Pumpkin Time in Alleghany County

As we flip the pages of our calendars from September to October, several images of Alleghany life spring to mind: the high school homecoming parade and football game; cooling temperatures that hint of frost; and the changing of leaf color from shades of green to reds and yellows.  A flurry of activity that may be less noticeable is the pumpkin harvest.

For most of the summer the pumpkin fields go unnoticed.  The broad leaves of the plants protect first the blooms then the small pumpkins.  But as the days shorten and the temperatures cool, the leaves begin to whither, revealing thousands of bright orange pumpkins.

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As they consider the fall market, local farmers set out to grow to varieties that lead to a perfect jack-o-lantern pumpkin.  They consider customer preferences on size, color and shape.  Then as workers move to the fields for the harvest, they sort the pumpkins by size and give each one a quick examination for blemishes or other imperfections.  Each harvested pumpkin is then wiped down before being added to the shipping box.  It is a labor intensive process. The goal is to send a quality product into homes across the eastern United States.

According to the USDA report, there were 3500 acres of pumpkins grown in North Carolina in 2017.  The total cash value of this crop is estimated at $13.1 million.  Because of the amount of labor and supporting products needed for this crop, pumpkin farms create and support many jobs to our state and local economy.

So as millions of children visit their neighbors this Halloween in search of candy and treats, there is a good chance that the jack-o-lanterns on all those front porches came from Alleghany County.

Lenke Pasley- Authentically Alleghany

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A question that has arisen in recent months is “What does it mean to be Authentically Alleghany?”  A more specific variation of that question is, “Who is Authentically Alleghany?”  It is a question worth considering.  After all, if having multi-generational ties to Alleghany County is the criteria, many would be left out.  If it means being employed in a narrow set of vocations or only enjoying certain hobbies, another group would be excluded from being “Authentically Alleghany.”  Perhaps the girl behind an image can give us a clue to the inclusiveness of “Authentically Alleghany.”

 Lenke Pasley is the model for the young girl playing the fiddle on the block print by Troutdale, Virginia artist Ellie Kirby.  The print was one of five that set out to visually capture the essence Alleghany County.

 Lenke is a 7th grade student at Sparta Elementary School.  She is also a four year fiddle student of the Alleghany Junior Appalachian Musician program and has competed in the Alleghany County Fiddlers Convention.  But, Lenke is more than a fiddle player: she enjoys acting and frequents the stage in regional theater productions.  She can also be found many Tuesday nights, line dancing at the Alleghany Jubilee.  While some of those things seem to reinforce an Appalachian stereotype, we have to look a bit deeper to get a better understanding of the diversity of Lenke Pasley.

 Lenke’s parents are Lucas and Iboya Pasley.  Lucas is an accomplished musician and English teacher at Alleghany High School.  Combining those two interests, he has chronicled much of the musical history of Alleghany County.  Iboya is a native of the Netherlands who found her way to this area while working as an intern with Merlefest.  The family has traveled internationally, giving all the children, including Lenke, a view of life well beyond the Alleghany County line.

 It is a bit difficult to truly define and describe Lenke Pasley.  She plays the fiddle and enjoys theater.  Her family has deep ties to Alleghany County and equally strong connections to Europe.  Her parents speak English and Dutch.  She embodies a unique combination of both the old and new elements of our community.  When all those things are taken together, Lenke is literally the model for what it means to be Authentically Alleghany.

The Northern Highlands Chapter of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Northern Highlands Chapter of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway

 The Blue Ridge Parkway almost didn’t make it through Alleghany County.  Original plans called for a route that would have taken the scenic highway through Tennessee and on into Virginia.  Laurel Springs’ native, Congressman Robert Lee “Bob” Doughton lobbied for a North Carolina path for the Parkway.  According to the documentary, A Long and Winding Road, a deal was struck that brokered Doughton’s support for President Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act in exchange for the Parkway to pass through North Carolina.  There may be many political or social arguments made for or against that deal and the resulting legislation.  Those arguments aside, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a gem for Alleghany County that continues to shine brightly due to the diligent work of an enthusiastic group of volunteers.

