Category Archives: News & Events

Rhododendrons and Summer Fun in Bakersville

By | News & Events | No Comments

PC: @solitarytravelerphoto

Summer time is here and Mitchell County is gearing up for a great season full of fun, festivals, and special events! A visit to Bakersville should make the top of any vacation to-do list. With great festivals, a rich history, a vibrant arts scene, and natural beauty, Bakersville is worth the trip.

Summer is one of the best times to visit Bakersville to take advantage of all the activities that the town has to offer. One place that any traveler must visit is Roan Mountain. Reaching 6,286 feet at its highest point, Roan Mountain is home to multiple hiking trails, picnic areas, and even a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail. Roan Mountain features stunning 360-degree views of North Carolina and Tennessee from one of the serene grassy balds. The one characteristic that makes Roan Mountain so unique is it is the world’s largest naturally occurring rhododendron gardens. Every June, the gardens produce thousands of brilliant pink blooms all over the mountain, and has commonly been referred to as the “the mountain that turns pink”.

PC: NC Rhododendron Festival Facebook

These beautiful rhododendrons are celebrated every year at the Annual North Carolina Rhododendron Festival in Bakersville. This festival takes place every third weekend of June, and after more than 70 years, the event is more popular than ever as it continues to be one of the state’s most longstanding festivals! The Rhododendron Festival features handmade crafts, food, a car show, a 10k run, a beauty pageant, nightly street dances, and those are just a few of the many highlights. Bakersville blossoms during the festival, with visitors getting to experience live music from local bands and musicians and tasting true southern cuisine with food from local vendors and restaurants. At night, the main street of Bakersville closes to traffic and opens for dancers of all ages (and skill level) to participate in the famous nightly street dances that last until midnight or later.

The NC Rhododendron Festival gives visitors the chance to explore all that the town of Bakersville has to offer, including many local art galleries, restaurants, antique shops, and more! Take a trip to Bakersville and experience small town charm and one of the area’s most anticipated events of the season!

Explore Mitchell: Then & Now

By | News & Events | No Comments

In honor of National Tourism Week, we are highlighting some of Mitchell County’s towns with photos from “then and now”.

This year’s theme, “Travel Then and Now,” highlights travel’s long history of supporting jobs, businesses and livelihoods everywhere in America and right here in Mitchell County, as well as our industry’s enduring ethos of welcoming visitors from near and far.

Some of the photos span back over 100 years and we are proud of the rich heritage that our county was built on. Thank you to the Mitchell County Historical Society for supplying us with their “then” photographs. To learn more about the Mitchell County Historical Society please visit their website at

Lower Street – Downtown Spruce Pine – 1950’s and Now

Little Switzerland – 1900’s

Little Switzerland Now

Downtown Bakersville – early 1900’s

Bakersville Now

Grassy Creek Golf Course – Spruce Pine

Then & Now


Tourism is a vital part of our county, bringing in over $23 million dollars and employing over 200 people in the area. We have so many great businesses, landmarks, industries, and natural wonders that thrive on tourism and visitors, so tourism benefits all of us!

As you can see from these pictures, Mitchell County has grown and changed a bit, but still keeping the longstanding traditions of hospitality that our towns and our county were built on. We are using these traditions to make a better and brighter future for our people and every person who visits Mitchell County. Help us celebrate tourism this week by promoting our county and all the things that make it great!

Another special thanks to the Mitchell County Historical Society for sharing their old photos with us.

Tin Shed Owner Lacey Queen Named Our State Magazine’s BBQ Queen

By | News & Events | No Comments

A local Mitchell County hotspot, the Tin Shed, was recently recognized in Our State Magazine! Never did Lacey Queen dream that something as small as farming on the side of her full time job as a hairdresser would turn into a full service farm, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a store.

Opening in Spring of 2017, the Tin Shed has been serving up local handcrafted Carolina favorites to locals and visitors alike. After several successful years of owning and operating Soggy Bottom Farms, owner Lacey Queen decided to branch out and open an outdoor restaurant serving her local meat from her farm. The Tin Shed has been a huge hit, serving slow smoked barbeque, grass-fed burgers, and more, all using farm fresh meat locally sourced from her farm across the road. She is also serving up homemade sides, deserts, and more, which she partners with other local farmers to ensure the freshest and highest quality products around. This unique restaurant gives guests a true farm-to-table experience.

