Remote learning to allow for snow day flexibility

With winter quickly approaching, Watauga County Schools would like to remind families how the district makes and communicates decisions about the operation of school during inclement weather.

This year, thanks to additional equipment and student laptops purchased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district plans to utilize remote learning on certain school days that would have otherwise been cancelled and later made up due to inclement weather.

Superintendent Scott Elliott said the districts’ period of remote learning in the fall had prepared WCS with the equipment and experience it needed to operate school remotely on snow days this winter.

“Our experience with remote learning has given us the opportunity for the first time to hold school remotely on days that winter weather would have ordinarily forced us to close our doors,” Elliott said. “While remote learning can’t fully replace what our students experience in our classrooms in person, it will give us much needed flexibility to mitigate the impact missing 15 to 20 days a year because of inclement weather can have on instruction.”

Elliott said that using remote learning to replace snow days this year would eliminate the need for Saturday school, protect Christmas and Spring break and help ensure that the school year would not need to be extended into late June to make-up for snow days. However, remote days will not completely eliminate the need to make up all the days Watauga Schools typically miss each year.

This year, the North Carolina General Assembly mandated that school districts build five remote learning days into their calendars. Watauga County Schools used the first of those required days to close school buildings for students on Election Day. Elliott said the remaining four would be used to cover snow days — especially before Christmas break so that exams could be given at the high school before students went home for the holidays.

“If we find that these remote learning days are successful, we have the option to use more if we need to,” Elliott said. “We’ve had a very productive experience with remote learning in the past, and if we see those high levels of participation and good use of time continue going forward, it’s my hope we will be able to use remote learning even further to limit the number of days missed.”
However, Elliott warned that if the days are not used effectively, then remote learning on snow days will be limited moving forward.

While WCS has been able to provide take home devices to many students over the course of this year — along with more than 200 wifi hotspots provided to homes with no landline internet access — Elliott said there were still pockets the community for whom high speed internet access was simply not available.

“Remote learning this year has made it more clear than ever that a number of families across our county face significant challenges accessing high speed internet,” Elliott said. “Teachers will work with students who won’t be able to access the internet at home to prepare materials to supplement their remote learning days. It’s not necessarily an ideal solution, but until high speed internet infrastructure is extended into rural communities across Watauga, our staff will do everything possible to ensure our students have equal access to the materials they need to learn.”

Elliott said that, while remote learning days provided much needed flexibility in long and often severe winters, it was still his priority to get students into school buildings in person when it is safe to do so. The district will still continue with it’s long implemented standards for early morning road checks and close contact with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va. on days with inclement weather.

When bad weather begins overnight, the process for making decisions about the operation of school kicks off at 3 a.m. when Elliott and Transportation Director Jeff Lyons begin the process of gathering information about road conditions and the most current weather forecast.

By 3:30 a.m., a road check team consisting of Elliott, Lyons, and other staff members begins driving assigned routes to check road conditions throughout Watauga County. Lyons and Elliott both routinely participate in a morning live conference call with National Weather Service meteorologists in Blacksburg, VA at 4:30 a.m.

In an average winter, crews are on the road approximately 40 mornings.

The final decision about school schedules and bus routes is based on information gathered from the road check team, NCDOT, local law enforcement and the latest weather forecasts.

That decision is normally made before the first school bus departs at 5:25 a.m. and is announced in several ways: a statement at the top of all pages of school websites at; via local media outlets; by automated phone messages, email, and text messages to parents; via Twitter at @WataugaSchools; and through a recorded snow line message at (828) 264-0200.

If you have questions about the limited bus routes for your school, you can get more information at, or by contacting the WCS Transportation Department at (828) 264-6391.

Watauga County Schools are closed an average of approximately 15 days per year for snow and ice, with wide variation around that average. The number of days missed has ranged from a low of four days in 1990-91 to a peak of 39 days in 1977-78. The system missed 20 days for weather last school year.

Elliott said as winter weather approaches, it’s important that parents update their contact information with their school’s front office, as that information will be used to announce closing, delay and emergency information.

ARHS thanks local businesses and organizations for outpouring of support

BOONE, NC (November 20, 2020) – Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” If her theory is correct, then the High Country community is among the greatest. 

Like the rest of America’s healthcare systems, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges and unimaginable scenarios for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS). While ARHS healthcare professionals worked the front line, local businesses, organizations and individuals immediately stepped up to help.  

They donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as N-95 masks, face shields, hand-sewn face coverings, hand sanitizer, and protective suits. They dropped off food, treats and special meals for employees. They offered special discounts or perks to ARHS employees, such as free soft drinks at their establishments. The Watauga and Avery County first responders and emergency personnel even paraded by Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital in a show of solidarity and support. 

The healthcare team at ARHS has always stood ready to take care of the community. But it was profoundly touching when the community repeatedly came forward to help take care of them. For that support, the more than 1400 ARHS employees are forever grateful. It serves as a reminder that everyone is in this together, and ARHS is fortunate to be part of a community that feels that – and acts upon it.

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation and Employee Assistance Program worked with the following generous businesses, organizations and individuals who have shown support through donations of supplies and food. Everyone at ARHS would like to say a hearty “THANK YOU.”

App State Athletics, ASU Beaver College of Health Sciences – Nursing Department, ASU Chemistry Department, Art of Oil, Avery High School, Chris Barley, BB&T, Blue Ridge Energies, Bistro Roca, Boone Drug, Boone Girl Scout Troop 13115, Boone Paint, Bridgeman Dentistry, Call Family Distillers, Chick-fil-A, Clean Eatz, College Foundation of North Carolina, Cranberry Middle School, Creative Printing and Internet Services, Daniel Boone Inn, Frontier Natural Gas, Ashley Hampton, Adam Hill, DDS, Hope Pregnancy Center, Hospitality Mints, IND-Concepts, Insomnia Cookies, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mast General Store, Mayland Community College, Edna McKinney, Mark Muhaw, Moltox, NC Department of Transportation, Precision Printing, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty – Banner Elk, Promo Savvy, Publix, Ransom Pub, Kelly Rucker, Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church, Valerie Rush and Team, Samaritan’s Purse, Nicole Scheffler, DDS, Sherwin Williams, Spangler Restoration, Wal-Mart, Wilkes Community College, countless individuals who made and donated masks, and businesses who offered us special discounts or free drinks. 
The pandemic is not over yet. But one thing is certain: the High Country community will continue to come together as one in times of trial.

Family-Friendly Christmas Activities Near the High Country

Christmas is a joyful time of year. As parades and Christmas tree lightings may be canceled in the High Country, we wanted to compose activities for families that were all within driving distance.

Tanglewood Festival of Lights – (Clemmons, NC) Festival of Lights is open nightly, Friday, November 13th, 2020 through Friday, January 1st, 2021 from 6PM to 11PM.

High Country Lights – (Galax, VA) High Country Lights is an animated light show featuring over one hundred thousand Christmas lights choreographed to your favorite sounds of the season on a low-power radio transmitter – 95.9FM. It’s hosted by Galax Visitor’s Center and Galax Parks and Recreation Department in Felts Park. The show can be seen nightly starting at 6:00 p.m, November 20, 2020 – January 3, 2021. It ends at 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:00 p.m. Friday & Saturday. Admission is free.

Speedway Christmas – (Concord, NC) Mark your calendars, grab your popcorn and get ready for a night at the movies at America’s Home for the Holidays. Open Nov. 21 through Jan. 17, Speedway Christmas presented by Count On Me NC will liven up the Southeast’s largest drive-thru

Pinnacle Speedway in Lights – (Bristol, TN) The region’s most dazzling holiday light show returns to Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway. The Pinnacle Speedway In Lights, Powered by TVA, kicks off its 24th season with more lights and a route that offers visitors the chance to take a lap around “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” Holiday light seekers will circle the concrete oval as part of their festive drive and also may visit the Christmas Village, which returns to its popular infield location.

Tweetsie Christmas – (Blowing Rock, NC) Tweetsie Railroad will welcome guests for Tweetsie Christmas to celebrate the magical holiday season and end the year on a high-country note. Families are invited to make the breathtaking trip to the North Carolina mountains to commemorate their holiday traditions festively and safely.

Festival of Lights at Chetola – (Blowing Rock, NC) Close to 30,000 holiday illuminations light up Chetola beginning at dusk on Sunday, November 29, and running through the end of Blowing Rock Winterfest, January 28-31, 2021. As you drive or walk around Chetola Lake, view glittering ice skaters, a Nativity scene, a colorful train, Rudolph’s “Holiday Catch”, and much more.

