Western North Carolina (often abbreviated as WNC) is the region of North Carolina which includes the Appalachian Mountains; it is often known geographically as the state's Mountain Region. It contains the highest mountains in the Eastern United States, with 125 peaks rising to over 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) in elevation. Western North Carolina is sometimes included with upstate South Carolina as the "Western Carolinas", which is counted as a single media market. The population of the region, as measured by the 2010 U.S. Census, is 1,473,241, which is approximately 15% of North Carolina's total population.
Located east of the Tennessee state line and west of the Piedmont, Western North Carolina contains few major urban centers. Asheville, located in the region's center, is the area's largest city and most prominent commercial hub. The Foothills region of the state is loosely defined as the area along Western North Carolina's eastern boundary; this region consists of a transitional terrain of hills between the Appalachians and Piedmont Plateau of central North Carolina.
The term Land of the Sky (or Land-of-Sky) is a common nickname for this mountainous region and has been more recently adopted to refer to the Asheville area. The term is derived from the title of the novel, Land of the Sky (1876), written by Mrs. Frances Tiernan, under the pseudonym Christian Reid. She often refers in this book to the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains, the two main ranges in Western North Carolina. The Asheville area regional government body, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, also uses this nickname. Areas in the northwest portion of the region, including Boone and Blowing Rock, commonly use the nickname "The High Country", rather than "Land of the Sky."
The federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) have a reservation in this region known as Qualla Boundary; it is situated adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Their capital is at Cherokee, North Carolina. This region, taking in today's southeastern Tennessee, western North and South Carolina, and northeastern Georgia, is considered the homeland of the historic Cherokee. Many of the people were forcibly removed in the late 1830s in the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory, but others remained; their descendants make up the EBCI, among the largest of recognized tribes. Sixteen earthwork mounds or their sites, built by indigenous peoples, have been listed in state archeological records in the eleven westernmost counties. Archeological and related research in the early 21st century has revealed that there may be as many as 50 such prehistoric mounds in this area, which were long central to Cherokee towns and culture.
The southwestern and far west part of Western North Carolina all lie within the Appalachian Mountain chain. Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the state, as well as eastern North America, is located here. Asheville is the major urban hub of far western North Carolina. This area also includes a few hydroelectric projects managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, including Fontana Dam. Tourism, especially outdoor ventures such as canoeing, whitewater rafting, camping, and fishing are important to many local economies.
The northern counties in Western North Carolina are commonly known as the state's High Country.Centered on Boone, the High Country has the area's most popular ski resorts, including Ski Beech, Appalachian Ski Mountain, and Sugar Mountain. The area also features such attractions, historical sites, and geological formations as Linville Caverns, Grandfather Mountain, and Blowing Rock. Education, skiing, tourism, and Christmas tree farming are among this area's most prominent industries, although agriculture and raising livestock also remain important. The counties that make up the High Country are: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey.
The Foothills is a region of transitional terrain between the Piedmont Plateau and the Appalachian Mountains, extending from the lower edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment into the upper Catawba, Yadkin, Broad, Saluda, and Savannah River valleys. The eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge drop sharply to the foothills section, going from 3,500–4,000 feet (1,000–1,200 m) at the top to 1,000–1,500 feet at the base. The foothills region contains numerous lower peaks and isolated mountain ranges, such as the South Mountains, Brushy Mountains, and Stone Mountain State Park. The foothills are divided into many small river and creek valleys where much of the region's population lives. Although no large cities are located in the foothills, the region contains many small towns.
These towns were often developed by European Americans around a single industry, such as furniture or textiles, which depended on local waterpower as their first energy sources. Since the 1990s, many of these industries and their associated jobs have moved offshore to low-wage markets in Asia and Latin America. The foothills towns that depended upon them have often suffered from job and population loss. Some towns are developing newer economies, including tourism and services for affluent retirees or second-home owners who have settled in the region. Many farmers in the northern foothills are poultry farmers. Vineyards have been developed, along with associated winemaking and popular retail.
