescue and saved the local economy. t

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Hugh Cook, at 100 years of age and one of the oldest, if not the oldest, living veteran in the High Country, never misses an opportunity to pay tribute to God and country.

Hugh Cook AT



oone’s own Hugh Cook was honored on his 100th birthday recently, with nearly 50 cars making their way up the winding road to his mountaintop home for a “drive-by” celebration. The yard of the lovely home he shares with Cleo, his wife of 65 years, was beautifully decorated on that early Autumn afternoon as friends, relatives and other acquaintances came to offer congratulations on reaching his latest milestone. His family had 42


Looking Back in Time A Decorated World War II Veteran Remembers Story by Sherrie Norris

all gathered in for the day, determined to make it a day to remember. And a picture commemorating the big day made it to the label of a Smucker’s jar, which in itself, is a pretty big deal for centenarians these days. When asked, a few weeks later, how it felt to be 100, Hugh chuckled in his response. “Well, I can’t tell much difference.” He says he’s healthy, barely mentioning that he’s on his third pacemaker, but glad that he only takes “one little pill,”

December 2021

each day. He still drives “some,” doesn’t wear glasses, though admitted he “might need a hearing aide,” but said he’s getting along pretty good the way things are. His days are typically spent in the comfort of his home, rising early and enjoying his coffee with gravy and biscuits on most mornings. He’s usually ready for a little rest before noon. Lunch might be a Moon Pie with a salad, his daughter Linda

says with a laugh, and then it’s time for another nap in the afternoon. He’ll walk to the mailbox and watch some television. It’s a bit different in that most days since retirement were spent on the golf course — until about a year ago. A huge sports fan, and once himself a pretty good baseball player, he was burning the midnight oil around the time of our interview, cheering his life-long team, the Atlanta Braves, to their World Series victory. He was a much younger man the last time he saw that happen, he said. All in all, he’s had a good life, he said. Together, he and Cleo raised their three children, Linda, Dwight and Darrell, have loved watching their four grandchildren grow up and are now anticipating the arrival of their first great-grandchild, (which will likely happen during the production of this magazine.) Hugh still has a sharp mind, and doesn’t forget much — especially those days from long ago, as a youngster growing up in the Bamboo community of Boone. As most did in those days, Hugh and his siblings grew up on the family farm, and were expected to work hard. “There were days we had to hoe corn or beans before we could go to the ballgame on Saturday. And there were some days those rows didn’t get hoed very good. We could hear the hollering from where we were, and we rushed it up ever’ chance we got,” he said with a laugh. By the age of 15, he was pitching for the Bamboo Baseball Team, “the best team around,” and has maintained the love of that sport ever since. He remembers when his family first got electricity in their home. “I didn’t know what to think. They wired our house for free, but we had to pay $2.50 a month for

A handsome young soldier, Hugh Cook had received his draft notice on Oct. 1, 1942, which happened to be his 21st birthday. it. We had one bulb in the room that provided light and we had to pull on a string to get that much.” And, yes, he had to walk two miles to school each day. “There was no such thing as a bus back then. And it didn’t matter how much snow was on the ground or how cold it was, we had to go.”

He had enough by the eighth grade, he said. “By then, there might’ve been a bus or two, but they didn’t come out to Bamboo, and it was too far to walk to high school in Boone, so I gave it up.” He worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a couple of months, “loading holes with dynamite.” He also went to work at

Among numerous commendations Hugh Cook received during his time in the military, the bronze star stands out as a testament of his heroic efforts after assuming command of his unit and leading them to safety when their lieutenant deserted the troops. December 2021



the D and P Pipe Works on Howard Street in Boone, running a bandsaw for 35 cents an hour. (While little has been known in recent times about this company, it was part of a prestigious New York smoking pipe manufacturer. Read more about it at appalachianhistory.net) . . . . . “There’s no telling how many pipes I made,” he said.

Invitation from Uncle Sam arrives on 21st birthday

A lovely newly married couple, Cleo and Hugh Cook eloped, but paid the price soon afterward when friends carried them through the streets of Boone on a pole, a ritual, they explained “back in the good old days.”

Having been married for 65 years, Hugh and Cleo Cook say they have had a wonderful life together. 44


December 2021

Hugh’s invitation from Uncle Sam came on Oct. 1, 1942, which happened to be his 21st birthday. A short time later, Hugh was one of 200 local boys, “four busloads of us left together,” he said. He and two of his brothers served at the same time, although all six of the family’s brothers served at one time or another during the war. Hugh was first inducted into the army at Fort Jackson, S.C., and completed his basic training at Camp White in Oregon. Before coming back to the east coast, he did his artillery training in Yakimaw, Washington. He was among the soldiers, approximately 500 in number, shipped out from Newport News, Va. on the USS Hunt, in a large convoy of about 200 ships For 27 days they had very little to eat, “mainly split pea soup with bugs in it;” he and most of the crew stayed sick for their entire voyage. The troops first landed in Oran, Africa, and then it was on to Sicily for a short stint before settling into battle in Italy, mainly in the Naples area, “the most heavily bombed Italian city during the war,” he recalled. His unit bypassed Rome and fought their way through Leghorn, Pisa, Florence, the Gothic Line, across the Arno River, and into the Po Valley. Means of transportation varied, he said. “I rode anything going my way — a horse, a German motorcycle, a tank, a Jeep and even a cow,” He recalls laying on his back in irrigation ditches, trying to dodge the shells flying overhead — and once, with a snake crawling over his chest. Scattered along the beaches, the American soldiers were the German’s perfect target in Anzio, he recalled, as they were fired upon from the mountains. “They had the vantage point, but we weren’t there long before we blowed them off that mountain.” He remembers well the U.S. Air Force’s 500 planes —12 per group — coming across the sky in America’s defense. And, he will never forget the Anzio Express — the railway artillery used by Germany throughout the war. “It was loud, like no other,” he said. “They’d bring it out of the hills, fire it, and then take it right back in. One morning when it came out, we just happened to be right there and we captured it.” After taking control of the weapon, Cook’s buddies picked him up and “crammed” him into its barrel, he said. When he asked how he was going to get out of it, he was told, “We’ll just blow you out.” Those were among the lighter moments, Cook said, but the more intense seem to weigh heavier on his mind. He was wounded several times and had numerous close calls. Crossing a minefield that “lit up like a football field,” he described, and making it to safety, “was nothing short of a miracle.”

Jumping down a 50-foot embankment in the crossfire landed him with three broken ribs; at one time, “the shelling blowed a 35-pound radio off my back and blew it to pieces,” he shared. On another day —just seconds from jumping from a jeep and running to safety —the jeep “blew sky high,” he said. In one fierce battle, as his lieutenant deserted the troops and told him to take command, Hugh immediately ordered an attack and provided cover for his men while letting them escape. Hugh received several commendations, including a bronze star after assuming leadership of his 91st Infantry Division’s Field Artillery —and was due more, his daughter said. “But, you had to request them, and that’s just not Daddy.” Hugh also remembers the Gothic Line Mountain as a “solid rock barrier we had to go through.” “It was rough country,” he recalled. “The Germans were hiding out in caves on steep rock cliffs and were shooting right down on us.” Of the 140 American soldiers who climbed “straight up,” Hugh said, he was one of only nine who came back down — with captives in tow. In the Po Valley, he was very close to Glen Cottrell of Boone, (now deceased,) when he was taken prisoner, but he didn’t realize it at the time. His responsibility as a “forward observer,” Hugh described, was directing artillery and mortar fire. “One specific call could easily have changed the course of history,” he said, as he had his gunner set sights on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. “We weren’t supposed to fire on the tower, which was just about a quarter of a mile away,” he said. “We could see right into the top, where the Germans were playing cards and pool, looking right down on us.” A shot went in that direction, anyway, he said, “but missed it by just a little bit.” He never talked about it for many years — until his division met for the first of many reunions in Branson, Mo. “My captain said he always wondered who fired that shot. I finally told him.” Hugh remembers the Germans as” big men who always looked clean.” It was just before Hugh got to Milan, he said, that “Mussolini and his two girlfriends had just been hanged — upside down. I didn’t see it, but some of my buddies did.” Something he will never leave his

Hugh and Cleo Cook, far right, always enjoy posing for a picture with their three children and their families any time they can get together.

