On a recent visit to Virginia I drove a stretch of the 330-mile long Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail through the mountains of Southwest Virginia.
The Cherokee National Forest includes the state lines of Tennessee and Virginia and offers one stop shopping for outdoor activities from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to a 150-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail. Mountains meandering through lush forests are excellent for trekking and mountain biking. Pristine lakes, streams and rivers provide opportunities for water activities, most of which depart from the Ocoee Whitewater Center.
Two hours north of Cherokee is Bristol, a town divided with Virginia on one side of Main Street and Tennessee on the other. The state line runs down the middle.
Country music devotees know Bristol as the Birthplace of Country Music, officially designated so in 1998 by an Act of Congress. In 1927 the first national recordings of the Carter Family – A.P., Sara and Maybelle – were made here for the Victor Talking Machine Company.
At the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, visitors get a deeper appreciation of the history of heritage music through exhibits of instruments and memorabilia that belonged to country music stars such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Carter Family.
The town’s other claim to fame is NASCAR racing. How big a spectator sport is it? The Bristol Motor Speedway seats 200,000. How popular is it? People book tickets a year in advance.
With its idyllic mountainous location, Bristol offers miles of trails for walking and numerous lakes and streams for fishing. Spelunkers explore the Bristol and Appalachian Caverns, determined by geologists to be millions of years old.
And I had to visit the Carter Family Fold. I had heard great things about it and was not disappointed. The site is dedicated to the Carter family and on the grounds are the boyhood cabin of A.P., a museum with family photos and instruments and the Carter Music Center, where you can clog dance to live music every weekend.
Nearby, the quaint town of Abingdon is a walkers’ paradise with shady streets with shops, museums, historic buildings, theaters and restaurants lined up cheek-by-jowl.
The Barter Theater, built in 1832 as a Presbyterian church, became a theater in 1933. The name comes from the Great Depression era when people didn’t have money for the price of a ticket (40 cents). The theater’s founder, Robert Porterfield, allowed them to barter with livestock and food stuffs. Today, the Barter is the longest running professional theater in America.
The William King Museum of Art, hosts changing exhibits by local artists detailing the history of the region.
The center for the area’s arts and crafts movement here is the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace. In this 30,000 square foot building two hundred textile, jewelry, pottery, metal and woodwork artisans sell their creations. Another venue, the Arts Depot offers art on a smaller scale with seven resident artisans creating and selling oil paintings, jewelry and hand woven tapestries.
Abingdon is the trailhead for the Virginia Creeper Trail, a former railroad track bed that stretches 34 miles through pastures, trestles and estuaries.
Bristol and Abingdon are just a sampling for what awaits visitors to Southwest Virginia, an area rich in music, history, outdoor venues and culture