Among the towns of the foothills region are Tryon, Granite Falls, Hudson, Lake Lure, Forest City, Rutherfordton, Spindale, Elkin, North Wilkesboro, and Wilkesboro; and the cities of Hickory, Lenoir, Marion, Mount Airy, Shelby, and Morganton. "The southern mountains" refer to the counties bordering South Carolina. The cities/towns of Hendersonville, Brevard, and Columbus are within this area.
The region has three major public universities: Appalachian State University in Boone, Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, and UNC Asheville in Asheville. All three are part of the University of North Carolina system.
Several small, private colleges and universities are also located in the region. Mars Hill University is located 15 miles (24 km) north of Asheville. Founded in 1856, it is the oldest college or university in Western North Carolina. Montreat College, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, is located 15 miles (24 km) east of Asheville. Lees-McRae College, located in Banner Elk, is also affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Warren Wilson College, located in Swannanoa, is noted for its strong pro-environment policies and for being one of the nine work colleges in the United States. Brevard College, located in Brevard, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Lenoir-Rhyne University, located in Hickory, is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Several community college systems serve the region, including Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Blue Ridge Community College, Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, Catawba Valley Community College, Haywood Community College, Isothermal Community College, Mayland Community College, McDowell Technical Community College, Southwestern Community College, and Tri-County Community College.
Three major Interstate highways cross the region: Interstate 40, which traverses east-west, Interstate 77, which runs north-south through the northeastern section of Western North Carolina, and Interstate 26, which traverses north-south (although it is classified as an east-west highway for most of its route and is signed as such). Interstate 240 is the only auxiliary interstate route in the region, and it serves downtown Asheville.
US 421, a multi-lane expressway, is the major highway in the northwestern part of the state. US 19, US 23, US 64, US 74, and US 441 are the major highways in the far western part of the region. US 70 runs east through the area, connecting Hickory and Asheville. US 221 also runs through the area. This highway, which begins in Perry, Florida, connects the town of Rutherfordton to Jefferson. US 321 runs north from Hickory to Watauga and Avery counties before entering Tennessee.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, a National Scenic Byway that is 469 miles long, runs through western North Carolina, starting in Virginia and ending near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Two major class 1 railroads serve the region, CSX and Norfolk Southern. In addition, two tourist railroads also operate in the area, the Tweetsie Railroad theme park and the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), located southeast of the city of Asheville in Fletcher, serves the area with non-stop jet service to Charlotte, North Carolina; LaGuardia Airport in New York City and nearby Newark, New Jersey; Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Orlando Sanford International Airport near Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Detroit, Michigan; and O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois.
Tourism is a major part of the economy in the area, which contains half of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. Several lakes and dams are scattered throughout Western North Carolina, such as Lake Lure and Fontana Dam. Many visitors travel to the region every summer and autumn from major cities to escape hot weather elsewhere and see the leaves change colors. The timber industry is also a major economic sector.
The Appalachian Regional Commission was formed in 1965 to aid economic development in the Appalachian region, which was lagging far behind the rest of the nation on most economic indicators. The Appalachian region, as currently defined by the Commission, includes 420 counties in 13 states, including 29 counties in North Carolina. The Commission classifies each county according to five economic qualifications— distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive, or attainment. "Distressed" counties are considered the most economically endangered and "attainment" counties are the most economically prosperous. The three indicators used for such classification are three-year average unemployment rate, market income per capita, and poverty rate.
In 2003, Appalachian North Carolina— which included most counties of Western North Carolina and two counties in central North Carolina— had a three-year average unemployment rate of 6%, compared with 6.2% statewide and 5.5% nationwide. In 2002, Appalachian North Carolina had a per capita market income of $21,168, compared with $23,443 statewide and $26,420 nationwide. In 2000, Appalachian North Carolina had a poverty rate of 11.7%, compared to 12.3% statewide and 12.4% nationwide.
