Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 45

NORTH CAROLINA: WOOLLY WORMS WON'T
COMPETE THIS YEAR, BUT THE DUDE ABIDES
In Banner Elk, North Carolina-site of the Woolly Worm
Festival for many falls but not this one-Jason DeWitt calls
himself "Woolly Worm Dude." For years, DeWitt has stood on
stage at the Woolly Worm Festival, where as many as 17,000
people have gathered to watch caterpillars crawl in comical
heats.
Breezing into Banner Elk from his home at nearby Linville,
North Carolina, the semi-retired DeWitt cuts an imposing
figure at 6-foot-4, making it easy to be an emcee.
Due to concerns of the coronavirus, this year's festival has
been put on hold. Even so, DeWitt says Banner Elk is well
worth a visit anyway.
"When you're talking about the third weekend of October, the leaves are at their peak. It's colorful, bright-all the
way up Beech Mountain. The leaves change, and it's just

psychedelic."
He also suggests a great leaf
drive:
Start at the old Banner Elk
School, 185 Azalea Circle, at the site
of the Woolly Worm Festival. The
Banner Elk Park, behind the school,
features a walking loop. Explore the
downtown shops and enjoy breakfast at the Banner Elk Cafe.
From Banner Elk, take Beech Mountain Parkway up to
Beech Mountain to witness aerial views of the North Carolina High Country. Going in the opposite direction from
Banner Elk, take Hickory Nut Gap Road for about a dozen
miles, en route to Newland, to see leaves in full color.
-JT

JOE TENNIS

camping," says Hunter, who lives at Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, near Brevard.
"We don't need permission, but it still
feels good to be invited."
And that's especially true for the fall,
he says, and especially around the campfires of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"We believe the campfire is the most
important thing to the movement. To
enjoy the outdoors, we're trying to encourage more Black folks to go around the
campfire," Hunter says. "And camping
in the fall, you get a chance to see those
leaves change. For me, I love camping in
the fall."

VIRGINIA:
The Clown of Fall, and of Much
More
It's getting dark on a Saturday night.
And Mark Cline is just getting his "street
theatre" show started. It's billed as a
ghost tour on the streets of Lexington,
Virginia. But it's just as much a comedyand-drama act.
Cline is an eccentric artist who created
the famous "Foamhenge" that once stood
at nearby Natural Bridge and mimicked
the even-more-famous Stonehenge.
Today, at Natural Bridge, Cline offers
an attraction called Dinosaur Kingdom II,
which features Civil War soldiers assisted
in battle by dinosaurs.
Cline grew up at Waynesboro, Virgin-

ABOVE: Mark Cline: "Lexington [Virginia] is
just one of those towns that just looks good in
the fall." Info: ghosttourslexintgonva.com

ia, and now lives near Lexington at Rockbridge Baths with his wife, Sherry.
Cline presents a labyrinth of Lexington lore, highlighting what happened at
churches, graveyards and more.
"I love doing this tour," Cline says.
Even amid coronavirus concerns, Cline
has continued his tours-with social
distancing and guests choosing to wear
masks in the open-air outdoors.
Cline's workout-of-a-walk originates at

the city's visitor center and then makes its
way along U.S. 11, the historic north-south
highway that links Virginia's Shenandoah
Valley to its southwest highlands.
Decked out in a top hat, Cline cuts an
intimidating figure as he struts the streets
with an audience tagging along.
The man is never shy. He knocks on
the window of a restaurant. Plays dead in
a field. Jumps up some stairs. All the while,
he's sharing stories. Some tales are funny.
Some might take your breath away.
"My tour is very different than any
tour you've ever done," Cline says.
"Most ghost tours are about death; my
tour is really about life. It ends with a
very positive note. It's more of a show
with a moral to it."
Likewise, Cline's tours, held Thursdays through Saturdays, reach their
zenith of popularity in October, when
leaves burst with fall color in the days
preceding Halloween.
"Fall colors, that's a major plus," Cline
says. "Lexington is one of those small
Victorian towns that just look good in
the fall. That's actually my favorite time
of year."
And here's a bonus leaf drive for the
area: From downtown Lexington, follow
U.S. 11 south for about a dozen miles to
Natural Bridge-the site of Dinosaur Kingdom II, Natural Bridge State Park and the
Natural Bridge Hotel. This route features
many chances to see fall leaf color.

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

45


http://www.ghosttourslexintgonva.com

Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020

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