Melinda Massey Blazing the Heritage Trail

Published 9:34 pm Friday, March 4, 2016

BlueRidgeSignDesign.jpg: This sign is one of five at the North Carolina welcome centers on the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area trail. Inside the welcome centers are kiosks tourists can use to map out their exploration of the trail, and according to Polk County Director of Tourism Melinda Massey, the trail can be pieced together in any way as it is not the typical “A to B” route.

BlueRidgeSignDesign.jpg: This sign is one of five at the North Carolina welcome centers on the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area trail. Inside the welcome centers are kiosks tourists can use to map out their exploration of the trail, and according to Polk County Director of Tourism Melinda Massey, the trail can be pieced together in any way as it is not the typical “A to B” route.

By Michael O’Hearn


A rich heritage and sprawling history of Western North Carolina have captivated residents of the state for many years. Up until recently, landmarks documenting this region’s history were nonexistent.


For four years, Polk County Director of Tourism Melinda Massey has made it her goal to provide 70 stopping points in 27 counties for tourists who want to check out this region’s past. Each sign falls within the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area’s five themes including Cherokee, craft, music, agriculture and natural heritage.

Melinda Massey

Melinda Massey


In conjunction with the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area project and the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Massey has worked on this trail since 2011.


“It was a very fortunate series of events,” Massey said. “At the time, I was a part time director at the visitor’s center and needed some extra work. I had done PR for many years before coming to Polk County and so it was natural for me to start looking for opportunities.”


Massey came to the area from Atlanta where she worked with the Coca-Cola world headquarters in public relations for 10 years. Before then, she received her degree in visual communication at Ohio University.


Angie Chandler is the executive director of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and worked with Massey to coordinate this trail for the region.


“One of the great things about Melinda is that she was a tourism development authority director,” Chandler said. “She understood how this program was going to help Polk County and all of the counties where these signs were to be located. She really worked very hard in Polk County to get these sites along the trail but, as part of her job, she also saw the whole picture.”


Working with Chandler in a previous position at Chimney Rock Park helped Massey establish a working relationship with the soon-to-be Blue Ridge National Heritage Area executive director.


“I had worked with Angie Chandler in a prior job for both of us,” Massey said. “I was the PR specialist at Chimney Rock Park and she was the director of programs at the North Carolina Arboretum and we would partner together and go do media trips and planned events in conjunction with each other.”


Chandler inherited the project when she became the executive director of the BRNHA, but according to Massey, the project had been stalled at the time.


After reapplying for a partner grant that would allow them to carry out their project and providing a map of the project, Massey signed on to set up the rest of the trail.


“They were looking for someone who could work for two years because that’s what they thought the timing was on it,” Massey said. It was the right fit for her, she said, as she was being transitioned from full-time to part-time.


The signs were initially supposed to be put out in phases, according to Massey.


“The grant did not allow that because it had to be a one time deal,” Massey explained. “All of the signs, partners and installations had to be in place and done at once. We knew we had 22 people eagerly awaiting their signs, but they were nowhere in sight.”


A brochure was then created including a list of the 22 people who already requested a sign to start driving traffic towards those places, according to Massey.


“After that, I got busy and my job was to find potential sites and partners for the trail,” Massey said. “I had to look at these sites by county, by place and by theme with the heritage trail. The mission of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, which is a part of the National Park Service, is to preserve and promote the themes of the mountains which make our area so special.”


Polk County is home to three Heritage Trail sites, including the Mill Spring Agriculture Center, Pearson’s Falls and Saluda. Massey ensured each county had trail markers for tourists to visit.


Five interactive kiosks are at each of the five welcome centers surrounding the Blue Ridge Heritage Trail Area. The trail officially launched at a press conference on Feb. 25 at the I-85 welcome center in Kings Mountain, N.C.


“I think it’s great because this project looks out for the little guys,” Massey explained. “You have some big guys on the map like Chimney Rock, but then people will go to those and be interested to see the smaller places as well.”


