Easy Escapes | Burke County, N.C., has something for everyone

For The Sun NewsNovember 1, 2013 

Whether you want to go to the top of a towering mountain, deep into a river gorge or all around town, Morganton and Burke County offer the perfect settings and opportunities. The county seat and largest town of Burke County, Morganton is situated in the North Carolina foothills, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One of the most beautiful counties in the Southeast, the area has bragging rights on Linville Gorge – often called the Grand Canyon of the East – the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi; the 18,000 acre South Mountains State Park, the largest state park in North Carolina; two of the state’s most recognizable mountains – Hawksbill and Table Rock; and the picturesque Lake James with its 700-foot public swimming beach at Paddy’s Creek. Nearly one-third of Burke County is enveloped by Pisgah National Forest.

Dubbed “nature’s playground,” the area offers tremendous access to the outdoors. Whatever your destination, there is a way to get there – by car, foot, bike, boat or horseback – and getting there is accompanied by amazing views and outdoor adventure.

While Burke County is a hiker’s paradise, sometimes you just want to fly. Beanstalk Zip Lines, located in the popular Catawba Meadow Park, provides that opportunity along with a 32-foot climbing tower and an adventure playground. Beanstalk’s main feature is the zip-line journey that connects 15 islands in the sky via a series of zip lines and sky bridges. The islands range in height from 20 feet to 60 feet, creating the feel of a life-size Ewok village. The gravity breaking system is engineered for safety and allows children as young as 4 to participate.

If floating and paddling are more your speed, the Catawba River awaits. Stop by The Outpost in Morganton to get outfitted for your trip.

Mystery lovers will want to pursue the elusive Brown Mountain Lights. On a clear night, take up watch from one of three overlook spots that provide a view of the lights that appear at irregular intervals. Though many theories have been offered, no one really knows what causes these lights, first noted in 1771 by Gerard De Brahm, a German engineer.

Morganton is a friendly city where residents like to come out, greet and mingle with each other. Numerous festivals, including the well-known Red White and Bluegrass Festival, gatherings on the historic Burke County Courthouse square, and the outdoor concert series offer music, food and fun for the entire family. Visitors, sometimes in the thousands, are always part of the mix. Shops, restaurants and even a brewery make up the thriving downtown.

As compelling as the outdoor activities are, don’t wait for a rainy day to take in the cultural and artistic offerings. The city’s auditorium is a frequent venue for performances, concerts and plays. It also has a magnificent piece of the Benjamin F. Long, IV’s “Fresco Trail.” Fresco is the medium that Michelangelo used when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Long’s mastery of the fresco technique has led to worldwide commissions. His work is presented at several sites in western North Carolina.

Followers of history will appreciate that Burke County contains the site of Fort San Juan, the oldest European settlement in North America, and will be fascinated by the historical use of Table Rock Mountain as the mystic alter for sacred ceremonies by the Cherokee Indians.

The Burke County palate is increasingly sophisticated. Root & Vine Restaurant is raising the culinary bar in the area with its commitment to fresh ingredients and creative menus. Enjoy lunch or dinner on the lovely outdoor terrace.

Burke County’s newest winery, Silver Fork Winery, is situated on 32 acres at the confluence of Silver Creek and White Fork Creek. It features an upscale, rustic tasting room and a lineup of seven varietals. Most popular so far have been the oak-aged Reserve Chardonnay and the Four Dog Red blended table wine. For more information, visit www.silverforkwinery.com/events.

Upcoming events

• “Songs About Burke” CD Release Party/Concert with The Erstwhile Ramblers, Old Rock School, Valdese, 7p.m., October 25: An idea from Burke County tourism director Ed Phillips, the CD features 12 songs about the people, places and history of Burke County, all recorded by The Erstwhile Ramblers. Songs cover such topics at the Brown Mountain Lights, Senator Sam Ervin and the Brindletown Gold Rush. The concert takes place in the refurbished auditorium of the Old Rock School. Tickets $12. To purchase tickets or for more information, call 828-879-2126.

• Christmas In November Craft and Gift Show, Old Rock School, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Nov. 9: Sponsored by the Historic Valdese Foundation located in the Old Rock School. Over 30 handmade craft vendors will display and sell their products during this one day event.

• Trail of Faith’s annual Christmas Lights Display, Valdese, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Nov. 26-Dec. 24: More than 100,000 lights illuminate the 11-acre open-air exhibit that is the Trail of Faith. The drive-through display is open nightly There is no cost to view lights; however, donations are accepted. For information, call the Valdese tourism office at 828-879-2126.

For information on these and other events, visit www.discoverburkecounty.com or call 828-433-6793.

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