Two and half decades ago, Kit Trubey purchased “277 acres of unrestricted land” on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The property was a declining orchard rimmed by spectacular, shadowy mountains. With her partners, brother Bill Carson and his wife Judy, they realized its worth and agreed the land deserved more than a developer’s bulldozer.
This year, the Carson legacy at Orchard at Altapass celebrates 25 years as a working orchard.
The red barn was an ersatz home for more than a dozen folks, the apples hidden in the undergrowth, and peach trees occupied an entire corner of the property; it took two years of pulling weeds and cutting out poison ivy before any apples could be picked. Eventually, the rusted processing plant consuming the barn moved to the basement, where it continues to run long hours, and live music played to an audience happy to be sitting on actual chairs.
Hayrides began after a few years. However, between rides, the hay became a favorite hangout for the many barn cats and eventually had to be replaced with benches. This turned the successful meanderings into “heyrides” and still just as popular, with Bill telling tales of the Overmountain Men and the Revolutionary War as it was fought across the local mountainsides.
Between 2002 and 2006, two nonprofit charity entities were established. The first preserved the natural and historical projects of the land; the latter addressed the orchard and General Store. Combined, and with the continued support from the community, they help promote and perpetuate the many orchard operations.
Two years ago, Apple Core Grill opened in its own building, solidifying the Orchard at Altapass as a destination.
The orchard celebrates all season long with free, live traditional music and dancing, storytelling and children’s activities, 10 walking trails, monarch butterfly and honey bee habitats, “heyrides,” special evening theater productions and performances, the General Store, homemade fudge, and 30 varieties of heirloom apples.
In the beginning, all the work on the many acres was done by volunteers; today, many still have their boots on the grounds. Through their dedication, the faded red barn has been repainted, a deck added, stage lifted, and store completely revamped — not to mention, the many apple saplings that have been planted.
“The principal joy after 25 years is the way the orchard has changed and affected the people who visit,” said Bill Carson, co-founder with wife Judy, and current CEO. “We call it saving the good stuff.”