Hugh Cook with wife, Cleo, and daughter Linda Johnson, in the comfort of his home.

Hugh is shown with a keepsake pipe, one of many that he helped make at D and P Pipe Works, a New York-based company that manufactured pipes in Boone for a short while. The availability of mountain laurel and rhododendron burls were paramount to pipe production and drew the company to the mountains of Western North Carolina and eastern inUthe December 2021 Tennessee HIGH CO N Tearly R Y M1940s. AGAZINE 45

Cleo proudly stands by her hero and his collection of medals and awards he was given for various aspects of outstanding service to his country during the war.

mind is of the little boy in a field with nothing to eat, picking up snails and putting them in his mouth. “I gave him my food that day.” After Milan, his unit backtracked about 25-30 miles to Teresa, Italy, where they stayed in airplane hangars for the summer as the heat of the battle waned. “I was lucky to make our division’s baseball team,” he said. “If you made the team, you didn’t have to pull extra duty.” He and his cousin, Dorman (Doc) Cook, also from Boone and one of six brothers in service at the same time, had been stationed together and played baseball in different parts of Italy during those last days of war. “We had orders for Japan when they dropped the atomic bomb,” Hugh said. “We were tickled to death when we heard it was over. By that time, the Italians had come over to our side and treated us very well.” Seventy-six years later, he can still recall his return trip home, in November 1945, was reminiscent of his first. “We were so sick, again,” he said. “I remember telling God to just let me die.” Inclement weather diverted their landing from New York to Boston, where the Salvation Army welcomed them each — with a half-pint of milk and a donut. “They took us to town to a cafeteria and fed us real good,” he said. From Boston, Hugh took a train southbound to Ft. Bragg, hired a taxi to Hickory and thumbed back to Boone,” he said. There was no fanfare, “nothing like today,” he surmised, when crowds line a street to welcome home their soldiers. But, the most important person in his life at that time, his mother, was on King Street in front of Belk when he returned to Boone, a surprise meeting for both of them.

Moving On After the War

Brothers Hugh and Haden Cook have been through a lot together during their lifetime, including serving their country in World War II.

Riding with his World War II comrades during the 2018 Fourth of July parade in downtown Boone was a highlight for Hugh Cook. 46


December 2021

Hugh soon moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked for three years before returning to Boone and spending the next 17 years employed with Coca-Cola Bottling Company. He worked the following 18 years in the steam plant at Appalachian State University before retiring. In the meantime, on April 18, 1956, and at the age of 35, Hugh married Cleo Bolick. “I had to wait for her to grow up,” he said about his wife, who is 12 years younger. “I thought he was the best looking boy I’d ever seen,” Cleo said. The couple laughs together as they recount their courting days, and one date, in particular. “I couldn’t get my car to stop as I was taking her home one night,” said Hugh. “It had locked up in second gear, so as we started around the circle in front of her house, I didn’t know anything else to do but tell her to jump out. I wasn’t about to call her dad and get him up at that hour.” Cleo said, “I wasn’t about to jump out, either, as fast as he was going, I said I’d kill myself, but he said let’s make one more round and I’ll slow it down as much as I can and you jump. So I did.” Hugh lived about a mile away, and as he got home, he had to “cram on my brakes and kill the motor for it to

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stop,” he said, still laughing. The couple slipped off to get married, going to the nearby home of Preacher Will Cook to exchange their vows, but went to Washington DC for their honeymoon. Cleo had gone there to work prior to their marriage and served at the Pentagon as a secretary for five months before coming back home. She had already earned her teaching degree at Appalachian and eventually spent 30 years as a teacher. (But back to their honeymoon —) When they returned to Boone, they enjoyed a celebration in their honor at “Granny Cook’s,” where their closet family and friends were invited in to eat. But, that’s not where the celebration ended. “We got serenaded, as they called it back then,” Cleo said, and with Hugh, described how “a gang of the boys blocked the rode so we couldn’t leave, and took us to town and rode us on a pole through the streets of Boone.” They remember it well. “I had run out, to start with, and went in Homer Critcher’s barn to hide, but they were going to get Cleo, anyway, so I come on out, and before it was all over, I had nothing on but my shorts when I got back home. They didn’t show us any mercy that day.” But, that’s the way it was done to newly married couples, “back then, in the good old days,” Cleo said. But, they lived through it and have en-

December 2021

joyed their life together with their three children; Darrell and Dwight Cook and Linda Johnson, four grandchildren, (Seth, Macey, Autumn and Bradley)and their frist great-grandchild on the way. Hugh is now the senior-most member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church, where he has attended most of his life, a place near and dear to his heart in many ways. “That church prayed for us local boys while we were overseas — about 40 of us at one time — and not a one of us from the Bamboo area was seriously wounded or killed,” he said. Cook sang in the Hagaman Family quartet for 30 years, and always had a beautiful tenor voice, his daughter said. “He raised us right,” Linda said. “We were in church more than not.”

A Wonderful Life Hugh and Cleo have had a wonderful marriage, they both agreed, saying they’ve been blessed. “We never have fussed and argued,” he said. “We might have disagreed a few times, but we never quarreled. Cleo’s a good woman. I couldn’t have made it without her all these years.” At the same time, Cleo said about her husband, “He’s always been such a good husband and father, easy to get along with, one of the most forgiving people I’ve ever known. He doesn’t hold grudges and has always had such a good outlook on life.” She added, “We can even think for each

views — both opportunities made possible other and we know what the other one is the lone survivor of his Army unit. Hugh participated in the WWII Sym- by The Appalachian High Country World going to say before we open our mouth.” Hugh coached Little League baseball posium held several years ago at Appala- War II Roundtable. Today, Hugh and Cleo enjoy a rather for a number of years, loves Tar Heel bas- chian State University and is one of 30 local quiet life in their mountain top ketball, and credits four days a home, where they’ve lived for week on the golf course, in his lat30 years now. They were the first er years weather permitting, for to move into what has become his good health. Both have been a lovely development with panavid bowlers, too, and played on oramic views east of Boone. “I local leagues. liked to keep my (fox) hunting They have loved to travel todogs up here when we first come, gether, “but never on a cruise or a but I had to stop that when other boat,” Cleo said. “He got enough people started moving in around of that in service, and never wantus,” he said. ed to do much around the water.” He is usually pretty optimistic “We did go to his unit’s reabout most everything, but said union for 12 years in Branson, he “doesn’t think much about the Mo.,” she said. “One time, we shape our country is in right now.” were there on his birthday and He added. “I’m afraid to even were riding the Ducks (the land think about what’s going to hapand water vehicles) on the lake. pen to us. There’s nothing I can They let him drive it, but he kept do about it, but I know we’re in bringing it back to the shore. He a mess. I’ve never seen it this bad didn’t want to get too far out into before — and I’ve seen a lot.” the water.” Hugh Cook has been described as a wonderful husband, One thing is for sure, Hugh Hugh says he still has some father, grandfather, brother and friend – Cook still loves his country, his close friends, but he’s outlived never one to get too mad or to hold a grudge. family and God — just maybe not most of them, and to his knowledge, he is the oldest World War II veteran World War II veterans featured in the Vet- in that exact order — and at 100, he’s not still alive in Watauga County. He is also erans Voice, a collection of recorded inter- feeling much different than he did at 99. t

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December 2021

Cone Manor, located at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, was in a rough state of disrepair for many years. Large areas of the manor had paint peeling like the area pictured here. A major renovation project has fixed the damaged areas. Photo by David Huff Creative

The Cone Manor Restoration Project


Story by Joe Johnson Photography by Tara Diamond and David Huff

he Flat Top Manor, also known as Cone Manor, the former country home of Moses and Bertha Cone, has needed repairs and renovations for decades. Cone Manor is in the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway and serves as a major tourist destination in the High Country. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the park was owned and operated as a gentleman’s country estate by Moses H. Cone and his wife Bertha Cone. The estate was transferred to the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1949, subsisting on funds from the National Park Service.

