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July 22, 2014

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Weather among top 2013 events

Officials with the town of Blowing Rock and Samaritan’s Purse gather at the former Robert and Mariam Hayes Performing Arts Center to rededicate the building on U.S. 321 as the new Samaritan’s Purse training and special events facility. File photo
Officials with the town of Blowing Rock and Samaritan’s Purse gather at the former Robert and Mariam Hayes Performing Arts Center to rededicate the building on U.S. 321 as the new Samaritan’s Purse training and special events facility. File photo
Published: 9:44 AM, 01/02/2014 Last updated: 9:51 AM, 01/02/2014

Mother Nature visited Blowing Rock several times in 2013. And, truth be told, she wasn’t in such a good mood during some of those visits.

On Monday, June 17, workers at Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway in Blowing Rock heard what they described as a large “pop.” When they looked toward the source of the sound, they witnessed a number of bushes and a concrete median being swallowed by the earth.

The cause of the commotion was a sinkhole, created, in part, by heavy summer rains. The sinkhole measured 15 feet across and 20 feet deep and temporarily closed the outlet mall.

Currently, work is still going on to repair sewer and water pipes damaged by the sinkhole and an alternate road leading to the outlet mall parking lot has been created.

Heavy rains on Sunday, July 7, caused several landslides and road washouts in the Blowing Rock area. One severe landslide occurred under Wonderland Trail between two cliffside homes overlooking John’s River Gorge. After Wonderland Trail was blocked off to traffic in the area, town officials and engineers visited the site of the damage.
The town of Blowing Rock applied for and was approved for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help repair roadways damaged by the flooding.

On Sunday, Aug. 25, a magnitude 2.9 earthquake struck two miles north-northeast of Blowing Rock and three miles south of Boone around 3:50 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The USGS said the quake originated at a depth of 5.7 miles, according to the agency’s Earthquake Hazards Program website.

Area residents in Boone, Vilas, Bethel, Meat Camp and Blowing Rock reported a sudden, abrupt shaking, as if a vehicle had collided with their buildings. Others reported hearing a loud boom, followed by the shaking.

Here are some of the other big stories that occurred in and around Blowing Rock in 2013:
The year began with another uppercut from Mother Nature after a powerful storm downed trees in the area, leaving some 10,000 Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation customers without power.
Wind gusts from the late December storm recorded by the anemometer at the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain reached a record 120.7 mph.

The 35th annual Special Olympics drew 120 athletes to Appalachian Ski Mountain in early January.
The athletes, representing communities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, competed in a variety of skiing and snowboarding competitions.

The late Hugh Morton was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in January. Morton was recognized for his sports photography, including a variety of events in the ACC and the Southern Conference.

Another powerful winter storm, this one featuring six to eight inches of wet heavy snow, hit the High Country on Jan. 17, knocking out power to some 9,000 BREMCO customers.
The Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show was honored when its 2012 event was awarded the Chapter Honor Show by the United Professional Horseman’s Association in January.

Raleigh’s Midtown Magazine’s annual reader poll voted Blowing Rock No. 1 in the category “Best Place to Go Outside Mid-town or on a Weekend Getaway.”

Blowing Rock restaurateur Jimmy Crippen announced in January his plans to close his Sunset Drive inn and restaurant to focus on the “Got to Be NC” Competition Dining Series. The series, an “Iron Chef”-style cooking competition, began at Crippen’s and has grown into a statewide competition. Cobb and Cindy Milner, owners of Bistro Roca and Gideon’s Ridge establishments, purchased the Crippen’s building and later opened the New Public House and Hotel.

At the end of January, the N.C. Department of Transportation announced that the U.S. 321 widening project in Blowing Rock was 15 percent complete and that its estimated finish date would be sometime in October 2015.

Westglow Resort and Spa was named a Top 20 small hotel in January by TripAdvisor, based on reviews and opinions on more than 650,000 hotels collected in a single year from travelers all over the world.

Blowing Rock’s annual Winterfest celebration attracted thousands of visitors to the village for wine tastings, special dinners, the Chili Challenge, Polar Plunge and more.

In February, the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority announced that 2012 revenue from occupancy tax collections had increased by 6 percent during the previous year.

Chef Adam Hayes of the Red Stag Grill in Asheville won the Asheville portion of the “Fire on the Rock” stage of the “Got to Be NC” Competition Dining Series. Hayes and his team went on to capture the state title in the chef competition.

Sunset Tees and Hattery was named Blowing Rock’s Business of the Year at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards luncheon, held in February at the Meadowbrook Inn.
A Blowing Rock man, John C. Tausche, 62, was indicted on Feb. 7 on charges of bank fraud and money laundering after allegations that he and an associate in Germany defrauded investors of more than $311 million.

In February, the Blowing Rock Police Department welcomed the newest member of its team, officer Jordan Byland from Granite Falls.

