Sparta Loves Mysteries!

Alleghany readers have a wide range of interests when it comes to books, but there is definitely a love of mysteries. They like legal thrillers from Lisa Scottoline and others, and police procedurals from authors like Patricia Cornwell. But private eyes and detectives rate highest.

“Some of our most popular mysteries are the private eye or detective type of mysteries” said Debbie Brewer, head librarian of the Alleghany Library.

That would fit the description of novels like the classic Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes books, but Sparta readers are also fond of the more contemporary authors like James Patterson, with his popular Alex Cross series, and stories with lead characters like Catherine Coulter’s Covert Eyes FBI team, or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, the New Jersey bounty hunter with attitude.  “And David Baldacci,” added Brewer. “He has always been popular.”

Sparta will meet another mystery novelist September 7, when Winston-Salem author, Victoria Gilbert, brings Past Due for Murder to the Horizon Bistro for the last Writers on Main of the 2019 season.

In Gilbert’s latest novel, third in her Blue Ridge Library Mystery Series, history once again plays a role in the story, including a piece transplanted from the mountain lights folklore of North Carolina. Librarian Amy Webber becomes suspicious when a student goes missing from a May Day bonfire. When the student is found later, confused and disoriented, next to a dead body, Amy takes up the search for the killer.

It’s a cozy mystery with more action. There is a plot that keeps the story moving and a cast of characters with relationships and drama that feels realistic and well-rounded. Goodreads says, “Amy has been a relatable character since the first book and has only grown more so with each installment.”

Writers on Main is a series of free book talks brought to the community by Alleghany Writers, a non-profit creative writing group located in Alleghany County.

The program begins on the Bistro stage on Saturday afternoon, September 7, at 3pm. It is open to the public. Books in the series will be available and Ms. Gilbert will meet with readers and sign books after the book talk and discussion.


Determination Wins Prize for Visiting Student

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This is the face of determination. This is Jayden Brock, nephew of local realtor and Main Street merchant, Heather Purnell. Jayden is visiting from Florida over the summer. He came upon the Puzzle Spot inside A Touch of Grace at the August Music on Main and decided to try one out.

Families teamed up to solve puzzles, individuals worked while their friends gave pointers, and small children found joy in seeing the pieces come together to make a bigger picture.

Families teamed up to solve puzzles, individuals worked while their friends gave pointers, and small children found joy in seeing the pieces come together to make a bigger picture.

When Jayden heard the holder of the record had offered a cash prize challenge of $20.00 to the person who could beat the best time on the True Places puzzle, he decided to give it a try. There are five different puzzles, each with a photo of a book cover from an author who has visited Sparta over the past year. NAPCO, a specialty packaging company based in Sparta, created the puzzles and donated them for use at the summer’s Music on Main events. The Puzzle Spot is manned by members of the Alleghany Writers non-profit.

Jayden timed out at twelve minutes on his first try at the puzzle.  The record to beat was under five minutes. He tried again and got down to ten minutes. As the crowd grew, Jayden backed away to give others a chance at the prize. That’s how the night went. All puzzles were busy through the evening and a few players even wanted to establish a “time to beat” on a certain puzzle, hoping the time would hold and they would be in line for a cash prize challenge.

Jayden returned later in the evening. He gave the puzzle four more tries, whittling his best time from twelve minutes to just nine seconds over the five-minute winning time. He gave me a contact number and I promised to email Sonja Yoerg, the best time record holder, to tell of Jayden’s tenacious efforts to break her record.

Sonja Yoerg sets her best time record at the July 6th Writers on Main.

Sonja Yoerg sets her best time record at the July 6th Writers on Main.

Sonja is the author of the novel, True Places, and a big puzzle fan. She established the “under five minute” record on her book cover puzzle when she visited Sparta in July.

When I emailed Sonja and told her about Jayden and his fierce determination to beat her time, she instructed me to award half of the prize money to Jayden. His determination deserved a reward.

On Saturday afternoon Jayden showed up for the Writers on Main book talk. He got the news about Sonja’s instructions and was excited to receive the $10 prize money. He said it made his summer visit to Sparta really something to remember!

Jaden Brock with Ginger Collins, president, Alleghany Writers.

Jaden Brock with Ginger Collins, president, Alleghany Writers.

Alleghany JAM presents a summer, music camp for kids and teens July 17-19th.

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Summer is in full-swing and Alleghany JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) is too -getting ready for the Alleghany JAM Camp July 17-19th for youth (ages 8 and up including teenagers). It’s a great opportunity for young people to try an instrument for the first time (and JAM supplies any instruments needed for free) or for experienced players to join a stringband with other young musicians, have fun and bring their music to the next level. “JAM Camp is one of the ways we keep the kids playing music and inspired over the summer,” says Program Director, Erynn Marshall. “When I was a kid you could tell a big difference in ability between the kids who played music over the summer and the ones who put their instruments away until fall when school started again. “ Alleghany JAM is always making it possible for children to have many chances to learn, play traditional music and meet other children who play music as well. Some become life-long friends, play in bands or make music for their own enjoyment, their families or the community.

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Alleghany Jam Camp consists of three days of music classes, jams, and fun games for kids Wednesday – Friday, 11am-4:30pm on July 17-19th. Daytime activities all happen at the beautiful Alleghany JAM House (formerly the Senator’s House) at 360 N. Main St in Sparta, NC. The camp winds up with the kids heading down to the Alleghany Fiddlers Convention at the Fairgrounds at 4:30pm Friday to play a few tunes to kick off the opening ceremonies. Three great teachers are teaching the kids and teens this year at camp: Lucas Pasley from Sparta, Caroline Beverley from Elkin, and for the first time dancer/banjo player Julie Shepherd-Powell from Boone, NC. Classes being taught for beginners or experienced players include: fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, singing, stringband, and flatfoot dance. Alleghany JAM has kept fees much lower than other camps: only $75 per child or $50 for those requesting financial assistance or with more than one family member attending. All lunches are included. Students can register online at or call (276) 237-6866 get info or registration. Those interested should contact Alleghany JAM very soon so we can order free lunches for your child or grand-child and plan what classes they will participate in. It will be fun for all kids and teens and help ensure the traditional music of our region will continue for generations to come!

Laurel Springs VFD Auxiliary-Come support us at the Fiddlers Convention!

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Do you love good food and supporting a great cause? If the answer to the question is yes, then you don’t want to miss this year’s 25th Annual Alleghany County Fiddlers Convention on July 19-20th! The Laurel Springs VFD Auxiliary will staff the concessions stand at this year’s event.

The Laurel Springs VFD Auxiliary holds fundraisers to supply their firefighters with equipment. For example, they provide dress uniforms, polos, and t-shirts for the firefighters. Currently, they are raising funds to help provide new chairs for a meeting room at the fire department and for an electronic sign to go outside of the Fire Department to keep the Community informed of upcoming events. The VFD Auxiliary members play a vital role in the fire department, and just like the firefighters, the VFD Auxiliary are all volunteers.

Want to help? When attending the Fiddlers Convention this year, be sure to visit the concessions and choose a BBQ chicken plate, a burger, hotdog, a grilled chicken sandwich, or chili cheese fries. In addition to great food, you are helping this volunteer group serve our community.

Meet Our Special Guests Who will Make an Appearance at the Blue Ridge Fiber Fest!

The Blue Ridge Fiber Festival will be on June 7th and 8th here in Alleghany County, 1375 US HWY 21 North, and we wanted to give you an introduction to some of the special guests that will be in attendance!



First, we would like to introduce Weston. Weston is an English Angora rabbit. There are four recognized breeds of angora rabbit:  English, French, Giant and Satin.  Each has a distinct quality to their wool, and each breed may be represented in the barn at the Fiber Fest!



This leads us to our next guest, Vanessa. Vanessa is also an Angora rabbit but is a little different than Weston. Vanessa is a French Angora rabbit. 