The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway are dedicated to the preservation and stewardship of the Parkway’s natural and cultural resources.  Along the 469 mile linear national park, several local groups operate under the umbrella of the larger friends group.

The Northern Highlands Chapter is responsible for the section of Parkway from the North Carolina/Virginia line to Deep Gap, roughly 50 or so miles.  In addition to organized group activities such as the recent cleanup at Doughton Park, individuals adopt overlooks, trails, cemeteries, etc.  Last year this chapter contributed 5500 volunteer hours.

 Ronald Edwards

Ronald Edwards

 Debby Edwards

Debby Edwards

Within this group are individuals from varied backgrounds.  Alleghany County natives Ronald and Debby Edwards contribute many hours to their adopted overlooks – Wildcat Rocks and Alligator Backs.  In addition to routine maintenance, both are chainsaw certified with the national park service which allows them to help remove fallen trees and limbs.

 Dennis Tremble and Nancy Kish,

Dennis Tremble and Nancy Kish,

In contrast, husband and wife, Dennis Tremble and Nancy Kish, were drawn to Alleghany later in life, in part by the Parkway.  Along with two other couples, they have resumed gardening at Brinegar Cabin.  There they cultivate an authentic, subsistence garden that utilizes heirloom plants.  They also plant flax which when harvested is spun into yarn.  They can be found most Tuesdays working the garden throughout the summer months.

All these individuals donate their time and efforts out of a love for the Parkway.  However, the impact of their maintenance and educational work extends well beyond an emotional connection.  According to a 2017 press release, visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway spent $979,334,200 in local communities across those 469 miles.  Having clean, safe overlooks and other facilities encourage those visitors to stop and spend time in those communities.  While blowing leaves, cleaning ditches and gardening may not seem like economic development work, in reality it is that very thing.

When “Farmer Bob” Doughton struck that deal with FDR during the height of the Great Depression, he may have had a variety of motivations.  The nation was locked in the throes of the Great Depression and the project put many local men to work.  Some may point to the Social Security Act as New Deal policies that changed how the government positively or negatively interacts with our personal lives depending on one’s perspective.  But, the one thing on which most will agree is that the Blue Ridge Parkway is a great asset to Alleghany County.  And while they often go unnoticed, the Northern Highlands Chapter of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway is committed to ensuring that this asset is well maintained and ready for visitors.

Photos courtesy of the Northern Highlands Chapter of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway

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If you would like to know more about how you can volunteer with the Northern Highlands Chapter contact Joyce Speas at 336-601-6118 or by email at joyce.speas73@gmail.com

Brinegar Cabin Days September 8, 2018

As the local food movement gains momentum and dreams of self-sufficiency percolates in the back of many minds, Jackie Sloop casts a realistic view of what it meant to be self-sufficient 125 years ago while raising a family along what is now the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As she worked the treadle with her foot and fingered flax fiber through a spinning wheel, she explained to visitors that subsistence farming was much like any other small business venture.  It required considerable planning, lots of hard work by all members of the family, and offered very little leisure time.  She said that Caroline Brinegar, wife of Martin, likely considered spinning yarn as near a leisurely activity as came along.

Jackie’s path to Brinegar Cabin is as winding as the Parkway itself.  From Caldwell County, she went off to college and received a degree in interior design.  As children came along she was a stay-at-home mom.  While devoting herself to her family, her outside interests circled around three seemingly different topical areas: natural science, arts, and history.  For 25 years she devoted those interests as a board member and seamstress at Fort Defiance, the home of General William Lenoir who fought with the Overmountain Men at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Then life made a series of twists and turns for Jackie. In 1988, she desired to broaden the view her children had of life and the country so they struck out on a 10½ week RV trip.  They focused their stops on national parks.  Some time later she moved to the Winston Salem area and put her degree to work with Village Interiors in Clemmons.  Another curve led her to Rose Furniture where she worked in design sales.

Then as many do at midlife, Jackie took stock of her life and considered what she wanted to do in the upcoming years.  The thought of opening a bed and breakfast in the mountains appealed to her.  But, under the surface the love of natural science, art and history continued to bubble.  A job with the National Park Service (NPS) seemed the perfect path to spin all of her interests into one strand.  Jackie volunteered with the NPS for while and then in her mid-50s she was hired as a seasonal ranger assigned to the Doughton Park.  Her focal area was the Brinegar Cabin.

