The nearby mountains provide plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, including hiking, camping, biking, rafting, kayaking, and fishing. Every season offers something beautiful. From wildflowers in spring to autumn's showy displays of leaves changing colors to warm days in summer and sugary snow dusting the higher elevations in winter.
For activities right in the city, Asheville's parks and recreation department, the first nationally accredited municipal recreation department in the nation, offers sports leagues and classes for all ages. City parks provide athletic fields, playgrounds, picnic areas, trails, and ball courts. There are 11 recreation centers with senior, summer and after-school programs. Asheville and the surrounding area is home to a number of public and private golf courses where lush fairways, bent grass greens and undulating terrain make the game enjoyable for all. Local festivals and events include Easter Eggstravaganza, Westfest, Fourth of July Celebration, Asheville Film Festival, Halloween Spooktacular and Downtown After Five.
Both city and county schools show strong SAT scores.
Asheville was the playground of the rich and famous in the late 19th century. George W. Vanderbilt visited Asheville around 1880 and fell in love with the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. He wanted a magnificent country estate and began what is the nation's largest private home, the Biltmore House. Completed in 1895, the 250-room French Renaissance mansion was furnished and decorated with finds made by Vanderbilt during collecting trips in Europe. The home had conveniences not available to the general public, including electric lights, central hot water and electric elevators.
Frederick Law Olmstead, landscape architect of New York City's Central Park, was hired to turn 75 acres surrounding the house into formal gardens, including the Walled Garden with 50,000 tulips, the Rose Garden with 2,300 bushes of more than 150 varieties, the Azalea Garden and the Italian Garden. Biltmore House and its gardens are open for public tours.
The Grove Park Inn, built in 1913 from boulders cut by hand and hauled from nearby Sunset Mountain, offered first class service and accommodations to the wealthy that were not staying at Biltmore House. Guests at the Grove Park Inn include Thomas Alva Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, many generations of Rockefellers, and US Presidents. Today, Grove Park Inn is just as luxurious as when it first opened, with a full-service spa and excellent restaurants.
Asheville has many places of interest, including the Botanical Gardens with 10 acres of plants native to the southern Appalachian Mountains, the North Carolina Arboretum with 426 acres of trails, an education center and five themed gardens. Western North Carolina Nature Center offers an aviary, petting zoo and walking trail. Mount Mitchell State Park encompasses Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. With a 6,684-foot summit, the mountain was named for Dr. Elisha Mitchell who fell to his death while trying to prove the mountain's height.
Pack Place is home to the Asheville Art Museum, Colburn Gem and Mineral Museum, the Health Adventure, and YMI Cultural Center. The Homespun Shops, Grovewood Gallery and Museum are located next to Grove Park Inn. North Carolina mountain crafts and the history of Biltmore Industries along with wool-manufacturing skills of mountain people are on display. The Smith-McDowell House, built in 1840, features period furnishings, photographs and household items. Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site was the writer's boyhood home. The family's possessions are on display and the atmosphere is that of Dixieland, the boarding house in Wolfe's novel, “Look Homeward, Angel.” Asheville's reaction to Wolfe's autobiographical work was less than enthusiastic in 1929 but today, Thomas Wolfe is a favorite son, along with writer O. Henry, both of whom are buried in Riverside Cemetery.
An excellent way to see Asheville is to stroll along the 1.7-mile Urban Trail. Pink granite markers are embedded in sidewalks to take walkers past historic buildings, through historic areas and past artwork depicting Asheville's history and heritage. Trolley tours provide another method of seeing Asheville, and riders can hop on and off the trolley to see the sites. The Reed Creek Greenway, currently under development, will link neighborhoods to the University of North Carolina, Asheville, and the Botanical Gardens with two bridges, information kiosks, public art, constructed wetlands, and gardens.
Asheville is located in Buncombe County, which was named for Colonel Edward Buncombe, a Revolutionary War figure. The county was formed from parts of Burke and Rutherford counties in 1791.
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