In the following years, Cone Manor has been subject to massive physical decay. Peeling paint, crumbling woodwork, decaying columns, and even a boarded-up window at Cone Manor signaled that the former country home of Moses and Bertha Cone was desperate for repairs. The National Park Service has been impacted by insufficient funding for quite some time, decreasing the amount of money that can be allocated to national parks. Since the Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long, the National Park Service faces sweeping challenges with management, budget constraints, and restoration along the entire parkway. Thankfully,

A lot of the woodwork and columns at the Cone Manor had started to rot and crumble, leaving the structure even more dangerous to be around for park visitors. Private fundraising efforts brought in enough money to fix the damaged areas with nearly identical replacement pieces. Photos by David Huff Creative December 2021



Private donors were able to come up with nearly $3 million to go towards the repairs needed for the Cone Manor. “It is the most comprehensive restoration of the building conducted since it was built,” said Kevin Brandt, Project Manager at the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. Photos by David Huff Creative organizations like the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation have stepped in to take care of the beloved parkway and its various attractions. Since the nonprofit foundation’s genesis in 1997, the organization and its supporters have been heavily involved with the upkeep of Cone Manor and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park as a whole. “Flat Top Manor is the heart of the estate and was in desperate need of critical repairs that far exceeded Blue Ridge Parkway operating budgets,” said Billie Howell, member of the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park Steering Committee and Denim Ball Planning Committee, “The Foundation committed to preserve and protect this historic prop-

erty by undertaking a $3 million fundraising initiative to address the most significant and immediate needs.” When it became apparent that Cone Manor would need an extensive renova-

“When it became apparent that Cone Manor would need an extensive renovation process to keep the estate running smoothly and looking beautiful, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation set out to fundraise for repairs. “

“Members of the staff and board of trustees of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation on the steps of the Cone Manor in August. Pictured are: Back row: Jim Newlin, Bob Stout, Jerry Starnes, Greg Andeck, Cynthia Tessien, Bill Tessien, Adam Roades 4th row: Linda Barber, Jim Barber, Marianne Kovatch, Beth Adams, Jack Betts, Jim McDowell 3rd row: Olson Huff, Bob Shepherd, Rebecca Reeve, Martha Betts, Jacob LeBlanc 2nd row: Kevin Brandt, Pards the dog, Becky Anderson, Rita Larkin 1st row: Jordan Calaway, Alfred Adams, Carolyn Ward 52


December 2021

tion process to keep the estate running smoothly and looking beautiful, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation set out to fundraise for repairs. The foundation funded completion of a Developed Area Management Plan for the estate in 2015, and since then have been actively working to fundraise and gain support for Cone Manor. “The Developed Area Management Plan provided a long-term management strategy that would best protect and preserve the extraordinary resources at the site, while providing for an enjoyable visitor experience,” said Howell, “With longterm budget challenges for the National Park Service and lack of entry fees on the

Restorations at the Cone Manor started in 2020 and took over a year to complete. Architects from the Denver Service Center and the National Park Service’s planning, design, and construction management office led the restoration work at Cone Manor. Once exterior work is complete, interior renovations are expected to begin at a later date. Photos by David Huff Creative Blue Ridge Parkway, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park had many unmet needs that would require a massive influx of substantial private funds to ensure that the historical resources at this site can be protected and preserved.” Now in 2021, fundraising efforts have skyrocketed, and the physical exterior of Cone Manor has been drastically improved from its original state. “It

is the most comprehensive restoration of the building conducted since it was built,” said Kevin Brandt, Project Manager at the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, “Pieces of the manor would be restored one year, then another part of the building the next year. In the span of the last year, the exterior has been fully restored. Since it was built, Cone Manor has never looked this

magnificent.” Donors from across the country have contributed to almost three million dollars raised for the restoration of Cone Manor. “This is the largest privately supported project ever accomplished on the Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Jordan Calaway, Chief Development Officer at the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, “This project

From 2016 to 2019, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation hosted a yearly fundraiser called “The Denim Ball.” In 2019 the Denim Ball was held on the estate under a big tent on the front driveway, and after an afternoon of intense thunder showers, the skis cleared for a beautiful evening for the vent where the Flat Top Manor glow as darkest fell. Among the attendees were members of the Denim Ball committee, Karen Robertson on the left with Billie Howell on the right, standing with Deatra Sellers in the middle. Photos by Jan Todd December 2021



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has been made possible because of the individuals in the High Country community. The money has come from near and far, but the restoration happened because the local community said ‘Something has to be done. We cannot let Flat Top Manor get in any worse condition. We need to restore it, and we need to make it safe for future generations to enjoy.’” Donors flocked to the Cone Manor restoration project, with hundreds of individual donors participating in fundraising efforts. “The National Park Service is in the perpetual preservation business,” said Brandt, “Whether it’s Bluffs, Flat Top Manor, or the parkway pavement itself, it needs constant care and feeding. If these are things that we care about, we should all get involved and contribute to their preservation. We cannot solely count on federal dollars to take care of it. That is why the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s role is so important here.” Various organizations, individual donors, and fundraisers helped secure the funding needed to finance the Cone Manor’s restorations. Individual donors number in the hundreds, and local businesses and organizations contributed vast amounts of funding as well. “There was a swell of support for the rehabilitation efforts, particularly from the Blowing Rock business community and TDAs,” said Howell, “These businesses and organizations are keenly aware of the economic impact that Moses H. Cone Memorial Park has on the vitality of their business operations.” From 2016 to 2019, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation hosted a yearly fundraiser called “The Denim Ball” at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. The Denim Ball is the brainchild of Willa Mays, former Chief Development Officer of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. The fundraiser is named after Moses and Ceasar Cone’s main industry, denim, which was brought to the South by the brothers in the late 19th century. The

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Each fluted column was supported by a recessed panel pedestal that was carefully removed and restored revealing numerous periods of past restoration and reconstruction. Photo by Tara Diamond




denim industry revolutionized the southern textile industry, and still readily exists today as a major industry. It was only appropriate to pay homage to the Cone brothers when fundraising for Flat Top Manor. The Denim Ball was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19; however, plans for future Cone Manor fundraisers are in the works, since renovations to the estate must be maintained over time with additional fundraising efforts. The Denim Ball fundraisers have been a major success, sometimes netting over a hundred thousand dollars per event. During the Denim Ball fundraisers, hundreds of High Country residents gather together at Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, decked out in denim clothing, to participate in various fundraising activities. Previous Denim Ball fundraisers have included dinner, drinks, dancing, and all sorts of fun activities catered toward an adult audience. The fundraisers are centered around having fun, donating pledges, and participating in

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Expansive views from the Cone’s master suite overlooking Bass Lake are matched by the Neoclassical architectural detailing found in the restored Oxeye window. Photo by Tara Diamond live or silent auctions to raise more funds structurally sound than ever before. Much were plaster, there were some that were for the upkeep and restoration of Cone of the original building’s structural core has aluminum, and some that were concrete. Manor. Each Denim Ball was a resound- been maintained, although some of the res- There were four different types of column ing success, and future Cone Manor fund- toration process required replacing pieces capitals that were installed during repairs raisers will prove to be even more fun and of the structure outright. “The columns over the years. The column base blocks lucrative. The Denim Ball host committee and capitals were from three or four differ- were replaced in 1985, 1991, and 2001. were critical to the success of the fundrais- ent generations,” said Brandt, “There were Some of the columns were originally made ing projects. The host committee includes some that were wood, there were some that as tongue and groove, but the replacements were glued together. All the members such as Billie Brancolumns were repaired or redon Howell, Emily Stallings, stored from their state before Bob & Janet Stout, Deborah the project began; I’m not McDowell, Deatra & Charaware of any completely new lie Sellers, Genie & Jerry columns, capitals, or balusters Starnes, Jonathan Lehman, that were installed. They were Karen Robertson, Pam Vines, able to repair them to a point Billie Rogers, Rob Mendel, where visitors cannot tell they and Rita White. are not the original pieces of More than 2.3 million the Cone Manor.” Not evdollars raised were used to ery piece of the Cone Manor refurbish the once decaying has stayed in its original state exterior of Cone Manor to throughout its years under the its former glory. Starting in National Park Service, so the 2020, the restorations took main goal of the restoration over a year to complete. Not project is to restore the manonly has the exterior been reThe restored oversized nine-over one windows let in abundant light and air a or to a structurally solid and furbished, but it is also more highly appreciated feature of Flat Top Manor. Photo by Tara Diamond 56