In the May issue of Our State Magazine, Lacey Queen was recognized as the “BBQ queen of Spruce Pine” for her businesses of the Tin Shed Restaurant and Soggy Bottom Farms. Author of the article, Kathleen Purvis, writes “Follow a country road along the Toe River and you’ll find Soggy Bottom Farms, where an enterprising young woman with strong convictions has created a down-home market marvel”. Lacey began her business with a passion to “educate consumers on what they are putting into their body, as well as offering the highest quality foods to fuel healthy bodies and happy lives”. Lacey also operates her farm and restaurant in memory and as a tribute to her father, Mike Queen, who was her business partner and supporter, but passed away last year.

Lacey was incredibly thankful for the feature, writing “A big thank you to Our State magazine for the feature in May 2018 edition…we as a team are humbled by all the love and support from our customers… our goal is to make this season even better”. Along with being featured in Our State Magazine, the Tin Shed has been featured on a variety of media outlets, including a CNN Travel article titled “12 of the world’s most enticing food and drink trails”.

One thing is for sure, Lacey has the passion and drive to be successful at whatever she does, whether it be farming, running a restaurant, or being a successful female entrepreneur for local business.

You can check out Lacey’s article in the May 2018 issue of Our State Magazine or by clicking the link below!

The Queen of Spruce Pine

Bare Dark Sky Observatory Puts a Spotlight On Our Area

By | News & Events | No Comments


Big cities, bright lights, and towns that never sleep… All of these things have their place, but sometimes you just need to get away from all the hustle and bustle and see beauty in its most natural form. This is where the Mayland Earth to Sky Park & Bare Dark Sky Observatory comes in.

Operated by Mayland Community College, the Bare Dark Sky Observatory, also known as Blue Ridge Observatory and Sky Park, allows viewers to see the night sky as they’ve never seen it before; under the lens of an f/3.6 StarStructure Newtonian Telescope with a 34 inch mirror. This high-powered telescope allows visitors of the Bare Dark Sky Observatory to view stars, constellations, and the night sky at close range.

Open to the public, this observatory allows for visitors and locals alike to see 360 degree views of the spectacular night sky at an elevation of 2,736 feet. According to Mayland, Bare Dark Sky Observatory is the only southeastern Star Park certified by the International Dark Sky Association, which “advocates for the protection of the nighttime environment and dark night skies by educating policymakers and the public on the subject of night sky conservation and by promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting”. Not only are visitors and locals benefiting from this observatory, Astronomy students at Mayland Community College are getting a hands-on learning experience out of the classroom.

The Bare Dark Sky Observatory has been recognized on a national level by multiple media outlets, including CBS News, Blue Ridge Outdoors, and Go Camping America, just to name a few. In an article titled “4 Star Gazing Hot Spots in the Appalachian Mountains”, Blue Ridge Outdoors named the Bare Dark Sky Observatory one of the four hot spots. Blue Ridge Outdoors writes that the Bare Dark Sky Observatory is “the largest (Newtonian telescope) in the Southeast dedicated for public use”.

According to an article from CNN Travel titled “Dark Skies – 22 Best Places in the World to Stargaze”, Mayland’s Bare Dark Sky Observatory and Star Park came in at number 9 of 22, and was one of only 10 U.S. locations that made the list. According to the photographer listed in the article, Todd Bush, he says “Views of the Milky Way from this site are simply stunning. Future observers here will likely bask in its glow with the unaided eye”.

So what are you waiting for, go check out the Bare Dark Sky Observatory for yourself! The Mayland Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory has viewings one day per week for two hour blocks depending on sunset times. Tickets and reservations are available for purchase on the Mayland Community College website.


Canada in Mitchell County. What?

By | News & Events | No Comments

A recent article in the Watauga Democrat shares what those in Mitchell County have known for centuries….there’s a little bit of Canada in Mitchell County…Roan Mountain to be specific.

“On Grandfather, Roan and Mitchell Mountains, a naturalist can be transported in time and place. On those high peaks, you can explore an Appalachia of long ago — one that is filled with evergreens and the smell of balsam.”

Watauga Democrat contributor Amy Renfranz writes “It would take a High Country-traveler 12 hours and two layovers to fly to New Brunswick in Canada. There, they would find a view that would look remarkably familiar. Renfranz  is a Certified Naturalist through the Yellowstone Association Institute and a Certified Environmental Educator in the state of North Carolina.

