Celebrity Sites and Sightings Across Appalachia
Even the tough guys well up during The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks’ tear-jerking, best-selling novel that later was adapted into a blockbuster film that grossed more than $115 million worldwide. After The Notebook, Sparks wrote a string of international best-sellers, four of which were turned into films, including last year’s Nights in Rodanthe. But although the acclaimed author has become known to millions as a master of sappy romance, he is actually a pretty tough guy himself. The avid runner and weightlifter holds a track record at the University of Notre Dame, where a running scholarship paid his tuition. Last year he spread his passion for running by dishing out nearly a million dollars to build a track for a high school in his hometown of New Bern, N.C. But Sparks didn’t stop with a typical gesture of celebrity donation. He actually volunteers as a coach at New Bern High and has helped the track program become one of the most competitive in the state.
Woody & Willie Fight MTR Getting the general public to pay attention to mountaintop removal mining (MTR) in Appalachia has been a daunting task for many community groups being marginalized by its devastating effects. In 2006 the nonprofit Appalachian Voices launched ilovemountains.org, a national Internet-based campaign to end mountaintop removal and clearly map out the 470 mountains and hundreds of thousands of acres that have perished for easy access to coal. Fortunately the effort was given a big initial push by two well-known celebrities—actor Woody Harrelson and country music legend Willie Nelson.
Harrelson became concerned with mountaintop removal after attending the Hartwood Forest Council in Kentucky, where he met with local residents who are having their land, water quality, and health diminished by the improper disposal of coal slurry.
“Woody was moved when he heard these stories, so he contacted me to see what he could do to help,” says Mary Anne Hitt, the former Director of Appalachian Voices, who now runs a national coal campaign for the Sierra Club.
Harrelson recorded an interview for a short video to launch ilovemountains. His participation helped the movement attract a widespread audience and, to date, over 100,000 people have viewed the video online. To enhance the film, Nelson, another staunch advocate for an end to MTR, recorded an exclusive cover of Bob Dylan’s protest classic “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which played in the background.
Run, Andie, Run Veteran actress and Asheville, N.C., resident Andie MacDowell (a.k.a. “Rose Anderson”) ran in the 2006 Shut-In Ridge Trail Run, one of the toughest trail races in the region. The 17.8-mile race climbs 3,000 feet to Mount Pisgah along rocky, technical singletrack. Although MacDowell stopped after 10 miles, she covered some steep terrain and gained the hard-earned respect of the mountain trail running community. The Shut-In Ridge Trail Run is held on the first week of each November along the Mountains to Sea Trail between Asheville and Mount Pisgah, and the capped field of 200 runners usually fills within 24 hours.
Cash on the Mountain In the mid 70s Johnny Cash was riding an unprecedented wave of country music super stardom. In June of 1974 his performance at Grandfather Mountain’s Singing on the Mountain drew one of the largest crowds in the annual gospel festival’s history. This picture was taken by Hugh Morton, Grandfather’s longtime owner, who passed away in 2006. Morton was a well-known conservationist and photographer, who published multiple books of photos that highlighted North Carolina’s natural settings and famous faces. Before his death, Morton donated his photo archives to the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives at his alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill. The original copy of the photo, which appears in Morton’s 1998 book Making a Difference in North Carolina, was unearthed last fall from the multiple shoeboxes of pictures the archivists were given to rummage through. More gems like this will continue to surface over the next few years and be posted on the website A View to Hugh: Processing the Hugh Morton Photographs and Films (lib.unc.edu/blogs/morton/).
Mountain Lake Dries Up Mountain Lake—the small idyllic resort camp just outside of Blacksburg, Va.,—will forever be famously known as the film site for Dirty Dancing. Vestron Pictures took over the resort for three weeks in the fall of 1986 and turned Mountain Lake into the fictitious Kellerman’s Resort. Every year tourists still make the pilgrimage to the Southwestern Virginia Mountains to see where Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey showcased their acrobatic dance moves to the sappy sounds of “The Time of My Life.” The resort actually hosts a series of annual Dirty Dancing Weekends, which includes film location tours and lessons in the art of seductive swinging.
But this past year visitors were shocked when they found that Mountain Lake’s namesake had actually dried up. One of only two natural lakes in Virginia, Mountain Lake was formed 6,000 years ago out of a semi-permeable subterranean dam that resulted from a natural shift in rock formations. Groundwater from the high mountain basin is constantly flowing in and out of the lake. Due to the ongoing drought, the lake has dried up almost completely, leaving a barren bedrock expanse. Scientists believe Mountain Lake is one of a few in the world that naturally drains and refills. It could be many years before lake levels return to normal.
Bristol’s Famous Burger? In downtown Bristol—the small border city that straddles the Virginia-Tennessee line—locals will point you toward the Burger Bar for not only one of the best things on a bun but also for a taste of country music legend. There’s a well-circulated story that late country pioneer Hank Williams had his last meal at the Burger Bar before dying in a car on his way to play a New Year’s Day gig in Canton, Ohio, in 1952. A few years ago, though, a reporter from The Tennessean did some digging and found that the Burger Bar was actually a dry cleaners at the time of Williams’s fateful last road trip. Driver Charles Carr believes he and Williams did stop in Bristol for gas and a bite, but he doesn’t recall the burger joint. After realizing the ill Williams was unresponsive he stopped at a hospital in Oak Hill, West Virginia, where the country icon was pronounced dead. Current owners of the Burger Bar still play on the Williams’s legend with memorabilia of the musician on the walls and themed meat patty concoctions based on his songs.
Snowboarding Stefan Virginia homegrown mega jam rockers the Dave Matthews Band rarely tour in the winter, so band bassist Stefan Lessard has plenty of time to play in the snow. But recently the avid snowboarder was able to turn his love of gliding through powder into an appearance in Warren Miller’s ski flick, Children of Winter. In the film Lessard joins a cast that includes Olympic Gold Medalist Jonny Moseley and World Cup speedster Daron Rahlves and rides in Okemo, Vermont, with actor Jason Biggs and fellow musicians Eric Fawcett of N.E.R.D, Adam Gardner of Guster, and Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies, before the boys jam in an impromptu classic rock cover band. Frazier’s Cold Mountain The world became familiar with North Carolina’s Cold Mountain in 1997 when Asheville native Charles Frazier wrote a best-selling novel of the same name. Notoriety for the remote peak only became greater when a blockbuster movie adaptation of the book starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law came out in 2005
Though the movie was filmed mostly in Romania, the actual Cold Mountain on which the book and movie are based is located right in your Blue Ridge backyard. Cold Mountain is 40 miles southwest of Asheville in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area of Pisgah National Forest. Since Cold Mountain is designated as wilderness, it remains primitive and largely undisturbed, much as it was during the Civil War. Its wilderness status also protects it from hordes of movie-crazed tourists likely to seek out the mountain. To reach the 6,030-foot mountain summit requires a strenuous 20-mile roundtrip hike along overgrown, poorly marked trails.
Frazier continues to write about the region. In 2007 he published 13 Moons about the Cherokee Indians of Western North Carolina. An avid mountain biker, he also loves to explore the outdoors of his regional muse. He told a local newspaper that last year he rode over 1,500 miles in the Dupont State Forest and the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. •