by Jean Gordon

These beautiful days in the mountains of western North Carolina are priceless. The colors of fall bring tourists by the thousands to the foothills of some of the most beautiful mountains in the country. 

Those of us who live here in Rutherford County are beyond blessed to live in the mountains towering above Lake Lure, Chimney Rock and Golden Valley. To be in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountain is beyond description when fall season arrives.  The changes in leaf color, the various sizes and colors of pumpkins along road side stands and the smell of molasses making at a mill up in Bill’s Creek, are reminders of fabulous treasures.

Here in Rutherford County, we can access the Blue Ridge Parkway in less than an hour. The parkway, by the way, is America’s longest linear park running 469 miles through 29 counties in Virginia and North Carolina. The Parkway has been the most visited of the National Park system every year since 1946 except three years.

I love the Parkway and visited there again last August with family from Reno, Nevada. Out West there’s mostly sage brush and desert so to experience the Blue Ridge Mountains with them is a little bit of heaven on earth.

The Blue Ridge offers so many roadside stands, picnic tables, mountain streams and beauty not seen everywhere.

Just beyond the borders of the Blue Ridge Parkway lie the Great Smoky Mountains, that provide memorable times any season of the year, but especially in the fall.The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park and is almost within shouting distance.

My first encounter with a real black bear was in the Smokies at Smokemont Campground when one wandered into our campsite one night after our family had gone to bed. We spotted him near the trash cans in search of his dinner.

We found ourselves in numerous bear jams in the National Park as traffic could be backed up as far as one could see. The black bears were the culprit of the traffic snarl. Often we’d see an entire family as it came down the mountain and crossed the road.

A trip near the Pioneer Museum outside of Cherokee offered another kind of traffic jam a couple of years ago. With traffic at a halt, Park Rangers directed numerous beautiful elk slowly making their way across the road to a nearby field.

When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park turned 75th in 2008, Dolly Parton served as its celebrity ambassador for a year. The kick off celebration was held on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. Hundreds, including the governors of both states, attended the event.

To commemorate the anniversary, Parton unveiled a new song CD, “Sha-Kon-O-Hey,”  (land of blue smoke) that captured the spirit of the mountains and its rich heritage. When I listen to the CD, it’s as though I’m in the Smokies.

Spending time in the Smokies was a huge part of my childhood. We often visited the Pioneer Farm where my daddy would name every piece of antique farm equipment and structure there.  We climbed to the top of Clingman’s Dome on more than one occasion and hiked the trails. 

The mountains of the Blue Ridge and Smokies could be calling the leaf watchers these days. Remember, these routes are reserved for those traveling a slower pace. There is no traveling above 35 MPH on most of the roads. They were built for sightseeing and making lifelong memories.

America’s National Park Service turned 100 years old on Aug. 25, 2016 and on that day, celebrations began as people gathered at Parks across America to kick off the second century of stewardship of the national parks across America.

Three years have passed since the centennial celebration.

Without the conservation and stewardship of people across Rutherford County, the state and nation, there would be no national parks.

So in these autumn days as we experience the beauty of the earth around us, shouldn’t we continue to do our part to keep the mountains, rivers and flatlands available for those who will travel these roads for the next 100 years?

Enjoy one of the most beautiful seasons in this part of the world. Drive a little slower, take time to smell campfires, dip a sugar cane into a molasses pot, hike the trails, buy a pumpkin and make lots of pictures. You’ll be glad you did.