Range maps support this salient picture. A number of trees, shrubs and animals that live in Maine and Canada extend their range southward along the highest peaks of the Appalachian range.

The cause of this juxtaposition of north and south can be found in the climate books.”

Read all about the cool details of how you can stand on Roan Mountain and see similar surroundings and flora as if you were in Canada.  Again…we say, Roan Mountain North Carolina is a cool place!


Mitchell County Chamber joins regional partners to create Neck of the Woods Trail recently featured by CNN

By | News & Events | No Comments

The Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce partnered with seven area county Chambers and organizations to create the Neck of the Woods Trail, a culinary trail featuring area farm to table restaurants, farmer’s markets, breweries and wineries.

“This was a great opportunity for us to work with our friends in the region to promote our wonderful local businesses in Mitchell County who feature local foods and culture,” said Patti Jensen, Executive Director of the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce.  “Our hope is that this trail will be another tool in our efforts to market our beautiful area and our innovative businesses.”

A recent article by CNN Travel called the trail “One of the “World’s Most Enticing Food & Drink Trails”.  “We were excited to see the national coverage that was generated at the launch of the Neck of the Woods Trail and especially happy to see some of our own Mitchell County businesses highlighted in the article,” said Jensen.  We will have printed maps of the trail soon and will make these available to our visitors who stop in the Mitchell County Visitor Center.

From CNN Travel: North Carolina’s High Country is part of the eastern United States Appalachia region, an area known for its homemade jams, farmstead cheeses, fresh apple cakes, and sour corn.
These culinary offerings can be experienced along the Neck of the Woods flavor trail, a curated selection of everything from you-pick farms to cider houses, all with one thing in common: a passion for regional heritage.
There are nearly 100 businesses marked on Neck of the Woods’ interactive online map, each one color-coded to a particular category (eg. farm-to-table dining; vineyards & wineries), making it easy to create self-guided tours.
Highlights include stops like Spruce Pine’s Tin Shed at Soggy Bottom Farms, home to slow-roasted BBQ pork sandwiches and buttermilk, pecan, and berry-filled pies; and Mitchell’s Oak Moon Farm & Creamery, a micro-dairy specializing in small-batch, raw milk goat cheese.


Land Preserved in Highlands of the Roan

By | News & Events | No Comments

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently purchased 142 acres  in the Highlands of Roan to protect clean mountain streams and habitat for native trout and other wildlife.

AHC’s acquisition will protect water quality and aquatic habitats of the Nolichucky/Cane/Toe Rivers Conservation Area, which includes at-risk aquatic species, like the Eastern Hellbender, and Federally Endangered species, including the Appalachian Elktoe mussel.

“This project was essentially about the water and the watershed — a high priority for conservation on a big scale,” Crockett said.

Conservation of the mountainous land also protects habitat for birds and other animals as well as scenic views. Rising to an upper elevation of 4,700 feet, the forested acreage can be seen from public recreation areas in the Roan, including the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

Approximately one third of the land lies within the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area. According to Audubon, the Roan IBA is one of North Carolina’s most important sites for Northern Saw-whet Owls and one of the most significant sites in the southern Appalachians for Magnolia Warbler.

Other key resident species include: Alder flycatcher, willow flycatcher, red crossbill, brown creeper, winter wren, veery, Canada warbler, golden-winged warbler, chestnut-sided warbler and golden-crowned Kinglet.

For more information see the Asheville Citizen-Times article in its entirety at

Little Switzerland Featured As A Place You’ll Never Want to Leave

By | News & Events | No Comments featured Little Switzerland, NC as a place you’ll never want to leave. “North Carolina is far from the Swiss Alps, but if you travel up the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll find a charming little village tucked away perched high in the mountains. With its sweeping vistas and views, this beautiful place feels like our very own version of Switzerland.”

The article features several Little Switzerland businesses including the Switzerland Inn and Skyline Inn.  The beautiful views, unique properties and delicious food options were highlighted in the article. There is no better time to visit Little Switzerland than during the Fall season when the foliage and the views are breathtaking. To read the full article click here.



Spruce Pine & The Masters: Over 40 years of history

By | News & Events | No Comments
by Sam Greenwood

There are 44 bunkers at Augusta National, each majestic and hazardous in its own right. The glistening sands look impossibly white, radiating in such a way that only nature could produce something so pristine.

Which is exactly what happened.