On Feb. 22, Watauga County Schools announced its list of Teachers of the Year for the 2012-2013 school year. Susan Trew was named Blowing Rock School’s Teacher of the Year.

The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum opened a new exhibit in March featuring the photographs of William “W.R.” Trivette, a traveling photographer who captured life in Appalachia during the early 1900s.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation announced in February that it had approved funds for the restoration of the Heart Pond at Bass Lake in Blowing Rock. The heart-shaped pond feeds into Bass Lake and, at one time, served as a fish hatchery for the lake.

The National Park Service announced in February that Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis would retire after 41 years of service to the NPS. Francis retired April 1.

The Blowing Rock Police Department announced in March the hiring of its newest member, officer Bobby Canter of Deep Gap.

The Blowing Rock portion of the “Fire on the Rock” chefs challenge announced its eight competitors for the Blowing Rock event. They included chefs from Jackalope’s View, the Laurel Room at the Green Park Inn, Vidalia, the Toe River Lodge, Twigs, Heirloom, the 1861 Farmhouse and Canyons of the Blue Ridge.

On March 8, about 45 people met at the Dan’l Boone Inn in Boone to hear an update from representatives of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System on the status of Appalachian Place at Chestnut Ridge, the new long-term health care facility that will replace Blowing Rock Hospital.

The town of Blowing Rock celebrated 124 years of incorporation on March 11 with a public ceremony at town hall. Four new historical markers were unveiled at the ceremony for Blowing Rock Methodist Church, the Inn at the Ragged Garden, the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum and the small building on Main Street that was the original Blowing Rock Town Hall.

A number of young professionals completed the fifth annual Blowing Rock Leadership Challenge in March, presented by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce. 2013 participants included Terri Bailey, Chris Edwards, Annette Goudeau, Harrison Herbst, Brynn Jackson, Virginia Powell, Susanna Russell, Morgan Tarbutton, Martha Watkins, Jess Wehrmann, Allison Wonsick and Lorry Mulhern.
Members of the Wounded Warrior Project of North Carolina spent a weekend in March receiving free skiing and snowboarding instruction from French Swiss Ski College at Appalachian Ski Mountain.

It was announced in March that due to the federally mandated budget cuts known as “sequestration,” the National Park Service and the Blue Ridge Parkway would cut back on its offerings in 2013.
Included in those cuts were ranger-led programs at Cone Manor, Julian Price Park and the Julian Price Amphitheater, as well as the annual Heritage Day held at Moses Cone Manor.
Loren Shealy, granddaughter of Blowing Rock residents Tom “Sonny” and Edwina Shealy, was named Sports Illustrated magazine’s female college athlete of the year in May. Loren Shealy plays field hockey for UNC-Chapel Hill.

In May, town manager Scott Hildebran  announced that he would be leaving the position to take a similar position with the city of Morganton. Hildebran served as Blowing Rock’s town manager for 10 years.

On May 31, the building that formerly housed the Robert and Mariam Hayes Performing Arts Center was rededicated as the new Samaritan’s Purse training and special events facility. Town and state officials attended the official ribbon cutting hosted by Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham.

On June 5, Wells Fargo donated $125,000 to Appalachian Regional Healthcare System toward the construction of the new long-term health care facility to be built in Blowing Rock.

The Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show opened its 90th consecutive season at the Blowing Rock Equestrian Preserve in June. It is the longest continually running horse show in the eastern United States.

The Blowing Rock Town Council voted unanimously at its June meeting to approve the proposed fiscal year budget for 2013-2014. The budget keeps the town’s property tax rate at 28 cents per $100 valuation for the eighth straight year.

Betty Pitts was named the honorary chairwoman of the 2013 Blowing Rock Hospital Fashion Show and Luncheon in June.

Blowing Rock School teachers Debra Gandy and Mary Ostwalt retired in June.

On June 30, a musical presentation at Blowing Rock Methodist Church honored the memory of Shirley “Shirl” Lowe Blackwell. Blackwell was the music director at the Farm House, a Blowing Rock restaurant that featured singing waiters and waitresses. Blackwell provided musicians to the Methodist church for more than 50 years.

During the summer, three new restaurants opened their doors in downtown Blowing Rock. The Town Tavern opened at the former location of Tijuana Fats on Main Street, the Blowing Rock Ale House opened at the former location of the Maple Lodge on Sunset Drive and the New Public House and Hotel opened at the former location of Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant on Sunset Drive.

St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church hosted the 55th annual Tour of Homes in Blowing Rock on July 26. The annual event raises tens of thousands of dollars each year for charity.

On the first day for filing for municipal elections in Watauga County, Blowing Rock Commissioner Doug Matheson filed to run for re-election, while newcomers Sue Sweeting and Ray Pickett also threw their hats into the commissioners race. Later, Commissioner Tommy Klutz would file for re-election and two other newcomers, Laurin Carter and David Barker, would file. In the Blowing Rock mayor’s race, incumbent J.B. Lawrence and town Councilman Dan Phillips filed to run. Blowing Rock Commissioner Jim Steele declined to run for re-election.