December 2021

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The front porch provides a wonderful place to experience the restoration of the fluted columns and railings as well as the marvelous mountain views. Photo by Tara Diamond lica latches. The latches were stripped of of the masonry chimneys,” said Brandt, spectacular aesthetic. “I have not seen Cone Manor since paint, polished, and recast in a teakettle “They have all been capped except for the August during the renovation process,” style, named for the shape of the manor’s only active chimney connected to the boilsaid Brandt, “It is just jaw-droppingly gor- latches. Additionally, each piece of com- er in the basement.” The porch deck in the geous. The attention to detail, the crisp- promised clapboard siding was replaced backyard was also in terrible shape, with ness of the lines on the mullions and win- before the entire exterior was repainted, two of the columns taken out and braced dows, the fact that you can see the intri- and the beadboard ceiling of the spacious up against the wall at the start of the rescate details in the capitals of the columns; porch was refreshed. Masonry restorations toration project because they had nothing it’s just gorgeous.” In addition to restored also took place on the brick portions of else to lean on. This too was addressed mullions, windows, and columns, other the building. “There was some repointing during the restorations taking place over the last year. renovations have been The historical fabric added to not only make of the structure has been Cone Manor beautiful, retained as much as possibut to greatly improve its ble, with limited replacestructural integrity. Other ments to original portions upgrades to the manor of the manor. Many of include wooden shingles the original structures that were replaced by around the memorial composite shingles, adpark have been excavated vances in lightning prosuch as the laundry house, tection, windows that servants’ cottages, tenant were stripped down, rehomes, and an extensive painted, and reglazed, as apple orchard. A portion well as reforged and reof the orchard remains, cast latches that hold the but most of the outlytop sash in place. Some of ing structures that poputhe latches are the origilated the manor grounds nals, but many needed to be replaced with rep- Revealed once again: the scrolled detailing of the Ionic Order capitals varied over time due were removed after an the nature of the different materials used and available craftsmen. Photo by Tara Diamond 58


December 2021

extended lack of use. Otherwise, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and its supporters have made sure many original pieces of the manor’s exterior have been retained and fortified rather than replaced outright. This assures the history of the manor is physically present and visitors can experience the aesthetic of the structure as it was intended to be. While Cone Manor does not look the same as it did when Bertha Cone was maintaining the building up until her death in 1947 , the manor is now more stable and extravagant than it ever has been in its 122 -year history. “We continue to try to work on the research and scholarship of the manor and the family who once resided there,” said Calaway, “Not just because it is beautiful, but because of the story it represents. It is important to connect the manor’s beauty with its colorful history.” To further establish the renovations’ historical accuracy, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation worked with Appalachian State University to bring in descendants of the Cone family to support the project. Moses and Bertha Cone did not have any children, but they had many nieces and nephews whose descendants still live in the United States today. “We brought in Cone family members from all over the country so they could see the house,” said Calaway, “They provided key information about their family regarding visiting Bertha at Cone Manor when they were children. There were some special memories shared by the Cone family, that’s for sure!” The exterior of Cone Manor has been virtually finished, although there are several more renovations the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is aiming to achieve within the estate. The interior of the structure as well as various areas around the estate should be improved to allow guests to fully experience Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. After the exterior is finished, the foundation hopes to tackle interior renovations next. With careful planning for future renovations, Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation leaders can begin to address the additional restoration and visitor enhancement projects. “The exterior is finished, and the interior is hopefully next,”

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December 2021



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Viewed through the columns of the Porte Cochere, the restored windows once again protect the sun porch - a favorite space of Bertha Cone. Photo by Tara Diamond Statue of Liberty, and the Wright Brothers said Calaway, “This way, the building is side of Cone Manor. Architects from the Denver Service Memorial. The onsite restoration efforts at shored up to prevent weather damage that would ultimately impact the interior. We Center and the National Park Service’s Cone Manor are led by Ritz Construction, can make those decisions turning inward planning, design, and construction man- Inc. Double Hung, LLC, was responsible after the exterior is completely restored.” agement office led the restoration work at for the process of delicately removing all the windows, columns, and Revamps such as growth in railings. The team at Double parking availability, visitor Hung meticulously repaired introductions, and more and repainted the features accessibility for school before returning them to groups will be added along their original locations on with interior renovations. the building. High Country residents The future of Cone can expect more fundraisManor and Moses H. Cone ing efforts such as future Memorial Park is brighter Denim Balls to fund addithan ever. With a renovated tional renovations around and restored exterior and Moses H. Cone Memorial extensive renovation plans Park. The Cone Manor resaround the estate, visitors toration project is just one can expect a vibrant and of many projects the Blue storied experience walking Ridge Parkway Foundation around the grounds. The donors and volunteers have estate is also critical to tourmade possible at the estate. Other projects facilitated Viewed from the north, the balustrade railing was disassembled, and each piece restored to ism in the Boone, Blowing its original beauty, and re-installed in exactly the same location.. Photo by Tara Diamond Rock, and the High Counby foundation donors and try region in general; resivolunteers include the construction of restrooms at Bass Lake, the Cone Manor. This division of the National dents and visitors alike will not be able to clearing of vegetation on carriage trails, Park Service takes on some of the park sys- resist stopping by the revamped Moses H. upkeep of the hydrangea garden, and the tem’s most expansive projects including Cone Memorial Park as they travel along installation of a fire suppression system in- preservation of Mount Rushmore, the the Blue Ridge Parkway. t 60


December 2021

TOP: The exquisite neoclassical detailing of Flat Top Manor is once again revealed following restoration of the cornice dentils, portico’s balustrade, and the fanlight and Palladian windows. Photos by Tara Diamond BOTTOM: The north façade shows the restored shiplap siding and trim around the leaded glass Palladian window of the main stairway and a lightning rod on the restored balustrade pedestal.

December 2021



A New Generation Clears the Path for Trails The pandemic, and a new Blue Ridge Parkway program, encourages a more inclusive future for people who hike, and even build, our increasingly important trails. Story and Photos by Randy Johnson


pent much time on trails during the pandemic? You and everyone else! One trail data source says trail use has increased three-fold since the COVID pandemic arrived. That’s made it obvious to people all over the country just how woefully undersupplied we are with trails, especially easy escapes like multi-use greenways open to hiking and biking.

Luckily, a trail renaissance was underway before COVID that seems to be accelerating. Municipalities and counties everywhere are building trails, and the massive new pedestrian bridges on US 321 between Boone and Blowing Rock show that the long-awaited Middle Fork Greenway will be part of the solution. Luckily, the new state budget includes a “transformational” $30 million, first-

ever investment of funds to buy land and build North Carolina’s twelve state trails, which in our area includes the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and Northern Peaks Trail. Thanks to unprecedented action by the town of Old Fort, the US Forest Service, and a new coalition of community trail organizations, forty-two miles of accessible new trails will be built linking

Joseph Dobbins (lower left), co-leader of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s recent multi-ethnic trail “Crew of Color” addresses trail volunteers gathered on the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance. The crew’s main purpose was to invite ethnic diversity in the use and protection of Parkway trails, but the biggest task was eliminating a dangerous trailside erosion pit caused by uncontrolled rainwater from above. The solution was a retaining wall to support the trail as water passes over it. 62


December 2021

It takes a lot of different tools for trail maintainers to accomplish multiple tasks as they traverse a section of trail. Here crew leader Joseph Dobbins (top left) gives the nod to a job well done by a big crew of volunteers from Appalachian State University’s Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. The group does regular work on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail’s Grandfather Mountain to Blowing Rock task force. Their work day ended at Boone Fork Parking Area. the town with more than 70,000 acres of public land. The growing number of public-spirited trail advocacy groups include the black-led People on the Move for Old Fort, one of many efforts to break down social barriers to using trails for minorities who are generally under-represented among outdoorsy Americans. A High Country example of expanding minority trail access just ended a month ago when a five person, ethnically diverse “trail crew of color” spent fourteen weeks from July to October tackling trail maintenance on portions of the Tanawha Trail (part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, or MST). The crew of five young adult AmeriCorps members was made up of crew co-leaders Joseph Dobbins and Jordan “Lynx” Brown, as well as Tiara Atkins, Carlos “Miko” Aragon, and Diego Montes. Created by Conservation Legacy’s North Carolina program, Conservation Corps North Carolina, (CCNC), the program uses the “affinity crew” model to break down barriers for people of color, to help them feel comfortable out on the trail and welcome in professional conser-

vation careers. In preparation for last summer’s work, and a possible future in the trail field, the crew started by earning community college credit in trail building from Mc-

Seasonal Park employee Jared Hill demonstrates how to create a grade dip to drain rain from a trail before causing erosion. Volunteer Elliott Hunnycutt was so inspired he signed up to volunteer with the Forest Service in Arizona.

