The City of Morganton is the county seat of Burke County and sits on the Catawba River in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Morganton and Burke County are blessed with scenic rural landscapes, abundant outdoor adventure opportunities, and people who love our community. The Blue Ridge Parkway, perhaps the most famous highway in America, winds its way through the northwestern part of the county, and Charlotte and Asheville are just over an hour’s drive away.
Morganton is called "Nature's Playground" for a reason. The Pisgah National Forest, comprised of more than 500,000 acres, covers the northwest section of Burke County; Linville Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of North Carolina, is just a short drive from the city; and Burke County is home to two North Carolina State Parks - Lake James State Park and South Mountains State Park. Lake James State Park, located in the western part of the county, sits astride a pristine, 6,812-acre reservoir that offers all the activities one might expect including boating, swimming, fishing, camping, 15 miles of mountain bike trails, and remote paddle-in campsites. Trails vary from the short, educational Holly Discovery Trail with child-friendly activities to the more adventurous segment of the historic Overmountain Victory Trail. South Mountains State Park, covers 18,000 acres of Burke County, and is one of the state’s most rugged areas featuring elevations to 3,000 feet, an 80-foot waterfall, mountain streams and more than 40 miles of trails for hikers, equestrians, and outdoor adventurers. Mountain bikers enjoy a 17-mile loop, and drive-to campsites sit beside the Jacob Fork River.
This Historic Morganton Festival is one of the largets festivals in western North Carolina. www.morgantonfest.org.
Morganton also is home to some spectacular municipal parks including Catawba Meadows Park, the Catawba River Soccer Complex, and the Morganton Greenway System. These local amenities cover more than 300 acres in the city and provide abundant recreational opportunities that are used daily by local residents and visitors from the region.
Catawba Meadows Park offers five Little League baseball fields, four youth and adult softball/baseball fields, batting cages, three corporate picnic shelters, two regulation sand volleyball courts, a professionally-designed, 18-hole disc golf course, and The Beanstalk Zip Lines! The Catawba River Soccer Complex is a premier facility capable of hosting regional soccer tourneys and is used regularly by local leagues. The Morganton Greenway System connects the two facilities with River Village and Freedom Park via more than four miles of accessible trail available for cycling, running, walking, or just taking a stroll with friends. The greenway system also has fishing piers and canoe launches.
Words can’t describe the natural beauty of Morganton, Burke County, and western North Carolina, but once people visit, they almost always come back to Nature’s Playground.
In addition to wonderful natural resources, Morganton is within a short drive of three excellent State universities – UNC Asheville, UNC Charlotte, and Appalachian State University. ASU is home to the Dark Sky Observatory, established in 1981 and located about 20 miles northeast of Boone at an elevation of a kilometer. The Dark Sky Observatory is a research facility used to conduct observational research in astrophysics. UNCA is home to Lookout Observatory is dedicated to helping community members of all ages and interest levels understand and enjoy astronomy. UNC Asheville and the Astronomy Club of Asheville regularly offer free events at the observatory that are open to the public, as well as scheduled visits for schools and other organized groups.
Researching the stars isn’t the only research going on in Morganton. Archaeologists have identified an historic Native American town known as Joara less than 10 miles from downtown Morganton. Joara was occupied from about 1400-1600 A.D. and was visited by the Hernando de Soto expedition in 1540 and the Juan Pardo expedition in 1567. At this site, Pardo established Fort San Juan, now widely recognized as the earliest European settlement in the interior of what is now the United States. The Exploring Joara Foundation partners with researchers at the Berry Archeological site to offer summer camps and other educational opportunities to the public.
