Our Mission Statement
Banner Elk will preserve and protect its heritage while progressively supporting the development of the community infrastructure, recreational opportunities and the viability of the business community. Banner Elk will be a responsible steward of its natural beauty and resources, while enhancing the aesthetics of our town. Banner Elk will enhance the quality of life for citizens, Lees-McRae College students and visitors, and for those people living in our surrounding communities.
The Banner Elk Area
The Town of Banner Elk and it's surrounding areas offer a quality of life that is sought by many folks today; a beautiful mountain retreat away from the busy crowds where one can still have access to the finer conveniences found in larger metropolitan areas. Banner Elk itself, is a quaint mountain town located 30 minutes from Boone, home to Appalachian State University. This beautiful Avery County setting is surrounded by some of the highest mountains east of the Rockies including Grandfather Mountain and Beech Mountain. The Blue Ridge Parkway traverses the county just six miles from town. Banner Elk is home to Lees McRae College and features a lively arts and crafts cultural scene, complete with an intimate pedestrian shopping district of upscale boutiques and outstanding restaurants, several of which are regularly featured in national travel and food magazines.
With four distinct seasons, Banner Elk offers a wonderful year-round climate. Spring blossoms beautifully with rhododendron and mountain laurel. Summer features sunny days for outdoor activities and cool evenings for relaxation. Fall bursts forth in a palette of brilliant colors while Winter provides skiing and cozy nights by the fireside. The higher elevations of this region make for cooler summer temperatures. In fact, Avery County’s seat, the Town of Newland, and neighboring Beech Mountain are the highest county seat and incorporated town, respectively, in the eastern United States. Don’t be fooled by other mountain towns that claim cool summers but have lower elevations. If you are looking for cooler summer temperatures, you can’t do any better than the High Country, home to The Headwaters. That’s why its called “The High Country.”
Things to Do
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the area providing the most scenic views in the Appalachian Mountains with no billboards or stoplights.
Golfing opportunities abound on well over a dozen mountain courses, half of which are public or semi-private.
Hiking is plentiful on hundreds of miles of trails, from easy to challenging, including the Appalachian Trail.
Fly Fishing along the Elk and Watauga Rivers is among the best in the eastern United States.
Grandfather Mountain, one of the most identifiable peaks in the region is a World Biosphere site featuring unique rock formations, a mile high swinging bridge and abundant wildlife.
Tweetsie Railroad is a family fun park geared to young children featuring the historic East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Rail Road, better known as “Tweetsie.”
Gem Mining is a popular pastime for youngsters, and serious rock hounds alike. Spruce Pine is the location of a Native-American gem shop with rare minerals and native American artifacts that date from antiquity.
Whitewater rafting, kayaking and tubing are available on numerous rivers with several professional outfitters providing guided trips.
Rock Climbing and caving can be enjoyed year round on your own or through one of the local outfitters.
Horseback trail riding and boarding for horses can be found throughout the area.
Sailing and power boating on Watauga Lake with 104 miles of shoreline, covering 34,200 acres is 35 minutes from The Headwaters.
Snow Skiing and Snow Boarding are available at the area’s three ski resorts and cross country skiing is a favorite on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In Banner Elk, the Lees McRae College Performing Arts Center offers concerts and drama throughout the school year, while continuing education classes, numerous trips and expeditions for indiviudals are offered through the college.
The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games & Gathering of the Clans brings together the largest gathering of Scottish-heritage participants in the United States for a week of ancient contests, music and food.
The Wooly Worm Festival in downtown Banner Elk draws over 20,000 visitors each October eager to celebrate this furry little critter that has long been considered a forecaster of winter weather. This lively festival features all sorts of food, fun and crafts displays.
Likewise, the Apple Orchard Festival in nearby Valle Crucis draws thousands each October to participate in mountain activities and culture.
