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Blue Ridge Heritage Trail Becomes a Reality

A long-range vision for a regional interpretive trail for Western North Carolina has come to fruition with the installation of 69 signs throughout the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area footprint. Called the Blue Ridge Heritage Trail, the program provides wayside interpretive signs at cultural and natural heritage sites and attractions. In addition, five interactive kiosks have been installed in NC Welcome Centers at interstate entrances to the region. A large map brochure and website round out the program to achieve maximum promotion to visitors and residents.

“The trail is a collection of special places throughout the North Carolina mountains and foothills that embody the remarkable history and culture of our region,” said Angie Chandler, Executive Director of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership. “These sites define the national significance of our region and are the cornerstone of why Western North Carolina was designated a National Heritage Area.”

“Traversing 27 Western North Carolina counties, the Blue Ridge Heritage Trail offers an opportunity to expose visitors to well-known sites as well as some they may not be aware of,” added Chandler. “The goal is to help visitors extend their stays, spend more dollars in Western North Carolina and support our regional economy.”

“The Trail is not a ‘Point A to Point B’ trail, but rather many stops throughout the region,” stated Melinda Massey, coordinator of the project. “Folks can enjoy a single stop or piece together several sites by theme or locality.” QR codes on each sign will enable visitors with smart phones to locate other nearby sites. GPS technology on the mobile website and at the kiosks in the Welcome Centers will allow visitors the same opportunity as well as to learn more information about the site and the nearby community.

The Signs

The signs are located along main walkways at historic, natural and scenic sites, attractions, towns and cities, in some state parks, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and at five NC Welcome Centers within the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Words and photographs tell an illuminating story about each site and illustrate many aspects of the region’s natural and cultural heritage including that of the Cherokee, traditional music, agriculture, and craft. The panels are 3′ x 2′, displayed on frames fabricated to NPS standards.

The first sign, shown right, was installed in the rain at the Historic Johnson Farm in Hendersonville, but the weather didn’t dampen the excitement of seeing their sign go into the ground.

The Kiosks

The five interactive kiosks are an addition to the original program. They will greet visitors who stop by the North Carolina Welcome Centers located at I-40 W, I-26 E, I-26 W, I-85 S, and I-77 N. A large screen invites people to find the site locations by both description and a map. There is also access to three external websites, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, Blue Ridge Music Trails, and VisitNC. (Other internet access is prohibited.)

“The new kiosks give our travel counselors another valuable tool to use to share North Carolina’s story with visitors,” said Bryan Gupton, Director of Visitor Services for the North Carolina Department of Commerce. “Our visitors love the new technology, and we’re proud to work with the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area to implement this project.” These five centers greet about three million visitors annually.

The Map Brochure

A large map brochure is available for download on the new Blue Ridge Heritage Trail website. 140,000 copies are being distributed through the five NC Welcome Centers as well as other visitor centers and partner locations throughout the region.

The Website

BlueRidgeHeritageTrail.com offers visitors the opportunity to learn more about each site on their individual pages. When fully developed each page will contain more of the story of the site, more photos, Quick Facts, full contact information, and indicate three other nearby sites.

The Project

The project is an initiative of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership and was made possible thanks to Federal Highway Transportation Enhancement funding administered through the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and Haywood County, NC, with support from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. An official ceremony celebrating the completion of the project will be held in early 2016.

Our Thanks

We would like to thank Betty Huskins with Ridgetop Associates and Marketing Director of Smoky Mountain Host for her vision and hard work in developing the original concept and grant application for the Blue Ridge Heritage Trail that made this program possible.

We also thank Glen Locascio, Rural Economic Development Division Western Office, NC Department of Commerce, for GIS assistance, and Charles D. Owen III, for excellent warehouse storage service at Fletcher Warehousing Company.

And thanks to our signage partners, who stayed the course and made this vision a reality:

  • Benjamin F. Long Fresco Trail
  • Bethel Rural Community Organization
  • Biltmore Estate
  • Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Bostic Lincoln Center
  • Burke County TDA
  • Center for Craft, Creativity and Design
  • Cherokee Historical Association
  • Cherokee Preservation Foundation
  • Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park
  • City of Lenoir
  • City of Saluda
  • Clay County Historical & Arts Council
  • Cradle of Forestry
  • Destination Cleveland County
  • Exploring Joara Foundation
  • Folk Heritage Committee
  • Frankllin/Nantahala TDC
  • Gardens of the Blue Ridge
  • Grandfather Mountain
  • Haywood County Arts Council
  • Hickory Nut Gorge
  • Historic Carson House
  • Historic Johnson Farm
  • Jackson County Parks and Recreation
  • John C. Campbell Folk School
  • Linville Caverns
  • Mars Hill University
  • Mast Farm Inn
  • Mast General Store
  • McDowell County TDA
  • Mill Spring Agriculture Development Center
  • Mount Mitchell State Park
  • Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts
  • Museum of the Cherokee Indian
  • Nantahala Outdoor Center
  • North Carolina Tourism
  • North Carolina Bartram Trail
  • Pearson’s Falls
  • Qualla Arts & Crafts
  • Rutherford County TDA
  • South Mountains State Park
  • Southern Appalachian Historical Association
  • Surry County Arts Council
  • The North Carolina Arboretum
  • Thomas Wolfe Memorial
  • Town of Fletcher
  • Town of Hot Springs
  • Town of Sparta
  • Tweetsie Railroad
  • Valley Town Arts and Cultural Association
  • Waldensian Museum
  • Wilkes Heritage Museum