Winter Wonderlights – (Greensboro, NC) Greensboro Science Center invites you to celebrate safely with loved ones at Winter Wonderlights. Featuring 12 magical realms of joyful sounds and shimmering lights such as dancing fountains, woodland wonders, a gingerbread barn, carousel dreams and more, this walk-thru experience is ticketed and timed to ensure proper social distancing. Check the calendar before buying tickets – most Mondays and Tuesdays are discounted, and you’ll find Santa and live music from the Greensboro Opera most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum – (Asheville, NC) Experience Asheville’s BRIGHTEST holiday tradition at Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum. This year, guests are invited to take a dreamy ride through the Arboretum’s enchanted forest and attend Winter Lights safely within their own vehicles. In light of COVID-19, the Arboretum has converted its popular event into a drive-thru show with per-car ticketing, allowing guests to navigate through a one-mile stretch of the Arboretum’s campus and see unique exhibits covered in thousands of holiday lights. As the Arboretum’s largest fundraising event of the year, proceeds generated from Winter Lights will directly support the Arboretum’s mission-driven programming.

The Polar Express – (Bryson City, NC) All Aboard THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride! This memorable journey will take you on an incredible roundtrip ride! Believe the magic this Holiday season!

Piedmont Winterfest – (Greensboro, NC) Bundle up and head to Piedmont Winterfest in downtown Greensboro, taking place at LeBauer Park. Glide down an ice slide and let your kiddos go wild in the snow play box. There’s even an ice rink, which lets you rock those figure eights. To really show off your moves though, lace up your skates on Friday and Saturday nights for dance music with synchronized disco lights at the rink.

Carowind’s Taste of the Season – (Charlotte, NC) Christmas event is an outdoor dining experience with a sleigh-full of family activities. Purchase a Tasting Card to choose among 30 samples of holiday sweets and savories. Feast your eyes on dazzling holiday décor, enjoy seasonal shows, and wrap up your Christmas shopping. What’s more, select family rides are open to deliver the ear-to-ear smiles and belly laughs you can always count on from Carowinds.

Barter at the Moonlite Drive In – (Abingdon, VA) Keep the tradition alive this holiday season by celebrating with your whole family at Barter Theatre at the Moonlite Drive In. These two classic Christmas shows are performing November 20th through December 23rd. Tickets are on sale now!

Christmas Town USA – (McAdenville, NC) Trees will be lit in the downtown area from the PHARR FAMILY YMCA on Main Street (N.C. Highway # 7)
to the SPRUCED GOOSE RESTAURANT on Wesleyan Drive (Near the lake)

Watauga County Parks and Recreation Drive-Thru Christmas Parade

Beech Mountain Christmas Parade and Festival

A Braces-friendly Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. We wanted to share the below article from our site-wide sponsor, OP Smiles.

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching which means we will soon be gathered around the table to share thanks and enjoy our favorite holiday foods. If you or your child is dining with braces, your Thanksgiving menu may look slightly different than in years past. OP Smiles hopes to help you to enjoy a wonderful day with your family without any complications coming from your braces! We encourage you to take a moment to review our recommendations on the best options for the upcoming holiday.  

Foods to Enjoy

Below are a few of our favorite Thanksgiving foods that are braces-friendly:

  • Turkey & Ham — we recommend cutting your serving off the bone and into small bite-sized pieces.
  • Mashed Potatoes — soft and delicious mashed potatoes are an ideal side item for those dining with braces.
  • Stuffing — you should have no issues enjoying this Thanksgiving classic.
  • Deviled Eggs — since deviled eggs are a soft food, they won’t cause a fuss with your braces.
  • Rolls & Muffins — steer clear of bread with added nuts but many traditional rolls and muffins are safe for braces.
  • Gravy & Cranberry Sauce — these soft accompaniments are great but be sure to drink plenty of water with your cranberry sauce due to its acidity, which can increase your risk of enamel erosion.
  • Pumpkin Pie & Cheesecake — these sweet treats are both smooth and creamy, making them easy to eat with braces.

Foods to Avoid

Below are foods that you want to be wary of at the dinner table. These are better to avoid while wearing braces:

  • Raw Vegetables — biting into hard, raw veggies could harm your braces. Substitute for softer veggies, such as green beans, carrots that have been sautéed, and baked sweet potatoes.
  • Nuts — avoid snacking on nuts before the main spread is ready.
  • Sticky Desserts — sticky desserts using caramel can easily get stuck in and around your braces.

Happy Thanksgiving from OP Smiles

There are plenty of braces-friendly options to enjoy this Thanksgiving. No matter what you chow down on, remember to floss and brush your teeth after your meal to help prevent food particles from getting lodged in your braces.

The team at OP Smiles is thankful for the opportunity to treat our wonderful patients. As always, if you need help making dental decisions while wearing braces, contact the OP Smiles team today!

