Happy Independence Day! Come celebrate our Nation from 12noon-2pm with a good ole’ fashioned family picnic and games. With a bounce house, relay races, yummy food and national pride, there is sure to be something for everyone in your family!
For more information, please call the Recreation Department at 828-387-3003.
February 2012 – Fred Pfohl, of Beech Mountain, is attempting to trespass on private property — again. He looks to his accomplice, Rory Ellington, to confirm some insider intelligence. There’s a security gate they must break through. Ellington, who bears a striking resemblance to Lance Armstrong, the mountain-loving cyclist who brought the town’s recreational prowess to national attention more than a decade ago, spouts off a string of numbers. They’ve cracked the code.
The two men are here to figure out where to put additional trail markers on the Emerald Outback, eight miles of backcountry trail that runs through the gated Emerald Mountain housing development. They aren’t officially trespassing, of course. If they were walking instead of riding in Pfohl’s SUV, they wouldn’t even need a code. The development has given the Town of Beech Mountain an easement, inviting hikers and bikers to slip past the entry system. But it’s raining. So Pfohl punches in the semi-secret key giddily. “We’re not supposed to know this stuff,” he says.
But Pfohl and Ellington seem to know pretty much everything about the Town of Beech Mountain. Pfohl — who raised five kids here in an apartment above Fred’s General Mercantile, the store he runs with his wife, Margie — was in attendance when the town was born. Beech Mountain, established circa 1981, is still a young thing, much younger than the nearby town of Boone (1872) or neighboring Banner Elk (1911).
In the mid-1970s, the corporation that owned the mountain went bankrupt, and a handful of residents began the process of turning their developer-created community into a public township. They oversaw the transfer of infrastructure. Resort security guards became town policemen. Established ski slopes continued operations as Beech Mountain Resort, which still thrives in what is now Eastern America’s highest incorporated town at 5,506 feet.
Pfohl, an attentive man with a manicured white beard, was the town’s first elected mayor. He served four terms, and he’s never given up his sense of responsibility. Pfohl begins every morning making a list of what he needs to do for his store — only to find that, somewhere along the line, his to-do items morph into civic duties. “I call him the list man, but I’m the same way,” Ellington says.
Pfohl, in turn, gestures toward Ellington. “Yeah, how many towns have the groundskeeper of a golf course taking care of the lawn in front of their fire station?” Ellington, a superintendent at the private Beech Mountain Club, blushes.
The two men — alongside Daniel Scagnelli, the town’s Parks and Recreation director — were instrumental in creating the Outback. It is the first phase of a 25-mile Mountain Adventure Trail Park the town plans to complete in 2014, and it consists of mostly slender, woodland paths. Ellington helped design the system, marked by cedar signs. “I watched where the deer went to figure out where the trails should go,” Ellington says. “The deer know the best routes. They flow with their family through the seasons.”
Mountain bikers make good use of the trail, streaking through the forest, their brightly colored gear flashing in and out of view. Ellington points to a narrow trail where surrounding tree limbs seem poised to reach out to tap a hiker’s shoulder. “This trail is at 5,400 feet,” he says. “I come up here to train on my bike, and I suffer.”
Resilience brings rewards. Training in high altitudes increases red blood cells, pushing more oxygen into the blood.
“There are actually some people that say just because we’re up here day to day we’re going to live longer and our hearts will be stronger,” Ellington says. “But I don’t know about that.”
More than a store
A man chases Pfohl’s car through downtown Beech Mountain, a small cluster of buildings reminiscent of the chalet-style architecture required by the mountain’s early developers. It’s raining, but Pfohl rolls his window all the way down. “I’ve got those papers you asked for,” says the runner, who turns out to be a building inspector. He shoves a stack of papers into Pfohl’s hands.
Pfohl requested the information because someone recently came in asking about Beech Mountain’s building regulations. “I didn’t want to tell him the wrong thing, and I wanted to do right by him,” Pfohl says, slipping the stack of papers onto his dashboard until he can deliver them into his curious customer’s hands.
When Pfohl and his wife opened their store, they hoped it would be a community hub. “Little did we know that it was going to become an unofficial town hall, chamber of commerce, and welcome center,” Pfohl says. “People come to us before they’ll go to anyone else.”
It’s nearly lunch, time to head back to the store. When Pfohl bounds across wide, wood-plank floors on the way to his office, a local couple stops him. They want to introduce him to a visitor from out of town.
