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Originally published: 2012-06-13 10:23:56
Last modified: 2012-06-13 10:41:29

Avery’s Games celebrates 57 years

Justin Grimes / (

“If we took the Scots out of the world it would fall apart.”
-Dr. Louis B. Wright, National Geographic Magazine
More than 500 High Country volunteers and workers – many of Scottish heritage – stand ready to welcome 30,000 visitors to the 57th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, July 12 to 15.
Guiding the local workforce is longtime General Manager Frank Vance who is fond of saying, “This is a 10-horse event in a one-horse town.”
The Games pump millions of dollars into the area each summer. “We probably bring more income to Western North Carolina than the tourists do during the whole leaf season; filling the motels from the High Country to Asheville,” Vance said.
Founded on Grandfather in 1956 by former reporter Donald MacDonald and Agnes MacRae Morton, the celebration of Scottish dance, music and athletics attracts more than 110 Scottish clans and societies and is the largest gathering of Scottish clans in the world. 
During the Games, MacRae Meadows is transformed to a time gone bye as it reverberates with the force of the future, a future shaped by its loyalty to the past. Each year, the living imagination of a people comes alive in piping sounds and drummer’s beats dancing into the night as inheritors gather to compete, celebrate and share their lineage.
And no one wants Avery County residents to know more about and take pride in their ancestry and the Games than Vance. His enthusiasm and knowledge of Scottish and local history is infectious.
“Most people from Avery and the surrounding mountains are of Scottish descent though they may not know it,” Vance says. “A surname like Lewis may not sound Scottish, but it is a ‘sept’ (subset) of a Scottish clan.”
Vance advises Avery residents to click to and trace their roots. “There is more Scottish blood in North Carolina than is left in Scotland,” he said.
He praised the people of Avery for their ongoing support and loyalty. The Games depend upon the volunteer efforts of many civic organizations including Linville Central Rescue and the Newland and Crossnore fire departments. And in return for their annual investments, the departments earn income at the Games and receive contributions.
Binders containing years of thank-you notes to GMHG from individuals, nonprofits, museums, festivals, fire departments, shelters for people and animals, clubs, musicians, colleges, libraries and schools fill large binders in the office. The notes of gratitude viewed by The AJT demonstrate that overtime, thousands have benefited from the philanthropy of the Games’ board of directors in some way.
“I will be the first student in my family to graduate from college,” one of the many Avery County High School graduates wrote. “This scholarship will assist me in pursuing my dream of becoming a physician’s assistant.”
As a nonprofit organization, part of GMHG’s mission is to provide college scholarships to Avery County High School graduates who attend American colleges and universities. Avery students have been receiving the scholarships since 1986. Each year, on average, five to six students receive four-year scholarships; illustrating that in a very tangible way, the Games are a force for the future. “Many of the scholarship winners have returned to Avery County; a lot of teachers,” Vance said.
He credits the ongoing success of the Games to the majesty of Grandfather Mountain. “Location, location, location; where else can you wear a kilt and be comfortable in July?” he asked.
Reminiscing, Vance shared the story of an 80-year-old woman from Scotland visiting the Games for her first time. As the golf cart in which she was riding rode over the crest onto MacRae Meadows, she screamed, “Stop, that’s the most beautiful site I’ve seen in my life.”
Vance expressed his desire for locals to attend this year’s Games as he noted the value of ticket prices in comparison to similar entertainment and cultural venues.
With so much Scottish blood making the pilgrimage to town, Avery residents should sleep well… there is no danger in the world falling apart.
Plan for the 57th Grandfather Mountain Highland Games by following the upcoming issues of The AJT: events, music, tips and stories of intrigue including Jack Tales are coming the reader’s way.
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