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Avery County Cooperative Extension’s resident apple enthusiast, Doug Hundley, right, provides
National Park Ranger Jonathan Bennett with a detailed lesson on the history and physical
features that are used to discern the southeastern United States’ 1,800 varieties of heirloom
Photo by Matthew Hundley

Originally published: 2012-10-11 14:47:23
Last modified: 2012-10-11 14:47:23

Avery Extension teams with Parkway to establish new fruit-focused programs

Matthew Hundley / (

During the month of September, with apples ripening along the Blue Ridge, I had the pleasure of meeting NPS Rangers Jonathan Bennett and Conrad Shirk. 

Bennett and Shirk provide interpretive programs to many of the Parkway’s visitors, describing the history of the plants, animals and people who populated the Blue Ridge and still live there. 

They were kind enough to talk to many of your children or grandchildren at Avery County Fair earlier this month. 

While there, they found my heirloom apple display. We had an immediate meeting of the minds and I agreed to share what I have learned about the relationship between the Appalachian people and their apples.

Bennett and Shirk explained that the reason they wanted to learn about apples was more than historic curiosity; the rangers hope to take what they learned about apples and apply that knowledge to create programs, workshops and displays to teach the park guests about heirloom apples and their importance to the first settlers of our mountains. 

“Well there are a number of programs we can do,” said Bennett. “We can do evening programs at the campground, which is probably the primary thing that we are looking to put together. We do those every Friday and Saturday night at Crabtree and Linville Falls Campground around 7 or 7:30 p.m. and will last around 45 minutes. Besides that, something else we can do is a shorter version at a table with a display. There are a lot of different teaching opportunities that we are going to have through this.”

Bennett explained that their interest in creating apple-oriented programming is widespread throughout the NPS, even to point that it is part of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s policy when it comes to interpretive programs. 

“We are hoping that once we learn enough about this, we will bring in other rangers. Heirloom apples are a huge interpretive topic we are supposed to be doing in this area. So this is helping us meet that. It is actually a requirement for the park, so it’s a huge help,” said Bennett.

Bennett, Shirk and I surveyed about 15 miles of the Parkway, finding and collecting apples from 13 different trees. Though it is hard to be completely certain until we do some more research, we likely found the following apples: a Maiden Blush, a Black Ben Davis, a Newtown Pippin, a North Carolina Keeper, an old-time Red Delicious, a Rusty Coat, a Limbertwig, several Winesaps and several unknowns. 

These apples were once on the homesteads of our ancestors. Think about that. Perhaps it was your grandfather’s tree? Your children’s great, great grandfather’s? Bennett, Shirk and I discussed how they were used and why they became so important. Riding along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I can look to the west into the new frontier that our ancestors ventured, repeating the same process in the 1800s, receiving land grants and having to plant acres of apple trees to seal the deal with the U.S. It was the law that the family must plant at least two acres of apple trees to receive their piece of America. 

I have always been a fan of the National Park Service and our local park, the Blue Ridge Parkway. Atop 400 miles of my favorite mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, I marvel, looking to the east at the beginning of our American history.  All we knew of our country in 1775 lay between this ridge of mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.  In a mere 130 years, farm upon farm were started with the help of the new American apples.