“See,” the woman says to her friend, “I told you there really was a Fred!”
This isn’t the first time Pfohl has been mistaken for a myth. The store orbits him as he exchanges pleasantries. In a back hallway, beyond walls stocked with high-end footwear and outdoorsy clothing, kids pick out rental videos. Cash registers tick off receipts for canned goods and bottles of wine. Beyond the counter, a man jingles a drawer of bolts in the corner designated for hardware. Above his head, a poster of wild bird species hangs from the ceiling. It waves in greeting each time an exterior door opens — and that happens a lot.
A PVC pipe, planted upright by the store’s front entrance, marks each year with the mountain’s annual snowfalls. In 2010 and 2011, the marks almost reached the building’s second story. Beech Mountain isn’t an easy place to spend the winter.
Most of the town’s 350 year-round locals — and a few of the savviest part-timers, who number in the thousands — know that Wednesday is grocery day on the mountain. That’s when shipments arrive at Fred’s, the only grocery store in town. When there’s a heavy snow and it appears that tractor-trailers aren’t going to make it up the mountain, Pfohl drives his pickup down to Banner Elk to meet them on a lower delivery route.
Last winter, Pfohl made the trek half a dozen times. Occasionally, he drives across fields because he can’t get traction on the road. He keeps a plow attached to the front of his vehicle several months of the year.
The fact that Pfohl often doubles his workload in service to the town doesn’t directly make him money. It substantially increases his operating budget, but he believes that making his town welcoming might encourage people to come around more often. “I wish everybody in America could live in a small town for a little while to understand what they’re all about,” he says. “I think they would get a feeling of being part of something bigger than themselves.”
Rich in nature
Pfohl’s pockets are full of hardware. He tosses a power drill into the backseat and continues his rounds. Ellington has gone back to work, but there’s a town bulletin board in need of updating. Pfohl needs to post laminated maps and informational panels. He drives toward a lookout, one of the most popular sites on the mountain. There, he points toward a gray tourist kiosk. “I just finished that one up yesterday,” he says. Below, cloud shadows roll across a forested sea.
He moves past the Beech Mountain Club, where Ellington maintains an 18-hole, ridge-top golf course, and on to a pond that supplies water for snow-making on Beech Mountain’s ski slopes. Roughly the size of an Olympic pool, the pond has a lone, smoothed-over boulder sticking up from its placid waters like the arch of a turtle’s back. In the distance, he spots B.J. Hughes, one of Beech Mountain’s parks and trails coordinators, unloading a power blower. Pfohl wonders how the town’s guided-hike program is going, so he makes a detour.
After Hughes gives Pfohl the stats on his last hike — 20 city-bred visitors, most of whom had never spent time in the woods — Hughes points at a jack vine. It’s the sort of thing he shows guests to the mountain. He walks over and pulls out a pocketknife, grabbing the rough, twig-like vine between his thumb and forefinger before slicing into pine-scented meat. “People use this to make crafts, like birdhouses,” he says.
Hughes sometimes shops at Fred’s, but he sees all of Beech Mountain as a wild sort of general mercantile. His lists — mostly grocery lists — are a little nontraditional. They include: morel mushrooms, branch lettuce, salamanders, and bass. “I’ll get a full meal from the woods,” he says. “This place is full of all kinds of food, medicine, cures. You’ve just got to know where to look.”
Hughes stands in a town parking lot, but, without moving his feet from gravel, he’s able to secure another forest-born necessity. “If you’re ever in the mountains and can’t get a fire started in the rain,” he says, “you can use birch bark.” He pulls a handful of bronze-colored paper from a yellow birch’s trunk. “This goes up like kerosene,” he says.
He points to the tender ends of silvered limbs. “You can also make tea from this tree,” he says. “All the flavor’s in the green shoots. You boil them.” He pulls at a small branch until it snaps. “Old-timers used to use this as a toothbrush,” he says, scratching at smooth bark with his fingernail. The smell of spearmint wafts through the afternoon’s cooling air.
Beech Mountain is rich with natural amenities, and it sometimes surprises even Hughes. Last year, he found some wild apricot trees on one of the town’s municipal hiking trails and took a bite. “It was like biting into a hunk of honey,” he says, adding a warning, “You’ve got to get to them before the bears.”
