Twenty-five years ago, Kit Trubey sat reading the local paper at her brother’s Little Switzerland home, when she noticed “277 acres of unrestricted land” for sale in North Carolina, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just down the road, the property was worth a look. It was here, amid a declining orchard rimmed by spectacular, shadowy mountains, that they agreed this land deserved more than a developer’s bulldozer. They made an offer. Thus, began the Carson legacy and the Orchard at Altapass.
The red barn had become an ersatz home for over a dozen folks, the apples hidden in the undergrowth and peach trees occupied an entire corner of the property. It took two years of pulling weeds and cutting out poison ivy before any apples could be picked. Eventually, the rusted processing plant consuming the barn moved to the basement, where it continues to run long hours, and live music played to an audience sitting on actual chairs.
Between 2002 and 2006, two nonprofit charity entities were established. The first preserved the natural and historical projects of the land. The latter addressed the orchard and general store. Combined, and with the continued support from the community, they help promote and perpetuate the many orchard operations. And because of the foundation’s determination to maintain the pristine beauty of this part of the Blue Ridge and the tenets of the orchard, most of the programs are free and open to all ages.
Hayrides began after a few years. However, between rides, the hay became a favorite hangout for the many barn cats and eventually, the hay had to be replaced with benches. This turned the successful meanderings into “Heyrides” but still just as popular. On weekends, folks jump onboard just to listen to Bill Carson tell tales about the “old” days that date back to the Revolutionary War.
And after suffering for two decades in a cramped camper trailer with a wood burning cooking stove, the Apple Core Grill opened two years ago in its own building, making the orchard more than a way station between points. It is now a destination.
In 2019, the orchard at Altapass celebrates its 25th anniversary with live traditional music, dancing, “heyrides”, storytelling, children’s activities, 10 walking trails, monarch butterfly and honey bee habitats, special evening theatre productions and performances, the general store, homemade fudge and 30 varieties of heirloom apples. In the beginning, all the work on the more than 125 acres was done by volunteers; today many still have their boots on the grounds. In addition, the orchard employs 33, mostly part-time or contractual, to care for the almost 2,000 apple trees (each year more trees are planted) and thousands of visitors. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. In May, the orchard is open Friday-Sunday. From June through October, it’s Wednesday-Sunday with music and fun every day.
“The principal joy after 25 years is the way the orchard has changed and affected the people who visit,” says Bill Carson, co-founder with his wife, Judy, and current CEO. “We call it saving the good stuff.”
Come celebrate with Bill, still flatfooting and telling stories every weekend and still saving the good stuff. For more information, please visit www.altapassorchard.org and visit the Facebook page for current updates and happenings.