Only Graham County was designated as "Distressed" in North Carolina. Six— Cherokee, McDowell, Mitchell, Rutherford, Swain, and Yancey— were designated "at-risk." Forsyth County (which is usually grouped as part of central North Carolina) was the only county given the "attainment" designation. Four— Buncombe, Davie, Henderson, and Polk— were designated "competitive." Most Western North Carolina counties were designated "transitional," meaning they lagged behind the national average on one of the three key indicators. Graham County had Appalachian North Carolina's highest poverty rating, with 19.5% of its residents living below the poverty line. Forsyth had Appalachian North Carolina's highest per capita income at $26,987. Watauga County's unemployment rate of 2.3% was lowest of all 420 counties in the Appalachian region.
The changes brought by increased tourism and population growth from retirees and persons migrating to the region have been double-edged. Local business have benefited from increased economic revenue, but increases in costs of living, over-dependence on a tourism economy, and loss of natural habitat to development can degrade the quality of life for which the region has become notable.
There are 82 mountain peaks between 5,000 and 6,000 feet (1,500-1,800 m) in elevation in western North Carolina, and 43 peaks rise to over 6,000 feet (1,800 m). Among the subranges of the Appalachian Mountains located in western North Carolina are the Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, South Mountains, Brushy Mountains, Sauratown Mountains, Great Balsam Mountains, Great Craggy Mountains, the Plott Balsams, and the Black Mountains. Mount Mitchell, in the Black Mountains, is, at 6,684 feet (2,037 m), the highest point in eastern North America. Valley and foothills locations typically range from 1,000–2,000 feet (300–610 m) AMSL.
The major rivers in the region include the French Broad River, Nolichucky River, Watauga River, Little Tennessee River, and Hiwassee River flowing into the Tennessee River valley; the New River flowing into the Ohio River valley; and the headwaters and upper valleys of the Catawba River, Yadkin River, Broad River, and Saluda River flowing through the foothills towards the Atlantic. The Eastern Continental Divide runs through the region, dividing Tennessee-bound streams from those flowing through the Carolinas.
Western North Carolina is generally considered to consist of 23 counties.
The counties commonly included in the region are as follows:
Other counties that fall under various definitions of Western North Carolina include: Alexander County, Catawba County, Cleveland County, Surry County and Yadkin County. When these counties are added, they form a total regional area of roughly 11,750 square miles (30,430 km²). This makes the region roughly the size of Massachusetts.
During the early 1800s, the Western counties included counties in the Piedmont region, to distinguish them from the Eastern counties in North Carolina that were settled earlier. As the western counties became more populated, jurisdictions competed for representation in the North Carolina General Assembly and the Governor's office.
Western North Carolina communities include:
McDowell County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 44,996. Its county seat is Marion.
Elizabethton is a city in, and the county seat of Carter County, Tennessee, United States. Elizabethton is the historical site of the first independent American government located west of both the Eastern Continental Divide and the original Thirteen Colonies.
The French Broad River flows 218 miles (351 km) from near the town of Rosman in Transylvania County, North Carolina, into the state of Tennessee. Its confluence with the Holston River at Knoxville is the beginning of the Tennessee River. The river flows through the counties of Transylvania, Buncombe, Henderson, and Madison in North Carolina, and Cocke, Jefferson, Sevier, and Knox in Tennessee. It drains large portions of the Pisgah National Forest and the Cherokee National Forest.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. They are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and form part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province. The range is sometimes called the Smoky Mountains and the name is commonly shortened to the Smokies. The Great Smokies are best known as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which protects most of the range. The park was established in 1934, and, with over 11 million visits per year, it is the most visited national park in the United States.
The Cherokee National Forest is a United States National Forest located in the U.S. states of Tennessee and North Carolina that was created on June 14, 1920. The forest is maintained and managed by the United States Forest Service. It encompasses an estimated area of 655,598 acres (2,653.11 km2).
The Watauga River is a large stream of western North Carolina and East Tennessee. It is 78.5 miles (126.3 km) long with its headwaters in Linville Gap to the South Fork Holston River at Boone Lake.
