Healthy Climb: Resilient economy and ascending home market luring dwellers for seasons, year round to Carolinas mountain steads

This house near Boone, N.C., went on the market this spring. The owner couple is moving to Charleston to help take care of a grandchild but would like to buy a mountain home again (Provided).

Raised near Boone, N.C., and retired to there as well, Judy Eckerd can name all her neighbors in the 15-home Howard’s Creek enclave just outside the mountain town.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” she says.

There’s the preacher down the street, the 30s something restaurant owner, Florida retirees, a financial broker and second home owners from Tennessee and area towns such as Troutman, Cary and Hickory.

A dozen couples from Spartanburg pooled their funds to buy one house, which they visit four times a year. “We call that a timeshare,” she says.

Eckerd and her husband put their more than 4,000-square-foot house on 5.77 acres up for sale. They’ve moved to Charleston to help their daughter raise their grandchild, buying a 2,500-square-foot house locally. They can’t afford two houses right now, although Judy Eckerd hinted that the couple may someday acquire a mountain cabin.

The couple is setting up residence in the Lowcountry just as a steady trickle of younger professionals, middle-aged city residents and active adults head to the highlands in North Carolina and in South Carolina. While most are buying vacation properties in the mountains, local commerce observers say a growing number of transplants are moving full-time to the peaks and valleys of the Appalachian to Great Smoky mountains.

Boone, for instance, claims Appalachian State University and stands close to Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain.

Business leaders note that the area economy and housing market, which took a while to recover from the late 2000s recession, rebounded noticeably in the past two years.

“Last year, we had an excellent year up here,” says Marion D. Hamel, executive director of the Haywood County Hotel and Motel Association that takes in Maggie Valley resort and the bustling town of Waynesville.

She expects more of the same in 2015. The local festival grounds are booked almost every week. The season’s first motorcycle rally will take place there. People come up for “the leaf season” seeing the brilliant colors as leaves change on the vast varieties of trees.

Lower gas prices, she says, have bolstered the vacation business as families and couples don’t mind driving four to six hours to get to visitor spots.

Ghost Town, once a major tourist attraction on the top of a slope, is said to be making a comeback, she says.

The buoyant economy boosts residential sales.

“The second home market is doing very well. As far as 12 months a year, it improved a little bit,” Hamel says.

“We’ve really get a lot (of visitors) from North Carolina and South Carolina, Alabama,” she says. Another draw for full- or part-time residents is Maggie Valley sits 40 minutes from big name tourist attractions such as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in Tennessee.

“We do especially well with grandparents,” she says. “They like peace and quiet at night.” Stocked trout streams in the area, meanwhile, are “good for the kids.”

Though they’ve relocated to the Lowcountry, the Eckerds remain fond of their place in western North Carolina. They’re asking $738,000 for the two- or three-bedroom, two-and-a half bath home with large kitchen, sunroom and recreation area.

The husband and wife, who are selling their house themselves, cite its “pristine mountain location. Nature is your neighbor.” The property overlooks a “rushing trout stream.” The house sits in a secluded spot — she says there’s 180 acres of woodlands and open land around the house — yet it’s just five miles from Boone.

The property touts an open floor plan, in-floor heat, dining area, granite countertops and stainless steel kitchen appliances, large upper and lower decks and a two car heated garage.

“We still like the area,” she says. “It’s a beautiful place to live.”

To get to the mountains from metro Charleston, take Interstate 26 west. Continue on I-26 through Spartanburg. The mountains ascend right after the state line. Asheville is about 40 miles north of the border. Interstate 40, meanwhile, heads west to upland resorts and towns. Further north of Asheville is the Boone area, which is a couple of hours west of Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker