When people visit Cabarrus County and they do, by the tens of thousands most never get past Concord Mills mall, Charlotte Motor Speedway and the sprawling commercial/hospitality area that has sprung up between the two, just across the county line to the northeast from Mecklenburg.
True: Concord Mills draws the most visitors annually of any attraction in North Carolina. Also true: For two weeks each May, the more than 160,000 visitors who come to the speedway for the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 the one NASCARs showiest race, and the other its longest take over a large part of western Cabarrus and turn Concord into one of the states largest cities.
But if you stop there, youll miss most of the rich, varied character of Cabarrus and its people.
In Kannapolis on the site where one of the worlds largest textile manufacturers stood until 2003 the North Carolina Research Campus hosts scientists from UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University, N.C. State University and more, all engaged in biotechnology research. Founder David Murdocks goal is to improve the worlds health through nutrition and food production. Dozens of projects are under way to tease secrets from plants that will feed more people, feed them better, lead to new ways to fight stubborn diseases and much more.
The county early on saw the value of the local food movement, forming its own Local Food Policy Council. The Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm is launching new growers, and the Piedmont Farmers Market has several locations around the county where you can find the freshest in local produce. Most recently, three farming families have collaborated to open the Peachtree Market on Church Street in Concord, the countys first brick-and-mortar store for local foods.
The Cabarrus Arts Council is one of the states most active. Its galleries, housed in the countys beautifully renovated historic former courthouse, offer five curated exhibitions each year, featuring works by accomplished regional artists. Its state-of-the-art Davis Theatre hosts numerous professional performances each year, including its headline series of nationally touring artists.
The Carolina Thread Trail, a conservation and recreation project that ultimately will connect 15 N.C. counties via a walking and biking trail, has opened several segments in Cabarrus County. In 2013 the areas first canoe/kayak launch point opened on the Rocky River in Midland as part of the trail. Its the first entry point for a planned 59.3-mile recreational waterway, known as a blueway.
Concords quaintly intimate Union Street in 2013 earned the Peoples Choice Award for Great Main Street from the N.C. chapter of the American Planning Association, part of the NCAPAs Great Places in North Carolina program, which celebrates noteworthy communities throughout the state.
In 1799 young Conrad Reed found a rock in a creek near his home. His family used it as a doorstop for years, until an assay proved it to contain gold. The first authenticated discovery of gold in the United States, it set off the young nations first gold rush. Nowadays, you can pan for gold nuggets at Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site, in the southeastern part of the county. The site also offers mine tours, a gold museum, a restored stamp mill and more on the areas first economic boom.
And since Im a huge baseball fan, I must mention the Kannapolis Intimidators (named after the late Dale Earnhardt, a Kannapolis native who bought into ownership of the team before his death). Theyre the Class A professional minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Take in a game at CMC-NorthEast Stadium, just off I-85 at Exit 63; youll find yourself seated close enough to the field that, should you care to dispute a call, the umpires can hear your every word.
Its just another example of the intimate, friendly and forward-thinking character of this community.
Scott is a regional editor for the Observer.
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