Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don't Miss it - Boone and Blowing Rock are "Showing Their Colors"

Finally, Fall has arrived in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. Around here, it seems to be everyone's favorite time of year, including mine. We've been waiting patiently for this much-needed reprieve from the unusually hot and dry summer we’ve had in these parts. The leaves are just starting to turn, the days are warm, and the nights are down right chilly. The cool temperatures seem to wash away the summer haze and now several more layers of distant mountains appear in our views. I appreciate the beauty of the land here at any season, but there's no question that this is the High Country's "last fling," and you just don't want to miss it if you can help it. Excitement is in the air with this turning of the season. Travelers from near and far seem to descend on these mountains at peak summer levels to catch a glimpse of our brief but glorious "leaf season." There's also the 30th Annual Woolly Worm Festival this weekend in Banner Elk. Another big event is the Carolina in the Fall music festival in North Wilkesboro hosted by the Kruger Brothers, an amazing Bluegrass band from Switzerland who actually moved here a few years ago. Take a listen. Or, you can pick a pumpkin, take home some local apples, and find other Fall goodies at the Watauga County Farmers Market.

There is no better way to drink in the rainbow-colored landscape than to take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This incredible stretch of road, begun in 1938 and completed over 50 years later, is one of America's most scenic drives. The 45 mph speed limit throughout guarantees a pace that's perfect for viewing the scenery and the abundant wildlife.

It's hard for me to pick a favorite section but if you can spend a day, (or a weekend) I wouldn't want to miss the drive just to our North. From Blowing Rock, its probably a leisurely two hour drive up through and Counties to to the Virginia line. In that stretch you'll see , where construction for the Blue Ridge Parkway began, Doughton Park with its 7000 acres to explore, the Churches of the Frescoes in Glendale Springs, and near Laurel Springs. (not necessarily in that order!) I love this section as it has a great mix of both mountain and pastoral views, plus it's much less traveled than the section that heads South from here. One last thing to keep your eyes out for if you travel through Ashe County is which backs right up to the eastern side of the Parkway. These beautiful (at least I think they are) animals can be seen grazing peacefully. Although the farm isn't open for tours, you might pull off and sneak a picture or two!

Now if you head South from Blowing Rock, you can spend a day or even a whole weekend exploring the short distance between here and Linville. Just a few minutes down the road, has fantastic hikes and trails, plus the stately mansion Flat Top Manor which now houses a rotating craft exhibit sponsored by the highly touted . No trip to the High Country is complete without a trip to and the realized dreams of the legendary environmentalist, photographer, and naturalist Hugh Morton who passed away just last year. Too much can be written about the Mountain and the Man so a future blog is in order. Finally, the area in and around Linville , including the unique , and famous Linville Falls. Although the area itself has gotten a bit touristy (folks flock for a reason), the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, sometimes called the "Grand Canyon of the East," offers some of the most remote backcountry hiking and camping in the Southeast.

There is certainly no shortage of great Fall activities spanning the entire High Country area. Now I'm scratching my head trying to figure out what I'm gonna do. My only advice is to not try and do it all, but to see what you can and savor the moment. Winter will be upon us before you know it. "And the seasons.....they go round and round.

Mount Mitchell...Highest Point East of the Mississippi.

