"FROM THE TEXAS STATE RAILROAD TO THE
FOOTHILLS OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA"
It was the day after Memorial Day. It was time to leave Rusk State Park and the Texas Railroad for our next adventure, the Foothills of Western North Carolina. It is apparent that every town or city that we have visited has provided us with an unforgettable story or event. In every town or city, we have made unforgettable friends who have become a part of our traveling family. Therefore, when the coach’s engine turns over, we know that even though we are headed down the road, we have many so many reasons to return to the Texas State Railroad again.
Our journey takes us from Texas, through Louisianan, and into Mississippi where we camped two nights at Roosevelt State Park. Steve wanted to go swimming and relax a few days before arriving at our next volunteer assignment. Both of us needed some “time – out” after the busy winter – spring volunteer season. Roosevelt State Park covers a lot of land yet its campsites were rather small.
We are on our way to Western North Carolina where we will be volunteering at W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir until Mid-August. Our volunteer assignment is to write and present educational and entertaining programs for visitors to this Corps of Engineer facility. An interpretive volunteer position is new for this Corps Park and we look forward to helping the staff provide excellent program for the young and old alike.
There are three campgrounds and many recreational areas around W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir. The dam was built in 1960 to control the waters of the Yank in River. The Yadkin River has produced three major floods. Back in 1940, the nearby city of Wilkesboro received 14 inches of rain in two days causing the Yadkin River to crest 37 1/2 feet above normal stage. The Governor of North Carolina, W. Kerr Scott, lobbied for the construction of a dam and reservoir. It received its name from the tireless efforts of this man.
Of the three campgrounds, we are headquartered at Bandit’s Roost. Our programs are presented in a large, multi-tiered seating amphitheater equipped with sound and lighting systems. The amphitheater is nestled in a wooded area providing a beautiful backdrop for evening programs.
Looking for habitat was to be our first program. Bandit’s Roost is home to deer, raccoon, spiders, lizards, tiny frogs and a variety of birds. It is also the location of the Overmountain Victory National Historical Trail. Put the two together and you have an active habitat with plenty of food, water, shelter and space for all creatures.
Water safety is a very important component of programming in the Corps Parks. North Wilkesboro held their annual Mexican Festival and we took Safety Sam, the robot tugboat to promote water safety with children. Steve got the attention of the children when he had Safety Sam play music, talk and blow the horn.
On an outing with Roy and Wanda Moore, we explored the cities of Boone and Blowing Rock. Roy and Wanda have been the Park Attendants at Bandit’s Roost for the past four years. As most Carolina’s know, Boone is named after the famous mountain man, Daniel Boone.
Blowing Rock is an immense cliff 4,000 feet above sea level, overhanging the Johns River Gorge 3,000 feet below. The phenomenon is so called because the rocky walls of the gorge form a flume through which the northwest wind sweeps with such force that it returns light objects cast over the void. To the Indians, these mysterious winds cause even the snow to fall upside down. The legend of “The Blowing Rock” is a love story between the daughter of a Chickasaw chief tan and a Chickasaw brave. Visible from “The Rock” are Hawksbill Mountain, Table Rock, Grandfather Mountain (the highest peak in the Blue Ridge chain) and Mount Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Rockies).
The Corps of Engineers has another camping facility on the Reservoir by the name of Fort Hamby. This summer the Corps held their grand opening of the Forest Edge Community Amphitheater located in Fort Hamby. This $750,000 Amphitheater has an 850 seat outdoor facility with professional sound and lighting system.
Opening night included the Kingston Trio in concert and the 2006 season premier of the Wilkes Playmakers’ performance “Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend”. This play is a dramatization of a well known 1868 southwestern Wilkes County love triangle and murder involving Confederate veteran Tom Dula (Dooley”). The Kingston Trio brought national recognition for “Dooley” with their recording of the folk song, “Hang Down your Head Tom Dooley”.
Over the Fourth of July holiday, Jim and Linda Needham arrived at Bandit’s Roost to volunteer at W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir. We met the Needhams in 1997 while volunteering for the Family Motor Coach International Rally in Columbus, Ohio. The Needhams will be helping at the Visitor’s Center, presenting programs and supporting the Friend’s Group.
The Needhams and the Mondls drove to Marion, North Carolina to have lunch with the Evans and the Chandlers – two couples we have volunteered with at San Jacinto State Historical Site in Texas. We had a delicious dinner at FATZ Café. The Evans and the Chandlers are volunteering this summer at the Cradle of Forestry located in the Pisque Forest, N. Carolina. We compared notes and found that all of us were having the time of our lives helping the staff and visitors at our respective facilities. Our hugs good-bye only meant that we would see each other down the road in the near future.