Pfohl shakes his head at the thought of competing with wildlife for a taste of sweetness. He’ll stick to the seasonal produce stocked in his store. But as he speeds away — he still has that billboard to take care of, not to mention the part he needs to order for the town flagpole — it’s clear that he respects what Hughes adds to the community. “B.J. used to work in a manufacturing plant before he started at Beech,” Pfohl says. “But he’s in his element here. We all are.”
Life in Beech Mountain is surprisingly busy from Pfohl’s perspective, but in spite of his charted days and never ending to-do lists, he maintains that living here isn’t stressful.
“Maybe there’s something to that stuff Rory was talking about earlier, about living at 5,000 feet,” Pfohl says. “Sometimes, it does feel like we have a little advantage. We don’t feel pressured by our surroundings. Up here, we can really breathe.”
Five Things Not to Miss in Beech Mountain
- At the Mile High Kite Festival, colors and cares are tossed into the wind every Labor Day weekend. There are prizes for the best decorated, smallest, and largest kites. If you’re unsure of your crafting skills, you’re welcome to attend one of the building and decorating clinics held each year before the festival.
403-A Beech Mountain Parkway
- During its annual Autumn at Oz event, Beech Mountain’s historic Land of Oz theme park temporarily reopens to the public. Visit Auntie Em’s farm, complete with hayrides and a cast of Wizard-seeking characters who will follow you down the yellow-brick road.
2669 South Beech Mountain Parkway
- The town plays host to Summer Street Dances several times each summer, when sand borrowed from the traps at the Beech Mountain Club golf course covers the parking lot in front of Town Hall. Even though the atmosphere will be warm, temperatures tend to drop with the sun at high altitudes. This is one beach party where it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a sweater on hand.
403 Beech Mountain Parkway
- Take advantage of Beech Mountain’s guided hikes, which teach — among other skills — plant identification. They launch from the Buckeye Recreation Center on the first Tuesday of each month from April through October.
206 Grassy Gap Creek Road
- The town has one of the only municipal snow blowers in the state, and the blower creates a free, seasonal sledding hill located just a few feet from Town Hall. Beech Mountain Resort also manufactures snow, day and night, to assure that the mountain’s nearly 100 skiable acres stay covered throughout the season.
Fred’s General Mercantile
501 Beech Mountain Parkway
Beech Mountain, N.C. 28604
Beech Mountain Resort
1007 Beech Mountain Parkway
Beech Mountain, N.C. 28604
Find the original article here.
Leigh Ann Henion’s debut book is forthcoming from Penguin Press. Visit leighannhenion.com to learn more about her work. Leigh Ann’s most recent story for Our State was “Soaring Legacies” (January 2011).
The old Yellow Brick Road, made of 44,000 bricks, still winds around the top of Beech Mountain in a garden-like setting dotted with gazebos, boulders, craggy trees and occasional curiosities like the Witch’s Castle. For the most part, it’s quiet up here, marked by fierce winds that whip across the mountaintop at more than 5,500 feet elevation.
There’s a modest stream of visitors, particularly in the summer. The public can arrange for group tours or events in the park, or even rent out the renovated Dorothy’s House for the night.
Expensive homes situated just across the street bring seasonal residents to the top of the mountain, and a handful of people tend the park, giving tours and doing upkeep. The excitement returns when the annual Autumn at Oz celebration takes place, bringing back thousands of Oz lovers — former Land of Oz employees and fans alike.
Hosts and many visitors at the festival dress as “The Wizard of Oz” characters, paying homage to the classic movie about a little girl from Kansas named Dorothy who survives a tornado, visits a magical, sometimes scary land and finds out more about what’s important in life. The story, written by L. Frank Baum as “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” is both enduring and endearing, just like the theme park.
When describing the park, visitors often use the term “a magical place,” based actually more on Baum’s book than the movie. It certainly had an impact on people.
Former Johnson Citian Donna Devereux, who attended East Tennessee State University and now lives near Blowing Rock, is among them. As a teenager she was one of “about nine Dorothys” employed at the park on opening day in 1970.
“I would disappear in a puff of smoke and then reappear,” she said during a recent visit to the park. “I worked here for about four years. It was really fun. It spoiled me for any other work.
“I was here for the grand opening when Debbie Reynolds cut the ribbon. Carrie Fisher was here, she was about 13 at the time, and I was charged with keeping her company.”
The park in its heyday was a big hit. The brainchild of developer Grover Robbins — who also created Tweetsie Railroad, among many other enduring developments — and designer Jack Pentes, Land of Oz was a place filled with characters and scenes from the movie.
