The story below is an excerpt from our Jan./Feb. 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
In 1980, John Cooper, along with his wife Faye, bought and reopened the Original Mast General Store in the rural community of Valle Crucis, North Carolina. The Coopers, with a lot of help from their employees, have opened eight additional stores in historic buildings in towns and cities across the region over the last 35 years.
Margaret Mead’s famous quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” seems to easily apply to the small towns and cities that dot the Blue Ridge Mountains. Since coming to Valle Crucis 35 years ago, I have seen that principle proven true over and over again with groups not only changing but improving the world or community.
In 1985, a small group of committed citizens saw an opportunity to stop a development that would have permanently changed the rural character of Valle Crucis forever. Instead of just stopping the development, they created a wonderful park that today is fostering recreation, healthy living and a real sense of community. Furthermore, it inspired nearby communities to create similar parks in their own neighborhoods. The result is more opportunities for residents and visitors in the High Country to enjoy the natural scenery, walk or jog, canoe or kayak, picnic, listen to local musicians, or to just plain socialize.
Small groups span ages, income levels and residency. The exuberance of youth brought many together when a group of students organized the Watauga Land Trust to protect Howard’s Knob, a prominent peak on the outskirts of Boone. Their efforts raised local awareness of the unprecedented pace of development all across the northwestern corner of North Carolina. Founded in 1995, the Watauga Land Trust became the High Country Conservancy, and continues to grow through a merger with another land conservancy in the area to become the Blue Ridge Conservancy, which has protected over 18,000 acres of family farms, watersheds and environmentally significant land. The effort that started with a few committed citizens is continuing to have an enormous positive impact on the Blue Ridge Mountains.