In August, Sandy Miller was named Blowing Rock’s Woman of the Year at the annual fashion show and luncheon at the Blowing Rock Country Club. Miller serves as the executive director of the Blowing Rock Community Foundation and steers its fundraising efforts for nonprofit organizations and student scholarships.
The National Park Service announced in August that Mark Woods would serve as the superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway. He replaced Phil Francis, who retired in April.

Blowing Rock’s Jamie and Bonnie Schaefer received the Wade Brown Community Recognition Award in August from the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation dedicated a new trail at Julian Price Park in August. The new trail is part of the parkway’s Kids in Parks program.

A bomb threat to Watauga County Schools led to the evacuation of all nine of the public schools in the county on Aug. 27. The threat turned out to be a hoax, but served as an opportunity early in the school year to test evacuation techniques by staff and students.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System announced in early September that the 24-hour emergency room at Blowing Rock Hospital would close on or around Oct. 1.

Construction to repair the Heart Pond at Bass Lake began in early September. The work is being undertaken by the National Park Service with funds from a Blue Ridge Parkway grant.

The first ever Blowing Rock Rotary Club auction, held at the American Legion Hall, raised $25,000 for local causes.

At the September meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council, commissioners voted 4-1 to renovate the town’s American Legion building, which is used by Boy Scout Troop 101, the Blowing Rock Historical Society and other organizations. Financing for the renovations include $142,500 from the town’s 2013-2014 budget, $142,500 from a matching grant from the state and $80,205 from other sources.

In September, Scott Fogleman was selected from more than 40 applicants to serve as Blowing Rock’s newest town manager. Fogleman relocated from Cary, where he served as the town’s budget director for 11 years.

Two longtime Blowing Rock businesses shut their doors for the final time in late September. Capel Rug Outlet on Main Street and the Moody Furniture Factory closed. The furniture factory was first opened by Charlie Moody in 1920.

The first federal government shutdown in 17 years led to the closing of several popular destinations, beginning on Oct. 1. While the Blue Ridge Parkway remained open, campgrounds, parks, gift shops and other stops were closed and a total of 195 parkway employees were furloughed during the shutdown.

During the October meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council, commissioners voted 3-2 to amend the town code to comply with new state regulations and allow conceal-carry permit owners the right to carry guns into Blowing Rock Memorial Park.

In October, the N.C. Department of Commerce confirmed the state’s plans to honor a $585,495 Rural Center grant to Blowing Rock.

The grant will help fund the costs of water and sewer infrastructure for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s new Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock facility.

In October, the Blowing Rock Community Foundation announced the receipt of a $750,000 gift from the estate of Dan and Jane Wolfe. The gift will enable the BRCF to establish three new scholarships for local students.

Watauga County students ranked second in the state in SAT scores and third in ACT scores, according to school system data released in October.

In November, voters re-elected Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence by a decisive margin, as he defeated challenger Dan Phillips 452 to 160.

The three open town council seats were won by Doug Matheson (425 votes), Sue Sweeting (410) and Ray Pickett (279).

Sixty six of North Carolina’s 100 sheriffs converged on Blowing Rock in early November for the fall meeting of the N.C. Sheriffs Association.
Legendary Blowing Rock High School and Watauga High School coach Carter Lentz died at the age of 88 on Nov. 12. Lentz, a member of the Watauga County Sports Hall of Fame since 2004, was the head basketball coach at Blowing Rock High School from 1949 until 1965 and at Watauga High School from 1965 to 1980.

In November, staff from the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum transported Elliott Daingerfield’s painting “Madonna of the Hills” from St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church to the museum for temporary storage while the church undergoes remodeling.

New Blue Ridge Parkway superintendent Mark Woods met with the public at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum on Dec. 5.

It was his first visit to Blowing Rock since becoming superintendent late last summer.

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence was sworn into office by town clerk Sharon Greene. Afterward, Lawrence had newly elected town Commissioners Ray Pickett, Doug Matheson and Sue Sweeting take the oath of office.

Before the town council meeting commenced, outgoing Commissioners Jim Steele and Tommy Klutz were honored for their service to the town.

During a special meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council in December, commissioners voted unanimously to upgrade all of the fencing that will sit atop retaining walls on the U.S. 321 widening project to high-grade black aluminum fencing.

 They also approved special pedestrian lighting that will go on one side of the new four-lane highway from the Green Park Inn to the intersection at Main Street, and both sides of Valley Boulevard from the Broyhill Furniture Showroom to the Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway.
A prescribed burn in the Thunderhole area of the Globe area sent plumes of smoke up into Blowing Rock on Dec. 19.

The burn was conducted by the U.S. Forest Service in the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest to get rid of excess dry debris that had become a fire hazard.

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