The amphitheater is also the site for “Summer on the Lake” concerts, productions, art classes, and educational events sponsored by the Friends of the W. Kerr Scott Lake. The inaugural series began with a boat regatta, a patriotic parade of powerboats kayaks, and canoes with a special appearance of Tiny Elvis at the Dark Mountain Recreation Site. Local Business contributed many brand-new, useful items for a fund raising event during the Regatta – a silent auction. The silent auction went quite well. We bid and won a new brass faucet for our kitchen sink, a sawdust collector, Friends of the Lake tote bag, and an American flag. Linda Needham helped with the 50/50 drawing and pushed the horn button on Safety Sam much to the delight of the children in attendance.
During another bright sunny day, the Moores, the Needhams and the Mondls drove to Shakley Springs for an all you can eat, country style dinner. We enjoyed country ham and chicken with mash potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans and homemade cornbread and biscuits. What a treat!
Afterwards, we visited Mount Jefferson State Natural Area. Mount Jefferson lies along the drainage divide between the north and south forks of the New River – one of the oldest rivers in North America and in the world. Mount Jefferson rises to more than 1,600 feet above the surrounding landscape on the Ashe plateau. We walked the Summit Trail to the highest point on Mount Jefferson giving us a spectacular view of the fields, farms, forests and mountains.
We drove to Balsam, North Carolina to visit with Steve’s Aunt and Uncle Shashy and his cousin, Diane, from Washington State. Our visit was short but enjoyable. Pictured is Steve's Uncle Mitch. While in the Ashville area, we toured the Biltmore Estate and bought fruits and vegetables from the North Carolina Farmers Market.
George Vanderbilt, the grandson of the wealthy Cornelius Vanderbilt, began construction of his magnificent country home, the Biltmore House, in 1889 when he was 27 years old. This House contains 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms and 64 fireplaces on 8,000 acres of land. It is America’s largest home. He officially opened the Biltmore House on Christmas Eve, 1895. Three years later, he brought his bride, Edith Dresser, to live in the home. In 1930, the family opened the home to the public, responding to the request of the Asheville leaders hoping to increase area tourism during the Depression. Today, the home is operated under the leadership of George’s grandson.
In addition to the House, we walked through the Estates’ 250 acres of gardens and grounds. Roses were blooming and a variety of flowers added color and fragrance everywhere. In the Estates’ Winery, we toured the winery, tasted a little wine, learned how to cook delicious pecan chicken in the cooking school and bought a few tastee treats at the gift shop.
The North Carolina Farmers Market reminded us of the Farmer’s Market in Houston, Texas – HUGE! Local farmers from the around Western North Carolina bring their fruits and vegetables to sell in this open market. There are five varieties of tomatoes from the bright reds and yellows to the dark blacks. Then, there are the yellow, green, red and purple peppers. They sold seed and seedless and yellow watermelons. Needless to say, we bought enough vegetables and fruits to stock the refrigerator for a few days.
We had heard of MerleFest, a musical celebration, held every year at the Wilkesboro Community College. This four-day event celebrates the memory of Merle Watson, son of the legendary bluegrass musician Doc Watson. MerleFest is a primary fundraiser for the two-year school with $5.7 million raised for capital improvements, scholarships, equipment and other college enhancements. The Needhams and The Mondls toured this College campus with the Director of Development, B. Towne, who has been with this College since 1973. He has been directly involved with MerleFest and its growth – approximately 85,000 attendees from all over the world – since its inception in 1988.
An added attraction of the College is its access to the public. The theme gardens are very attractive as they are full of trees, plants, blooming flowers and shrubs. The brick walls surrounding the memorial gardens are extremely unusual. The bricks are carved into three-dimensional designs of musical instrument and alphabetical figurines on the brick walls outlining the area. In the center of the campus, towers a fountain surrounded by a walkway and gardens full of blooming flowers and shrubs. The local residents are encouraged to walk the trails or play a round of tennis on the College grounds. This College is truly an asset to the community.
Stone Mountain State Park is named after a magnificent 600-foot granite dome. This dome is part of a 25 square mile pluton, an igneous rock formed beneath the earth’s surface by molten lava. Over time, wind, water and other forces gradually eroded the softer layers of rock atop the granite block and exposed the outcrop we see today. Stone Mountain was designated a National Landmark, in 1975, with more than 16 miles of trails and four beautiful waterfalls.