So when you live in a vacation destination such as Blowing Rock where people come to "get away from it all" where domitchell and stuff 011 you go to "get away from it all"? Well, the answer to that question this year was about 30 minutes outside of Burnsville, NC for my family. When I asked my Mom, "why Burnsville", she candidly replied..."well, none of us have ever been there before". Well, I guess that was good enough for me and the other 14 or so members of my extended family, all of who trekked from the far reaches of North Carolina and Virginia to the off the beaten path "cabin" that was big enough to house our rambunctious clan for a whole week.
My husband and I woke up with a burst of motivation one morning and decided to load up and drive the hour to Mt. Mitchell state park. Living in North Carolina and coming to mitchell2_600various nooks and crannies of the mountains all my life, I just assumed that I had been there at some point. Turns out I hadn't, nor had my husband who grew up in nearby Morganton. We ended up having a wonderful day trip pretending to be tourists an hour and a half from home. We stopped at all of the overlooks on the parkway and took pictures of trees and butterflies. We set the camera to a timer so that we could have a pictures with both of us. We even bought the touristy blackberry jam at the little concession stand at the top of the mountain. It was a wonderful sunny day with the temperature at least 7 degrees cooler than when we set out at the base of the mountain.
The views were exceptional from all angles. The only downfall was that the observation deck at the top is currently closed for construction as it has been since March of 07'. Right now it's about 6mitchell_6000% complete so it shouldn't be too much longer but I doubt they'll have it open before next spring. The good news is that you don't have to fight the crowds. The bad news is that, while you can drive up and have nice views from the main parking area and wilderness trails, you're not going to experience that huge unobstructed panoramic vista from the tip top.
All in all, definitely a worthwhile day trip even without the pinnacle. It's a pretty wild feeling to be up there, knowing that you're higher up than anyone on the eastern half of the United States. Getting there is a bit out of the way but the drive up is half the fun. Just don't pick a day where it's going to be cloudy or stormy . If you do you'll end up like the rest of my family when they decided to make the trip a day after we did!

Blowing Rock Hiking Trails - Glen Burney Falls

If you're in the Blowing Rock area and want a great half day moderate hike with a big pay off at the end, the Glen Burney glenb1_600 trail is a great choice. Having lived in Blowing Rock for a few years, I knew about the trail but had never made the hike until recently. Depending on what kind of shape you're in, the trail is moderate to a little more than moderate. For me, hiking 3 weeks after I had a baby, the trail was a bit much on the way back up, but I made it! The trail starts out fairly level, but the last third of it you're definitely hiking straight down towards the falls. The trail is 1.2 miles down to the Glen Burney Falls and then another .4 miles to the Glen Marie Falls. You end up descending about 800 feet below the town of Blowing Rock. There are several great places to have a picnic lunch and sit for a while to break up the trip.
gb600 The view really is breathtaking at the bottom but the thing that I like about this trail is that it's interesting the whole way not just at the end. There's a lot of history in this ancient trail that was used by the Indians as a hunting trail and then later for turn of the century loggers. The town of Blowing Rock restored the trail in 1989 making it the only remaining portion preserved in usable condition. The hike takes around 2 hours round trip and is definitely a worthwhile trek.
If you're hungry after the trip, you're in luck because you're only a stones throw away from some great Blowing Rock restaurants. Check out Sonny's Grill if you're in the mood for a great hot dog or hamburger. You won't feel under dressed in your scrubby hiking clothes.
In peak season there is never any parking at the trail head but it is just as easy to park close by downtown. For directions click here.
As far as what's happening in the Boone and Blowing Rock real estate markets, we've had a great summer and early fall. Much of the market has held up fairly well across the board, slower of course than in year's past. The under 300K range for homes is still quite strong, and there's a ton of inventory, making it a great time to buy. In the past month or so, prices have started to soften. I'm hopeful now that the election is behind us, the current issues with the credit market will become the focus again, and the economy will make a turn-around. Let's all think positive!

Fall is here again in the High Country

watauga lake
It's always surprising when the first leaves start to fall in the beginning of September. The summer isn't hot enough here in the Blue Ridge Mountains for it to be much of a reprieve but still, that first breath or cool crisp fall air brings with it a deep sense of nostalgia. A time to reflect on what's been accomplished in the past year and focus on what's left to be done before battening down the hatches for the winter ahead.
September has become my favorite month of the year. Though weather patterns are still a little unpredictable because of the tropics, the temperature is that perfect 71 degrees with a little bit of breeze and just enough chill in the air to make you want to make a cup of tea and sit outside. Another thing about September is that it's actually one of the slower months here in the High Country. After the kids go back to school, tourism hits a standstill until the leaves start turning in October.
zionville Fall in the Boone/Blowing Rock area is bustling with things to do. First, and perhaps most notably to some is Appalachian State Football kicking off. The first game of the season is today actually. The mountaineers didn't take home the title last year, but prior to that, they were the National Champs three years in a row! Can't wait to see what this season holds.
The third weekend in October brings the annual Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk. Historically according to local folklore, woolly worms have been used to forecast the winter weather. In a nutshell, the length and severity of the winner depends on the coloration of the worm that wins the Wooly Worm Race. It's like our very own groundhog. In addition to worm race, there is also a 5k run and tons of great local food and craft vendors and activities for the kids. I can't wait till mine is old enough to go and enjoy the festivities.
The Boone Art Crawl is a fun event that happens year round on the first Friday of each month. It's a great opportunity to walk around down town Boone and browse local galleries and shops. Some restaurants like Vidalia on King Street offer a wine tasting and specials on bottles. The Turchin Center on ASU's campus will also be open to the public and have local art on display.
The Ghost Train at Tweetsie Railroad takes place October 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25, 31, and November 1st. Gates open each evening at 7:30 p.m. In addition to the Ghost Train and regular bass lake Tweetsie attractions, there is trick or treating for the kids, a 3D maze, a black hole and scary shows at the Tweetsie Saloon. Fun for kids of all ages.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as fun fall activities in the High Country. There is so much to do and see in general in this area but something about this time of year makes you want to get out there and take advantage of every day whether you're a local or just passing through. Feel free to contact me with any questions if you're in the area.
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The High Country of North Carolina – Finding Your Way Around

