The barista at the coffee shop talks like a fiend about the things she enjoys doing.
Julie’s delivery is backed with a smile and the details of one fun adventure or another that she has enjoyed or wants to do.
She is a chatterbox, who can convince you of the necessity of going and doing this thing that she tried over the weekend.
On this one Monday at lunch as I sat eating a bowl of soup and a Rueben sandwich at the coffee bar, Julie’s face was more animated than usual. By the wild-eyed expression and broad smile, I was expecting the 40ish mother of two teens to open her mouth with an — Oh! My! God! – as she approached, pulling closer a photo of herself and three other similarly-aged women closer.
“You just have to go ride the Creeper Trail,” she said exploding with excitement.
“I invited my girlfriends from college up, and we all went up to Damascus and rented bikes and rode down the trail and had lunch at the cuuuuutest place and then we … and then they just haaad to …,” she said explaining the things they saw and did…
“And it was sooo much fun… And no it wasn’t a very hard ride at all… You know none of us gets out and exercises like we should any more, cause really who has time… but it was sooo much fun and you have to go.”
That was three years ago in a previous life at one of our media companies in the mountains of North Carolina. I had almost forgotten about the Creeper Trail, a Rails –to –Trails greenway, bike path in southwestern Virginia not far from my then-home in Ashe County, N.C.
Part of the charm of the Creeper Trail was the history behind the railroad line that gave it the unusual name. For generations the railroad had connected Ashe County to forests in that remote section of Virginia, serving lumber mills and furniture companies throughout the region.
I had almost forgotten the story of the Creeper Trail until a recent meeting of the Pickens Chamber of Commerce in which Melissa Mann of The Cliffs Development brought it up as a potential comparison to the Doodle Line bike path being suggested for the route between Easley and Pickens, providing recreational options and a tourist attraction based on Pickens County’s historical commodity.
Damascus, Va. is just over the Virginia line from Ashe County in that southwestern corner of the state that most people in the world forget is even there. It is beautiful country but hard to get to.
At one time, Ashe County in North Carolina – known as the “Lost Province” associated more readily to Damascus than to its own state capital or major cities in its own state.
I say that to indicate something of the remote nature of the area. Travel is mostly by two-lane road.
There is no I-85 and no Greenville, no interconnections of I-85 and I-26 and I-385 nearby. There are none of the other things that already attract people with money to this area.
Damascus is a town of about 700 people, yet annually 200,000 people visit there and rent bikes and eat in restaurants and stay in area lodgings. It has become quite the industry, sustaining people in rural Virginia who have lost lumber and furniture jobs.
It is not difficult at all for me to envision Vicki Ciplickas at Easley’s Starving Artist Café opening her bright face and throwing her broad smile around visitors with, “Oh! My! God! You just have to go ride the Doodle Line.”
It is no stretch at all to think that one of the friendly waitresses at Pickens’ Gate House Restaurant will say to visitors there, “I invited my girlfriends from college up, and we rented bikes and rode down the Doodle Line and had lunch at the cuuuuutest place and then we … and then they just haaad to …,”
If an area like Damacus — with its limited access and small number of other things to do – can attract 200,000 people annually, somebody in Pickens County should be looking at property for a bed and breakfast, hotels and restaurants. The more the merrier.