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Pat and Chuck Blackley
Louise and Bill Harris
Louise and Bill Harris.
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Pat and Chuck Blackley
Small town and bucolic countryside still exist in the Blue Ridge region – above: Warm Springs, Va., in Bath County, seen from U.S. 220.
People of all ages are deciding to settle in the Blue Ridge. Here are three couples’ stories, and our annual selection of mountain communities...
Rediscovering a family getaway. Opening a bed and breakfast. Finding a niche for a family business. Three couples, from their 30s to their 60s, have one thing in common: moving to the Blue Ridge.
It’s not just older folks who are relocating to the Blue Ridge, but fresh faces from a more youthful generation.
While generation X-ers are significantly impacting the trends in today’s housing market, echo boomers – children of baby boomers born between 1979 and 1994 – are growing up and have quickly become rivals to baby boomers in numbers and spending power. In the next few years echo boomers will continue leaving home, and by the year 2011 will become the driving demand as first-time homebuyers while the older generation downsizes.
At the same time, baby boomers themselves, more than 70 million strong, are credited with the current rise in the second home and relocation sector. Many of these boomers, possessing stronger financial security than any previous generation, are buying or building second homes in the mountains – a shift that’s apparent along the Blue Ridge.
Some new mountain residents have relocated because of an appealing climate, others to settle down into places they first discovered while traveling. The Blue Ridge region offers the variety of small towns and a less chaotic pace of life along with the employment, shopping and higher education opportunities of larger metro areas. With so many different options in close proximity to natural beauty, it’s no wonder people are movin’ to the mountains.
“This is where we wanted to put our roots.”
Five years ago Lee and Tara Malone were looking for the perfect location for their family business, Georgia Pine Floors. Lee started the operation in Stockbridge, Ga., then tried moving to Gwinnett County. But even though it was one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia, Gwinnett didn’t satisfy the Malones. They wanted a community that catered more to small businesses like their own.
Then they crossed the county line into Hall County and the town of Flowery Branch.
“It’s a town you feel like you’ve been a part of your whole life,” says Tara.
The Malones moved there, spent a year restoring their new home and then opened the showroom for the business in 2004. They wanted their customers to feel welcomed and invited, which is what Georgia Pine Floors’ new location in Flowery Branch allowed them to do.
“It seemed to be more community-focused rather than so much on growth,” says Tara.
The Malones loved the idea of a charming town with a history. Flowery Branch was established shortly after train tracks were laid from Atlanta through north Georgia to Charlotte, N.C. in the 1870s. The historic train depot and a caboose from 1914 are open to visitors today. Another strong appeal to Tara and Bill was the small-town feel of Flowery Branch. Even though the community is located minutes from the mountains and Lake Lanier, it’s close to the interstate, so the city of Atlanta is well within reach.
For Tara, the area seemed a safe place for her family, and growing up in a small town herself, she wanted the same type of morals and values instilled in her children that she found in Flowery Branch.
“You grow up to a point, and then are ready to put roots down somewhere,” says Tara. “This is where we wanted to put our roots, where we wanted our kids to call home.”
Coming Home, Six Generations Later
Shirley Price harbors a deep adoration for the Smoky Mountains that reaches back six generations, beginning with her fifth great-grandmother, who was among the first settlers in Gatlinburg, Tenn. And although Price had never previously resided there, retiring to Gatlinburg felt like returning home.
“I think that growing older in Gatlinburg is more enjoyable than it would have been anywhere else,” says Price. “A good, supportive community ensures your success, and that’s what Gatlinburg has done for us.”
Five years ago, Price, a former college professor, and her husband, Bob, a retired chemical engineer, changed their pace in life when they moved to the area from New Orleans. Since then, the couple has owned and operated the Foxtrot Bed and Breakfast in a chalet-style cedar and stone structure boasting four guest rooms and spectacular views.
“I think getting older is a way of looking for opportunities that you can share together,” says Shirley. “[Running a B&B] allowed us that opportunity.”
Early retirement has also afforded the Prices greater opportunities for volunteering. They continue to actively work with their local chamber, as well as non-profit organizations, including their local library.
Bob and Shirley hope to one day hand their B&B business down to their daughter and retire completely in the heart of the Smokies.
“A change in focus is one of the best things that you could do for yourself, not only as you get older, but at any stage of life,” says Shirley. “And retiring early is better than retiring later.”
“We are doing things we love.”
Every summer, the mountains of Boone, N.C., called to Louise Harris and her family. She and her husband Bill would pack up their kids in Columbia, S.C., and retreat into the woods for a camping trip. The Blue Ridge Mountains provided a refuge from busy city life, and after those vacations of hiking and fishing they never wanted to go home.
So in 1997, Louise and Bill retired from their jobs as an elementary school teacher and a social worker and headed to Boone, this time to stay. Their son Jeff, who graduated in architecture from Clemson University, helped them design their new home.
Now, at age 68, they still love the outdoors. The scenic Greenway Trail along the New River in Boone and the beautiful views on the Blue Ridge Parkway are favorites. But the serenity of the mountains isn’t the only thing the Harrises find attractive about Boone.
“Boone is a great place to retire because there are so many opportunities for people to get involved,” says Louise. The couple has done just that, working through the AARP and the United Methodist Church. “When we moved here we thought it would be relaxing,” says Louise. “We’re really busy, but we are doing things we love.”
Louise also serves on the Watauga Arts Council Board and ushers for children’s performances and the Summer Music Festival. Other opportunities to enjoy the arts in Boone include First Fridays, when people visit one art gallery after another meeting artists, and classes at Appalachian State University or Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff.
“Artists come from around the country to take workshops at Cheap Joe’s,” says Louise, “and I live five minutes away.”
It’s not just the postcard-perfect scenery or vibrant art scene that makes Boone the perfect retirement community for the Harrises.
“At the grocery store you always bump into someone you know… that never happened in Columbia.”