The Mountain Cultural Exhibit tells the story of how the independent mountain settlers provided shelter, food and clothing for their families. Other displays offer visitors the chance to learn about butterflies, moths, trout and much more. As we were eating lunch, a white tailed deer walked into the picnic grounds; and while at the waterfall, a beaver was busy working on his dam in the stream. The white rhododendron and mountain laurel lined the roadway and small ferns grow on areas of open, exposed granite.
Grandfather Mountain, named because its northern profile resembles an old man looking skyward, is a member of the international network of Biosphere Reserves. . It rises 5,964 feet above sea level making it the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Range. The Mountain itself is 65 million years old. The rock underneath, specifically the Wilson Creek Gneiss Formation, is 1.2 billion years old. The Mile-High Swing Bridge is the highest suspension footbridge in America. It was built in 1952 to span an 80-foot deep ravine. Mountains and valleys surround the Bridge.
The Nature Conservancy protects over 4,000 of the 5,000 acres of Grandfather Mountain. The area includes over 16 separate natural communities or habitats. The Mountain supports 66 rare and endangered species and is home to 149 species of birds.
Another Wilkes Country treasure is our find of Moravian Falls. It took us a couple of tries, little effort, and a lot of asking for directions, but we located the fall in a valley. In the mid 1850’s, a religious sect, Moravians, located between the towns of Wilkesboro and Lenoir. The group used the fall to build a gristmill operation until 1911 when a flood torn down the mill. The community rebuilt the gristmill only to experience the force of two hurricanes colliding in this valley resulting in massive destruction to the mill and the community. Today, gentle waters flow over large boulders into a small stream.
After a long hot summer of working the gatehouse, writing programs, clearing trails, a group of Corp volunteers and gate attendants wanted to celebrate the birthdays of Jim Needham, Wanda and Roy Moore and Steve. The gate attendants from Fort Hamby, Tom and Bonnie, joined us to enjoy dinner at the Outback Restaurant in Blowing Rock, each of us relaxing, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
After dinner, we traveled to Boone, a city just a few miles away, to attended the longest running outdoor production about Western North Carolina’s involvement in the Revolutionary War and the role Daniel Boone played in history. The play, “Horn in the West”, transports its audience back over 225 years to a time when people longed for freedom. The story is narrated by the infamous Daniel Boone, who becomes involved with a group of early American Patriots contending with tyranny and religious persecution. From this is planted the seeds of the American Revolutionary War.
All of us had a wonderful evening and now it was time for each of us to say our good byes and see you down the road waves. Volunteering for W. Kerr Scott Corps of Engineers has blessed us with many new friends and great memories.
We left Bandit’s Roost and traveled South to attend the annual Family Motor Coach International summer convention in Concord, North Carolina. This 76th International Convention was held at the Lowe’s Motor speedway. Concord is just a few miles north of the city of Charlotte.
Charlotte is a city of over a half – million people and is regarded as the second largest financial center of the country. More banking companies are headquartering in Charlotte than in any other city. Nine of the nation’s top 200 banks operate in this city along with one branch of the U.S. Mint. It is reasonable, then, that the city’s flag sports a green background – matching the color of money.
Charlotte was founded at the crossroads of two American Indian trading posts. German settlers, still loyal to both England and Germany, named the town for the German-born Queen Charlotte, wife to England’s King George III. The county seat of this city adopted the name, Mecklenburg, the town where the Queen was born. Queen Charlotte’s influence is everywhere with street signs and the city flag displaying the crown with the letter “M”, representing Mecklenburg, in the middle. The Bank of America Tower resembles a multi-tiered tiara. The tower contains 60 floors, matching the number of years the Queen reigned and Queens Road West has huge, lavish Colonial – style homes dating back to the mid 1850’s.
During the F.M.C.A. Rally, members participate in so many varied activities. After arriving, hooking up and setting up the coach, we drove to downtown Charlotte for lunch. We stopped by Better, Better and More restaurant for a delicious bowl of chicken corn chowder and a huge rue ban sandwich. A delicious and enormous sandwich will give us reason to return to this restaurant.
We board a bus for a fun filled trip to South Carolina to surrey a new Class A Motorhome Resort. On our two-hour journey, we snacked on goodies, drank pop and water and played trivial pursuit. When we arrived at the Resort, we were greeted by staff who led us to an open bar and a delicious southern cuisine buffet complete with BBQ chicken, beef brisket, okra and peach and blackberry cobbler with ice cream. As we ate, a “southern picking” musical quartet fiddled away. After eating, we drove around the grounds in golf carts to surrey the sites. Then we boarded a pontoon boat for a tour of, Cane Creek Dam and Reservoir, a beautiful Corp of Engineer Lake.
