Meet Alleghany JAM's New Program Director!

Alleghany JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) has hired a new Program Director. Fiddler, Erynn Marshall will be joining the non-profit that provides instruction in traditional music and dance to children after-school.

Photographed by Susi Lawson

Photographed by Susi Lawson

Erynn Marshall begins this January at the JAM House (formerly the Senator’s House) on Main Street in downtown Sparta. Marshall will step into the position previously held by Samantha Sawyer Wilhelmi who has accepted a new job dancing at the Hatfield and McCoy Theater in Pigeon Forge.

Marshall has been teaching traditional music for 25 years in schools and through private instruction. Growing up in a musical family, she began learning music at age eight in elementary school at a program similar to JAM.

“I really enjoy working with and teaching young people,” says Marshall. “Sharing the music and the history of the tunes brings generations together.”

Marshall was Music Program Manager at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway for five years (near Galax). She directed the BRMC concert series and assisted in the curation of the Roots of American Music museum. Local visitors and tourists would often request that she play her fiddle or dance for them.

In the last two years, Marshall, and her multi-instrumentalist-husband Carl Jones, have performed in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and China. She also coordinates the Swannanoa Gathering Old-Time Week - a summer music camp at Warren-Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. When not touring Erynn has also participated in the Galax JAM program as a substitute teacher.

“I look forward to meeting and working with all the students in Alleghany JAM and being a service to the JAM program in any way I can. It is such a inspiring program. JAM helps young people learn about, carry on and take pride in the music and dance heritage of this area,” Says Marshall. “It will be an honor to work for this local non-profit that does such good for kids and the community.”

Oh the Places You Can Dine!

What creates the ultimate dining experience?  For some it requires exotic dishes while for others it is more familiar staples. Some patrons value a quiet, intimate experience while others enjoy a more raucous, community feel where neighbors greet neighbors with handshakes, hugs and inquiries about family.  Paper or cloth napkins; vegetarian or steak; American or international; live music or none; all these things impact our assessment of the perfect dining experience. Fortunately, we can meet all of those needs in Alleghany County. 

But where is your favorite place to enjoy a meal in Alleghany County?

This month, Authentically Alleghany will set out to answer that question.  For the next two weeks, up to once a day, you can list your favorite dining establishment. Go to to vote.  You will be prompted to enter your email address and asked if you would like to receive future events listings.  You can then write in your favorite place. If you need your memory refreshed of all the available locations visit the Dining tab found here on our website.

After two weeks, the votes will be counted and the top five locations will be listed.  For the next two weeks, you may once again choose from those five contenders to name your favorite dining experience in Alleghany County.  The winner will be listed as the featured restaurant on the dining page of the website.  The other four will be listed just below the featured spot.

Alleghany County has a rich history of stepping up to help neighbors through difficult times.  Mid-winter can be one of those times for small businesses, especially restaurants.  Let’s show our support for these local entrepreneurs by casting a vote.  More importantly, visit these businesses for an outstanding meal.

Alleghany Junior Appalachian Musicians Release a Music CD  

Alleghany Junior Appalachian Musicians (AJAM) spent this year recording their second full length CD release “Alleghany Jammin’ 2011-2018”. The project features 20 advanced students from the 2017-2018 school years being backed up by 10 members of the staff as well as by Helen White and Wayne Henderson. The CD project allowed the students to experience in a professional recording studio and work with Wes Easter who is one of the best sound engineers for acoustic music in our region.  The CD’s final track is a “live track” of 20 of our beginner students singing as a group which we recorded at Alleghany JAM in the classroom (totaling 40 students on the CD).

“The students showed a lot of enthusiasm for this project and worked hard to create a great recording. It also serves as an archive of the last ten years of music being played at Alleghany JAM,” reports AJAM Board Chair, Deborah Sherrill. “Instructor Caroline Beverley did a great job producing the CD. Board member Kate Irwin did all the graphic design for the cover. This was a once in a lifetime experience for Alleghany JAM students to be able to go into a recording studio and perform- it’s really special.”


On December 9 from 2:00-4:00 pm, AJAM students will perform selections from the CD at Horizon Bistro located at 38 South Main Street in Sparta. CD’s will be for sale at the event, and beverages and desserts will be available to purchase. The Board of Directors for Alleghany Junior Appalachian Musicians would like to invite everyone to come support these students as they promote this new project.


Alleghany JAM is an after-school program that partners students in grades 3 through l2 with talented area musicians to mentor young people in the traditional music ("old-time") and the cultural heritage of North Carolina mountain communities. Core classes are offered in guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin. In addition, students are offered a choice of either singing or traditional dance (clogging). They are also immersed in the genre of "old-time" music, culture, and history in monthly enrichment classes. Teaching emphasizes ear-training which replicates the experience of one generation passing on musical traditions to the next. Students are coached in appropriate stage presence for performances and encouraged to participate in regional fiddler's conventions. AJAM currently meets at the Senators House located next the Sparta Elementary School. More information can be found at



Christmas Time in Alleghany County, NC

Many Christmas memories are fueled by smells.  The aroma of citrus reminds some of a time when an orange was considered an exotic treat that was found in Christmas stockings. Ginger bread and apple cider bring to mind a grandmother’s kitchen and the anticipation of gifts (which more often than not was a pair of socks).  A whiff of peppermint transforms us all back to childhood where we peeled the plastic from a red and white candy cane.  Those smells are an integral part of our Christmas experience. But nothing stirs those memories like the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree.

Papa Goats Tree Farm

Papa Goats Tree Farm

Here in Alleghany County, the hills are flush with the smell of harvested trees accented with crisp mountain air.  As families wander the tree farms in search of the perfect tree, the children often pull their hands along the low hanging branches, releasing a scent that will they will forever connect to Christmas.  The entire tree experience, from cutting to baling to lashing to the top of the car to the eventual placement in the home, is wrapped up in a fragrance that is unique to Frazier Firs.

River Hill Tree Farm

River Hill Tree Farm

And, don’t forget while you are here, stop by our local merchants.  You may be greeted with a cup of spiced cider, a ginger bread man and a candy cane.

Sparta Elementary School Art Reception

Increasingly, employers are recognizing the value of creativity in the workplace.  Creative employees are more likely to take risks, experiment, and look for innovative approaches to problem solving.  Building this creative capacity begins with our school children.

Studies have shown that simply learning about color, especially various shades and tints, helps children deepen their vocabulary and develop complex learning skills. We are fortunate to have talented teachers in Alleghany County who incorporate art in the classroom.

On November 6 at 6:00 pm, the Blue Ridge Business Development Center will host a reception for a display of art work created by the students of Sparta Elementary School.  Light refreshments will be served.  The public is encouraged to attend and support these students.

The exhibit will be displayed through January 2019 and is open to the public.


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.

Pumpkins 1.jpg

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


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


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

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


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.