While Jackie came to the cabin knowing how to weave and make baskets, she had to learn to spin yarn.  As she works the spinning wheel in the cabin, children often ask Jackie if she lives in the cabin.  Jackie leans in as to share secret – “No, I play here,” she says with a smile.

Jackie considers herself a cultural ambassador for southern Appalachia.  While many have a romanticized view of all mountain folks living in small log cabins, Jackie points out that in the early 1900s there were actually three distinct cultures along the ridgeline that became the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Roaring Gap had grown into a community of summer getaways for affluent textile executives escaping the heat of the Piedmont.  The clapboard home of the Woodruffs near Laurel Springs is representative of the larger working farms found across Alleghany County.  And finally, the Brinegars’ home place exemplifies the small subsistence farms scattered throughout the mountains.

A key point that Jackie makes is that there is no single attribute or family dynamic that describes Alleghany County.  Families like the Woodruffs and Doughtons in Laurel Springs, the Brinegers along the edge of the escarpment, and the Hanes, Reynolds and Chathams of Roaring Gap all contributed to the tapestry that make the county Authentically Alleghany.

On September 8, 2018 Ranger Jackie Sloop and others will host Brinegar Day at the cabin.  There will be cultural demonstrations, storytelling, and recognition of the Brinegar family for allowing us to share in their family’s history.

This blog originally appeared in www.absolutelyalleghany.com.

 

Old Fashioned Day at Stone Mountain State Park

One of the least known facts about Alleghany County is that a large portion of Stone Mountain State Park is located in Alleghany.  The main entrance, the ranger station, the developed campground, picnic area and even half of the granite dome itself are all located in Alleghany County.  So, why the geographic confusion?  Geology may hold part of the answer.

The Blue Ridge Escarpment forms a distinct separation between the Piedmont region of North Carolina and the mountains of western part of the state.  A short drive up Highway 21 from Surry County to Alleghany offers the perfect illustration as the relatively short stretch of road climbs approximately 1500 feet.  This abrupt change in elevation leads to a common Alleghany phrase of “going off the mountain.”  It also helps explain the disconnect some experience between Alleghany County and Stone Mountain State Park.

This Saturday, September 8, offers an opportunity to explore the history of Stone Mountain and the formation of the property as a state park as they celebrate Old Fashioned Day.  The event is a homecoming of sorts for many of the families who once resided within the current park boundaries.  There will be vendors of handmade crafts and demonstrations of traditional mountain skills.  Live bluegrass performances will take place throughout the day.

Old Fashioned Day will begin at 11:00 am and conclude at 4:00 pm.  In addition to the scheduled events, visitors can take advantage of miles of beautiful hiking trails, and fish in the trout streams that flow through the park.  Camping is available and reservations are suggested

Whether your interest is in outdoor activities, shopping for handmade items, listening to bluegrass music or exploring the distinct geology of the area, Stone Mountain State Park and Old Fashioned Day has something to offer everyone.

 

 

Faith of Our Fathers - Tent Revivals in Alleghany County

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Brush arbor meetings, tent revivals or camp meetings – they go by various names, but outdoor church services are a summertime tradition across Appalachia, including here in Alleghany County.  Roger May, an photographer and writer who has devoted his life to documenting the people of Appalachia says this about these meetings; “I think tent revivals are a beautiful thing, often misunderstood, and unfortunately, quickly fading. In a world full of digital consumption and mega churches, there seems to be little interest in the old ways of worshiping, of gathering, and of holding these kinds of meetings. There is something special about documenting it that allows me to sort of be suspended between the preacher and the audience. Bearing witness to this has been incredibly powerful.” May documented his experiences visiting tent revivals in a blog entitled Glory.  Locally, there are upcoming opportunities to become familiar with this unique worship experience.

Alleghany County natives, Reverend Cody and Mackenzie Hamm will lead services during the Faith is Rising Tent Revival on August 17-25 at 7:00 pm each evening.  The location is 1889 US Hwy 21 just south of Sparta.  Mackenzie offers a simple goal for these meetings, “…everything we do, whether it is singing or preaching at a Ladies Meeting or Tent Revival, whatever we do, we want to glorify and uplift the name of Jesus.”

