Howard's Knob evolves with Watauga
By Scott Nicholson
Howard’s Knob in Boone has a storied past, not only as Boone’s most immediately prominent peak but also as a symbol of change.
A section of Howard’s Knob serves as a county park, handed over to the county government after it was abandoned as a federal research site. As part of the agreement, the county operates the park “in perpetuity,” offering a recreational resource and community area with one of the best views of the Boone Creek valley.
Watauga County Parks and Recreation director Stephen Poulos said the park is often used for family reunions and wedding receptions, with a covered picnic shelter available for events. Rental is $7.50 per hour to reserve the shelter, though a couple of grills and a number of other picnic tables are also available at the site.
The park offers trails and overlooks, with some fenced areas and boulders, though the park is surrounded by privately owned land that is set aside for a biosphere preserve. Complaints earlier this year about trespassing and litter had led the commissioners to discuss the park operations, but no changes were made to the schedule.
The park operates from sunrise to sunset, opening on Memorial Day weekend and closing for the winter on Labor Day weekend. Local volunteers, particularly members of the Boone Climbers Coalition, help clean up the park a couple of times each year, and the commissioners granted approval for the group to place a sign at the park while acknowledging that rock climbing wasn’t allowed in the park.
Watauga maintenance director Robert Marsh said it has been a typical year for both use and litter and said the county is careful to mark the park boundaries.
“We’ve always had a problem with people parking at the gate and walking in at night,” Marsh said. “We’ve also had people throw trash over the overlooks onto private property. Short of having a full-time ranger up there, I don’t know any way to control trespassing.”
The park has been improved over the past year, with an extra grill and new picnic tables added. The park also houses a communications tower and equipment. Maintenance staff comes by twice to day to open or close the gate and pick up litter. Mowing, including the cutting of some trails through the wooded area, is done every 10 days or so, depending on he weather. Major clean-up is performed just before the park opens in the spring, and trees are pruned and litter is collected.
The 5.7-acre park property was purchased by the county from Raleigh Broadcasting Company, Inc., in 1972. In 1978, it was the site of what was then one of the world’s largest wind turbines. The windmill was constructed by the U.S. Department of Energy and stood 131 feet high. It had two 97-foot blades that rotated at about 35 miles per hour. The windmill cost $6.2 million.
After a couple of years, the windmill was considered a failure and was dismantled as alternative energy funding fell out of political favor. A building and materials at the site were donated to the county. Pads and hardware from the windmill base can still be seen from the park.
The peak is believed to have earned its name from Benjamin Howard, a British loyalist who hid from patriots on the knob in the 1700s.
•Scott Nicholson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org