High Country 2020 Fall Family Fun

Can you believe that fall is just around the corner? We want to share ways you can have fun this fall. Please keep checking back as we will add to this post as we receive information.

Families love a good corn maze and pumpkin patch!

New River Corn Maze – They are opening the weekend of September 19.

Days and Hours: Friday and Saturday 10 am until dark and Sunday 1 pm until dark. Please note that due to COVID-19 restrictions, they are not operating the ride this year or selling drinks and snacks. They encourage families to bring picnic blankets as well as their own snacks and drinks for optimum health safety and comfort.

Address: 556 Laurel Gap Ridge Rd, Boone, NC 28607


Watauga Parks and Recreation – Trunk-or-treat is happening Thursday, October 29th from 5-7 p.m. This is a drive thru ONLY event for trick-or-treaters. The neighborhood will be set up in the new Watauga Community Recreation Center parking lot. RAIN OR SHINE EVENT.


Beech Mountain’s Halloween Party and Trail or Treat – October 30th 6pm ($5)
Buckeye Recreation Center, Beech Mountain
Zombies are everywhere! Stock up on candy from the trail or treat and then head out on the haunted trail.


West Jefferson Drive Thru Trick or Treat – October 31st 3-5pm
Enter off Second Ave to continue down the backstreet
Handing out prepacked bags.


Drive Thru Halloween @ The Playhouse – Drive Thru Halloween at The Children’s Playhouse will be held from 4:00 pm to 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 31st. This is free but you must register to participate. The Playhouse will be handing out treat bags via a pumpkin chute off of our porch. The bags will contain a simple craft and individually wrapped chocolate and cookies. The bags will have been packed and sealed for several days prior to Halloween.

Visit The Children’s Playhouse to learn more about the play kits they are offering families.


Howard’s Creek Church Trunk or Treat on October 31st (4-6 pm)

Address: 240 Howard’s Creek Rd, Boone, NC 28607


Apple Hill Farm – Reservations are required. The tour is generally 45 to 60 minutes in length and is a guided walking tour. The tour is all outdoors, so come dressed for the weather. Note that this is a real working fiber farm! Your tour will be an educational tour where you learn about the animals who live and play at Apple Hill Farm. Most of the animals are very friendly, but they are not a petting zoo and let the animals choose if they will come over to interact with the tour or not.


Neighborhood and Community Fall Fun Ideas

Maria Bailey, CEO of BSM Media, shares creative ideas that families can enjoy in their neighborhoods this year.

Wagon parades and costume sidewalk shows will lead the way as new Halloween celebrations this year. 

Moms are innovative and social distancing is no challenge for their creativity in making memories for their children.  Radio Flyer and Little Tikes can expect to see spikes in sales as moms turn their wagons into Pinterest-worthy costume extensions with their children comfortably seated inside.  Ask yourself how your brand can fill those wagons with treats?

Drive-by trick or treating and porch treat drops will replace door to door trick or treating for 2020.

Drive-by trick or treating and porch treat drops will replace door to door trick or treating for 2020. Forty-seven percent of moms surveyed say they will participate in drive-by trick or treating if today’s conditions persist in October. Smart brands like Party City are on trend now offering car decorations, door drop favors and yard decorations that support these new celebrations.

Booing will be the most used verb of the 2020 Halloween season. 

Not sure what “booing” is? Don’t worry, we won’t leave you in the dark.  Booing is the act of leaving treats or decorations at the home of a neighbor with no indication of where they came from.  The surprise is fun and leaves friends wondering “who is the ghost who left his mark?” This is great news for home décor, snack foods and small toy brands.  Booing is an opportunity for incremental sales during the preholiday season.

Tweetsie Railroad to Open for Tweetsie Christmas®

As a challenging year comes to an end, Tweetsie Railroad will welcome guests for Tweetsie Christmas to celebrate the magical holiday season and end the year on a high-country note. Families are invited to make the breathtaking trip to the North Carolina mountains to commemorate their holiday traditions festively and safely.

“We have missed our Guests so much this year,” said Cathy Robbins, director of marketing for Tweetsie. “Our typical season milestones, including Opening Day, Independence Day, Railroad Heritage Weekend and Ghost Train, came and went without us being able to open the park and celebrate with guests, so we’re very excited to end the year making merry memories as we light up the park and fire up our historic steam locomotive for Tweetsie Christmas.”

Tweetsie Christmas will open select nights beginning November 13 through December 31, opening at 5 p.m. The park will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Tweetsie Christmas tickets are on sale now and may be purchased at or by calling the ticket office at 877-TWEETSIE.

