Crafters Offer Ideas for Blue Ridge Craft Trails

September 29, 2017

Blue Ridge Craft Trails Building Grassroots Support Across Region

The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is blazing the latest path to economic prosperity for the 25 counties of Western North Carolina with the Blue Ridge Craft Trails project.

Authorized by Congress in 2003, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area covers 25 Western North Carolina counties and remains the only regional organization dedicated to the stewardship of five Appalachian cultural legacies - craft, music, outdoors, agriculture and Cherokee traditions.

The Craft Trails project builds on the groundbreaking work of HandMade in America, a nonprofit which created the original Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina in the 1990s, connecting visitors to hundreds of craft studios, galleries, schools, historic places and inns across the mountains. The 3rd edition of the Craft Heritage Trail book was published in 2003, featuring nearly 500 different sites.

This project will update those listings for the digital age, offering an online portal for desktop and mobile applications.  As phases of the project are completed, technology will allow collectors to connect with craft artisans to purchase their wares and visit the studios, galleries and festivals in Western North Carolina.  The Blue Ridge Craft Trails project is funded with a $90,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and contributions from the North Carolina Arts Council and WNC Community Foundation.

Previously BRNHA had launched the Blue Ridge Music Trails guiding visitors to authentic traditional and bluegrass music venues across 29 Western North Carolina counties, as well as the Blue Ridge Heritage Trail which showcases 70 cultural and natural sites across the mountains and foothills.


Phase I Progress

The short term goals of Phase 1 are to conduct the listening sessions and build partnerships.  An advisory committee of 27 members representing artists, arts groups, tourism development and others throughout Western North Carolina has been convened to provide input to the trail development.

Locations and Dates of Listening Sessions

Blowing Rock Art & History Museum (July 13)

Museum of the Cherokee Indian (July 18)

Tryon Arts and Crafts School (August 1)

Yadkin Cultural Arts Center (August 3)

John C. Campbell Folk School (August 8)                                

Penland School of Crafts (August 24)

Folk Art Center/Southern Highland Craft Guild (August 31)

Key Comments

The listening sessions drew more than 110 participants.  Exposure and experiential tourism are themes that emerged in both comments and written surveys taken at the seven listening sessions. Key comments from participants included:

  •  Participants (artists, arts organizations, tourism entities) overwhelmingly welcomed the idea.
  • Training artists in marketing and interpretation would be helpful. That came up repeatedly.
  • Visitors should be educated in etiquette, expectations, and the significance of the traditions.
  •  Many suggested a robust itinerary builder on the website module that would allow visitors to the region to identify and navigate their way to specific craft artists in the 25-county region.
  •  The Blue Ridge Craft Trails project is a chance to gain national exposure. Tennessee and Virginia have made significant investments in marketing their craft artists.
  • The website should be geared to the needs of visitors interested in authentic craft. Bottom line, artists need more visitors to get more sales.
  •  The market for crafts appears to be changing, and there may need to be greater emphasis placed on providing craft experiences, which could include studio tours, demonstrations, and hands-on classes. “Visitors really want something to do.” The millennial generation wants engagement and activity rather than just making purchases.

Download Our Survey Results





Next Steps 

Phase 1 will continue through the summer of 2018 with ongoing research into the craft market. The professional craft industry generates more than $206 million in annual business across 25 Western North Carolina counties, according the most recent economic studies. A consultant will begin the initial documentation of crafts in 25 counties. BRNHA will then launch an online module with 70 sites across the region to test the feasibility of the project. The site could be readily populated with more studios, artists and galleries with interpretive text, video, photos, maps, hours of operation, etc.  

Phase 1 of the project is generously funded through the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, and the Norh Carolina Arts Council. 



  • Dale Neal, Digital Communications Manager
  • 828-298-5330 ext. 308