In Burnsville – the only town and the county seat of Yancey County – you won’t find high-rise buildings, avenues of McMansions, gridlock traffic and the noise of honking horns. What you’ll get in and around this small, mountain town are great riches in nature and art.
Yancey is the most mountainous county in North Carolina, holding five of the highest peaks in eastern America, including Mount Mitchell, which at 6,684 feet is the highest point east of the Mississippi. Amid these peaks are forests, nationally protected land and a host of small communities – and a population that is thick with artists. You cannot roam far without encountering an artist, public work of art, mural, artist studio or gallery. Scattered around the county, you will see the work of woodworkers, glass blowers, potters, metal smiths, weavers, quilters, basket makers, painters, sculptors, paper makers, photographers and more. And everywhere you look is nature-inspiring art.
Call ahead to visit artists in their studios/galleries. Many of them – including potter Claudia Dunaway and mixed-media artist John Richards at Yummy Mud Puddle (www.yummymudpuddle.com), as well as glass blower Rob Levin (www.robertlevin.com) – welcome visitors to enjoy a behind-the-scenes look and see their work. Plan ahead to take part in the Toe River Studio Tour held twice annually in June and December (www.toeriverarts.org/studio-tour). Save a lazy afternoon to drive through the Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway Quilt Trail (at www.quilttrailswnc.org, scroll down to “Trail Maps”).
Art takes the stage at the Parkway Playhouse (www.parkwayplayhouse.com) where the 2015 season is in full swing. Coming up are performances of “All Shook Up,” “Red” and “The Glass Menagerie.” Many artistic events and festivals take place in Burnsville’s town square.
Cooler summertime temperatures make Yancey County a perfect place for hiking, camping, mountain biking, gem hunting and, of course, cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway, which defines the county’s southeast border.
Night-sky enthusiasts will want to make their way to the Mayland Community College Blue Ridge Star Park, the first star park in the southeastern United States certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. Construction is underway for an observatory that will house the largest telescope in the Southeast in dark skies dedicated for public use. Completion is expected this winter. Details: www.mayland.edu/starpark.
Burnsville’s B&Bs offer the comforts of home. Remarkable among them is the Terrell House Inn (www.terrellhousebandb.com), where six individually decorated rooms and a scrumptious breakfast await – the homemade cinnamon bread makes every morning special. There is a history lesson in every room of the Nu Wray (www.nuwrayinn.com), North Carolina’s oldest operating inn. Its front-porch rockers overlook the town square, and on weekends family-style Southern meals are offered to guests and the public.
Aug. 6-8: Mountain Piecemakers Quilt Guild Quilt Show, Burnsville Town Center. See the amazing and beautiful display of quilts created by guild members. Tickets will be available for a chance to win this year’s raffle quilt. Details: www.burnsvilletowncenter.com.
Aug. 7-8: Mount Mitchell Crafts Fair, Burnsville town square. With approximately 200 juried crafts, this annual event qualifies as a craft shopper’s paradise: more than 25,000 attend each year, searching for one-of-a-kind items created by artisans from across the Blue Ridge. Have a seat and watch artisans produce their crafts throughout the day while listening to live music. Free. Details: www.yanceychamber.com/craft-fair.
Sept. 5: Emerald Village RockFest, Emerald Village, Spruce Pine. Free live music, guided hikes to mines, treasure hunts for kids. Emerald Village offers nighttime underground mine tours that unlock vibrant hidden colors that can only be seen under ultraviolet light (“black light”). Tour cost: $15; $10 for students. Details: www.emeraldvillage.com (click Special Events).
Sept. 10-12: 10th Annual Carolina Mountains Literary Festival, Burnsville Town Center. Dual keynote speakers are Barbara Kingsolver and Ann Patchett. Most events are free. Details: www.cmlitfest.org.
Sept. 26: Old Timey Fall Festival, Burnsville town square. A full day of family fun. Antique tractor and car parade, live music, kid’s games, arts and crafts, farmers’ market, food and great community atmosphere. Free. Details: www.oldtimeyfallfestival.com.
Sept. 26: 30th Annual Music in the Mountains Folk Festival, Burnsville Town Center. The event is dedicated to the preservation of mountain music and culture and includes bluegrass and traditional music, ballad singers, storytellers and dancing. Details: www.toeriverarts.org (click events).