This year, each Golden Rail Season Pass holder will receive one free admission and train ride during Tweetsie Christmas. Additionally, any previously purchased 2020 General Admission or Day Out With Thomas ticket can be credited towards a Tweetsie Christmas ticket by calling the ticket office. With a limited number of tickets available each night and a reduced park capacity, advance tickets are required for the event. Admission is $44 for adults, $38 for children (age 3-12) and free for children two and under.  The train runs every 40 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m.  

Each night guests can take a 20-minute train ride behind a historic steam locomotive on a 3-mile route lined with nearly one million Christmas lights, and enjoy the park’s many activities. Guests are advised to  dress warmly, because most of the event is outdoors.  They will also be able to tour Santa’s Gingerbread House and visit with Santa Claus.

Groups will be socially distanced, and a protective barrier will be between guests and Santa at all times. Families will be able to speak with and pose for a photo with Saint Nick, and children are encouraged to bring a letter to Santa to put in his mailbox.

“Tweetsie Christmas will be slightly different without our regular live holiday show or snow globes in order to keep guests safe and follow safety protocols, but it will still be a very holly, jolly experience,” said Robbins. “We hope everyone will make plans to visit the park to celebrate the holidays.”

Tweetsie Railroad is following all CDC and established guidelines for limiting the spread of COVID-19, including managing a reduced park capacity through a reservation system and requiring a mask or face covering to be worn by Staff and Guests over the age of 5 unless exempt under NC Executive Order 169. All safety measures are available for review at

About Tweetsie Railroad  

Tweetsie Railroad has been creating memories and offering family-friendly adventures since 1957. Located on U.S. Highway 321 between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Tweetsie is situated in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Admission prices for Tweetsie Christmas are $44 for adults and $38 for children. For more information about Tweetsie Railroad, visit or call 877.TWEETSIE (877.898.3874). Tweetsie Railroad will open again on April 2, 2021.

Beech Mountain Offers Discounted Weekday Season Pass

Can you believe that ski season is just around the corner? We have exciting news regarding a weekday season pass at Beech Mountain Resort.

Photo Credit: Beech Mountain Resort

Beech Mountain Resort season pass sale starts on October 12, 2020.

Skip the crowd and enjoy unlimited skiing during the week. A weekday season pass is valid Monday through Friday non-holiday. This pass is not valid December 14, 2020 through January 1, 2021.

Adults (13-64)- $400

Juniors (5-12)-$300

Seniors (65-69)-$300

Active Military and immediate family-$300

College Students (with valid 2020-2021 College ID)- $300

Local Student and Faculty/Staff Pass: $225

The local student and faculty/staff pass is valid for all Lees-McRae College, Appalachian State University, Watauga and Avery County Schools students, faculty, and staff.

Purchase your season pass by visiting Beech Mountain Resort’s website.

WCS – Returning to in-person instruction

A message from Watauga County Schools, Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott, regarding the opening of schools for K-3 Students. You can find more information at

Drive-in at Valle Crucis Fairgrounds

The Hunger and Health Coalition (HHC) is Watauga County’s biggest Food Pantry and only Free Pharmacy! They provide services so that no one in our community needs to make the choice between affording their medication or affording to eat. They provide quality treatment for individuals with low income and provide food and other necessities to help our neighbors in need get a leg up.

HHC is hosting a family-friendly Drive-in Fundraiser at the Valle Crucis Fairgrounds. Let’s help them make this fundraiser a huge success!

Find tickets on Facebook here: Beetlejuice |  Hocus Pocus

Community Music School Launches New Pay What You Can Model

Appalachian State’s Community Music School is excited to offer a new Pay What You Can model for its group classes, and financial assistance is available for private lessons. They are committed to making music accessible for ALL!

Course Offerings (Visit the website for more details):
Guitar (private and group classes)
Ukulele (private and group classes)
Discover Music (Infant to age 3)
Let’s Play Piano! (group piano class separated by age group)
Vocal Academy (high school program for motivated high school vocalists)
Youth Orchestra
Appalachian Youth Chorale
Hit Maker (middle and high school program for those interested in composing their own music on-line)

Registration is Now Open! For more information please go to our website: or contact Dr. Nicole Sonbert:

The Community Music School is a non-profit organization that proudly serves Boone and the surrounding communities by making the musical arts accessible for people of all ages and backgrounds. We offer private music lessons, classes, ensembles, and community events. We invite you to learn more about our programs and events!