Dowell Tech. They also mastered the S-212 chainsaw certification, also called the Wildland Fire Chain Saws course, required training for the fire fighters battling western wildfires. Over the crew’s multi-month commitment, they logged more than 640 hours of work and specific training required to qualify for the Public Land Corps (PLC) hiring protocol, a federal program that helps qualified people compete for positions in government natural resource agencies. All of their great work on the Tanawha and Mountains-to-Sea trails was funded by grants from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the National Park Foundation, and the National Park Service. The recent trail crew was the second local appearance by Conservation Corps North Carolina. In 2015, another crew on the Parkway replaced the muddy gully of failing steps at the Rough Ridge Parking Area with the safe, sustainable flight of boardwalk steps now in use.

High Country Trail Life The crew, who nicknamed themselves

December 2021



The crew got the same chain saw certification required of other Mountains-to-Sea Trail task force volunteer sawyers, skills demonstrated here on the Tanawha Trail a few years ago by Christopher Johnson, a founder of Delta Sigma Phi at ASU.

The retaining wall project required mechanized equipment. Ready to work are, left to right, Tiara Atkins, “Miko” Aragon, “Lynx” Brown, and Diego Montes. The National Park Foundation,” says Dr. Tracey Ritchie, “is thrilled to support this affinity crew and celebrates the critical restoration work they completed on the Tanawha Trail.”

“Serious Business” because of the importance of their work, roughed it during “hitches” of trail work they performed on parts of the Tanawha Trail. Work weeks alternated with time off at crew members’ various places of residence in nearby cities. The group camped out in Price Park Campground, luckily, one of only two on the Blue Ridge Parkway that has restroom showers. The other campground with showers is Mount Pisgah south of Asheville. Both facilities came thanks to grants from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the Parkway’s sole official philanthropic partner. Carolyn Ward, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation CEO, says, “Support for this crew’s training and work ties directly into the Foundation’s mission to engage



December 2021

the next generation of public land stewards, allowing them to blaze a new path in the world of conservation.” The group camped at one campsite in separate tents with a central area for eating and food prep. By the end of the program they were not only sensing the onset of winter but feeling like locals in “their campground.” Lynx Brown marveled that “you can sure tell when weekends arrive.” On Friday and Saturday nights, the normally serene campground “was packed,” Brown said. “And the dogs. There was barking all night!” The crew stayed in the High Country long enough to see a torrential summer rain storm damage the flood gate of the Price Park dam and literally drain Price Lake. The lake was slow to refill at first but luckily, late in their residence, the

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail volunteers from ASU’s Delta Sigma Phi fraternity warm up before starting work with the CCNC “Crew of Color.” The crew members took turns leading an exercise or two on a beautiful autumn morning in Price Park Picnic Area. Photo by Randy Johnson crew was able to take a much anticipated kayak trip.

Serious Trail Work The National Park Service assigned the crew to generally upgrade parts of the

Tanawha Trail but the main focus was a big job indeed—eradication of a potentially dangerous trailside erosion pit. The mysterious-looking, longstanding problem was being caused by uncontrolled rain water flowing down from an adjacent hilltop

The affinity crew poses proudly with their completed retaining wall, but improvements were made on many locations along the Tanawha and Mountains-to-Sea trails. From left to right are Jordan “Lynx” Brown, Carlos “Miko” Aragon, Diego Montes, Joseph Dobbins, and Tiara Atkins.

meadow. The apparent solution was building a major retaining wall to undergird the hillside, support a widened trail, and permit water to flow across the trail and down the retaining wall. Luckily the site was easily reached by

Led by National Park Service seasonal crewman Jared Hill (right), two Delta Sig fraternity trail volunteers march down from working on the Tanawha Trail to the trailhead parking on Holloway Mountain Road. One of Grandfather Mountain’s peaks peeks over the hilltop. December 2021



With two massive bridges in place by fall 2021, the Middle Fork Greenway took an enticing step closer to reality. Imagine riding from the Boone Greenway all the way to Blowing Rock through scenery like this. Greene Construction of Boone is also building the attractive roadside parking area. a section of the Tanawha/MST that follows an old road. After roadside trimming, the crew was able to deploy everything from motorized wheel barrows to a dump truck in the effort to import crushed rock and rectangular stone for the retaining wall. They revisited the task often, completing it near the very end of their stay.

Get Involved with Trails

There’s More Out There


omentum for trails is everywhere. It is increasingly easy to overflow your inbox with emails from organizations that support or spread the word about trails. There’s never been a better time to get involved. The organizations below also offer trail information on their websites.

—The Mountains-to-Sea Trail / mountainstoseatrail.org Get outside to enjoy or maintain one of the three High Country MST segments: Tanawha Trail through Cone Park, Watauga County, or Ashe County. The Friends of the MST’s website features interactive maps and guides to the trail across the entire state, a newsletter, and it’s easy to sign up as a trail volunteer. On the homepage, click “Get Involved,” then “Sign Up to Volunteer.” Then email the task force leader for the task forces above. —High Country Pathways / highcountrypathways.org This umbrella organization supports all kinds of trail projects in our area, including the groundbreaking Middle Fork Greenway and the Northern Peaks Trail, a North Carolina State Trail (northernpeakstrail.com) envisioned between Boone and West Jefferson across the spectacular Amphiboplite Mountains. —Blue Ridge Conservancy / blueridgeconservancy.org The High Country’s premier preservation organization has protected more than 22,000 acres in our area. Membership, donations, and programs like the recently successful “round-up” effort at retailers is having great results for land preservation. The Conservancy also benefits recreation initiatives like the Middle Fork Greenway and the recently opened Foscoe Wetland Birding Trail accessible from the Foscoe Grandfather Community 66

Center at 233 Park Road, Banner Elk. —Boone Area Cyclists / booneareacyclists.org The local advocacy club for passionate High Country bicyclists of all kinds. This group stages events, pursues greater biking benefits for the area, and was a lead organization in the creation of Boone’s Rocky Knob Bike Park. Join and support local! —Northwest NC MTB Alliance / ridenwnctrails.com This region-wide local organization is a chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association. It’s involved in all the great mountain biking networks in our area and nearby, including trails at Kerr Scott Reservoir, Lake James, Lake Hickory, Wilson Creek, Wilkesboro, Lenoir and more. Last But Not Least NC State Parks / ncparks.gov Keep your High Country state parks in mind. Just hit the state park website for Grandfather Mountain, Elk Knob, New River, or Mount Jefferson State Natural Area to read the latest on trail status and volunteer your time. Find Yourself Outside Looking for trails? Check out these national groups and organizations that not only support trails, but offer website trail directories and/or trail finding Apps (a number require a membership fee). Give’em a try free, then subscribe to the ones you like most. Keep in mind, trail managing agencies and organizations often close


December 2021

mountain biking trail systems when they’re wet to avoid trail damage. Before you go, always check trail status to see when trails are closed and never violate closures. Many of the Apps below include online trail and closure status (as do some organizations above).