Slap Shot

Slap Shot

Meet Slap Shot! Slap Shot is an Angora Goat and produces a fiber called mohair. The average Angora Goat in the U.S. shears approximately 5.3 pounds of mohair per shearing and are usually sheared twice a year. They produce a fiber with a staple length of between 12 and 15cm. However, Slap Shot is a little more special than just any Angora Goat, he was born on the first day of the Stanley Cup finals!

Be sure to make plans to attend the Blue Ridge Fiber Festival, June 7th & 8th, where you can meet these lovely animals and learn more about them! The animals will be on display surrounded by their shepherds who can speak for them and educate a curious public about each one’s unique fiber characteristics. The festival will provide services for farmers as well.  From shearing to product photography to the enhancement of their farmer’s business and the growth of the family farm.

Mark Handy

Dr. Mark Handy is not a typical physician. For starters…he plays the banjo.

Dr. Handy is known throughout the region of Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, and Western North Carolina as an accomplished musician, a fine flat-footer, and he was even in a music video with Zach Galifianakis.

It’s enough to make you forget that he is also a beloved physician, a decorated medical school educator, and a tireless volunteer for emergency services.

In 2019, Dr. Handy was honored by being named the 2019 Volunteer Clinical Faculty Awardee by UVA’s Alpha Omega Alpha. It is given annually to a volunteer clinical faculty member for excellence in clinical mentorship. 

The nomination for Dr. Handy might just be the best description of this unconventional doctor that can be assembled: 

“Dr. Handy embodies the commitment to education, compassion and service that Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) society strives for its members to embody. I spent one month working with Dr. Handy during my family medicine rotation caring for the under-served patients of Abingdon in rural Southwest Virginia. Despite a busy practice where we saw 30+ patients everyday in addition to numerous house visits, Dr. Handy provided me the platform to develop my critical thinking skills by giving me  the independence to create plans for patients. At end of every shift, he would assess gaps in my knowledge with the simple statement “tell me about x,” and would spend the next hour filling in the gaps. Furthermore, in a primary care climate where every clinic visit is scheduled to be ten minutes long; he emphasized the importance of compassion by giving me the flexibility in the amount of time I spent with patients listening to fascinating stories about their lives and their lost loved ones. Dr. Handy also ensured that patients treated me with respect. I distinctly remember an occasion when he was quick to provide education to a patient who made a racially insensitive comment in reference to me. Unsurprisingly, the utmost respect in which I hold Dr. Handy is shared by all students that I have encountered who have worked with him. As such, I strongly believe he is a deserving candidate of the AOA Volunteer faculty award.”

Dr. Handy is also a 2014 winner of the Carl and Ruth Looney Humanitarian Award granted by the Emory & Henry Alumni Association.

Mark finished at Emory & Henry with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, and graduated from East Carolina School of Medicine and the ETSU Family Residency Program. He is a family medicine practitioner in Abingdon, Virginia. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, the ISHN Board of Quality Assurance, is Medical Director of Hometown Hospice, and is Medical Director for Intrepid Home Health. He received the Board of Governors for East Carolina University School of Medicine. He is President and CEO of Abingdon Medical Arts, President and CEO of Triple H Farms of Alleghany, President and CEO of William M. Handy, MD, PC, and Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Virginia.  He is a past winner of the Teacher of the Year Award at UVA, the Resident Teacher Award, and was named Medical Director of the Year for Emergency Medical Services.  He is an accomplished banjo player and champion clogger, and is a member of Mountain Park Old Time Band and Tune Town Band, which won Vocal Group of the Year at Blue Ridge Acoustic Uprising in 2014.

Something for Everyone...That's My Alleghany County! By: Peggy Cooper

No matter what your lifestyle, Alleghany County has something to offer. You can have a farm or pasture land with grand mountain views, a peaceful, secluded riverfront retreat, a house in Sparta, where vintage small town living and accessibility puts you within walking distance to shopping, recreation, and dining. Or, you can choose the country club lifestyle, with all the amenities it includes, like golf, swimming, tennis, and a full calendar of social activities. This is the lifestyle I have chosen in High Meadows, a golf and country club community in Roaring Gap, just south of Sparta.