For more information on all of the trail markers, please visit or or call the Blue Ridge National Heritage Trail at 828-298-5330.

Trail markers throughout Western North Carolina include:

Historic Earle Theatre – Mount Airy, N.C.

Town of Sparta – Sparta, N.C.

Air Bellows Gap, Blue Ridge Parkway

Old Wilkes Jail – Wilkesboro, N.C.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Ben Long Frescoes – Wilkesboro, N.C.

Tweetsie Railroad – Blowing Rock, N.C.

Moses Cane Park, Blue Ridge Parkway

Hickory Ridge Living History Museum and Outdoor Drama – Boone, N.C.

Mast Farm Inn – Banner Elk, N.C.

Original Mast General Store – Valle Crucis, N.C.

Grandfather Mountain – Linville, N.C.

The Crossnore School Ben Long Fresco – Crossnore, N.C.

Gardens of the Blue Ridge – Newland, N.C.

Lost Cove Cliffs, Blue Ridge Parkway

Linville Gorge, Brown Mountain Overlook – Morganton, N.C.

Linville Caverns – Marion, N.C.

Orchard at Altapass, Blue Ridge Parkway

Hog Waller Market in Downtown Lenoir – Lenoir, N.C.

Statesville Civic Center Ben Long Fresco – Statesville, N.C.

Waldensian Heritage Museum – Valdese, N.C.

City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium Ben Long Fresco – Morganton, N.C.

16th Century Native American Village – Morganton, N.C.

South Mountains State Park – Connelly, N.C.

Earl Scruggs Center – Shelby, N.C.

Bostic Lincoln Center – Bostic, N.C.

Bechtler Mint – Rutherfordton, N.C.

Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park – Chimney Rock, N.C.

Hickory Nut Gorge – Lake Lure, N.C.

Mill Spring Agriculture Development Center – Mill Spring, N.C.

Pearson’s Falls – Saluda, N.C.


Perry N. Rudnick Art and Nature Trail – Hendersonville, N.C.

Historic Johnson Farm – Hendersonville, N.C.

Fletcher, Howard Gap Road – Fletcher, N.C.

Montreat College Ben Long Fresco – Black Mountain, N.C.

Mountain Gateway Museum and Heritage Center – Old Fort, N.C.

Historic Carson House – Marion, N.C.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Rural Heritage Museum – Mars Hill, N.C.

Hot Springs – Hot Springs, N.C.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial – Asheville, N.C.

Shindig on the Green Summer Music Festival – Asheville, N.C.

Biltmore Estate – Asheville, N.C.

The North Carolina Arboretum – Asheville, N.C.

The Cradle of Forestry, Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking Glass Rock, Blue Ridge Parkway

Bethel Rural Community – Canton, N.C.

Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts – Waynesville, N.C.

Qualla Boundary, Blue Ridge Parkway

Oconaluftee Indian Village – Cherokee, N.C.

Qualla Arts and Crafts – Cherokee, N.C.

Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama – Cherokee, N.C.

Museum of the Cherokee Indian – Cherokee, N.C.

Judaculla Rock Petroglyphs – Cullowhee, N.C.

Little Tennessee River Greenway – Franklin, N.C.

North Carolina Bartram Trail – Franklin, N.C.

Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum – Franklin, N.C.

Nantahala Outdoor Center – Bryson City, N.C.

Nantahala Lake – Topton, N.C.

Cheoah, Heart of the Old Cherokee Nation – Robbinsville, N.C.

Konehete, Breadbasket of the Old Cherokee Nation – Andrews, N.C.

Clay County Heritage – Hayesville, N.C.

John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, N.C.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Cherokee, N.C.



Five welcome centers:

I-77 North Welcome Center – Dobson, N.C.

I-85 South Welcome Center – Kings Mountain, N.C.

I-26 East Welcome Center – Columbus, N.C.

I-26 West Welcome Center – Mars Hill, N.C.

I-40 West Welcome Center – Waynesville, N.C.