For the next two days, we attended board meetings and luncheons, toured newly built Prevost motor homes and eyed venders with new and interesting products. Prevost Car held their semi-annual appreciation dinner at the Charlotte Center City Hilton. A after riding to this event in Prevost Buses, we embarked the busses, walked up to the grand ballroom and again enjoyed an open bar with some of the most delicious Hors d’ Oeuvres to touch our pallets. Such treats as goat cheese in cucumber cup, pecan and sweet potato crusted scallops and BBQ pulled pork mini sandwiches set the stage for a black-eyed pea salad and home baked country bread. The main entrees included: South Carolina strip loin in bacon wrap, whole baked grouper, Blue Ridge pecan wild rice, crisp sautéed green tomatoes and okra and Queen Charlotte’s chicken potpie and more. For sweetness, pecan bananas foster with vanilla bean ice cream, peach bread pudding with bourbon sauce and chocolate cake with cream chantilly – Jan’s favorite – were fabulous.
While we ate, the Kimberly Carper Band sang and played music for our enjoyment. The stage displayed a backdrop of the downtown skyline at night, hence the theme of the evening “Uptown Down South”. On either side of the buffet tables stood four mimes each representing the cornerstone of Charlotte's beginning. One mime was a gold miner, another, a textile worker, another a railroad laborer and the last a woman holding a child representing the future of the city. We were all amazed at how motionless and statue like they looked and much to our amazement, every now and then, one mime would ever so slowly to a new position. Each table had a flowered centerpiece with two martini glasses, one lit with colored pebbles in the bottom. We were seated with Don and Kathy Crawford. Kathy and Jan decided to share the centerpieces so each of each a remembrance of this lovely evening.
After a week of fun, entertainment and reconnecting with friends, we traveled north toward Ohio. Beckley, West Virginia is not quite midway between Charlotte, North Carolina and Barberton, Ohio. Searching the internet, Steve found a small, not well advertised but easy to find campsite on the grounds of the old Armory in Beckley. We were concerned that there might not be a campsite at the Armory as Beckley was hosting the West Virginia Celtic festival and games on the same weekend as our arrival. However, there were no problems finding a site, as there were plenty of spaces on the grounds. We parked the Coach and after dinner, drove to the New River Gorge where an 875-foot single span bridge stands. Built in 1976, this bridge is the second tallest single span bridge in the United States.
The next morning, we drove to Tamarack, home to over 2,200 exceptional, West Virginia artisans offering a wonderful variety of handcrafted treasures. Studio artisans were busy crafting brilliant stained glass pieces and intricate metal sculptures. We watched Stan Cook create wood turned writing pens. You can imagine our mouths watering when we smelled the aroma of freshly baked cherry cobbler. Tamarack is a wonderful shopping experience.
Much to our delight, Jim and Linda Needham pulled into the same campground were we were parked. Together, we decide that going to see an outdoor drama was just the ticket. The Hatfields and McCoys were playing that evening. It was a production we all wanted to attend.
This historical drama chronicles the battles and bloodshed spurred by pride and politics. There was bad blood between the Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky. Some say it started with a dispute over the ownership of a hog. Others say the ill – fated love of Roseanne McCoy and Johnse Hatfield caused it. Each summer their heritage lives on as this famous feud is relived at the Cliffside Amphitheater in Grandview State Park.
Coming back to Ohio is a treat because of our kind and thoughtful friends and neighbors.
Now we must unload and reload the Coach and the truck to get ready for our next adventure. Hope you have enjoyed this recap of our spring and summer of 2006 adventures. Keep in touch.
Steve and Jan
We will leave you with some of our favorite pictures from this past Spring & Summer to enjoy...
Jan riding the railroad - HOLD ON! June & Jerry Sloan say "All Aboard!"
Jerry & Ellen Hopkins at the TSRR Ticket Booth Evelyn & John Berlinghoff riding the Railroad
Mary Ramirez still teaching at the Texas State Railroad "Hi ho, Hi ho" its off to volunteer we go!
Enjoying a relaxing summer day at Blowing Rock, NC Ranger Juanita with her story stick at our Indian
W. Kerr Scott Reservoir Volunteers receiving their Steve & Jan with our kids Precious & Angel
recognition certificates. Our Volunteer Coordinator
Miriam Fleming is pictured upper right.
W. Kerr Scott Reservoir Amphitheater program Fountain at Wilkesboro Community College