The Draw of the Mountain

Grandfather Mountain lures vacationers, adventurers—and artists.

Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina

Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina

Grandfather Mountain draws people to hike, bike and—for those brave enough—walk across the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, a structure that’s less intimidating since it was upgraded in 1999 from a wooden structure to one made of steel and aluminum. But in addition to adventures, Grandfather Mountain also inspires artistry.

Founded by a conservationist, Grandfather Mountain attracts people who love the land. Other towns might plop a vista-destroying high-rise on a mountain summit. That won’t happen in an area so pristine and picturesque that the character of Forrest Gump made it part of his famous cinematic run.

In 1889, the MacRae family bought development rights to the mountain and put a Scottish stamp on it that remains today. (The Highland Games have been happening here for 60 years.) MacRae descendant Hugh Morton—UNC loyalist and avid photographer—transformed it into the beloved, protected landmark it is today.

Not only is the land protected, but so are its animals. Since 1967, when Mildred the Bear became an ursine resident, visitors have been charmed by Grandfather’s wildlife.

Every September, staff and residents are on a “hawk watch” during the raptors’ migration, said Lesley Platek, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation’s volunteer and events coordinator. They once counted 3,000 in a single day.

Platek’s advice to visitors: If you’re at Grandfather on a pretty day, head to the top first. The weather can change quickly, and you’ll want to take in the views while you can. Bring a picnic. Bring your camera. Bring your kids, and encourage them to be sworn in as junior rangers. But don’t expect internet service; it’s spotty at best. (But why would you even need it here?)

Hugh Morton may be the patron saint of Grandfather, but Grandfather Golf and Country Club homeowners talk reverently about the grandmother of their community. Hugh’s sister, Agnes “Aggie” Morton Cocke Woodruff, was a golfer who, after exploring the area for years on horseback, knew the land would be perfect for a golf course. The way residents tell it, Aggie felt Hugh’s Linville Country Club was getting too crowded. She thought another golf course was needed, so she used her inheritance to establish the country club community in 1964.

Members—some of whom have been coming since childhood—spend low-key, low-humidity summers on their top-ranked golf course, as well as hitting on tennis courts, canoeing the 30-acre Loch Dornie, hiking the namesake mountain, and dining in the elegantly rustic clubhouse.

 

A ‘Lofty’ idea

Some members spend significant time in the Art Loft, where painters of all skill levels gather to paint.

As a Charlotte Country Day student in the 1960s, Betsy Gefaell spent her free periods in the art room. She majored in art history at UNC Chapel Hill, but a successful real estate career curtailed her hobby. The Art Loft helped her rediscover it.

When Gefaell isn’t on the golf course (she and her husband, Bob, have a second home at Grandfather), she’s probably in the Loft. “I would not be painting at home, so the Art Loft is truly a godsend,” said the Charlotte resident. “Having a studio with lots of space, great lighting and professional instruction just steps from home is a real spoiler.”

Many Art Loft artists paint strictly for fun and relaxation. But Gefaell sells her work. So does retired media executive Bob Eoff, who’s represented by The Art Cellar, the prestigious Banner Elk gallery just down the road. “I think the glue, what has drawn people here is one person,” he says. “Barbara Timberman is the artist-in-residence, the inspiration, the one who challenges and … is willing to share her lifelong passion and knowledge of art.”

“She engages the scientist,—yes, we have a number of retired doctors—the business executive, the art student who gave it up to raise a family,” says the affable master of oil and watercolor. “And now, in her early 80s, Barbara still lives on the energy she draws from her students and those who attend her Wednesday morning lectures.”

The Art Loft was started in the early 1990s by a group of art enthusiasts, including John Enyart, a former Grandfather Golf and Country Club member. His son, John Enyart, Jr., said in an email, “My dad is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He was a gifted artist his whole life—he did all the illustrations for the Naval Academy yearbooks when he was there from 1942 to 1945. He was a self-taught, on- again, off-again artist, but it came together at Grandfather for him.”

There’s an exhibition each August. If the artist is willing to sell her work, she’ll put a small sticker on the easel. The sticker doesn’t list the price. It simply means, “Available; please inquire.” This is Grandfather Country Club, after all, and everything—including the art show—is understated.

There’s artistry at the High Country dinner table, too. Club members enjoy meals in the clubhouse’s recently refurbished Scottish Room and the formal dining room, where Sunday nights are sundae nights. Casual al fresco dining is available at The 10th Tee or Beach Pavilion Snack Bar. These aren’t afterthoughts either. The Beach Pavilion has a wood-burning pizza oven. And if you think you don’t want pizza on a hot day, remember: It never gets all that hot here. And the pizza is scrumptious.

The historic Eseeola Lodge provides another exceptional dining option. How to decide what to order when choices include coq au vin, grilled N.C. rainbow trout and Boeuf Bourguignon? It hardly matters. It’s all sumptuous, thanks to Chef Patrick Maisonhaute, a native of France.

The rustic butrefined Grandfather has long been a lure for adventurers. But it’s also a muse for “Sunday painters” and bona fide artists alike.

Grandfather Golf and Country Club is private and open to members and their guests. But the community offers a discovery visit, based on availability. For $850, two people can stay in a private home for two nights. That price gets you a round of golf on the celebrated course and a temporary guest account for charging privileges at the club’s dining facilities. The discovery package is $725 if booked for a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday stay. Learn more at www.grandfatherclubnc.com or www.eseeola.com.

Photos courtesy of Grandfather Mountain Golf and Country Club.