If you are thinking of buying property in the Boone and Blowing Rock areas of Watauga County but are confused about all the different areas, and their relationship to one another …. you are not alone. The High Country and the greater Boone area is broken down into many smaller unique communities that can be confusing to anyone not familiar with the area. I spent the better part of my first year here just trying to get a real feel for the lay of the land. WataugaNC2_500
This is just an overview describing a little bit about each pocket. Let me also issue a disclaimer...this is not scientific data, just my personal take of what I know from living and working in real estate in the area. Elevations definitely vary as you could imagine. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me directly.
Deep Gap - Referring to the area along 421 going from Boone towards Wilkesboro roughly from the light at Old 421 to the Parkway Bridge. Deep Gap I believe is mostly in the Parkway School District. Approximate elevation is 3200’.
Fleetwood - Borders Deep gap and refers to the area between Boone and Ashe County on Hwy 221. As a general rule, home prices drop some once you start going out that way but Boone is still 15-25 minutes away depending on where you are. West Jefferson is within 20-30 minutes as well. Elevation drops a little below 3000’ in most places. Primarily in the Ashe County school district.
Green Valley - Is the general area from Boone out 194 to Todd. (Meat Camp is another community about half way in between the two towns.) Pretty pastoral views and lots of open spaces. Green Valley has it's own school district. Elevation varies but is usually over 3000’.
55 Valle Crucis - Switching to the other side of town, Valle Crucis is the area tucked in Between 105 on the far side of Boone towards Banner Elk. Really really pretty pastoral setting, lots of creeks and rivers, sort of joins with the Vilas area as you get closer to the 421 side. Valle Crucis is definitely prime real estate and the home prices reflect that. Lower elevation than most of the areas because (as if you can't tell by the name) it's in the Valley. Valle Crucis has it's own school district. Side Note - Schools in Watauga County are K-8th Grade and then everyone goes to Watauga High School. The new school was just finished this year!
sidebar Vilas - This one is a real grey area. If your going out 421 towards Tennessee, Vilas loosely refers to the area from the edge of Boone to where 321 and 421 split off at Skateworld. It also follows 194 out and blends with Valle Crucis. School districts include Valle Crucis and Cove Creek. Elevation varies.
Sugar Grove - At the Skateworld (it's a weird landmark I know) 321 and 421 split off. Take 321 and the Sugar Grove area is the last stop before you get to Tennessee. Bethel is another community out that way. Lots of wide open spaces. Elevation is generally higher than Boone, 3500’ and above. Bethel and Cove Creek School Districts depending on where your at. 35-45 minutes from Boone.
Zionville - Take the 421 split at Skateworld to get to Zionville and it's the last stop before you get to Tennessee. Mabel is another community out there and is also the name of the School District. It is a beautiful, beautiful area, one of my favorites, and there are some great buys there because its remoteness. The same can also be said for Sugar Grove and Bethel, all 35-45 minutes from Boone and average of 3500’ in elevation.
I hope this helps demystify the "High Country" a little for those of you who are looking at buying property or just vacationing in the area.
Feel free to check out my Blowing Rock NC page on Facebook for lots of pictures and fun things to do when you come to visit!