Five Free Things to Do This Fall in the Blue Ridge Highlands Feb 29, 2016

Ride the New River Trail

Claytor Lake, tunnels, trestles, and history — the New River Trail State Park is Southwest Virginia at its best. Bike, hike, ride your horse, or float along the trail on the New River as it heads north to Claytor Lake. The flat double-track following the old N&W rail bed stretches 57 miles in a leisurely mountain-bikers’ dream. Start at Galax, Fries, Pulaski, or the little village of Draper with its historic mercantile and restaurant. You’ll roll along trestles with impressive vistas of Claytor Lake. At Milepost 10, you cross 951-foot Hiwassee Trestle and pass the old iron-ore mining areas that instigated the former railroad line. The village of Allisonia, all dolled up in gingerbread and Queen Anne architecture, has a tiny depot restored as a New River Retreat guesthouse. At mid-point, explore historic Shot Tower. www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/new.shtml

Get in the Art Groove at Roanoke’s Taubman

Take in a show at the Taubman Museum, which features contemporary art from around the world as well as a permanent collection of American paintings and gorgeous designer purses. An interactive gallery downstairs lets young artists and their families experiment in painting, drawing, theater, printmaking, building, and sculpture. Browse the exquisite selections at the gift shop, then enjoy homemade soup and a gourmet sandwich at Norah’s Cafe in the museum. www.taubmanmuseum.org

Jam it up in Franklin County

Experience a true mountain music jam, where you’ll hear acoustic music by musicians playing for each other. Mondays at 77 Restaurant in Ferrum; Wednesdays at Bernard’s Carpet & Tile, Rocky Mount; Thursdays at Rocky Mount Dairy Queen; 2nd Fridays at Crossroads Ruritan Club, 5 miles west of Ferrum off Rt. 40, and Saturdays afternoons at Shively’s Old 1930s Store (2 miles west of Ferrum on Rt. 40). www.rockymountva.org

The Boom, Narrows’ Free Swimming Hole

Sand caresses your toes and a light current nudges your tube downstream – these are the pleasures of lolling in a natural “swimming hole.” Narrows town park has a free swimming pool, known as the “the Boom” from its timbering days when floating logs hit the logjam with a boom. The park was donated to the town with the stipulation that it remain free — free swimming, free parking, free dressing rooms. Lifeguards monitor the concrete and stone-sided pool in Wolf Creek, as kids shoot down the metal slide into the gently flowing water. The park is also a popular spot for picnicking, tennis, volleyball, basketball, and fishing for smallmouth bass. www.gilescounty.org/narrows.html

Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum

Visitors to the stately Fields-Penn House on Abingdon’s Main Street get something more than a tour of antique-filled parlors and quilt-filled bedchambers. Tour guide Donnamarie Emmert dispenses stories – tales about hoop-skirted women negotiating the staircase, rebellious young daughters, and the eccentric craftsman who brought his honey bees indoors. Known as Abingdon’s “Haint” mistress, Emmert also leads the Abingdon Spirit Tour and has enough tales left over to fill two books. The locally made furniture, jugs, loom, and “bee palace” make the tour interesting in its own right. 800-435-3440

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