September came into Western North Carolina with a drought and went out with a drizzle. But whatever the weather, October here means tourists. And whether they’re seeking fall color, live music or festivals, our part of the state has things covered.
Locals who like to tool around in autumn can get in on the fun, too. And since WNC is a cornucopia of quaint hamlets, Mountain Xpress decided to concentrate on four towns within an hour’s drive of Asheville that don’t always get the attention they deserve. Besides providing beautiful scenery and outdoor activities, these locales serve up a few surprises that visitors and locals alike might find compelling.
So if you’re out and about this October and looking for something fun to do, consider pointing your car, bike or whatever gets you from place to place in a new direction.
A five-minute drive from Western Carolina University and 15 minutes from Cherokee, Sylva may be best known for its courthouse. The neoclassical design alone would make it an imposing structure; the fact that 107 steps lead from Main Street to the courthouse’s front door lends additional mystique. According to Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Authority, Sylva’s courthouse “is thought to be the most-photographed [one] in the state.” Even if you’ve never been to Sylva, you’ve probably seen its most impressive building on the big screen: The structure has played a supporting role in such films as The Fugitive and My Fellow Americans.
Visitors to Sylva and nearby Dillsboro (one mile away) may also book passage on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Mystery Dinner Train. Passengers get a four-course meal, a three-hour performance and, of course, a train ride through the mountains.
And if the possibility of getting lost doesn’t seem too intimidating, why not load the kids (or perhaps some people you don’t like so much) into the car and head for The Great Smoky Mountains Corn Maze in nearby Swain County? (If you happen to be flying overhead, note that the cornstalks actually spell out “Great Smoky Mountains.”)
Of course, there’s also plenty to do right in Sylva. After your hike to and from the courthouse, you can putter around on the revitalized Main Street, shopping, eating and letting your heart rate return to normal.
Where is it? Take I-40 West to Hwy. 23. Follow the signs to Sylva.
Why go? That groovy courthouse; the revitalized downtown area; just a short drive from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
• Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Mystery Dinner Train begins Friday, Oct. 11; (800) 872-4681.
• The Maze — Open through Thursday, Oct. 31; call (800) 872-4681 for times, dates and prices.
OK, most folks in Asheville know Black Mountain pretty well. Or maybe they just think they do. Because there’s more to this picturesque little place than beautiful fall colors, cute shops and great live music, though it can justifiably boast of all these things.
Visitors to Black Mountain may know about the town’s famous neighbor, the Rev. Billy Graham. But they may not be up to speed on Black Mountain College, a major force in the development of arts and letters in the United States during the last century. From 1933 to 1956, Black Mountain College boasted such legendary faculty as painters Josef and Anni Albers and Willem de Kooning; composer John Cage; writer Charles Olson; and geodesic-dome inventor Buckminster Fuller. Along with several other equally impressive faculty and students, these visionaries pushed the envelope of liberal-arts education. (Socially, this innovative school went even further, choosing to racially integrate its student body in the 1940s.)
Faculty and students also developed new ways of painting and creating textiles and experimented with poetic forms (a direct line of influence links the Black Mountain Poets, the Beats and the New York Poets). American-lit buffs may already know about The Black Mountain Review, founded and edited by BMC faculty member Robert Creeley. Other notable alumni include poet John Wieners and painter Robert Rauschenberg.
Originally located on the grounds of The Blue Ridge Assembly, the college later moved to Lake Eden (now the home of Camp Rockmont).
Where is it? From Asheville, take I-40 East and follow the signs to Black Mountain.
Why go? Former home of Black Mountain College; weekly Green Acres Picking and Grinning jam sessions — held every Monday night on McCoy Cove Road 6:30-8:30 p.m. (public welcome).
• The Lake Eden Arts Festival — The fall edition of this three-day music/healing-arts celebration happens at Camp Rockmont Oct. 18-20. Visit www.theLEAF.com or call (828) 68-MUSIC for more information.
• Fall by the Tracks — Cider-making, cakewalks, music and food beside the former train depot in downtown Black Mountain, Saturday, Oct. 19. Call the Old Depot Association at (828) 669-6583 for more information.
• Pumpkinfest — Pumpkin-carving, hat-making, food and art (all centering around pumpkins or Halloween themes) at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts on Monday, Oct. 21. For details, call (828) 669-0930.
• Way Back When — A series of plays incorporating oral histories of Black Mountain and Swannanoa residents. Performances and times vary with the seasons. To learn more, call the Black Mountain Center for the Arts at (828) 669-0930.
• To find out more about Black Mountain College, visit The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center online at www.blackmountaincollege.org. For information about upcoming exhibits at Black Mountain Center for the Arts, call (828) 669-0930.