It’s called “Spruce Pine sand,” named for the mining district in Western North Carolina in which it’s found. It’s actually quartz, and it’s so pure that it prevents golf balls from burrowing into devious lies and has played a major role in computer technology.

The sand has filled these bunkers for the past 40 Masters, ever since Augusta National co-Founder Clifford Roberts was moved by its texture and how it contrasted beautifully with the emerald fairways and shimmering ponds of Augusta National.

Photo by: Sam Greenwood/Augusta National
Rory McIlroy hits from the fairway bunker on No. 2 during the final round of the 2011 Masters Tournament

“I’d rake it with my hand if I needed to,” said Jim “Bones” Mackay, the caddie for Phil Mickelson. “It fits the place so well. It brings out the green in the grass. It plays very, very well. You don’t hear about guys complaining about lies or balls getting away from them out of the bunkers.”

Of those 44 bunkers, 32 stand guard around greens and 12 are located in fairways. Nos. 3 and 7 have the most bunkers (five each) and No. 14 is the only hole without one. Whether they realize it from the tee or not, players face 10 holes in which they don’t have to worry about any fairway bunkers.

They are basically distributed evenly across the course. The first nine has 15 bunkers surrounding greens and nine in fairways; the second nine includes 17 at the greens and three in fairways.

“They give you certain holes you can aim for a bunker and still give yourself a good chance to get up and down for par or birdie,” said Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion.

“It’s very soft on top and has a firm base,” Johnson said of the sand. “You can’t necessarily spin it a ton, but it’s pure. What’s great about it is you have substantial high lips, but you won’t see a ball plug. Ever. It’ll hit the bank and go back to the middle of the bunker or go through it.”

Those were Roberts’ thoughts, too, after he first saw the stunning white sand in the early 1970s, when it was being used at courses in  Western North Carolina. He liked its look and texture so much that he ordered truckloads of the sand delivered and installed in time for the 1975 Tournament.

“I’d rake it with my hand if I needed to.” – Caddie Bones Mackay

“On those greens, you have to be so precise,” said Mike Weir, who won the Masters in 2003. “The ball comes out a little slower. You have to be more aggressive with it. It’s very consistent sand. You have to get in there and get used to it, because it is a little different feel and requires a different touch.”

At first, the sand was viewed as a cheap waste product of feldspar, a valuable mineral extracted and used in making aluminum and ceramic products.

Scientists soon learned, though, that the sand was quartz, and an extremely pure version of it at that. Its makeup created a firm surface, and its pureness was such that Spruce Pine quartz is used in manufacturing semiconductors; computer chips throughout the world contain it.

The sand often is identified with Augusta National, but the Club doesn’t hold the mineral rights and there’s no patent given for quartz.

“I’ve certainly heard people say, ‘Oh, this is Augusta-like sand,’ but I don’t think I’ve seen it somewhere else,” Mackay said.

Scott K. Brown/Augusta National
Lee Westwood on No. 10 during the second round of the 2011 Masters Tournament.

The huge fairway bunker at No. 10 is arguably Augusta National’s most recognizable and photographed. It’s almost 400 yards off the tee, at the bottom of the hole’s steep slope, and it used to protect a green that was moved back to its current position in 1937. If a player lands in there, he mishit or even shanked his second shot.

“There’s no way you should be in it,” said Johnson. “You really don’t want to hit that trap.”

Among the par-4 holes with bunkers players fear the most: the fairway bunker at No. 5; the back bunker at Nos. 7; and the fairway bunker at No. 18.

On the par 3s, the bunker behind the green at No. 12 leaves a player with a treacherous downhill shot while staring at Rae’s Creek in front of him; and both greenside bunkers at the long fourth hole.

“You basically don’t want to shortside yourself around any of the greens,” Weir said.

On the par 5s, the back bunker at No. 13, especially to a front hole location, is the one fraught with the most danger.

“The green is sloping away from you towards the creek, and like No. 12, you’re looking at the water,” Weir said.

Augusta National hasn’t significantly altered the layout of its strategically placed bunkers over the 79-year history of the Tournament.  However, in contrast, No. 9 initially had one big greenside bunker, then five of various sizes, then in the late 1940s it was restructured with three. Now, two are located greenside.

The 14th has been bunker-less since 1952; prior to that, the hole had just one, which was largely out of play near the tee. The 15th did not have a bunker until 1957, when, at the suggestion of Ben Hogan, one was put to the right of the green.

And in them all for the past 40 years, there has been sand so pure that players never complain about buried lies.