All of the area that we cover is part of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, comprised of the 27 westernmost counties of North Carolina and Cherokee Qualla Boundary. It was designated by Congress and the President in November 2003 in recognition of the unique character, culture, and natural beauty. This nonprofit organization identifies, preserves and promotes unique natural, historic and cultural attractions in the North Carolina mountains and foothills. They are brilliant at connecting the dots to create synergies and build partnerships in the region, tackling some ambitious projects by a very small staff. They partner with the National Park Service for technical assistance and distribution of matching federal funds from Congress.
The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area focus on five heritage topics: agriculture, Cherokee, music, craft and natural. In conjunction, they do an amazing job promoting our small towns, museums, state parks, scenic byways and much more. A land of mountain wilderness, waterfalls, Cherokee tradition, string bands, and artist studios, this is truly a region with a personality like no other.
We at RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide were delighted to help support them with our Giving Calendar fundraiser.
There are two ways to find top things to do in the area. Follow the Blue Ridge Heritage Trail, finding 70 exhibit signs at key sites that tell the story of the location with a new map and guide.
Their Blue Ridge Music Trails is a guide to traditional music of the area with a map of locations to enjoy it firsthand.
The mission of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is to protect, preserve, interpret, and develop the unique natural, historical, and cultural resources of Western North Carolina for the benefit of present and future generations, and in so doing to stimulate improved economic opportunity in the region.
Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership awarded 21 grants in 2017 totaling $180,000 to help support projects across the North Carolina mountains and foothills, focusing on craft, music, natural heritage, Cherokee culture, and agricultural traditions:
- Altapass Foundation: $5,500 to develop a Cherokee history exhibit for the Historic Orchard at Altapass
- Asheville Museum of Science: $7,000 to develop an immersive video exhibit showcasing the region’s geologic and natural history
- Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation: $16,000 to develop a vision plan to increase recreation opportunities while protecting natural resources at the recently expanded Waterrock Knob property on the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Clay County Communities Revitalization Association: $2,850 for a music heritage sculpture in downtown Hayesville
- Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center: $6,600 for an outdoor stage at the historic Cowee School to expand the capacity to present traditional music concerts
- Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: $5,000 to construct a historic “snake” style fence for the park’s Mountain Farm Museum
- Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation: $4,000 for interpretive trail signs highlighting forest ecology, resources, and wildlife
- Jackson County: $10,000 to develop interpretive wayside exhibits along the new Jackson County Greenway
- Madison County Arts Council: $5,000 for a portable sound system to support traditional music events around the county
- Mainspring Conservation Trust: $9,890 to develop interpretive signage and improve trail access for a Cherokee-themed cultural corridor along NC Highway 28 in Macon County
- The North Carolina Arboretum Society: $8,000 for an outdoor forest heritage exhibit at the North Carolina Arboretum
- One Dozen Who Care, Inc.: $5,000 to develop exhibits on the music traditions of African American communities in partnership with Western Carolina University
- Peacock Performing Arts Center: $2,225 for a new sound system to support music performances
- Penland School of Crafts: $7,850 for a new historic timeline exhibit and improved visitor signage
- Southern Highland Craft Guild: $16,000 to develop new e-commerce capability to market and sell the work of guild artists
- Southern Highlands Reserve: $16,000 for a project to restore red spruce to endangered spruce-fir forest habitat in the Great Balsam Mountains
- Surry Arts Council: $8,000 to expand and improve backstage space for musicians performing at the Historic Earle Theatre in downtown Mount Airy
- Toe River Arts Council: $12,000 for interactive informational kiosks directing visitors to craft galleries, studios, and festivals in Mitchell and Yancey counties
- Western North Carolina Historical Association: $8,085 to support a music heritage exhibit and related educational programs at the Smith-McDowell House Museum
- Wilkes Heritage Museum: $10,000 to expand the museum’s Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame exhibit and event space
- Will & Deni McIntyre Foundation: $15,000 to support the national broadcast of David Holt’s State of Music series which showcases Western North Carolina’s bluegrass, old-time, and gospel traditions
For more history and culture, see our list of Museums & Historic Sites in and near Asheville.