From my home base in High Meadows, I can hike the local trails of Grandfather Mountain, travel the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, stop by an artist studio to watch the creative process, or take a kayak trip down the New River, then come home to High Meadows, hop on my golf cart, visit my friends, and meet a group for dinner at the clubhouse where there is gourmet dining and personal attention from the management and staff.

This makes my location a perfect setting for visiting family and friends, especially in the summer when the low humidity and mild temperatures draw the city dwellers up the mountain! My grandchildren love our community pool, but are just as excited to ride the gold cart in search of wildlife, and their favorite, the albino deer.

Our George Cobb designed golf course is in pristine condition and you can find a partner whether you’re a scratch golfer or just love the sunshine, exercise, and camaraderie of fellow players. Our Club calendar includes road trips, wine dinners, and other social activities, but it’s just as much fun to drive ten minutes into Sparta where the charm of small town life is ever present. With a full calendar of music events, monthly I can stop for a meal in one of the many restaurants or just walk Main Street and enjoy an ice cream cone, a great cup of coffee, and enough shopping to make those trips “down the mountain” few and far between.

Although my Roaring Gap location is in a secluded mountain setting, I can leave my home in High Meadows, turn left for Sparta, or turn right and be on Interstate 77 in 20 minutes, in Winston-Salem within the hour, and reach Charlotte in 90 minutes. This is what makes Alleghany County the best of both worlds for me.

Written By: Peggy Cooper, Realtor & Resident of High Meadows Golf & Country Club

Old-Time music duo, Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones plus special guests will perform at the kick-off Alleghany JAM Coffeehouse on Sunday, March 10th

Alleghany JAM is excited to present a new Sunday Coffee house series with adults and youth singing or playing music at an open-mic for an hour followed by a featured artist playing for the second hour. The first coffeehouse will be March 10th 2pm-4pm at the Alleghany JAM house (formerly the Senator’s house) at 360 N. Main St., Sparta, North Carolina. Everyone is welcome. Admission is by donation. There will be a sign-up sheet at the start for those interested in performing a tune or singing a song.  The open mic is acoustic and participants are encouraged to perform in one of the traditional, folk music styles of the Blue Ridge: old-time, bluegrass, country-blues and gospel.

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On March 10th the featured performers of the AJAM Coffee house will be Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones plus special guests. Erynn Marshall is an award-winning fiddler and the new Program Director for Alleghany JAM. She has won first place at the Clifftop Festival and 2nd place at the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention. Carl Jones is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. Marshall & Jones are married in life and music and have lived in Galax, Virginia for ten years. To hear or learn more of their music please visit They will be joined by special guest Bruce Rosen – a powerful piano and guitar player who plays in dance-bands in Boston, MA. Bruce and his wife Sue Rosen – a popular dance-caller, just happen to be visiting the Crooked Road. Other surprise guests will join in too and the open-mic performances are not to be missed! So please come join us, set a spell, relax with a coffee or cookie and hear some fine, traditional music.

Alleghany JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) is a non-profit organization that helps youth in grades 3-8 learn traditional Blue Ridge music and culture afterschool. This year the program has 55 children and teenagers taking fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, singing and dance classes

Upcoming events: 

April 28th– Alleghany JAM Coffee house. Artist tba

June 2 – Alleghany JAM Coffee house. Gap Civil Stringband

June 18 – Alleghany JAM Golf Tournament Fundraiser

July 7 – Alleghany JAM Coffee house. Artist tba

The Alleghany JAM Coffeehouse will be 2pm-4pm, Sunday March 10. Seating opens at 1:45pm. Admission is free but donations are appreciated for Alleghany JAM. For info please call (276) 237-6866. Seating is first come first serve. Becca's Backwoods Bean coffee and homemade desserts will be available.Bring a friend. Alleghany JAM is located at 360 N.Main St in Sparta, NC. 

