Regional Happenings

Because schedules continue to change as the pandemic persists, this issue’s Regional Happenings cover winter family fun opportunities available throughout the season. Be sure to check with each establishment for COVID protocols, reservation requirements, special events, and more.

Ashe County

Winter at the Movies!

From the earliest days of film, West Jefferson, NC, provided venues for local residents to enjoy the moving pictures being produced in Hollywood. In 1938, West Jefferson opened its newest of several theaters, the Parkway Theater. The Parkway featured all the amenities of a modern movie house, and the eye-catching art deco architecture set the new building apart from other buildings on the block. Ten years later, the Parkway Theater relocated to a larger space in an adjacent building at 10 East Main Street in downtown West Jefferson, where it remains today, retaining the same charm and classic mid-century look and feel.

Independently owned and operated, the Parkway shows current and recent popular films—at “retro” prices—using state-of-the-art digital projectors and sound. Both matinee and evening shows take place seven days a week, with movie prices ranging from $5-$6, and snacks ranging from $2-$6. The Parkway offers a film selection to suit the entire family. Following are just some of the new titles coming to the Parkway this winter and early spring:

  • Wonder Woman 1984
  • No Time to Die (the latest James Bond film)
  • Soul
  • Fast & Furious 10
  • Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
  • Cinderella: A modern musical version
  • Tom and Jerry (cartoon)

Visit http://parkwaytheater.net for up-to-date movie listings and times. You can also find the Parkway Theater on Facebook. Due to COVID, show times and titles are subject to change.

Before or after your movie, be sure to explore the rest of the West Jefferson Historic District. A must-see stop is the Ashe County Arts Council and Arts Center, located in a beautiful stone building constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s. The Ashe Arts Center houses The Gallery, a year-round exhibition space that showcases works of art by local and regional artists. The Gallery Shop features locally produced art and crafts. Every year, the Ashe County Arts Council sponsors a number of popular community events. Visit https://ashecountyarts.org/ for all the latest updates.

Avery County

A Woolly Worm’s Winter Forecast

Before hitting all the “happenings” this winter, you might want to check the forecast—the woolly worm forecast, that is!

The 43rd annual Woolly Worm Festival may have been canceled due to COVID-19, but you can’t keep a good worm down. Previously scheduled for October 17-18, 2020, the festival did not get to welcome the approximately 20,000 attendees who visit Banner Elk in Avery County each year to witness a big prediction from the smallest of prognosticators.

During the festival, woolly worms are raced in a series of heats, with the champion given the honor of delivering the winter forecast. According to legend, the color bands on a woolly worm can help predict the severity of winter. Last Oct. 17, the Avery County Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk (both organizers of the annual landmark event) hosted a private race between their less-than-featherweight contenders—the Chamber Charger and the Kiwanis Kicker—at Holston Presbytery Camp in Banner Elk.

Overseen by perennial woolly worm interpreter Tommy Burleson, the race saw the Chamber Charger win by a matter of inches. Burleson, in turn, examined Charger’s 13 segments, with each segment representing a week of winter. According to Charger’s color patterns, the 2020-2021 winter prognostication is as follows:

  • With the Chamber Charger’s first four segments being black, the first four weeks of winter could see snow and below average temperatures, with the average winter temperature being 27°F.
  • The next three bands are dark brown, meaning average normal temperatures for the following three weeks.
  • A one-week fleck indicates below-average temperatures, with frost and a little snow.
  • Two additional dark brown segments suggest average normal temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Another one-week fleck suggests below average temperatures with frost and minor snow.
  • The last two weeks showed black, meaning snow and below average temperatures.

Stay warm, and start thinking about the 2021 Woolly Worm Festival! Visit www.woollyworm.com, or call the Avery County Chamber of Commerce at (828) 898-5605.

Celebrate on the Slopes of Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain

In addition to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the region, both Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain offer a variety of winter fun! Families can partake in tubing and ice skating at both resorts throughout the winter. “Not a skier, no problem,” says Talia Freeman of Beech Mountain Resort. “Our village has an abundance of amenities for the non-skier. We offer tubing, ice skating, Camp Coffee Roasters, shopping, and a brewery and restaurant. The Lodge offers a great view of the slopes and has a full restaurant and bar.”

