- October 11, 2021 |
The seat of Haywood County, Waynesville, sits at the Gateway to the Smokies. It is surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest and skirted by the Blue Ridge Parkway. Needless to say, if you are up for adventure, this small town is close to it all, even if your definition of adventure means exploring art galleries, enjoying tasty cuisine, or sampling local brews.
In the 1940s, Waynesville had a large banner spanning Main Street pointing visitors to the eastern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can take your picture under a similar sign today at a pocket park at the intersection of Depot Street and Main.
This time of year, people venture to the nearby Cataloochee Valley to hear the elk. It’s rutting season, so male elk are in search of mates. They serenade the females with an eerie sound that National Geographic has determined sounds like the Ringwraiths in Lord of the Rings. It is actually two sounds produced at the same time – a low roar that is overshadowed by a high screech. While it’s difficult to describe, it is both haunting and magical to hear. The best time to hear – and see – elk is early in the morning or around sunset in the evening.
Elk in North Carolina were extinct since the late 1700s, and the last elk in Tennessee was killed in the 1860s. This larger member of the deer family was reintroduced to Cataloochee in the early 2000s. Twenty-five animals were brought to the valley in 2001, with another 27 the following year. This is one of the most successful animal reintroductions into an area in the United States. It is thought that more than 200 elk now roam the woods. Furthermore, it is also speculated that these elk, which are of Manitoban subspecies, are much like the original species that used to range the Smokies in numbers rivaling buffalo.
Waynesville is a haven for artists. If you happen to be in downtown on a First Friday night from May until December, you’ll notice balloons and banners on the sidewalks denoting open studios and shops with artist demonstrations. (Art After Dark events are currently paused.) Teresa Pennington is one of the best known. Her studio is just a short walk down Main Street from the Mast Store. Known as the “artist of the Blue Ridge,” she uses colored pencils to capture broad views of ridges rippling off into the distance, cozy cabins surrounded by snow, and local flora and fauna.
Be sure to drop in Gallery 86 to see the works of local artists. This gallery is a part of the Haywood Arts Council, which organizes events, art openings, shows, and workshops for the area. This month’s show, “Bear, Elk, & Trout – Oh My!” – explores the diversity of the Southern Appalachian ecosystem. It features photography, stained glass works, and more at 86 North Main Street.
By now, you’re probably thinking, “Where’s the food?” Well, there’s plenty of it in Downtown Waynesville. We’ll first send you right across the street to Boojum Brewing. It’s been voted the Best Brewery in Haywood County for the last five years – if you love a hoppy IPA, be sure to try the Hop Fiend. There are plenty of seasonal offerings, too. As for food, you’ll find burgers, sandwiches, seafood, and steak. That’s a pretty good selection.
If you want to step it up a notch or two, try the Frog’s Leap Public House, which is located at the corner of Church and Montgomery Streets. Its menu is certainly Southern with worldly influences. Many of the dishes on their menu feature local meats and produce, and you’ll find lots of “safe” options (read steak and chicken), but there is fare to “stretch your palate,” too. Reservations are highly recommended to ensure a table is available. Images borrowed from Boojum & Frog Leap's Facebook pages.
This coming weekend, Saturday, October 16, is the Annual Apple Harvest Festival on Main Street in Waynesville. Now in its 34th year, the festival celebrates mountain apples in every way imaginable – from the fruits straight off the tree to fried apple pies, stack cakes, caramel apples, and more. Of course, there will be other festival foods to fuel the day – pork skins, funnel cake, BBQ, kettle corn, crabcakes (wait, what?), and French Macaroons, just to name a few. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to begin your holiday shopping from dozens of craft booths filled with pottery, woodcraft, jewelry, soaps, knives, quilts, and more. Fair hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Parking is available at the Courthouse garage and in surface lots on side streets.
For even more ideas to flesh out your fall getaway, go to VisitNCSmokies.com.