In Banner Elk alone, you can park and walk to 10 outstanding restaurants. From sophisticated Continental and Mediterranean Cuisine to American Grill and Country-Style Smorgasbord, Banner Elk and the immediate area feature some of the finest dining to be found in North Carolina. Numerous chefs from the area’s country clubs have opened their own restaurants, some having been featured in leading culinary and travel magazines including Wine Spectator, Southern Living, Bon Appetite, and Travel & Leisure among others.
Arts and Crafts
Local mountain craft, with its unique historical qualities is alive and well in Banner Elk and surrounding areas. Western North Carolina has been long known for its old-time cultural arts & crafts scene. In recent years the High Country has attracted hundreds of artisans from around the world who have fallen in love with the area and decided to open studios here. Area artists’ works can be found in the Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the White House Permanent Collection, and the High Museum among others.
Town: 995 (including Lees-McRae students, as of 2000)Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction: 424 (estimated from a 1999 survey)
North Carolina has three major physiographic regions: the coastal plains, the piedmont, and the mountains. Banner Elk is part of the mountain physiographic region (Gade, 1986). This region is known as Western North Carolina, a region enhanced by the location of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. Banner Elk is located in the northwest quadrant of Avery County in the Appalachian Highlands 3,739 feet above sea level (Banner Elk Development Plan, 1967). High peaks and rugged ridges surround the town. This mountainous area in many respects has stronger historic and cultural ties with the neighboring mountainous regions of Tennessee and Virginia than with all other regions of North Carolina. The area is beautiful during all seasons of the year. Fall foliage produces a dazzling panorama of color. The area is famous for its flora and fauna. Rhododendron, mountain laurel, flame azalea, and wild flowers are abundant. Bear, deer, and other wildlife inhabit the forests that surround Banner Elk (Cooper, 1964).
The first human inhabitants of the Banner Elk area were the Cherokee Indians. The Cherokee used the Elk River Valley as hunting grounds, but evidence of a permanent settlement has never been discovered (Cooper, 1964). The first white settlers of Banner Elk were Delilah Baird and John Holtsclaw, who came to the Big Bottoms of Elk in 1825, and settled on a tract of land containing 480 acres. This land included the Whitehead farm and extended to the present site of Grandfather Home for Children situated near Wildcat Lake. John and Delilah's first child, Alfred B. Baird, was the first white child born in what is now the Banner Elk Township (Banner Elk Development Plan, 1967). Martin L. Banner established the first permanent settlement in 1848. Although the Banner family originally came from Wales, Martin Banner moved from Forsyth County located in the piedmont region of North Carolina. Eventually, the Banner family grew to 55 members, and the area where they lived became known as Banner's Elk (Heritage, 1976). Other early settlers include the Moody, Dugger, Abrams, Von Canon, Keller, Smith, Lineback, and Foster families. The early settlers of the area were the people of northern European stock from what may be called the yeoman class:
English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, German, and Dutch (Cooper, 1964). The community changed its name to Banner Elk when the North Carolina General Assembly incorporated the town in 1911.
Agriculture, Industry, and Tourism
The rugged terrain made it difficult to travel, therefore the early settlers had to be self-sufficient. The climate and elevation supported vegetable crops, especially cabbage and beans. Early settlers also traded furs and raised cattle. Today, the major agricultural cash crop is Christmas trees. Banner Elk has never had a large industrial base. The community is dominated by small, locally owned businesses. With an increasing dependence on tourism since the 1960's, the area is a magnet to vacationers and summer residents. Banner Elk offers beautiful scenery, cool summers, a location between three ski resorts, and a friendly atmosphere. Tourism has been important to Banner Elk for over 100 years. The Banner Elk Hotel was built in 1892 to accommodate tourists (Heritage, 1976). In the early 1900's people began to build summer homes in the area to enjoy the pleasant mountain environment. The ability to manufacture snow made Banner Elk a year round tourist attraction. Grover Robbins built Beech Mountain Ski Resort in 1965, and Sugar Mountain Ski Resort opened in 1969 (Beasley, 1992). Hawk's Nest Ski Resort opened in 1968.