Jones is New Superintendent at Stone Mountain State Park

Jeff Jones has been named superintendent of Stone Mountain State Park in Wilkes and Allegheny counties, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. Jones succeeds Bill Meyer, who recently retired after 31 years of service to the division. Jones has served as acting superintendent at Stone Mountain State Park since Bill Meyer’s retirement in December 2018. 

A superintendent is the chief of operations and administration at a state park or state recreation area with wide-ranging responsibilities for staffing, training, law enforcement, visitor services, natural resource protection, community outreach and environmental education.

A native of Laurel Springs, Jeff made many visits to Stone Mountain during his childhood. He graduated from Mount Olive College with a degree in Recreation and Leisure and later started as a seasonal employee at New River State Park. Since then, he has gained 17 years of experience as a park ranger at Merchants Millpond and Stone Mountain state parks. Prior to serving state parks, Jeff was a South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper. 

“Jeff brings an invaluable familiarity with Stone Mountain State Park and surrounding communities that will be a great advantage in managing the park,” said Dwayne Patterson, state parks director. “His skills and wisdom from extensive experience in parks across the state and particularly in the mountain region will be great assets for the park and its visitors.”

Stone Mountain State Park was established in 1969 and now encompasses 14,210 acres. It recorded 419,202 visitors in 2018. Stone Mountain is also a National Natural Landmark. 

Gifts of Land for the Benefit of All: Blue Ridge Conservancy

Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) received a generous donation of a conservation easement protecting 186 acres in Alleghany County.  Landowner Marvin Mann contacted BRC with interest in conserving his farmland used for agriculture, forestry, and recreational hunting. The land is located adjacent to Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

“I enjoy the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains; my goal is to preserve the beauty of this property through the ages for the enjoyment of numerable people forever and for the benefit of wildlife,” said Mann.

BRC recognizes the need to protect the rapidly vanishing rural landscape and farmland in Western North Carolina. Forestlands in rural landscapes provide valuable benefits, such as the protection of wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species, and viable economic options for landowners.

186 acres of protected forest and farmland in Alleghany County.

“Protecting the High Country’s agricultural heritage is part of Blue Ridge Conservancy’s mission,” said Charlie Brady, BRC’s Executive Director. “We realize the importance of working lands to the overall economic health of North Carolina. Finding ways to protect the conservation values of our mountains while promoting economic prosperity is a priority for BRC.” 

Eleven other private conservation easement properties are located within a 5-mile radius of Mr. Mann’s property, as well as 4 state or federally managed conservation lands including Stone Mountain State Park, Thurmond Chatham Game Land, Bullhead Mountain State Natural Area and the Sparta Bog Conservation Site.  These large tracts of undeveloped land adjacent or in close proximity to one another promote healthy wildlife connectivity to support needs for breeding, feeding, and migration.

BRC works with its conservation easement landowners to conduct land management activities for protecting and enhancing a property’s conservation values.  A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows the landowner to continue to own and use the land, sell it, or pass it on to heirs.  Conservation easements run with the land, therefore future landowners need to abide by the restrictions as well.

From implementing Best Management Practices to controlling invasive species, BRC can help landowners obtain the necessary resources to take care of their land.  BRC relies on its partner agencies like the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, NC Cooperative Extension, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Forest Service to provide conservation easement landowners, as well as BRC, with technical expertise and other resources related to land management.  Some of these agencies provide financial assistance to landowners willing to implement BMPs or enhance wildlife habitat on their property.

To learn more about BRC’s mission, conservation successes, and ways to become involved, please visit

Cattle grazing on the Mann Farm.

About Blue Ridge Conservancy

Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) is a local, nonprofit land trust dedicated to conserving land and water resources in Northwestern North Carolina. BRC has conserved over 20,000 acres in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey Counties. 

BRC’s efforts have resulted in the protection of scenic vistas, working farmland, rare and threatened ecological habitats, and clean water resources.  BRC assists the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain State Park and Elk Knob State Park expand their borders, established Pond Mountain Game Land, and is spearheading the Middle Fork Greenway project to connect Boone to Blowing Rock. 

More information about Blue Ridge Conservancy is available at