By Michael Frierman and Valerie Hoffman

There are so many things that make living and vacationing in the Hickory Nut Gorge special. It’s difficult to find a place with more natural beauty … an Alpine lake perhaps. The many recreational activities available from boating, water skiing, hiking the many trails, rock climbing, golfing and much more. But undoubtedly what makes the Gorge such a special place is its most valuable asset … the people.

2017 HNGF Community Impact Award recipients Barbara and Buck Meliski stand to the right of a customized art piece created and given by Amy Wald. Standing to their left are last year’s award recipients, Russ Pitts and Lynn Carnes. Photo by Bruce Godzik

Recently, the Hickory Nut Gorge Foundation held its 6th annual Community Impact Award Gala at the new Riverside Events Center in Lake Lure. The event brings together its Founder Circle members and friends of the Foundation to recognize and celebrate individuals and organizations that make the Gorge such a special place.

This year, the Founder’s Circle honored Barbara and Buck Meliski for over 40 years of community service to Chimney Rock Village, Lake Lure, and the wider Gorge communities.

Past recipients of the Community Impact Award include Mary Ann Ransom, Gary Wilson, Kay and Ed Dittmer, the Chimney Rock Village Community Development Association, Jim Dunn, and Lynn Carnes and Russ Pitts.

Peter O’Leary, one of the Foundation’s board members and Mayor of Chimney Rock Village gave the speech honoring Buck and Barbara. The couple was then honored with a standing ovation, and presented with a customized art sculpture created by local artist, Amy Wald. The Meliski’s also received two grants in their honor: one to the Chimney Rock Village Community Development Association and the other to the Chimney Rock Village Fire Department. The Meliski’s were instrumental in the founding and growth of both organizations, and they remain active in both.

The evening was sponsored by Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park, Bubba O’Leary’s General Store & Outfitters, the Esmeralda Inn, WriterWorks Communication Strategies, Mystic Waters and Creative Spirits Unleased, Nordberg Investment Services, and Defiant Whiskey.

About the HNG Foundation:

In the public annual ceremony of honoring the character and accomplishments of people like the Meliskis, the Foundation is able to demonstrate its mission in clear terms.

The Foundation exists for the purpose of providing people with a way of leaving a lasting legacy to protect and enrich the Gorge by “Giving beyond the Horizon.”

For those who are less familiar with the Foundation, it does not operate in the same manner as other charitable organizations in the Gorge. Rather than being dedicated to a single cause, the Foundation is able to provide support to a wide variety of causes in the Gorge communities through its Endowment Fund. Having this endowment fund means that the Foundation is not dependent on raising money for each project or initiative, rather the endowment generates a consistent and growing income which is then be distributed through multiple grants during the year delivering to community organizations a meaningful impact now, later and forever. The Foundation’s endowment fund has grown to over $130,000 from both the general growth in the market and the continued growth in the Founder’s Circle membership – now at over 60 donors.

Becoming a Founder’s Circle member means that these donors have pledged $250 each year for ten years directly to the endowment fund. They understand that their entire contribution goes to growing the endowment and that all Foundation expenses are raised separately. During the recent Community Impact Awards Gala, three couples joined the Founder’s Circle. For a complete list of our Founder’s Circle members visit

If you’re interested in learning more about the Foundation and its impact on the Gorge community and how you can support those efforts, simply visit the Foundation’s website,