Help NC’s ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties by vis­it­ing them

The Herald Sun - - Opinion - BY COLIN CAMP­BELL Colin Camp­bell is ed­i­tor of the In­sider State Gov­ern­ment News Ser­vice. Fol­low him at NCIn­ or @RaleighRe­porter. Write to him at ccamp­[email protected]­

For those of us who don’t of­ten get out­side the cities – or very far be­yond our own towns – North Carolina geog­ra­phy can be con­fus­ing.

Franklin­ton is in Franklin County, but the town of Franklin sits 300 miles west in Ma­con County. Mean­while the town of Ma­con is in War­ren County, not all that far from Franklin County.

We’re a state where place names get re­cy­cled and there’s a good chance your GPS will send you astray. North Carolina is home to War­saw – not be­cause of Pol­ish im­mi­grants but be­cause a train con­duc­tor pass­ing through in the 1800s hap­pened to be read­ing a novel called “Thad­deus of War­saw,” ac­cord­ing to The North Carolina Gazetteer. We also have our own Bo­livia, Mil­wau­kee and Scran­ton.

But we’re a state with some of the quirki­est place names you can find on a map any­where. In Ran­dolph County, the Whynot com­mu­nity re­port­edly got its name when res­i­dents couldn’t agree on a name for the new post of­fice. “Why not name it after this per­son?” peo­ple sug­gested, un­til some­one got fed up and asked “why not name it ‘why not.’”

In John­ston County, Shoe­heel got its name from an in­ci­dent where amis-be­hav­ing stranger was hit with the heel of a woman’s shoe, or at least that’s the leg­end. Other fun place names in­clude Toast (Surry County), Bat Cave (Hen­der­son County), Seven Devils (Avery County), Tick Bite (Lenoir County), Booger­town (Gas­ton County) and Eureka (Wayne County).

See­ing these names on a map is enough tomake you crave a road trip. In a state where we’re fre­quently lament­ing the ur­ban-ru­ral di­vide, the eas­i­est way to help bridge that di­vide is by hop­ping in the car.

Drive a cou­ple of hours from your home and visit a place you’ve never been. You’ll prob­a­bly en­counter down­towns with some va­cant store­fronts, but you’ll also find some great restau­rants. Some of the best home cook­ing and bar­be­cue can be found in the state’s small­est towns, and you hardly ever need a reser­va­tion to get in the door. I did this re­cently and got a few blank stares from friends who won­dered why I’d want to spend a cou­ple days in out-of-the-way places.

In Ellerbe, I found an eclec­tic col­lec­tion of taxi­dermy and Amer­i­can In­dian ar­ti­facts at the Rankin Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Her­itage, which hosts the col­lec­tion of an ec­cen­tric lo­cal doc­tor. At nearby Rock­ing­ham’s Kool Kakes Bak­ery, I tasted a mas­sive, hot cin­na­mon bun. I stepped back in time to the golden age of rail travel at Ham­let’s re­stored 1900 train sta­tion. And I spent the night in a his­toric man­sion in Lau­r­in­burg for only $50.

Spend­ing time on the ground in ru­ral North Carolina, it’s clear that the nar­ra­tive of shrink­ing, dy­ing small towns is in­ac­cu­rate. Most of them won’t again have the boom­ing pop­u­la­tions they once had, but they’re still home to thriv­ing small busi­nesses and peo­ple who are work­ing hard to make their home­towns suc­ceed.

Many towns are bounc­ing back from the loss of ma­jor em­ploy­ers. The state has lured new man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties, and some towns have found a new niche to en­tice trav­el­ers and tourists.

That’s where the city folks can lend a hand. In­stead of plan­ning a week­end in Raleigh, Char­lotte or Wilm­ing­ton, why not visit some­where new like Eden­ton, Sylva or Whiteville? You might be sur­prised at how much they have to of­fer tourists, and at a much cheaper price.

You’ll do your small part to boost North Carolina’s ru­ral econ­omy. You’ll help bridge the ru­ral-ur­ban di­vide by gain­ing a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of smaller com­mu­ni­ties. While you’re at it, you’ll prob­a­bly run across some signs with fun place names, and you might even master our state’s wacky geog­ra­phy.

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