History, mountains, beaches, cities, arts -- that's just a part of North Carolina's treasures. Wit Tuttle, Executive Director of Visit North Carolina, enlightens us with captivating stories and insights. We talk of the vibrant Triangle area, with the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. The journey continues to the thriving city of Charlotte. On to Asheville, with the famed Biltmore house. We discuss Cherokees and civil rights, arts and food.
On North Carolina's Outer Banks, there's everything from kite boarding and the history of the Wright Brothers, to the intriguing tale of Blackbeard. Wildlife includes wild horses and sea turtles.
And we end with a memory, centering on -- barbeque.
Wit Tuttle is Executive Director of Visit North Carolina. He loves pulled pork!
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, and has written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember (Kirkus Reviews star rating, and 'one of the top 100 Indie books' of the year). She has contributed to many guidebooks and has written thousands of travel articles.
Contact Lea- she loves hearing from you! @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; Places I Remember with Lea Lane on Facebook; Website: placesirememberlealane.com.
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North Carolina offers travelers mountains, beaches, dynamic cities, history, crafts, culture, a foodie scene and a beverage scene, relaxation and fun. We're going to explore its pleasures with our guest, Wit Tuttle, Executive Director of Visit North Carolina. Welcome, Wit, to Places I Remember.Wit Tuttle:
Yeah, thanks for having me.Lea Lane:
Long ago I was a counselor at a summer camp in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I never forgot it and I've returned to the state many times since to recharge and relax. Let's start talking about some of the pleasures of North Carolina. We'll start with the major cities. The Triangle is in the Piedmont region -- Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, and it's home to North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Tell us some of the highlights of that area.Wit Tuttle:
Yeah, so the great part about the Triangle is they're unique and distinct mid-sized cities so you're not overwhelmed by it, but you do get the great amenities you get with bigger towns. Raleigh has an amazing museum scene. Almost all the museums here are free, being part of the state capital, great stuff to see there. Durham is a funky, cool town with a great vibe to it. One of my favorite things to do up there is the Durham Bulls, of course, the classic minor league baseball team. Their stadium is amazing. You can also, a couple of times a year, teams will play in the old Durham Bulls Athletic Park stadium, which is where the movie Bull Durham was filmed.Lea Lane:
Yeah, it's classic. I also took a tour of Duke. It's a beautiful campus. Just to stroll around there and have lunch or dinner you can ... magnificent.Wit Tuttle:
Exactly Great restaurants and neat scene around there. The Duke campus is beautiful. The chapel there is wonderful. You're a basketball fan, it's heaven. You can watch the Cameron Crazies lineup before a game. If you don't like Duke, go to their Carolina Basketball Museum and get the other side.Lea Lane:
Yeah, it's heaven, as you said, for basketball lovers. Now Charlotte's another city that's become really in i. What's not to miss there?Wit Tuttle:
Charlotte's a fantastic city. It's got so much going on for it. I tell a lot of people that aren't familiar with the South One of the great things to do there is start with the Levine Museum of the New South. It's really a great thing. That kind of shows how the South has changed over the years, basically gone from cotton fields to skyscrapers. That's a great start. Of course, most people go to the track. The Charlotte Motor Speedway host two NASCAR races, including the Pepsi 600, Coca Cola 600, which is one of the longest races in NASCAR. Nascar Hall of Fame is there too, which is really interesting. What I think is really cool is about 80% of the teams in NASCAR are based in that area. So even if there's not a race, you can go out to some of these team headquarters and see them working on the cars, you can meet the drivers, you can take a tour. So it's really just the heart of motorsports really is there in.Lea Lane:
It's a great place to see.Lea Lane:
Now tell us about the Gantt Center. It's a great destination. Tell us why.Wit Tuttle:
Yeah, so the Gantt Center focuses on African American heritage and that story as it relates to North Carolina. Really important. We have a few sites in North Carolina. We're just creating an African American and civil rights trail for the state and the Gantt Center is one of the centerpieces to that. It's a really amazing modern facility there in Charlotte that you can see part of several other spots you can tour that focus on civil rights and the African American experience.Lea Lane:
There's some beautiful quilt designs from the Underground Railroad Era and woven textile patterns from West Africa. It's a beautiful setting as well in there, and another great maybe it's on the trail in Greensboro the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. That's very moving. Tell us about that.Wit Tuttle:
It is. This is one of the most moving places you'll go and see. I was there one time and this is actually the start of this sit-in movement. It was a Woolworth's drug store that had a lunch counter in 1960. Yep, four students from North Carolina A&T University came and did a sit-in because they weren't allowed to be served there, and it really kicked off the sit-in movement across the US. It's now a museum. The barstools in the lunch counter have been recreated. It's amazing. I think it's really neat. A lot of the people that participated in that experience are still there, because there are four students that started it, but there were hundreds of students and locals that participated in it and they're still around and they can talk to you about it. I heard from a guy named Charlie Best who worked at the Woolworth's and was actually one of the first African American people served, because when they decided they would serve African Americans, they wanted to serve their staff first. So he got to be the first person to eat at that lunch counter and he said it was the greatest meatloaf he'd ever had in his life. And so when you hear that and you talk to those people, it's just really an amazing experience.Lea Lane:
It's terrific that it's there and that it's celebrated Now. One of my very favorite cities in the country is Asheville in Western North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. It's artsy and gorgeous. What should we look for that's special there?Wit Tuttle:
Well, if you're going to go to Asheville, it's a must that you do the Biltmore estate. Biltmore is amazing. It's America's largest private home. We're talking 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms. It's basically an American castle. You know this was the Vanderbilt family summer mansion and the crew there has just done an amazing job. They transform it during the seasons. If you go during the Christmas season it's unbelievable All the Christmas trees they have. It also hosts America's most visited winery. There's a lot of things to do on site. You can tour the campus. It's thousands of acres. It's just a really interesting, fascinating mountain experience. Fits right in with the vibe of Asheville, which is kind of a cool, hip mountain town. It's nice and cool in the summer, not too cold in the winter, Great lodging there. There's a place called the Omni Grove Park Inn. It's a classic old 1920s place where F Scott Fitzgerald stayed. They have a ghost, the pink lady, that sometimes visits you. Just really neat stuff and a great food and drink scene. The beer capital of the South for craft beer there.Lea Lane:
Well, I love the River Arts District. There are 23 former industrial and historical buildings and I walked in some of them. They're beautiful buildings from the past, but they've got this great manner of paintings and ceramics and handmade jewelry.Wit Tuttle:
Down on the River Arts District is amazing. You can go into all those shops and there's a really great barbecue joint there.Lea Lane:
Oh really, what is it?Wit Tuttle:
It's called 12 Bones. (Oh, yes, I've heard of it yes, great barbecue, but the arts scene there they have, Asheville has done a fantastic job providing that area. You could spend a whole day there.Lea Lane:
Also there's the Folk Art Center. It's home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild, which dates back to the 1890s, and there you get more crafty stuff. There's a craft shop there for great shopping. If you look for interesting things, americana, this is where you would want to go.Wit Tuttle:
Exactly so. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through 25 of our counties there and it's one of the national park sites, basically a road built on top of the mountains, through the Appalachians. And the craft guild there, right in Asheville, right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a great way you can see a lot of these southern traditional artworks and pick up a piece for your own. So it's a great introduction to the mountains and the Appalachians and you can head from Asheville. You can go up the parkway and see there are about 300 overlooks. You can just see the fantastic scenery and get the whole mountain experience.Lea Lane:
It's gorgeous. We've driven it many times. There's also an Asheville urban trail. It's 1.7 miles around the city and it's a perfect way to see Asheville. I think there are 30 stops and there's a public sculpture at each one, and do a loop and you see all the interesting spots.Wit Tuttle:
Asheville is an extremely walkable town. It's got some great history and some really interesting architecture there, as well as the sculptures you're seeing, so that urban trail is a neat way to see the city.Lea Lane:
Nearby is Piscah National Forest. It's 500,000 acres and it's 25 miles from downtown Asheville and I remember that again from my camping. Yeah, I loved it.Wit Tuttle:
You can drive through the Pisca National Forest on the parkway, great spot for hikes. You get to really see that natural scenic beauty that North Carolina is known for waterfalls, just about everything you can get out there.Lea Lane:
Yeah, great Smoky Mountains National Park is on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. There are questions always that great Smokies versus the Blue Ridge. It's the same thing, right, one is part of the other.Wit Tuttle:
Well, they're two different mountains, they're both a subset of the Appalachian Mountains, but the Smokies are really kind of distinct and different. If you keep going south and west from Asheville on the parkway, you'll eventually wind up in the Smokies. You can tell there's a bit of a difference there. The mountains they have this gray haze that sits with them that's considered to smoke. It's also a bit more rural. I think it's a bit more out there. There's great whitewater, rafting, all kinds of things to do out in the Smokies. I love it. It's one of my favorite parts of the state. Right, tell us a bit about the Native American Cherokee heritage in North Carolina I know there's a great arts center, Koala Arts at Crafts and tell us yeah, if you continue on that Blue Ridge Parkway south from Asheville, the parkway ends at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is in a town called Cherokee that area actually it's called the Koala Boundary. It's the eastern band of Cherokee Indians land there. It's actually the ancestral home of the American Cherokee Indians. This is where they believe their race started thousands of years ago. There's some really fascinating things you can do and see there that relate to the history of the American Cherokee Indian. This is where the trail of tears started. The eastern band actually went up into the mountains and didn't leave. They came back down once. The trail of tears that the people had been marched out basically worked with some people to be able to keep their own homeland. It's really a fantastic experience. The Koala Arts Mutual there. They do a great job showing the Cherokee woven baskets and lots of other handicrafts. What I think is really fascinating is there's a place called the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. There they talk a lot about things like the language. The Cherokee language almost went extinct. They were forced to speak English and not to speak Cherokee. There was a guy named Sequoia that helped them revive their language and keep it alive. Just some fascinating stories like that about how the Cherokee have persevered in America that you can get at the Museum of Cherokee Indian. During the summers there's really great up in the mountains. There's an outdoor drama that they do every year called Unto these Hills. That tells the story of the Cherokee Indian in an open theater out in the woods. Right next to it is a recreation of an 1800s Indian village called the O'Connor Loughdie Indian Village. Those three things to see are really a remarkable way to just learn about the Cherokee heritage.Lea Lane:
Well, let's leave the mountains and head for the beach. North Carolina is home to the most picturesque beaches and tallest dunes in the eastern United States the Outer Banks, which is a string of peninsula and barrier islands stretching over 100 miles of Atlantic seashore off the coast. What are specifics that make this place so special?Wit Tuttle:
So our beaches are different than any beach you're going to find anywhere else on the eastern US or probably the western coast. These are undeveloped barrier islands. Almost all barrier islands in the world are right up on the coast, while the Outer Banks, these barrier islands, are 25 miles out into the ocean. So it's this thin strip of land that's surrounded by ocean on each side. So it's a completely different beach experience than you're going to get anywhere else. And most of the areas are still fairly undeveloped. They're part of the national seashores. There's the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Cape Lookout National Seashore, so these areas can't be developed. So you're talking beach, sand dune and ocean. It's cold and rough. They're good surfing water. So if you want more of the calm water, then you got to go down to Brunswick Sunset Beach. That area of North Carolina which is a little more sheltered from the waves and better for little kids, but at the Outer Banks is great for surfing. Kiteboarding. The Wright Brothers chose this area because it's so far out. It has constant wind blowing on these islands and so they needed constant wind to do the first flight so you can actually go to the place. That's the birthplace of aviation, where the Wright Brothers did the first flight. That wind, you can use it to kiteboard, you can use it to parasail, you can use it to hang glide all different kinds of activities.Lea Lane:
I could just see the Wright Brothers today hang gliding over the beach. It would have been a site that's probably what it looked a little bit like back then that was what 1903 or (1903). I remember that from school right. Roanoke Island is where Sir Walter Raleigh came, the site of England's first settlement in the New World.Wit Tuttle:
Yeah, there's some amazing history out in this area because Sir Walter Raleigh came. The Roanoke Island Festival Park celebrates that place where the first European settlement in the US and it actually turned into a thing called the Lost Colony Because when Sir Walter Raleigh came back to find his colony they were gone and no one really knows what happened to those settlers, so it's a great mystery. There's also an outdoor drama there called the Lost Colony that you can see and there's just still so much undeveloped beach there in areas. If you go up north into an area called Currituck to Corrala, the road ends and you can actually drive on the sand and we still have wild horses that run on those beaches and those are descendants of Spanish Mustangs that came over with the first settlers in the 1500s, of the Spanish and the English who were trying to colonize America. These horses are still roaming on those beaches. So you'll find all sorts of history like that still alive and happening today on the Outer.Lea Lane:
Bay that's so romantic. There's also sea turtles that hatch on some of these beaches. It's the extreme northern limits of some of these turtles nesting ground, so maybe there's a way to see this.Wit Tuttle:
Yeah, there's a fantastic place to see that. It's called the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Center in Surf City on the coast of North Carolina. They rescue a lot of these sea turtles. They'll go out and protect the nests. You can find nests all up and down the coast during the mating season. So you're going to want to be very careful if you do find a nest, because sea turtles are endangered and they're protected. But the Karen Beasley people do a fantastic job. They do releases so you can find out when they're going to release the sea turtle and actually go out to the beach and watch these sea turtles get put back in the sea. And sea turtles are just these beautiful creatures that we should do everything we can to help protect.Lea Lane:
Absolutely. You've got such an interesting coast, you have lighthouses and you have a story of pirates. Tell us about Blackbeard in North Carolina.Wit Tuttle:
Okay, now, this is one of my favorite stories about North Carolina, so a lot of people don't realize Blackbeard was a real pirate. He was a real person and he was based in North Carolina. There's some speculation that he might have been from North Carolina because he was very familiar with the shallow waterways and inland areas of the state that he probably only would have known had he maybe grown up here. But what happened in the end was that Blackbeard died actually on North Carolina's coast. First he wrecked his ship, something intentionally, and so that wreck has been found, and so there's a couple of different sites where you can go and see some of the things that have been recovered from the ship. There's a great maritime museum in Carterette County. There's also East Carolina University in Greenville. They have the lab where they're restoring a lot of the artifacts. So there's a couple places you can go see that thing, or you can go out to the area where Blackbeard was actually killed. So what happened was he went up to Oak Creek, Oak Island and he basically was hanging out o Oak Island when the English sent some military troops down. There was this big sea battle right off the coast of Ocracoke Island, in the shallow waters.Lea Lane:
When was this?Wit Tuttle:
This was in 1715, I think in the early 1700s, so we had just celebrated the 300th anniversary. But every year Ocracoke Island does a pirate festival where they reenact Blackbeard's last days, and there's a place called Springer's Point where you can go. That's actually the site where this battle happened and where Blackbeard was killed, and when they killed him they cut off his head and brought the head back to Virginia, but they left his body there, so you can go to the exact spot where Blackbeard's body is still floating around, probably haunting people. It's a great spot. Okra coke itself a really special place. It's only accessible by ferry and it's one of the really true places where you can still get out there and have a wonderful experience on the coast.Lea Lane:
Fabulous. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So, Wit, please would you give us a personal memory of yours about North Carolina.Wit Tuttle:
OK, so one of my favorite memories is got to be eating barbecue at Lexington Barbecue, because what I think is fantastic about this place is, if you go to a barbecue joint and I'll talk about my experience at Lexington Barbecue, but it's really any barbecue joint across the state and there are hundreds of them it's one of the places where people really mix and integrate more so than ever. You'll see Black people, you'll see White people, you'll see Hispanic people, you'll see rich people, you'll see poor people, you'll see everybody getting along, sitting together, eating together, and I just think that's a wonderful experience that we all need throughout this country, and barbecue restaurants are one of the places you'll really see that, where everybody sits, everybody talks and we all realize how much we have in common rather than how much is pulling us apart. So that's my favorite experience about North Carolina is just going to a barbecue joint, hanging out and watching people get along.Lea Lane:
Wow, that's the solution, I hope, to what ails us --having a rib or pulled pork.Wit Tuttle:
Barbecue exactly. Barbecue saved the world.Lea Lane:
Oh boy. Well, thank you, Wit. l head a Visit t North Carolina for your expertise and your memories. You have a beautiful state. It's so interesting. I hope everybody listens and goes. There's so much to do and see. Thank you.Wit Tuttle:
Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.