Visitors could take a ride around the park in colorful “hot-air balloon” gondolas, visit Dorothy’s house and experience it before, during and after a “tornado,” see a show that revealed the Wizard of Oz and have their photos taken with munchkins or any of the characters.
And there was the shiny (and sometimes slick) Yellow Brick Road that tied everything together.
In the design stages, Pentres indeed saw it as a magical place. He took special care to preserve the natural environment, which was much of what made the place seem so special. And Pentres worked from a child’s point of view, literally, getting down on his knees for the proper perspective as he created the park.
Visitors would drive up the steep, winding road with its hairpin turns, then take a gondola-style chair lift to the very top. The trip up the mountain no doubt added to the mystique of the destination on top.
The place attracted 400,000 people its first year and brought in quite a few celebrities during the decade, including Reynolds, Fisher, Ray Bolger, Anita Bryant, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) and Charles Kuralt.
“I got to skip down the road with Charles Kuralt,” Devereaux said with a laugh.
The park also featured many of the region’s finest artists and craftsmen, so there was quality shopping to be done. And the long-range views from up high were fabulous.
A recession and a changing tourist industry helped lead to the park’s demise. The property is now owned and managed by Emerald Mountain Realty & Rentals. Cindy Keller of Emerald Mountain oversees the place and organizes the Autumn at Oz festival, and on the company’s website she tells a summarized history of the place.
Keller lists “changing times, economics, liabilities, maintenance and other interests of its owners, along with the lack of change at Oz,” as reasons for its downfall. A fire in 1976 also took its toll, destroying some artifacts.
Devereaux was among those who hated to say goodbye.
“I was very sad to see it close,” she said, adding, “There was a magical feel to the top of the mountain.”
For a decade the Land of Oz fell into decline and was victimized by vandals and people seeking to take home a piece of Oz. In 1990 Emerald Mountain Properties started a 450-acre project to create home sites around the property, but also to protect and partially revive the Land of Oz.
Many of the small attractions at the park are gone for good, including some of the structures as well as the gigantic mushroom and the balloon ride. Dorothy’s House remains one of the highlights. People can tour the place, then experience the sights and sounds of a tornado before emerging from the dark to find another version of the house knocked askew. Witch’s legs are sticking out from the bottom of the outside of the house.
“The park is not, nor will it ever be, what it once was,” Keller writes. “However, with its maturing flora and graceful aging, it has evolved into its own unique entity.”
Visitors can also see Dorothy’s red slippers — actually a sculpture of the shoes, which are bolted down to the concrete — and slip their feet into them while catch a grand view of the mountains.
There’s a small museum filled with memorabilia from and about the movie, and items continue to resurface — evidence that the Land of Oz never actually died. Many people still find the park, even in its faded glory, to be a magical place.
For more information, visit www.autumnatoz.com
Written by Doug Janz
Find the original article here
Beer tasting, live music, scenic views and the 2011 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Gravity National Championships are on tap Sept. 24 at Beech Mountain Resort.
The inaugural Brews and Views festival is being held in conjunction with the three-day USA Cycling championships. Attendees can sample from more than two dozen micro and craft brews, enjoy music from four bands, and watch the first mountain biking national championships ever contested in the Southeast.
The festival runs from 2-6 p.m. and also has a bike expo, food vendors and a separate play village for kids. Brews available include: Star Hill, New Belgium, Olde Hickory, Blowing Rock Ale, Leffe, Red Hook, Widmer, Boddingtons, Blue Moon, Natty Green, Lone Rider, Oskar Blues, Harpoon and Carolina Cottonwood.
Throughout the festival there will be racing action from the nation’s best professional and amateur mountain bikers. The dual slalom amateur finals begin at 2 p.m., followed by dual slalom pro finals at 5:30 p.m. The fun concludes with a spectacular early evening fireworks show.
Live music will be provided by: The Corduroy Road, Uncle Mountain, Now You See Them and Possum Jenkins.
Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate, with designated drivers admitted free. Ticket price includes: beer tastings, souvenir glass, fireworks display, and admission to the Mountain Bike Gravity National Championships. Advanced tickets may be purchased online at www.bandtastic.com/brewsandviews.
For more info about Brews and Views or for lodging options, call (800) 468-5506 or visit www.BeechMtn.com.
This Article Published September 12, 2011. Find the original article here.