If fall colors are your thing, a drive to — and through — Burnsville should help you get your leaf on. Shannon Harding Raines, executive director of The Yancey County/Burnsville Chamber of Commerce, reports, “Highway 80 south is a good route — it has lots of parks and artists, and it heads up to the [Blue Ridge] Parkway and Mount Mitchell.” The highest point east of the Mississippi, this lofty peak is the area’s major calling card, and a great day trip.
But Burnsville is also notable for indoor pursuits. “We have one of the largest per capita number of artists in the nation,” says Harding Raines. Pottery and glass-blowing are prevalent, although painters, woodworkers and assorted other artisans also call Burnsville home. If you’d like to check out this unusual community’s artsy side, you can either take a little drive down Hwy. 80 or call the Chamber for a list of specific galleries.
Other nearby points of interest include The Penland School of Crafts, a hilly 25 minutes away, and the Energy Xchange Incubator, a unique methane-gas reclamation site that uses the energy derived from decomposing landfill garbage to power two craft studios — one dedicated to pottery and one to glass-blowing. The Penland School specializes in handicrafts of all descriptions, including weaving, woodworking, iron and metal work, pottery and glass-blowing, among others. Located at the intersection of highways 226 and 19E, Penland displays faculty and juried student creations (for viewing and for sale) in its Penland Gallery.
The Energy Xchange, adjacent to the Yancey/Mitchell landfill, also has a public gallery and a visitors’ center for those interested in the artwork produced on-site … and in the alternative-energy technology that fuels its creation.
Where is it? You have lots of options, but the easiest route is probably I-40 East to Hwy. 70 to Hwy. 80 North.
Why go? Mount Mitchell; the pristine Toe River; the lively crafts scene.
• Leaf-chasing in and around Burnsville.
• Art galleries, including The Penland School of Crafts (828-765-6211) and Energy Xchange (contact Terry Woodruff at email@example.com, or call (828-675-5541) are open and waiting for visitors. For more specific information on events and activities, contact The Yancey County/Burnsville Chamber of Commerce, (800) 948-1632.
If you’re thinking that Lake Lure is too far “down the mountain” to be worth the trouble, you’ve underestimated the pleasure of the actual journey — the drive out from Asheville is one of the most scenic in Western North Carolina. And while we’re in a spiritual frame of mind, remember that the Dalai Lama advises everyone to visit someplace new each year — and motoring to Lake Lure is way less expensive than a trip to Tibet.
Lake Lure’s history is inextricably linked to that of nearby Chimney Rock Park. At the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Lucius B. Morse — inspired by a journey up Chimney Rock on muleback — hatched an ambitious vision for preserving this natural attraction while making it more accessible to tourists. He and his brothers built roads, hiking trails, lodges — even an elevator set into solid rock to transport visitors who didn’t fancy scaling the 470 steps from the parking lot to the top. But when Morse surveyed the view from Chimney Rock, he found one thing missing: a scenic lake.
So the Morses formed a corporation, acquired some 8,000 acres in Hickory Nut Gorge, dammed the Rocky Broad River — and created Lake Lure in 1926.
The 1929 stock-market crash forced the family to sell Lake Lure before completing the resort community they’d planned to build there in order to save Chimney Rock. The town, however, doesn’t seem to have suffered much in the process. This thriving lakefront village offers horseback riding, hiking and shopping, plus guided cruises, golf, picnics and other family-oriented activities in the park surrounding the lake. Attention homesick Floridians: There’s even a mountain “beach.”
Where is it? The easiest and most scenic route is Hwy. 74A East from Asheville.
Why go? Interesting history — a planned community that wasn’t … but ended up being something pretty cool, nonetheless.
• Octoberfest (sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Hickory Nut Gorge) — Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19-20. Enjoy crafts, food and entertainment at the Arcade Building, across from the Lake Lure beach.
• Annual Haunted Halloween celebration — Thursday, Oct. 31, 6:30-10 p.m. at the Lake Lure Marina and the Arcade Building. Activities include the Haunted Boat Ride, a haunted house, a haunted hayride, and a nonhaunted sidewalk carnival and pumpkin carving.
• Trick or treating in Chimney Rock Village — Call (828) 625-2725.
• Full Moon Cruise (Lake Lure Tours) — Monday, Oct. 21. Visit www.lakelure.com or call (877) FUN-4-ALL for more information.
• Live bluegrass music at the Cajun Pig restaurant in Chimney Rock Village every Saturday night. Call (828) 625-0701 for more information.
• To find out more about the many activities and events at Chimney Rock Park, call (800) 277-9611 or visit www.chimneyrockpark.com.