By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

Until about 15 years ago, Kevin Beauchesne owned a pharmacy in Bryson City, N.C., up in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Then he did something that would lead to an abrupt career change, not really expected and not exactly a straight shot from the drug store business.

Beauchesne built a log cabin. People took notice. “We had just the one cabin in 1999,” he says. He built a few more, and residents and visitors began urging him to frame timber homes for them. Then a few cabin owners who weren’t full time residents asked whether he could rent out the properties.

Before long, Beauchesne was operating a log cabin construction venture as well as a rental service. Today he is co-owner of Bryson City Cabin Rentals, Bryson City Log Homes and Hidden Creek Cabins, which also offers rentals. His business rents out 60 cabins primarily on a weekly basis throughout the year. The cabins, many of which he built, range from one-bedroom “honeymoon” cottages to five-bedroom dwellings capable of housing 20 or more people.

“I went in with no intent of being in the log cabin business,” he says.

Beauchesne is among many hundreds of businesspeople in western North Carolina alone who profit from what could be called the “mountain getaway” industry.

Vacationers come to hike, bike, ride the rapids or just get away from it all. City residents decide to move where the skies are blue and peaks are green.

As it turns out, a healthy share of those visitors and transplants are from the Lowcountry, according to mountain proprietors.

“We do get a lot of people from the Charleston area, wanting to escape the heat,” says Pamela Pringle, who lives in north Georgia while renting out two cabins in Franklin, N.C. The website is www.timberframerentals.com.

Franklin, situated 90 minutes west of Asheville, has a few claims-to-fame. “We are an Appalachian Trail community,” she says. Also, Franklin is along a designated scenic waterfall byway. And National Geographic named the route from Franklin south to Highlands, N.C., through the Cullasaja Gorge as one of its “Drives of a Lifetime,” she says.

Property managers and owners say activity is gaining steam as visitors arrive to enjoy the flowers in bloom, the cool nights and various natural highlights.

“We’ve been doing pretty good,” Pringle says, even though the weather is unseasonably cool.

“Actually, it’s starting to pick up,” says Beauchesne. “Spring is here.”

At the Sabbath House, January is slow but rooms fill up from then on, says Rachel Lackey, co-director of the mountain retreat at Bryson City.

She and her husband, who are both in the clergy, got involved in launching Sabbath House as a getaway for ordained church people and other caregivers, Lackey says. Over time, the property has broadened its scope and attracts family reunions and other groups notably in the summer months.

The two-and-a-half story lodge built on the edge of a mountain includes a central gathering area with a fireplace. The eight pine-walled bedrooms, each with a bath, altogether sleep 20.

“We call it rustic elegance,” she says.

For people looking to buy property, one approach is to deal with companies such as Huntersville, N.C.-based Landsource LCC that combine aspects of auctions and standard transactions in order to sell lots in liquidation or that are otherwise available at below market prices.

Steve Adkins, a 16-year real estate veteran who helped launch the venture in the past 18 months, says business this year has “gone really well. When we sell, it’s way under market. They sell quick,” he says.

The company is promoting a “close-out” event on May 18 for 21 lots split between subdivisions in Murphy, N.C., west of Asheville and Jefferson, N.C., near Boone. Prices start at $9,900. Adkins says prospective buyers check out the lots and then meet one-on-one with salespeople. Individual properties sell on a “first come, first served” basis, he says.

“You can get things at less than half price,” Adkins says. For more information, call Landsource’s toll-free number at 855-932-7139.

While North Carolina mountains are among the closest to greater Charleston, some people find other mountainous spots as fine places to visit or to buy property.

Carolyn and Peter Gorman are seeking buyers for their house, Casa Rubiana, in the Italian Alps. They lived in the three-story villa for a decade before returning to Summerville a year or so ago.

“Located 2,500 feet above the Po River Valley, the property enjoys a temperate spring, summer and fall seasons and mild winters,” Carolyn Gorman says. It’s “a little piece of Italy for sale,” she says.

At the same time, coastal homeowners don’t have to travel to the mountains to find a woodsy “getaway.” For instance, an auction will be held May 18 in Orangeburg County for an 80 acre estate-development called Sportsman’s Retreat. The property incudes 15 home sites, two trophy bass lakes, hunting and an equestrian center. Custom built cedar log homes are available. For more, visit www.redfieldgroup.com.

According to Beauchesne, a mountain trip can be quite reasonable price-wise.

He says a family of four on average can rent one of the Bryson City Cabins, which all include kitchens, for about $850 a week. He offers a $300 “seven day meal planner” and also highlights 15 or so places that parents and children can enjoy without spending more than a few dollars.

“For people on a limited budget, it’s a good road trip,” he says.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.