As in past years, both Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain will ring in the new year with fireworks, live music, and a variety of entertainment for the family. For more information, visit www.skisugar.com and www.skibeech.com.

If sledding is your thing, head up to the Town of Beech Mountain, next to Fred’s General Mercantile, and enjoy a free sledding hill sponsored by the town. Enjoy a delicious deli lunch at Fred’s then go out and play! Fred’s also sells sleds and warm clothing for the whole family.

Warm up in the Caverns

Linville Caverns is an underground set of caverns perfect for a winter day visit. Temperatures stay at an even 52 degrees year round. Each trip runs 45 minutes to an hour with a knowledgeable guide. Add a visit to Famous Louise’s Rockhouse Restaurant close to the caverns and eat in three different High Country counties. Nearby Linville Falls Winery has an indoor tasting room, or stop and hike to Linville Falls and enjoy one of the High Country’s most iconic waterfalls. www.linvillecaverns.com.

Watauga County

Blowing Rock’s Winterfest

This year, WinterFest lovers will not be able to gather around one table for WinterFeast, or say “Cheers!” in a chilly Beer Garden as in past years. However, you can still celebrate the fun side of winter January 28-31. Feast all weekend long at your favorite Blowing Rock restaurants, shop winter fashions on Main Street, enjoy an evening ice stroll and more! You’ll find more information and updates on all the WinterFest opportunities at  https://blowingrockwinterfest.com.

Up on App Ski Mountain

App Ski Mtn joins the other High Country ski resorts in ringing in 2021with fireworks and more! Throughout the season, enjoy the best of skiing and snowboarding, and lace up those skates at Appalachian’s ice rink, situated with the ski slopes on one side and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the other. Visit appskimtn.com for updates on conditions, to book slopeside lodging, and to plan a winter escape to remember.

Gem Mining in Blowing Rock  

Most of the local gem mines in the High Country have an indoor area for mining. Doc’s Rocks in Blowing Rock has the largest indoor flume where families can pan for treasures. “Our flume is open seven days a week with the exception of Christmas,” says Hunter Gavaghan. “Not only do families enjoy the fun of gem mining, but our staff also educates about geology, especially North Carolina geology.” Along with gem mining, tour the Appalachian Geology Museum and have a cup of steaming coffee at the facility’s coffee shop. Visit docsrocks.org.

Wilkes County

Looking Forward to MerleFest 2021

Plotting for the future has become a fun and healthy pastime for all of us who, due to COVID, missed our favorite annual events and outdoor festivals in 2020. One of the most popular festivals in our region, MerleFest, has come up with a plan to ensure that you “see everyone in 2021!” Rather than taking place in April, as in past years, MerleFest organizers have set the 2021 festival date to September 16-19. And since its popularity has grown exponentially in recent years, planning far in advance makes a lot of sense.

MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College and to celebrate ‘traditional plus’ music. The popular festival honors the musical excellence of both father, Doc Watson, and son Merle, two names forever inscribed in High Mountain history.

The 2021 festival takes place at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC, so be sure to save the date! Visit MerleFest.org to see the festival’s lineup, purchase advance tickets, express interest in volunteering, and see highlights from past festivals.

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Add to Your Winter Calendar

Many seasonal events will likely take place here in the High Country throughout the winter season. Some of the best resources for checking event listings, updates and changes are our local Chambers of Commerce and Tourism Development Associations. Be sure to check out the following websites before planning your visit to take advantage of all that our region has to offer.

Ashe County Chamber of Commerce: https://ashechamber.com

Avery County Chamber of Commerce: https://averycounty.com

Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce: https://www.bannerelk.org

Beech Mountain TDA: https://beechmtn.com

Boone Chamber of Commerce: https://www.boonechamber.com

Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce: https://blowingrockncchamber.com/home

Burke County Chamber of Commerce: http://burkecountychamber.org

Burnsville-Yancey Chamber of Commerce: https://www.yanceychamber.com

Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce: https://www.caldwellchambernc.com

Johnson County, TN Chamber of Commerce: http://www.johnsoncountytnchamber.org

Washington County, VA Chamber of Commerce: http://www.washingtonvachamber.org

Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce: https://www.wilkeschamber.com

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