Allow me to recount one of the best moments of my life. I was sitting in the passenger seat with a friend I may never see again. We rolled down I-85 as the hills rose into ridges and tobacco farms gave way to wide pastures for gently grazing cattle. As Hickory came and went, a panorama of misty blue mountains appeared over the dashboard. The beauty bonded us together.

This, readers, is Western North Carolina. A pandhandle of blue and purple beauty, a priceless, timeless gem that stirs the hearts of every North Carolinian. In the formulation “mountains to the coast,” the high country establishes itself as truly irreplaceable. We would not be North Carolina without the Blue Ridges, the Black Mountains, and the Smokies.

Our mountains are an economic engine. The Blue Ridge Parkway alone produces a third of a billion dollars every year. Ski slopes and old estates draw long streams of tourists. Millions walk the terraces of Biltmore House. Asheville, for better or worse, has become a fixture of travel sites.

Appalachia is said to be Scots-Irish and conservative. But Asheville blooms with diversity and shines a bright light of liberalism across the region. White its growth picked up only in the last decade or two, the self-styled “Land of the Sky” has nurtured imagination for over a century. The mountains stimulate the creative senses.

But the very best parts of the mountains lie beyond the reach of human change. I love Mount Mitchell above all the others. A hulking green whale that turns dark in winter, the ceiling of our state, the mountain once called Black Dome watches over a people who owe their natural resources so much. Let us protect these hills for generations to come.

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