The Birth Of Beech Mountain In 1981

The highest town east of the Mississippi was incorporated in 1981: Beech Mountain. The small but opinionated community came to life at the same time that its major attraction was folding. The Land of Oz was a famous attraction based on the book by Frank Baum, featuring Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. After a strong run in the 1970's, the resort failed to open for the 1982 season, citing financial reasons. One of the backers was Grover Robbins, a major player in the establishment of the Tweetsie Railroad attraction. Artifacts and exhibits from Oz are currently on display in the Appalachian Cultural Museum in Boone.

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Oz's loss was the ski industry's gain. Ski slopes became the main attraction, and in fact, the mountain probably has a legitimate claim to some of the first organized skiing in the High Country. In the 1930's, groups of Lees-McRae students began taking to the rough slopes of the mountain on skis. The students in the Industrial Education department even began making skis to help meet the demand. A club called Skiing Zero was formed during the craze.

Beech Mountain made an unsuccessful bid to secede from Watauga County in 1987.

There were reports of gold and silver found on the mountain in the 1940's, but the successful prospectors, if any, took their operations elsewhere. At the turn of the century, the raw area was a place where locals gathered herbs or hunted, but some of the hardwoods fell victim to logging, as happened in many other areas.

Beech's population hovered at a couple of hundred in the 1980's. Though the population was small, its voice was large. When a tax redistribution plan was approved by Watauga County, a battle that has since flared again, Beech residents said that the tax money wasn't being spread fairly. The money was distributed on the basis of population, not expenditures.

In fact, Beech made an unsuccessful bid to secede from Watauga County in 1987. At 5,500 feet in elevation, it lays claim to being eastern North America's highest town.

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