How The Moon Saved The Blue Ridge Parkway
One small step for man, one giant leap for the Blue Ridge Parkway...
On your drive north along the Blue Ridge Parkway out of Asheville, North Carolina toward Grandfather Mountain you will pass the quaint Historic Orchard at Altapass. On sunny days throughout the spring, summer and fall their parking lot is peppered with vehicles and the sounds of families venturing out into the century old orchards to pick their fill of apples.
What most don't know as they pull up to the red wooden exterior of the store front and open their vehicle doors for the first time to the sweet aromas of the apple trees and sounds of families playing, is the rich history of Altapass. That is until they enter the store and meet resident historian Bill Carson.
Bill had a simple dream as a young man in High School, help his country reach outer space and beyond. So after graduation he headed off to Perdue University to study engineering so he could land a job at IBM and get started sending brave Americans into the new frontier.
Bill will tell you it was completely by accident and he wasn't expecting to purchase the orchard on the day that it happened.
After achieving a Masters Degree in Engineering and a new bride, Bill landed his dream job at IMB. During his tenure he helped engineer two of the biggest projects in modern human history. Those included the Apollo Missions, which successfully landing men on the moon, and launching the Global Positioning System, which you know better as GPS.
You are probably wondering, how did a man who held such a prestigious roll in American history end up working at an Apple Orchard off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina? Bill will tell you it was completely by accident and he wasn't expecting to purchase the orchard on the day that it happened.
After a successful career Bill and his wife happily retired to the resort town of Little Switzerland along the Parkway. In his new spare time he was mastering some new crafting skills when his sister came to visit.
As he tells it, "My sister became bored with chatting about my new found love of looming and started to read the local paper which shared the marriages and murders of the week of people she didn't even know. As she read through the stories of the twelve page chronicle she called out, 'The Orchard At Altapass is for sale!'"
...the Carsons stood their ground and denied all his offers because their vision was to protect the lands, their history and nature.
She immediately dialed up the farmer who owned it, and on a gentleman's agreement, purchased the orchard from him cutting out a developer who had his eye on the property for a housing development. When the developer discovered he had lost the chance to purchase the land he called the Carsons up multiple times offering them amazing amounts of money and even a partnership in his business to see his vision through.
But the Carsons stood their ground and denied all his offers because their vision was to protect the lands, their history and nature.
Bill joked by saying, "After a while he finally understood we wouldn't sell and stopped pursuing us... we're not on his Christmas card list, but it ended peacefully."
Since then the Carsons have retained the rights to the orchard but transferred the land to the Park Service so it will always be available for future generations to enjoy. That is how "landing on the moon" saved a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
So the next time you are out cruising the ridges of the Parkway, take a minute and stop by The Historic Orchard At Altapass and chat with Bill Carson who will happily share the most amazing stories about Western North Carolina, such as how the tide in the American Revolutionary War was turned by the men and women of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Or you could listen to him share those stories and more in our latest Explore With RWD podcast below.
You can learn more about the rich history of Altapass, including the Spanish Conquistador Settlement forgotten by history, a King's reward for settler's scalps, and what truly killed off the Native Americans when you visit with Bill at the Orchard at Altapass from May through late October.