Tens of thousands flock annually to North Carolina’s famed Appalachian Mountains where they experience fall’s irresistible sensory overload of magnificent foliage throughout its scenic hills. Above it all, amid the highest views of any community in the eastern United States, Mountain Air residents enjoy the finest seat in the house.
By Brad King
BURNSVILLE, N.C. (October 2013) — The changing color of leaves in autumn represents one of nature’s most beloved annual rites of passage. Around this time every year across North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Mother Nature begins to wield her paintbrush, eventually producing a kaleidoscope in the brilliant hues of peaking fall color.
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the highly anticipated foliage transformation into eye-pleasing autumn scenery — beginning around late September and typically lasting until mid-October — attracts “leaf peepers” from around the world flocking to the area for nature’s grand show: Scenery ogling, hiking, wildlife and bird watching, horseback riding, picnicking and photo-taking in one of the earth’s most diverse ecosystems.
Yet for those who believe the leaves look even better when viewed from the porch of a mountain home, it seems hard to top — literally or figuratively — a second or primary residence at the award-winning community called Mountain Air, located nearly a mile high atop Slickrock Mountain outside Asheville, N.C.
Meticulously developed on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest, Mountain Air’s landscape is colorfully dotted with mountain laurels, oaks and wild rhododendrons. Abundant yellow poplars and buckeye trees add to the dazzling, autumnal display that also mixes in the amazing orange of the Sugar Maples and the reds of the Sourwoods.
Driving up the winding, elegantly serpentine road to Mountain Air’s centerpiece Slickrock Village Green one travels through several microclimates and gains nearly 2,000 feet of elevation as hundred-mile vistas come into view. Located within driving distance of the Southeast’s most breathtaking autumn viewing destinations such as Mount Mitchell, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Biltmore Estate, Mountain Air offers a rich range of lifestyle pursuits in its own backyard.
“There are no traffic jams on the mountain,” said Mountain Air resident Spike Gurney, who came from West Palm Beach, Fla. “It is a place for the whole family, but there are no crowds. There is no rush in the car from overlook to overlook. You can relax and watch the color with your friends on one of your back porches. And the views are incredible from Village Green, the golf course — really anywhere you look around here.”
Members and their guests experience arguably the most vivid fall color views imaginable when they fly into Mountain Air and land on the community’s private, 2,875-foot runway. In fact, no other airport east of the Mississippi allows a pilot to fly to the Rockies without climbing a single foot after takeoff.
Kicking off the fall season at Mountain Air is the community’s annual Heritage Festival, which celebrates the traditions, skills and activities that make the region a special place — everything from a falconry demonstration and a blacksmith showing his skills, to the creation of artistic products reflecting the Appalachian traditions like apple butter, candles and cheese. Residents and guests gain tips on the art of fly-fishing and learn how a beekeeper keeps the honey flowing, while the local Mountaineer Cloggers will be kicking up their heels.
In addition, the “Fall Colors Golf Cart Tour” — one of Mountain Air’s year-round, full-time Director of Natural Resources Kat Dunham’s popular nature programs — takes advantage of the unique eco-system and miles of trails around Mountain Air’s 1,300 picturesque acres.
Indeed, Mountain Air’s Outdoor Discovery Center provides year-round outdoor fun and education for adults, kids and families — including guided nature walks and hikes, astronomy, live animal presentations and educational talks that explore a nature-based current event or wildlife topic of local, national or global significance drawn from member suggestions. It also houses a nature center, outfitter services information, a bookshop and naturalists’ office.
Mountain Air’s Outdoor Discovery Center and its staff naturalist help design custom outdoor adventures for members such as guided fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, waterfall hikes, mountain biking, cycling, zipline canopy tours, horseback riding, backpacking, camping, canoe and kayak trips, skiing, skeet shooting and wildlife viewing.