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art theplaceHe 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.

At age 55, Coker passed away last December after a tumultuous battle with brain cancer. By all accounts, from those who knew and loved him most, Coker was a man who seized the day, wringing every drop of opportunity and adventure from the fabric of his life.

I myself only had the pleasure of meeting Coker once, and it was by chance. Legendary bluegrass/folk singer-songwriter Peter Rowan was performing at the ranch last November. Rowan is a personal friend of mine, and a musician I adore, so I headed up to the ranch. The property is a magical place, with its beauty and charm seeping into every corner of your soul.

Rowan and Coker had become close friends over the years, with Rowan playing the ranch on numerous occasions. 

“When news of Richard’s passing reached me, I thought of how many times we enjoyed his and his family’s hospitality, playing music, walking, horse back riding up on Hemphill Bald, picking ramps,” Rowan said. “One of my fondest recollections is playing the Maggie Valley Opry and swapping moonshiner stories. Richard had booked the show with Raymond Fairchild. My brothers and I played there on the night of a mighty blizzard. I can still see Richard standing by the pot-bellied stove, the only heat in the building. And his smile — I will miss him.”

The morning after the November show, Rowan and I sat down to breakfast. A few moments later, Coker quietly walked in and joined us. Even though Coker was very frail at the time, his smile never wavered. The table was full of conversation, storytelling and, most of all, laughter.

With all of his work at the ranch, his deep love and appreciation for music and Appalachian culture, I was saddened to hear of his death — he was Cataloochee Ranch.

“As a young boy, I always looked up to Richard as an adventure hero – a pretty rascally one, needless to say, but a hero nonetheless. One hour, he’d be scaling the Ranch House chimney with climbing ropes. The next, he’d be strapped to his hang glider, dodging crab apple trees. And somehow, he’d usually emerge from these escapades without broken bones,” said Ames Alexander from the ranch.

In memory of Coker and his love of Cataloochee, the ranch will host the inaugural Richard’s Run, a 5K trail race, on Saturday, Aug. 16. The course will roam the grounds at a mile-high altitude with Hemphill Bald as the backdrop. Proceeds from the race — raised through corporate sponsors, fundraising and individual donations — will go to Duke University’s Tisch Brain Tumor Center.

“Richard is only one of many local residents who have fought this battle, and he would have been the first to hope that his death could make a difference to others in his beloved community,” said Mary Coker, Richard’s sister and a co-owner of the ranch.



Want to run?

The Richard’s Run 5K Trail Race will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, at Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley. 

The race will begin at the Silverbell Lodge at Cataloochee Ranch and will follow the path up towards the Chestnut Orchard. From there, the route will lead through a gate and into The Bowl, an expansive bowl-shaped open meadow with dramatic long-range mountain views. The trail will lead runners around the perimeter, following the shape of the bowl, before plunging into a thick rhododendron tunnel that opens back into The Bowl.

Next, the race will wind down towards the Way Back When base camp, then onto a shaded gravel road that winds downhill and around into a densely shaded forest. The road will go past the waterfall at Salamander Creek, crossing over the shallow creek and beginning the climb back up through the forest. Runners will pass the Evans Cove overlook then turn left for the final stretch home. The course will cross another small creek and wind around between the horse meadows to the finish line near the ranch barn.

At the finish line, in addition to awards for the winners, there will be door prizes, two raffle drawings and a bluegrass performance by Eddie Rose and Highway 40. Beer, water, pizza and other goodies will also be available.

Parking and check-in will be on your right as you reach the top of the mountain on Fie Top Road. Registration and signup is at 9 a.m., and can also be done online at Race fee is $25. 



Hot picks

1: Acclaimed North Carolina author Ron Rash will hold a workshop on his novel Serena at 5:15 p.m. Aug. 20 at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

2: Americana group Owner of the Sun will perform at 9 p.m. Aug. 23 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.

3: Funk/rock act The Get Right Band will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at BearWaters Brewing in Waynesville.

4: The Village Square Art & Craft Show will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 22-23 at Kelsey-Hutchinson Park in Highlands.

5: Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’Blue will perform at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville.

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