A second opportunity is offered by Pine Fork Baptist Church on their church grounds at 8791 NC Highway 18 South near Laurel Springs.  Dr. Phil Kidd from Grey, Tennessee will lead these services on August 15-17 at 7:00 pm each night.  There will be special singing each evening.

Traditionally these tent meetings were a means of reaching people who may have felt uncomfortable attending traditional church services.  Evangelistic in nature and purpose, they also furnished an opportunity to spend time with friends and neighbors, and to hear guest preachers and good singing during the late summer months before harvest season.  While these meetings may seem old-fashioned and even antiquated to some, their message of renewal and authentic connection is timeless. 

Bicycling the Blue Ridge Parkway

                              Photo by Lou Nachman

                             Photo by Lou Nachman

Alleghany County touts itself as The Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Parkway construction began near Cumberland Knob in 1935 and the Mahogany Rock Overlook at milepost 235 is near the center point of this 469 mile liner park.  Of the many ways to enjoy the cool, summertime temperatures of Parkway, traveling by bicycle is one of the best.

Many riders find the Little Glade Mill Pond near milepost 230 to be a convenient parking location. This spot is approximately one mile north of Hwy. 21 and a quick drive from Winston Salem and Mooresville, NC.  From this location riders can choose a route south that climbs roughly 1000 feet over the next ten miles, passing through Doughton Park before descending 900 vertical feet into the community of Laurel Springs.  In Laurel Springs, riders can take a break at the Stations Inn to enjoy lunch and a cool drink.

For those looking for a more relaxing ride, take the Parkway north from Little Glade Mill Pond.  The elevation changes little over the next ten miles as the Parkway parallels Brush and Little Pine Creeks.  Tall trees provide a canopied ride before breaking out into rolling farmland.

Donny McCall, endurance athlete and organizer of the Get Outside Mountain Relay, frequently trains on the Parkway.  He said recently, “The Blue Ridge Parkway is a wonderful asset for outdoors enthusiasts.  It is a beautiful road that is ideal for cyclists and runners with challenging climbs that give way to some of the most breathtaking views in the country.  And the reduced speed limit (45 mph) makes me feel much safer when riding there.”

                                                                                       Photo by Lou Nachman

                                                                                      Photo by Lou Nachman

So, whether you are looking for a strenuous training ride or a leisurely cruise, the 30 mile Alleghany County stretch has something for everyone.  Visit www.authenticallyalleghany.com and download the mobile app for a complete guide of all the things offered in Alleghany County.

 

 

Alleghany County Fiddlers Convention

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Looking for an enjoyable way to spend a summer afternoon and evening?  At the top of that list of possibilities should be attending the Alleghany County Fiddlers Convention. This family oriented event is scheduled for July 20th and 21st in Sparta, North Carolina at the Alleghany County Fairgrounds.  Here are five reasons you should plan to attend:

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#1 Be a part of a longstanding mountain tradition.  String music and fiddlers’ conventions are an integral part of Appalachian culture and even more so in Alleghany County, the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  These gatherings give neighbors opportunities to get together to share tunes and reestablish old friendships.  Toss in some friendly competition and you have a fiddlers convention.  As you wander through the campground, you will be treated to a variety of very fine old-time and bluegrass music.  Do you play or are you a budding musician? Most jams in the camping area are welcoming to newcomers.  Keep in mind there is usually informal etiquette that may vary from group to group.  General jam etiquette can be found here.

#2  This is a fundraising event.  The proceeds raised benefit our community.  This event is one of the primary fundraisers for the Sparta-Alleghany Volunteer Fire Department.  Entrance fees go to help this group of dedicated volunteers keep our community safe.  Once inside the gates, the Sparta Lions Club offers delicious hamburgers and hotdogs.  And there are a host of other vendors who pour their resources back into the community.

#3  Enjoy a cool mountain evening.  While much of the south is simmering in oven-like temperatures in mid-July, Alleghany County evenings can be quite cool, averaging in the low 60s.  You may consider bring a sweatshirt or light jacket just in case!

