Seventies Set Stage For Today's Watauga County

It always plays a little different up here in the mountains, and if the turbulence of the 1960's passed us by to a degree, the Seventies wrought some of the biggest changes ever seen in Watauga County.

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As if to serve notice of a new resort area mentality - and economy - The Land of Oz theme park opened on Beech Mountain in 1970. And the floodgates opened when beer and wine, then liquor by the drink was voted into Blowing Rock shortly thereafter, ushering in the era of P.B. Scott's and a welcome mat for the restaurant, motel, and tourist industry.

Boone and Watauga County would both show serious growth spurts; the county from 23,404 residents at the beginning of the decade to 31,666 in 1980, and the town growing from 8,754 to 10,191. The unparalleled growth occurred across the board, as Appalachian State's enrollment would top 9,000 by the last year of the decade.Seventies Set Stage For Today's Watauga County

Blowing Rock would register its 1000th resident in 1978. And again true to its form as a contra-indicator of national trends, Watauga County registered about half the crippling 9.1% unemployment rate midway through the ten-year span.

Despite an oil crisis and recession that gripped the country in the mid-seventies, the recreation industry was not to be denied; for the first five years of the decade, non-local land ownership jumped over 20% in Watauga.

Only 10% of that off-the-mountain owned land was built upon, a sure indication of a coming seasonal economic base, and the ten years prevailed over a 250% jump in land values - and cost - countywide.Seventies Set Stage For Today's Watauga County

The average local wage in 1976? $125 a week. But the decade would see increased prosperity; in 1975 the per-capita income of county residents was a scant $3,617; a figure that would increase only five years later to $6,083.

But in that year the number of families living in poverty still amounted to 22%. In 1975 the Boone airport still had an unpaved runway; there were four banks in Boone and Trailways bus service.

The county property-tax rate was a whopping 95 cents on the hundred. Aside from the world-renowned bashes at Scott's, there were plenty of other celebrations of note; Boone celebrated its centennial in 1972 and Doc Watson played at Horn in the West - 25 years old that year - for the country's 200th birthday bash in 1976.

Skiing was becoming bigger than ever, especially after the appearance of World Champion Jean Claude Killy locally in 1974. Boone became the sight of the world's largest windmill when the government located its experimental wind turbine on Howard's Knob in 1978.

And just to the north, it must be noted that the first Woolly Worm festival was held in 1978, with 'Brown Sugar' predicting a mild winter.

Boone would get some notoriety through two of its favorite sons; Governor Holshouser hailed from the High Country, as did state Attorney General Rufous Edmisten, whose career got started with Senator Sam Ervin and was the first man to serve a subpoena on President Richard Nixon in the Watergate affair.

And to keep tabs on it all, the Sundown Times - to become the Mountain Times - was founded by Blowing Rock resident Ken Ketchie in 1978. One other huge change was taking place on the ground in Watauga as throughout the region; the traditional vegetable, sheep, cattle, and tobacco farms were giving way; either shutting down or converting over to another, experimental crop, Christmas trees.

Watauga County recorded 1,235 farms in 1969, and had dropped to just 900 by 1975. Full time farmers dropped in 1977 to 301 from a high of 2,636 at the start of the decade, but the end of the seventies would also see the tree industry take hold and begin to salvage the family farm in the northern mountains.

With all the activity, the decade also saw the formation of the Watauga County Economic Development Study, whose conclusions can be well considered more than twenty years later; "the county should encourage only quality and planned recreational development which will not result in environmental degradation, traffic congestion, higher service costs, and low-wage jobs for county residents."

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