In the bluegrass world, it doesn’t get much bigger than Rob Ickes.
Fifteen-time “Dobro Player of the Year” by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), Ickes was a founding member of Blue Highway, a group as innovative to the genre as they were successful.
If you want to understand the history of bluegrass music, you need to look at its entire spectrum — of sound, of intent — as one large tree. With the deep, sturdy roots that are Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Dr. Ralph Stanley, and so on, the trunk is the culmination of those roots, with each growing branch another avenue of creative possibility and sonic exploration.
He was beloved by all who knew him. Richard Coker embodied the spirit of Appalachia. As a co-owner of the Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley, his warmth and hospitality radiated from the top of the mountain and shined brightly to anyone lucky enough to see his light.
“Let’s go back to the 1930s,” said Judy Coker.
Standing underneath a large manmade birch tent in the backwoods of the Cataloochee Ranch last Friday evening, Coker welcomed around 40 people — friends, family and visitors alike — to partake in their inaugural Way Back When dinner.
Standing atop the 5,000-foot Cataloochee Ranch mountain retreat in Maggie Valley, the vastness and endless beauty of Western North Carolina stretches out before your eyes. Heading towards the main building, you reach for the doorknob and enter eagerly. Soon, your body, mind and soul are soaked by the sounds of friends, strangers and old-time string music.
Editor’s note: Alice Aumen has been a major voice in Haywood’s tourism landscape for more than half a century — as a founder of Cataloochee Ski Area, operator of the third-generation family-run Cataloochee Ranch and a leader in the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Exiting your vehicle at Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley, a cold, late fall wind hits you in the face like a frying pan. Standing atop the 5,000-foot mountain retreat, the vastness and endless beauty of Western North Carolina lies below. Heading towards the main building, you reach for the doorknob and enter eagerly. Soon, your body, mind and soul thaw to the sounds of friends, strangers and old-time string music.
“It’s just a different feeling up here; everybody is excited to be part of this,” said Billie Smith, event planner at Cataloochee. “We really open our arms to local musicians and folks from everywhere to come and join in.”
In contrast to its peaceful and stunning high-mountain setting, Maggie Valley’s Cataloochee Ranch has been at the forefront of a battle — a battle to restore the American chestnut, the iconic Appalachian tree devastated by blight in the mid-20th century. In 2007, working in partnership with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), Cataloochee Ranch became the host site of a test orchard of potentially blight-resistant American Chestnut trees, and starting this week, they will open this orchard to the public for tours.
Come celebrate the return of the great American chestnut tree Saturday, Sept. 10, at Cataloochee Ranch outside Maggie Valley.
This second-annual event features live bluegrass music by Hazel Creek, clogging demonstrations, crafts (including wood-turned bowls, pine needle baskets, stained glass, handcrafted wooden benches, pottery and paintings), and a tour of one of the American Chestnut Foundation’s most successful research orchards, located on the ranch grounds.
For centuries, the American chestnut was the dominant tree of the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Mississippi. It was a fast-growing deciduous hardwood that reached 150 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter. But, in 1904, a deadly airborne fungus was introduced into the United States; by 1949, nearly four billion chestnut trees were lost.
Cataloochee Ranch is helping the American Chestnut Foundation bring back this tree, borrowing genetic code from the Chinese chestnut, which is blight resistant. By using the backcross method, researchers are working on a new tree that has just enough of the Chinese variety to be blight-resistant, but has the dominant characteristics of the original American chestnut. The ranch’s chestnut orchard is in its fifth growing season.
Tickets for the event are $10, and children 12 and under will be admitted free.
The night before, on Friday, Sept. 9, a fundraising dinner with entertainment and live auction will be held beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets to the steak dinner are $80 per person, or $120 per couple, which includes a one-year membership to the American Chestnut Foundation.
828.926.1401 for dinner reservations. For more information about Chestnut Saturday, call Richard Coker at 828.926.1345.
Farmers interesting in tapping the potential of agritourism can attend an all-day workshop on Thursday, Jan. 27, at Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley.
Put on by the N.C. Cooperative Extension, “The Business Side of Agritourism” will explore the myriad ways farmers can boost their income. It can be as simple as setting aside part of the crop for a pick-your-own operation, or as involved as hosting tourists for week-long farmstays.
As the public grows more and more interested in visiting farms and buying directly from growers, farmers are responding accordingly. They are adding hiking trails and campgrounds on their land, turning their homes into a bed and breakfast, or luring people to their farms with hay rides and corn mazes.
The program will feature experts from across the state, as well as local farmers who will share their experiences. Cost is $40 per person and includes lunch and resource materials. 828.255.5522.