Hobnob at Elk Knob
You can't put a price on community.
Unless, of course, it's a potluck, and Patsy Eller's homemade blueberry pie is involved.
To event organizer Tommy Walsh, that's a fair price to pay.
But the potluck's only an appetizer, as it were, for a day full of music, fellowship, crafts, history and community, as the sixth annual Elk Knob Community Day returns to Elk Knob State Park this Saturday, Sept. 11.
It's a day that celebrates community, its origins dating back to the '30s and '40s, when members of the Meat Camp and Pottertown communities would gather for a picnic. Nowadays, everyone's invited from Watauga's surrounding communities to learn about their neighbors and some local history, while enjoying old-time crafts and some good-time fun.
"We just want to help folks get together out there," Walsh said.
The community day makes getting together seem like a walk in the park - literally, with guided hikes up to Elk Knob's summit, led by N.C. park rangers.
Demonstrations and craftwork activities include corn-shuck dolls by Susan Hazelwood and Joyce Mitchell, chair caning by Johnny and Leonard Greer, quilting by Evelina Idol and Geneva Roark, yarn-spinning by Jane Plaugher and apple cider and apple butter making by Barbara Wilson.
Walsh also promises a grist mill demonstration by Mack Hodges and Morris Critcher, horse-drawn wagon rides, and old-timey children's games, courtesy of Tyler Winkler.
"All the best attributes of the High Country's history are showcased here," student organizer Willard Watson said.
Not only are they showcased, but they're also preserved. Since the community day returned six years ago, Appalachian State University's Appalachian Studies Program has been recording oral history from Meat Camp and Pottertown residents to paint a vivid picture of life near Elk Knob throughout the past century.
Under the tutelage of Dr. Pat Beaver, Appalachian Studies students will return this year to present their accumulated history, while collecting more. If a community member has a story to tell, they'll record it.
"If you come up and have a story to tell about your family, there will be someone to record it," Watson said.
The same goes for photographs, which can be scanned and digitally preserved for posterity. As Walsh said, it's about getting together and celebrating community - old and new.
"But it's more than just a community event," Elk Knob State Park superintendent Larry Trivette said. "It's become regional, with people from Ashe, Avery, Watauga, Wilkes and Iredell counties coming out. It's just a very laid-back event, which brings a lot of support out to the park."
It also brings music, this year's from the Dollar Boys, Maggie Idol, The Lost Faculties, Swing Guitars, the Forget-Me-Nots, the Appalachian Rhythm Cloggers and the Appalachian Studies String Band.
And, of course, there's the covered-dish potluck, starting at noon.
"Everybody bring a dish if you've got one," Walsh said. "You're good if you do, and you're good if you don't."
The sixth annual Elk Knob Headwaters Community Day runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11. To get there, take N.C. 194 north from Boone and turn left on Meat Camp Road. Travel 5.5 miles until you reach Elk Knob State Park. The entrance is on the right, and there will be plenty of signage.
The event is sponsored by Elk Knob Community Heritage Organization Inc.
About Elk Knob
With an elevation of more than 5,500 feet, Elk Knob has the distinction of being the second highest peak in Watauga County.
The cold climate brought on by this altitude helps the mountain serve as a "southern repository" for a variety of plant species commonly found in the northern United States and Canada.
Though always a staple in the surrounding communities, the mountain itself became a state natural area in 2003, Trivette said, with the area achieving state park status in 2006-07. With land purchases still under way, the park now encompasses 3,200 acres.
In turn, park attendance has increased dramatically - at least 100 percent from last year, Trivette said.
"Even during winter, when we had so much snow up here, there were many people coming to hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski," he said.
Since the park's inception, volunteers have been blazing a trail to Elk Knob's summit - an approximate 2-mile hike, 1.78 miles of which have been completed. The remaining .22 miles consist of a steeply graded logging road, but that didn't stop the 2,300 visitors who traversed the trail in May, Trivette said. And for the July 4 weekend, the trail log showed visitors representing nine different states.
Weather permitting, volunteer trail days take place every Saturday from 9 a.m. till dusk. Trivette expects the trail to be completed by next spring.
Camping is not yet permitted, but Trivette and company are working with the state to acquire funding and approval for backcountry campsites, as well as a picnic shelter to accompany the already established picnic sites located throughout.
Though the park is a work in progress, it's already gained national popularity through Coca-Cola's Live Positively contest, in which people could vote for their favorite park, with $100,000 going to the winner.
Elk Knob State Park was ranked eighth in the running, among such heavy hitters as Yellowstone and Yosemite. The Great Smoky Mountains were ranked second.
What makes Elk Knob so popular?
"Certainly the trail and the views," Trivette said. "It's still a very natural area, and I think people appreciate that. It doesn't have all the facilities yet that bigger parks do, and I think that appeals to a certain type of person."
For more information on Elk Knob State Park, or to volunteer on trail days, call (828) 297-7261.