Western Piedmont Community College, located adjacent to the campus for the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton, is home to several programs and facilities designed for preparing students for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) related careers. For example, the college is in the process of building a state of the art mechatronics training facility to house a new Mechatronics Engineering Technology Associate in Applied Science Degree in 2016. In the meantime, Western Piedmont continues to offer Computer Integrated Machining Technology, Industrial Systems Technology, Welding Technology, and Computer, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Technology courses as part of two-year Associate in Applied Science Degrees, Diplomas, and Certificates. The college also offers an Associate in Science degree that allows students to complete the first two years of a Bachelor of Science program for transfer to a four-year institution. Courses in astronomy, chemistry, biochemistry, geology and physics are also offered through lab facilities on-campus for the A.S. degree and as part of other academic programs.
WPCC enjoys a close collaboration with local manufacturing and engineering facilities. Work-based learning course experiences and apprenticeship options may be available. A few highlights of the programs include training in CNC machining, rapid prototyping, robotics, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and software packages including Mastercam, AutoCAD and SolidWorks. These advanced capabilities allow students to learn using equipment and software nearly identical to that used in advanced manufacturing and engineering. The college has continuously upgraded its curriculum, facilities, and instructional resources to meet the need for advanced training in STEM careers.
Of course, the natural beauty and educational resources of the area aren’t the only attractions that draw people to Morganton. The city is flush with cultural arts and entertainment as well.
CoMMA, the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium, offers year-round Broadway shows, concerts, and theatrical productions. The 2016-2017 MainStage season includes Broadway productions of “Rent”, “Pippin”, and “Bridges of Madison County”! CoMMA also is home to the Ben Long ceiling fresco, “Sacred Dance & the Muses”, which was completed in 2004, and is part of the NC Fresco Trail.
The Burke Arts Council and Morganton City Hall are one of several local venues that host local and regional art exhibits, and Hamilton Williams Gallery features the work of resident potter Hamilton Williams and artisans from across the Appalachian Mountains.
When visitors have had their fill of high-brow fare, they can catch dinner and a movie right in downtown Morganton. Downtown Morganton is the business, cultural, and entertainment center of Burke County. Boasting a seven-screen downtown movie theater, two local breweries, a bottle shop, and many unique restaurants, downtown offers plenty of entertainment for youth and young professionals. One of the more recent additions to downtown is Fonta Flora Brewery, which offers locally-sourced craft brews, and a few local entrepreneurs are working to open Homer’s Soda Shop, a “handcrafted cocktail bar and restaurant”. There are almost always musicians playing live music at Catawba Brewing Company, Wisteria, Yianni’s or Grind Café!
Burke County is home to a diverse group of companies, many of which have experienced tremendous growth and are expanding operations. Numerous international companies have selected Burke County as a location for their manufacturing operations, and many local companies use advanced technology to create everything from automotive fabrics to custom parts for the aerospace industry. These companies include Viscotec Automotive Products, Continental Teves, and Caterpillar. Both Google and Facebook have massive data centers in nearby towns. Facebook’s data center in Forest City, NC, is less than an hour’s drive south, and Google’s data center in Lenoir, NC, is less than 30 minutes to the northeast.
Two of the largest employers in Burke County are Broughton Hospital and J. Iverson Riddle. Broughton Hospital is one of three regional psychiatric hospitals operating within the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The hospital serves the western 37 counties in the state and is currently in the middle of a major new construction project. J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center (JIRDC), is a state-operated developmental center for North Carolina’s western region. Riddle provides services and support to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), complex behavioral challenges and/or medical conditions whose clinical treatment needs exceed the level of care available in the community. Both Broughton and J. Iverson Riddle have the potential for research partnerships with the Western School of Science and Mathematics.
Located just east of Morganton in Conover is the Manufacturing Solutions Center, a new undertaking at Catawba Valley Community College. The Manufacturing Solutions Center is a facility where innovative concepts may be put through research, design, and development processes. It's where products and prototypes are tested; manufacturing processes are fine-tuned and accurate cost and product studies are performed. All of these services are available to manufacturers to help them stay at the forefront of their industry. A partnership between the NCSSM and Manufacturing Solutions Center could give students hands-on experience with the design, development, and implementation of real-world technological solutions.
Photos online at http://bit.ly/1So9Hor.