August 15, 2008

Rustic and Ripe With Possibilities


Randolph County, it goes without saying, is more than just a visit to the North Carolina Zoo, a tour of Seagrove's 100-plus potteries, a pit stop at the Richard Petty Museum or a day of fishing in the cool coves of Randleman Lake.

Then again, that's a start.

A 15-minute, traffic-free ride from downtown Greensboro, the green, laid-back expanse of Randolph awaits with farm stands, river valleys, forests and hills big enough to qualify as mountains.

Randolph's 790 square miles make it North Carolina's 11th largest county, but it's only 17th in population, with 130,000 residents. That translates into a commodity fast vanishing elsewhere in the Piedmont: wide-open space and possibilities.

The zoo is a prime example: Spanning 500 acres in the ancient Uwharrie Mountains, it is the largest walking zoo in the U.S., and its North American and African exhibits were the first to be designed on the natural habitat model.

Already, the zoo has played an increasing role in environmental education, highlighting the stress on species from big game animals to honeybees.

And stay tuned: There are another 900 acres available for future development. Given the phenomenal success of the zoo, which attracts thousands of visitors every week of the year, the future could be interesting.

Similarly, Randolph's in-the-rough quality has been fertile ground for other great ideas.

Victory Junction, founded by the Petty family, is a one-of-a- kind camp for seriously ill children. The Montagnard Dega Farm preserves a way of life for an endangered culture from the Vietnam highlands. Goat Lady Dairy, a now-famous slow-food jewel, carved itself from an old tobacco farm.

Another thing Randolph County will never lose is small-town charm: A cold Cheerwine at the Jitter Burger, a trip through the area's last covered bridge at Pisgah Church or a lazy afternoon along Deep River Nature Trail, where you can picnic, fish, feed the ducks or wade in, because there are no signs warning you not to.

Contact Lorraine Ahearn at 373-7334 or [email protected]

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