#4  You will feel welcomed.  From the volunteer firefighter who helps you with parking to the lady serving a made to order funnel cake, you will experience a sense of belonging to our community.  In fact, this welcoming, family friendly atmosphere is often given as the number one reason people return year after year.

 

#5  It’s fun!  The stage show gives musicians of all skill levels a chance to perform.  There is a dance area where everyone is welcome to practice their favorite steps.  If you don’t know how to dance, there are folks who are always looking for a partner and will be more than happy to lend you a hand.

The Alleghany County Fiddlers Convention is more than a music event.  Music and dance help balance culture and erase class boundaries.  This event is a place where new friendships are formed and old ones strengthened.  It has a “come as you are” air that is a unique part of mountain life.  It is a truly Authentically Alleghany event! Who would want to miss that?

For complete information about the Alleghany County Fiddlers Convention, visit their website here.  Photos were retrieved from this site.

For information on lodging, restaurants, and other retail needs, visit the Authentically Alleghany website here or contact the Alleghany County Chamber of Commerce at 336-372-5473.

The videos were retrieved from the YouTube channel, Lovin’ Bluegrass by Carol McDuffie.  Visit her channel for more great videos.

 

 

 

Cooling Off in the New River

As temperatures climb toward triple digits off the mountain, the New River becomes increasingly inviting.  The cool waters welcome visitors with a variety of recreational opportunities.

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Clear, low water levels make for outstanding fishing for Smallmouth Bass.  Public access points can be found at the New River State Park on Kings Creek Road and at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission’s public fishing access area on Farmers Fish Camp Road.  Wading anglers are encouraged to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) as water depths can vary greatly.  North Carolina and Virginia have a reciprocal fishing license agreement that applies from the confluence of the North and South Forks of the New downstream to the Little River.  Fishing regulations from North Carolina can be found here and Virginia’s here.

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Canoeing, kayaking and tubing offer a sure way to cool off on a hot day.  Rentals and shuttles are available at Rivercamp USA, the New River Campground, and Dusty Trails Outfitters. They can tailor trips around skill levels and/or time restrictions.  PFDs are required on canoes and kayaks.  Young boaters under age 13 must wear a properly sized PFD while afloat.

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One the more unique opportunities along the river is the canoe access campground that is part of the New River State Park.  This allows paddlers a chance to get away from the crowds and enjoy the solitude of the river in a quiet setting.

So, whether it is paddling, wading, floating or camping, the New River in Alleghany County has something for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Authentically Alleghany 4th of July

An Authentically Alleghany 4th of July

The next two weeks bring many opportunities to experience an Authentically Alleghany 4th of July.  The events range from a traditional Independence Day parade and fireworks display to those that are unique to our community such as lawnmower races and canoeing the New River. 

The diversity of those events fuel a question that often arises – what does “Authentically Alleghany” really mean?  Does someone have to be a lifelong resident to be considered authentic?  Does an event have to have a long history and fit a certain criteria to be labeled authentic?  Or are we open to newcomers and new events?

As part of our recent branding study, we surveyed local residents and asked what attributes define Alleghany County.  The responses fell into several broad categories: outdoor recreation, cultural heritage, the arts, and a relaxing environment that is family friendly.  And of course, geographically, we are the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Our events reflect those attributes.

That leads to the more challenging question of who is Authentically Alleghany.  The scheduled events give insight into that question.  Those who consider themselves authentic to our county embrace the community and seek ways to plug into community activities.  They can listen quietly as an author reads from their work, cheer as their neighbors’ race lawnmowers, paddle the river with their family, or “ooh and ah” from the tailgate of a pickup truck as fireworks light up the sky over Sparta.  We do these things to support local organizations such as volunteer fire departments or schools and as simply a way to connect with our community.

No single event or group stereotypes who we are and what it means to be a part of our county.  We are community of deep rooted families and recent transplants.  We can make lots of noise or sit quietly. We embrace our past but are not bound by it.  This year’s 4th of July parade theme describes us perfectly – United We Stand.  Roll that all together and you define Authentically Alleghany.

For more information of schedule events visit https://www.authenticallyalleghany.com/events/