U.S. Route 321 (US 321) is a spur of U.S. Route 21. It runs for 516.9 miles (831.9 km) from Hardeeville, South Carolina to Lenoir City, Tennessee. Due to the one time inverse route translation in Tennessee, the route has no northern terminus, instead the route has both beginning and end points as its own southern terminus. It reaches its northernmost point at Elizabethton, Tennessee. Because of its unusual "north–south–north" routing, U.S. Route 321 intersects both Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 70 three separate times. The highway serves different roles in each state: An alternate route to interstates in South Carolina, a major highway in North Carolina, and a scenic route in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Valley is the drainage basin of the Tennessee River and is largely within the U.S. state of Tennessee. It stretches from southwest Kentucky to north Alabama and from northeast Mississippi to the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. The border of the valley is known as the Tennessee Valley Divide. The Tennessee Valley contributes greatly to the formation of Tennessee's legally recognized Grand Divisions.
Joara was a large Native American settlement, a regional chiefdom of the Mississippian culture, located in what is now Burke County, North Carolina, about 300 miles from the Atlantic coast in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Joara is notable as a significant archaeological and historic site, where Mississippian culture-era and European artifacts have been found, in addition to an earthwork platform mound and remains of a 16th-century Spanish fort.
Pisgah National Forest is a National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. It is administered by the United States Forest Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture. The Pisgah National Forest is completely contained within the state of North Carolina. The forest is managed together with the other three North Carolina National Forests from common headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina. There are local ranger district offices located in Pisgah Forest, Mars Hill, and Nebo.
The Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River, usually shortened to Sycamore Shoals, is a rocky stretch of river rapids along the Watauga River in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Archeological excavations have found Native Americans lived near the shoals since prehistoric times, and Cherokees gathered there. As Europeans began settling the Trans-Appalachian frontier, the shoals proved strategic militarily, as well as shaped the economies of Tennessee and Kentucky. Today, the shoals are protected as a National Historic Landmark and are maintained as part of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.
The Western North Carolina Conference is an Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. This conference serves the western half of the state of North Carolina, with its administrative offices and the office of the bishop being located in Huntersville, North Carolina. It is part of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
The Great Indian Warpath (GIW)—also known as the Great Indian War and Trading Path, or the Seneca Trail—was that part of the network of trails in eastern North America developed and used by Native Americans which ran through the Great Appalachian Valley. The system of footpaths extended from what is now upper New York to deep within Alabama. Various Indians traded and made war along the trails, including the Catawba, numerous Algonquian tribes, the Cherokee, and the Iroquois Confederacy. The British traders' name for the route was derived from combining its name among the northeastern Algonquian tribes, Mishimayagat or "Great Trail", with that of the Shawnee and Delaware, Athawominee or "Path where they go armed".
The Hickory–Lenoir–Morganton Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the United States Census Bureau, is an area consisting of four counties in the Catawba Valley region of western North Carolina. Local residents often refer to the area as the Unifour, although this name is largely unknown outside of the region.
Chilhowee was a prehistoric and historic Native American site in present-day Blount and Monroe counties in Tennessee, in what were the Southeastern Woodlands. Although now submerged by the Chilhowee Lake impoundment of the Little Tennessee River, the Chilhowee site was home to a substantial 18th-century Overhill Cherokee town. It may have been the site of the older Creek village "Chalahume" visited by Spanish explorer Juan Pardo in 1567. The Cherokee later pushed the Muscogee Creek out of this area.
The Pisgah Phase is an archaeological phase of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture in Southeast North America. It is associated with the Appalachian Summit area of southeastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and northwestern South Carolina in what is now the United States.
Hampton is an unincorporated community in Carter County, Tennessee, United States. Located a few miles southeast of Elizabethton and northwest of Roan Mountain, Hampton is surrounded on all sides by the Unaka Mountains. It is part of the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is a component of the Johnson City–Kingsport–Bristol, TN-VA Combined Statistical Area – commonly known as the "Tri-Cities" region.
Too-Cowee, was an important historic Cherokee town located near the Little Tennessee River north of present-day Franklin, North Carolina. It also had a prehistoric platform mound and earlier village built by ancestral peoples. As their expression of public architecture, the Cherokee built a townhouse on top of the mound. It was the place for their community gatherings in their highly decentralized society. The name translates to "pig fat" in English. British traders and colonists referred to Cowee as one of the Cherokee Middle Towns along this river; they defined geographic groupings based in relation to their coastal settlements, such as Charlestown, South Carolina.