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In 1932 construction of a dam on Wildcat Creek impounded 13-acre Wildcat Lake. Originally created as a reservoir for the hydroelectric plant and an emergency water source for the fire company, Wildcat Lake's uses have grown to include recreation. Tucked away in Avery County, North Carolina, the self proclaimed "Balcony of the Blue Ridge," it is no wonder. Near Grandfather Mountain, Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain in the high country mountains region, Avery County is one of the most popular tourist destination and second home locations in the southeast. The mountains are etched with trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, and there is exceptional downhill skiing making it a playground for all seasons.
Wildcat Lake is in the charming village of Banner Elk. First settled by the native Cherokee Indians, white settlers moved into the area in 1825 and Banner Elk was officially incorporated in 1911. By then it was already a popular tourist destination with visitors flocking to the area to enjoy the clean mountain air and beautiful landscape. Today visitors still come to the "Christmas Tree Capital of the World," to enjoy the native wildflowers and majestic Appalachian Mountains. Banner Elk maintains its small town charm with quaint shops, fantastic restaurants and a variety of accommodations including historic inns and vacation rentals in the town and surrounding mountains. For visitors that fall in love with the area and want to make their stay permanent, there is real estate available for sale.
The Edgar Tufts Memorial Association (ETMA) owns and maintains Wildcat Lake. Founded in 1923 to support the ministries of the Banner Elk Presbyterian Church, ETMA also helped create Lees-McRae College and runs the Grandfather Home for Children. ETMA maintains Tuft Park on one side of Wildcat Lake, and for 50 years the Presbyterian Church has run a church camp on the other side.
Significant structural issues were discovered in Wildcat Lake Dam, and in 2005 ETMA drained Wildcat Lake for repairs. Tuft's son Edgar Hall Tuft supervised construction on the original dam using $5,000 and student labor. The repairs undertaken by ETMA took four years, and although student volunteers helped build the new swimming pier and beach, the price tag for the project was $1 million. Wildcat Lake re-opened in 2009 for fishing, boating and swimming. Boating is limited to non-motorized boats along with canoes and kayaks. The Wildlife Resource Commission stocked the lake with 5,000 bluegills, and there are plans to stock largemouth bass and trout. There are picnic facilities at Tufts Park, which combined with the sand beach and child friendly fishing, make Wildcat Lake a great place to spend the day for visitors and residents alike.
Surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest in the northwest mountains of North Carolina, Banner Elk and the other charming villages of Avery County continue to call visitors to the "Balcony of the Blue Ridge." Wildcat Lake is a beautiful pause in a vacation that can include downhill skiing, hiking, horseback riding and site seeing, and a fantastic place to enjoy all that the high country has to offer.
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