“The Pit” project notwithstanding, the affinity crew spread their efforts elsewhere on the Tanawha Trail’s thirteen miles, often working with volunteers. One example occurred on the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. Volunteers organized by Conservation Legacy Blue Ridge Parkway Community Volunteer Ambassador Katie Finney and other organizations checked out “the pit” project, then spread out to clear vegetation and deter erosion nearby. The affinity crew, and seasonal Parkway maintenance crewman Jared Hill, a frequent co-worker, set about leading “the

—Rails to Trails Conservancy / railstotrails.org This group supports turning abandoned rail routes into greenways. Their App “Traillink” is a great resource of nearby greenways and bike trails, such as the 9- mile Tweetsie Trail from Elizabethton to Johnson City, Tennessee (part of the original ET&WNC rail line to Boone) or the 14- mile Thermal Belt Rail Trail (28 miles roundtrip) not far off the mountain near Forest City, Rutherfordton, and Spindale. —People for Bikes / peopleforbikes.org A multifaceted bike advocacy group with a finger in virtually every aspect of cycling including lobbying for and building bike and multiuser trails. They offer a newsletter and a trail locator app called RideSpot. —Trailforks / trailforks.com This website and App put you in touch with a global round-up of trails for hiking to skiing and biking. There’s an amazing number of features and layers of information available. —MTB Project / mtbproject.com Another massive database of trails, photos, access information and more.

Before Drew Stanley set off to supervise a crew of MST volunteers in late November, his wife Lauren and young future trail volunteers Dare (left) and Rowe (right) showed up to see him off. “Rowe was so funny that morning,” Stanley says. “We got up at 6 am and the first thing he did was put on boots and start walking out the door to go do ‘trail work!’” Stanley is the marketing director at Appalachian Ski Mountain.

Donate. The scenic high point of the Tanawha Trail is Rough Ridge. From this less visited side of the summit, there’s a stunning view of the Linn Cove Viaduct to the right. The rippled ridge in the distance is the Black Mountain range, including Mount Mitchell, East’s highest peak (6,684 feet).

More than 12,000 children live in foster care in North Carolina. Donate today to help the children in our state.

vols” on various tasks, often by demonstrating and teaching maintenance techniques. Among those were the art of digging “drainage dips” on low spots where rain can be diverted off the path before it becomes rushing water that can cause erosion. Beside the Holloway Mountain Road trail parking area, the crew also installed stone steps Later in the fall, the crew was joined by big contingents of volunteers from the local task force of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This local group, and all western North Carolina MST task forces, operate under “memorandums of understanding” with the Blue Ridge Parkway that establishes the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail as the group responsible for providing volunteers on Parkway portions of the MST. That includes the MST from Grandfather Mountain to Blowing Rock. Surprising to many, the MST follows a number of trails through that area. From Beacon Heights, in the south at US 221 near Linville, the MST follows Tanawha across the flank of Grandfather Mountain. Near Price Park Campground, the MST side-tracks north on a big portion of the Boone Fork Trail, then follows an MST connection north across Shulls Mill Road to wander through the carriage roads of Moses Cone Park. North of US 321, the Watauga and Ashe County task forces take over maintenance along that part of the Parkway. The Tanawha Trail is definitely one of the most scenic stretches of the Mountains-to-Sea, but the trail continues north and south of the High Country. To the south, much of that along the Parkway, the MST ends in the Great Smokies. To the north, near Stone Mountain State Park, the MST turns east, to its other terminus on the Outer Banks.

Volunteer Connection During fall 2021, the Grandfather Mountain to Blowing Rock MST task force fielded more than 400 hours of volunteer work over the trail. The work usually starts when volunteers gather at a central spot, then divide up into crews that fan out. Work sites are reached from trailheads all along the Parkway, from overlooks and parking areas, to places like Price Park Picnic Area. For the last five or six years, much of the volunteer work

Foster Care & Adoptions Therapy Services Family Preservation Youth Independent Living crossnore.org | info@crossnore.org

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are proud of the way this crew on the Grandfather task force has is leading by example for other been contributed by the brothers people of color to get involved in of Appalachian State University protecting public lands.” fraternity Delta Sigma Phi. Back in 2015, the group cleared debris after trees were cut to permit The Future building the 80-foot span across The more of us who work for Boone Fork creek that finally the future of conservation and gave thru-hikers a viable stream trails, the more we’ll individually crossing just west of Price Park appreciate how lucky we are to Picnic Area. have nature at our doorsteps. When local Delta Sig volunThat hit home for High teers joined the affinity crew at Country local Danny WhittingPrice picnic area, the day started ton, a visible musician in the lowith calisthenics and warm-ups cal music scene and hair stylist Joseph Dobbins, right, and Jordan “Lynx” Brown, co-leaders of the designed to minimize injuries. at Christy and Co. Hair Design Big bags of “PPE,” personal pro- recent affinity trail crew of color, prepare to start work with volunteers in Boone. “I’ve got the Mounon the Blue Ridge Parkway at a trail parking area on Holloway tective equipment, were distribtains-to-Sea Trail right out my uted, including gloves, safety Mountain Road near Blowing Rock. The work focused on the Tanawha door near the Parkway,” he says. Trail, also part of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail. glasses, hard hats. “It ought to be in everybody’s Affinity crew members made neighborhood.” MST who coordinates local volunteers, use of plentiful volunteers to inWhittington recently visited crease their impact. Over a few weekends among them the gentlemen of Delta Sig, family in Clayton, a growing suburb of and stray other days each affinity crew that the entire affinity crew experience Raleigh, and “when the pace of the place member led a squad of ASU students. was a success for everyone involved. started to wear thin,” he says, “I needed to Between the exemplary young people just take a quiet walk. I was amazed—the Trees were removed form the trail, drainage dips were dug, encroaching vegeta- of the affinity crew, and the ASU students Mountains-to-Sea Trail was two blocks tion was trimmed back. New skills were who came out to work, and learn, from away! I got out on the trail in a beautilearned by the most experienced Delta Sig them, it was inspiring to see how suc- ful natural area and thought, ‘I could just trail maintainers and a lot of enthusiasm cessfully the next generation is engaging as well be in the mountains.’” He could’a was generated about passing those skills America’s outdoors. been, if he’d walked far enough west! Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent on to other volunteers. In mid-November, The MST is uniting our state, east to one busy MST fraternity work day includ- Tracy Swartout nailed it. “Our collective west, and trails and greenways are united women volunteers from ASU’s Alpha work to engage a new generation of public ing our country. They’re giving us greater land stewards and meet the opportunities access to nature just as a pandemic has Phi sorority. and challenges of the future is more suc- taught us how desperately we need an escessful when we work together to present cape hatch. What an Experience People often say, “I’m going for a When it was time to bail on winter these types of inclusive opportunities.” hike,” as in, they are leaving one place coming to the High Country, the “Crew A Job Well Done to find a place that has a trail. In Danny of Color” was ready to escape the cold You might expect a world-class natu- Whittington’s case, he went all the way but they felt warmly welcomed by local ral destination like the High Country to across North Carolina to discover he volunteers and fellow Parkway workers. During the time crew co-leader Jo- yield inspiring stories about the outdoors. didn’t have to “go to the MST”—the MST seph Dobbins found himself in the High But the “Crew of Color” left outstanding had come to him. Thanks to young people like the Delta Country, he was quoted in a Washington conclusions in its wake. “It was so cool working with this crew Sig trail maintainers at ASU, and the Blue Post article about the growing number of ways that trails are being built around the because we come from a range of differ- Ridge Parkway’s affinity trail “Crew of ent backgrounds,” says crew co-leader Color,” the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and country. In mid-September, The Post quoted “Lynx” Brown. “Being around other trails in general, are being built closer and Dobbins as being unprepared for the black people was powerful. It felt good closer to us. They’re coming just in time. t hardship when he started trail work in being able to understand culture with Randy Johnson is the Mountains-to2019, thinking at first that living in a tent them.” “Miko” Aragon appreciated the or having to “poop outdoors” would be way “we can relate to each other more. Sea Trail task force leader for the Grand“too much.” Today, The Post says, “as a I don’t really have to explain some of the father section of the trail, and was a task leader of the Blue Ridge Parkway Black, issues that I’m going through because we force co-leader back in the 1980s. He started Grandfather Mountain’ trail proIndigenous, and people of color crew, all understand.” “It is vital for all young people to have gram in the 1970s. Among other books, Dobbins has … pride in knowing the effect he and his co-workers have on some- opportunities to engage in nature and he is the author of the award-winning do meaningful conservation work,” says Grandfather Mountain: The History and one else’s nature hike.” It was obvious to me, as the task force Conservation Corps North Carolina Pro- Guide to an Appalachian Icon. leader for the Grandfather section of the gram Director Michael Meredith. “We Visit randyjohnsonbooks.com 68


December 2021

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Small Pantries - Big Impact Food Insecurity Is Affecting Over 15% of Watauga County


n 2020, according to the USDA and Feeding America, the state of North Carolina had the 10th highest rate of food insecurity in the United States; people in nearly 590,000 households did not have enough food to eat each day. North Carolina saw 13.6% of its population experience food insecurity compared to 6.6% in the highest-ranked state (New Hampshire) and 15.7% in the lowest-ranked state (Mississippi). The High Country experienced some of the worst food insecurity in the state with Watauga County at 15.2%, Avery County

at 16.0% and Ashe County at 15.4%. The root cause of food insecurity is poverty. Food insecurity is typically one of the four biggest challenges facing poor families, along with lack of education, low wages, shortage of affordable housing. According to researchers at Northwestern University, food insecurity more than doubled as a result of the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic, hitting as many as 23% of households in the first two quarters of 2021.

Watauga County Steps Up to Meet the Need T

he challenges related to food insecurity have been a reality in Watauga County for generations. What can be done? How can you help? We decided to learn more about some “small pantries”, food pantries that do not have any full-time employees or are completely run with volunteers. We have highlighted seven pantries spread out between Blowing Rock and King Street 70


that are making an impact in the lives of your neighbors. The need for food pantries may not always be easy to see or identify, but in Watauga County the need is real, and the need is growing. Take some time to learn more about these 7 organizations and consider supporting one or all of them with a donation of funds, a donation of food or by volunteering.

December 2021

The Little Free Pantry of Boone I

n 2016, Brittney Tensi discovered the concept of a “little free pantry” while watching a video on Facebook about one that was set up in Indiana. “I told myself, someone should do that here in Boone,” reflected Brittney. “Then, I realized that person was me. What was stopping me from helping the folks in my own hometown?” Brittney went on to say, “This was personal. Growing up, my family could have utilized a program like this. My mom was a single mother putting herself through college while raising two young girls on her own. We used to go to the grocery store late at night so we wouldn’t run into anyone when she had to pull out her food stamps. There’s such a stigma about asking for help, even today. The Little Free Pantry of Boone is totally anonymous. There’s no registering, no proof of income (or lack thereof), and it’s open 24/7 so our patrons can go whenever is convenient to The Little Free Pantry of Boone located at 130 Poplar Grove serves any one at any time. In it’s 5th year of them. We just wanted to do something existence it is sustained 100% by volunteers and donations from the community it serves. for our community to help those in need without them having to ask someone to help them. While we know no one some of the clients since 2017. “We don’t but those are typically our most used and should feel ashamed about asking for help, often deal with our clients face to face. requested items. WIC, formerly known we also know people can be embarrassed However, I have been blessed to have a few as food stamps are great government proto do so. Hopefully our little pantry helps opportunities to speak with some friends grams, but they don’t allow people to get who have needed to use our pantry. One these essential items.” t woman told me she was picking up snacks for her kids to take to school with their lunches. Her family had just moved to the area, and they only had one car which her husband needed to get to and from work. She was looking for a job and her husband’s Brittney Tensi - The Little Free Pantry salary only covered their new mortgage and relieve that aspect of dealing with food in- utilities. She was able to use our pantry for a securities.” The Little Free Pantry of Boone few weeks until she found a new job. Then, was the first pantry of its kind in the High she was able to donate items to our pantry Country and it opened on September 17, to help others in need.” Brittney says help2017. One common question about the ing the pantry is simple. “We are always “little free pantry” model is its real impact. looking for donations to keep us going. You Brittney explains, “Does our pantry help can grab a few extra non-perishable items reduce the amount of people dealing with the next time you’re at the grocery store. food insecurities in our county? No. Are we You can rummage through your pantry and able to help people rise above the poverty look for unexpired items to donate. Great line? No. But are we helping provide a bit items to donate include non-perishable of relief to those who need it? Absolutely. foods, water, juice boxes, canned goods, We can’t help everyone, but we can help and hygiene products like toothbrushes, Everyone can help provide food for the someone.” It is hard to accurately identify toothpaste, deodorant, soap, tampons, and community. Above, Calvin Potts, age 5, learns who uses a little free pantry since they are sanitary pads. Most people forget about hythat when you help deliver food to the pantry, not staffed and open 24/7. Brittney has met giene products when donating to a pantry, you may receive a sweet reward.

“We can’t help everyone, but we can help someone.”

December 2021



Blowing Rock Cares Grows During 2021 W

hat started as a discussion between a grandparent (Linda Laughter), a parent (Liz Tincher), and a school secretary (Trish Kohlasch) on the Blowing Rock School playground back in 2009? Blowing Rock Cares! In the beginning, an average of 20 children and adults received assistance each month. Then in 2013, Blowing Rock Cares evolved to be a community resource run by Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church. In the last year, many exciting things have happened at Blowing Rock Cares. According to one of their

Linda Liddle, one of the many volunteers at Blowing Rock Cares prepares boxes to be delivered later in the morning.

many volunteers, Dennis Norris, “We have added frozen and refrigerated storage that allows us to provide more food to our clients. We partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank which allows us to order large quantities of food for prices we cannot find anywhere else. We have started a food delivery program to serve those who cannot drive, and we changed the date we distribute food from Monday to Wednesday. It is a very exciting time at Blowing Rock Cares!” Behind the masks Dennis Norris, Paul Norton, Curt Salthouse, Blowing Rock Cares serves resiand Don Rives always have a smile on their face as dents of Watauga County each they volunteer at Blowing Rock Cares. Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. 12:00 p.m. They deliver food $7.00 worth of food,” said Jane Rogers to several homes during this time as well. of the Grants Committee. Vice President Although they distribute food from Rum- Tim Harris added, “Food is just part of the ple Memorial Presbyterian Church, you do challenge. Our neighbors need good paynot need to be a member of the church to ing jobs, affordable housing, and support receive food. Blowing Rock Cares encour- systems when times are difficult. Blowing ages monetary donations along with do- Rock may appear affluent, but we have senations of food. “For every $1.00 that is rious needs around every corner. If we all donated, we are able to purchase around work together, we can make a difference.”t

Greenway Baptist Food Pantry Continues to Serve T

he Food Pantry at Greenway Baptist Church is a ministry that serves those in the church along with the community at large. It is a client-choice pantry that gives people the dignity associated with choosing their own food. Jan Martin, the pantry coordinator said, “You would think that so many things changed during the pandemic. We had and still have new safety precautions. We have new people showing up. We have some clients visiting

The pantry at Greenway Baptist receives new and delicious food each week. 72


“This is just like Christmas!” Client who visited for the first time in the fall of 2021 more often, but we are still committed to loving everyone that walks through the door. Our focus has not changed.” The pantry works with Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston-Salem, NC to purchase food at a reduced cost. They rely on the generous support and donations from the congregation and community to operate. Each Thursday, clients visit, and the food pantry receives donations between 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. When you go without, finding your way to a pantry with food can be overwhelming,” Jan reflected. “In October a woman from the community visited for the first time and with a big smile on her face she said, ‘This is just like Christmas!’” t

December 2021

Jan Martin the pantry coordinator is excited to meet anyone in need each Thursday between 10:00am - 2:30pm


PLAY - CONSIGN - SHOP and more…

uring spring 2020, restaurants closed, curfews were implemented, retail stores closed by mandate, and everyone began asking,“What is going on?” “What are we going to do?” While many small, privatelyowned businesses struggled to figure out how to survive, the leadership at Bluebird Exchange asked a different question. “How can we help our community?” The answer was a little free pantry. The Bluebird Exchange Little

Free Pantry opened to serve the High Country in March 2020. Kayla Lewis, with Bluebird Exchange reports, “So many people have used the pantry. I have seen everything from diapers and canned food to gloves and masks dropped off and picked up. We provided the pantry, and the community does the rest. People like to pick up their groceries at Harris Teeter and add a little extra for the pantry. That happens every week.” The Little Free Pantry is located just outside the door of Bluebird Exchange, just a short walk from Harris Teeter in the Shoppes at Shadowline. As is the case for most little free pantries, the Bluebird Exchange Little Free Pantry is open 24/7 for anyone to provide food or take food as they have need. Kayla Lewis went on to say, “Some people have come by just one time to get food and others come by almost daily to see what has been dropped off. It is good to know that we are meeting a real need.” t The Bluebird Exchange Little Free Pantry is located just outside the front door of the Bluebird Exchange just a short walk from Harris Teeter.

This sign has been synonymous with Play - Consign - Shop, now it also is synonymous with serving our neighbors in Watauga County.

You might have to make your way through the amazing strollers to donate food to the pantry but it is always worth it.

South’s: Decades of Serving Watauga County F

or almost 40 years Lou Ella South has served the High Country through South’s Specialty Clothiers by providing a high quality, one-stop shop for bridal, prom, formal wear, men’s suits, ladies’ fashion and so much more. In June 2021, South’s started giving back to the High

Country in a new way when they launched the South’s Little Free Pantry. South’s Little Free Pantry is located just outside their store in the Boone Mall. It can be accessed during mall hours year-round. According to Leslie Billingsley with South’s, “The staff at South’s has been working together and serving the High Country for decades. We love what we Do. The little free pantry is just another way we are showing support for our community.” South’s has dedicated space in the their back room to serve as a storage area for excess donations. Feel free to drop off food at the pantry or you can take donations inside the shop and give them to a member of the team. t

South’s Little Free Pantry in the Boone mall just outside South’s Specialty Clothiers. If the mall is open, the pantry is open.

December 2021



828 Real Estate is Giving Back


rom its inception, 828 Real Estate has been dedicated to giving back to Watauga County. The agents and staff at 828 Real Estate have donated to and volunteered at local nonprofit organizations since day one. In late 2020, the idea of a

“We are so fortunate to live in the High Country, it only makes sense to give back.” Sarah Long little free pantry was circulating around the office. Then, in spring 2021 Sarah Long, the broker/owner of 828 Real Estate, decided to turn the idea into reality. With some wood provided by Corrinne

Loucks, a broker at 828 Real Estate, and the woodworking skills of Sarah’s neighbor Jody, the pantry was built. In July 2021, the 828 Real Estate Little Free Pantry opened to the community. “The little free pantry provides a discreet way to share non-perishable food items and essential hygiene products like toothbrushes, toilet paper and toothpaste with community members in need. People are invited to take what you need and share what you are able,” Sarah explained. The Little Free Pantry is open 24 hours a day and is available to anyone in need. Shalamar Blevins, the office manager and marketing director added, “We have so many different people utilizing the pantry. Some folks come during the day and we get to know them. And, sometimes when we come into work in the morning, we can tell a bunch of food has been taken overnight. It feels great to know we are making an impact every week, if

828 Real Estate has dedicated space in their office collect, sort and warehouse donations from the community for their Little Free Pantry. 74


December 2021

not every day.” 828 Real Estate has dedicated space in the back of their office to collect and create a “backstock” for the pantry. You are encouraged to drop off non-perishable food items and essential items 24 hours a day by placing them just behind the pantry. If you drop off items during the day, feel free to bring

them inside and say hi to the staff. Shalamar said, “We can accept more than just food. Bring in hats, gloves, toiletries and hand warmers along with traditional food pantry items like canned food, pasta, baby food, oatmeal and cereal.” According to Long, “We are so fortunate to live in the High Country. It only makes sense to give back.” t

Part of the team at 828 Real Estate that make their Little Free Pantry run smoothly, from left to right Sarah Long with her dog Emmie Lou, Emily Shack, Tricia Hall, and Shalamar Blevins.

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Newly Renovated and Double the Cold Storage in 2021


asting Bread was established by Faith Bridge United Methodist Church in 2006 and obtained its own 501(c)3 status just over five years ago. Casting Bread operated a client choice food pantry, a soup kitchen, and a bakery. Casting Bread serves the community on Wednesdays from 10:00am - 3:00pm and on Thursdays from 10:00am - 7:00pm. They recently extended their hours on Thursdays to accommodate the many clients who work during the day. During the pandemic Casting Bread was provided resources from St. Mary’s of the Hills Episcopal Church and other generous donors to remodel and expand. The pantry has added multiple commercial freezers and refrigerators for cold storage, it built new shelves for food storage and organization, and built a ramp to the back room. Thanks to a grant from the Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge Casting Bread will be launching Women’s Wellness Wednesdays in the spring of 2022 to focus on the unique challenges that women face. Operations Manager, Diann Miller described the renovations like this, “We may have some new paint and some new freezers, but we have not changed, not one bit, we just love everyone who walks in the door.” Many will ask, what can I do? The Executive Director, Sam Garrett answers that question like this, “Everyone can do something, some may volunteer to pick up donated food, some may make a financial donation, some may write a grant to their employer, some may cook a meal in the

Louise Greer and Adam Shell are all smiles as they prepare a box for a client at Casting Bread Food Pantry. kitchen, some may acknowledge Casting Bread in their estate planning, some may have access to a location for a new Little Free Pantry, everyone has a part in helping those in need.” “We could not serve so many without

Arby’s used to have the meat, now Scott Groman has three new commercial freezers to work with. We can now say Casting Bread has the meat! 76


December 2021

the thousands of volunteer hours provided by the community in Watauga County.” Diann stated. To find out more about Casting Bread, you can visit www.increasefoodsecurity. org. t

The newly renovated food pantry at Casting Bread is designed for efficiency and ready to host clients inside again soon.

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Holiday Gift Wrapping Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway, Suite 16 Fridays and Saturdays, 12-5 p.m. December 3-18, 2021 Proceeds benefit Casting Bread www.increasefoodsecurity.org December 2021



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December 2021

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Parting Shot...

Photo by Ken Ketchie

The 2021 Blowing Rock Christmas Parade

Christmas Returns After A Tough Year of Coping with COVID


his year has provided the return of many events and fun moments for a lot of folks in the High Country. Big crowds for 4th of July events, App State football games at Kidd Brewer Stadium, Halloween haunts and Christmas parades all highlighted a return to normalcy for many over the past six months. Restaurants that have been able to find a stable workforce have been able to reopen with no dine-in restrictions. Bars and breweries are thriving, and people have spent much of the year enjoying the many outdoor activities that the mountains have to offer. Still yet, COVID-19 has shown that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. People have lost family members, friends and coworkers along the way to an illness that continues to mutate. A day before Thanksgiving, reports from the World Health Organization of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, called omicron, was found in South Africa and starting to spread to other nations as well. Even with that, we all continue to 80


push forward each day and try to live as close to a normal life as we can. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 196 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated. Almost 60% of Watauga County is vaccinated to some degree with over 23,000 vaccines administered just by AppHealthCare alone. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet or gotten an available booster shot, now is as good of a time as any. Like a flu shot, it’s not guaranteed to prevent everyone from getting sick, but the data shows that it significantly decreases the chances of having serious complications and spending time in the hospital. The United States is reporting around 54,000 new cases of COVID-19 each day, a number that is only going to climb once the omicron variant arrives in the country. In Watauga County, a total of 6,209 residents have tested positive out of 11,351 positive tests in the three-county district served by AppHealthCare since

December 2021

the pandemic started in 2020. Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties have combined to have 109 people die of complications from COVID-19. Most everybody has had to deal with a friend or family member that has contracted the virus. If you are one of the few that haven’t, then count your blessings every day. It’s a hard, helpless feeling seeing someone you care about struggle with the virus and be fighting for their lives in a hospital. You can’t visit them. You sit anxiously by your phone hoping for a video chat and hoping to hear positive news of improvement. Unfortunately, for a lot of families out there, those calls stop coming. Instead, you’re having to face the reality that someone you love is going to have to be put on a ventilator and may never come home, or may have lifelong struggles from the virus. Do yourself and your family a favor and consider vaccinating yourself and wear a mask indoors. That’s not asking too much. Nathan Ham

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