Since Father’s Day is Sunday, the question asked in many households this week will be,  “What do you want for Father’s Day?”

I read online the most popular gifts for fathers this year will be sunglasses and pellet grills, but I’m sure many fathers will receive gift certificates or articles of clothing such as shirts, caps and ties.

At our house, however,  the question is more, “What do you want to do?” My husband, Drew, usually chooses going for a hike and then eating ice cream at Kilwin’s. This year, we’re trying out the Boone Fork Trail in Julian Price Park near Blowing Rock, with daughter Rebecca and her fiance, Chris. Boone Fork is a beautiful, five-mile trail that meanders through rhododendron forests and crosses streams.

In Wilkes and the surrounding area, we’re blessed to have so many choices for outdoor activities. I recently stumbled on a great resource, the Northwest Visitor’s Center on U.S. Highway 421.

I stopped by a few weeks ago to pick up some brochures to mail and was “blown away,” with all the information I was able to find. Usually I’m in a hurry to drop off MerleFest tabs when I go, but this time I spent a few minutes looking around and talking with the volunteers.

Everything you’d ever want to know about Wilkes, the surrounding counties and western North Carolina is available at the visitor’s center. From pamphlets to full color magazines, the visitor’s center has it all.

One entire section is about wineries in the area. There are maps and brochures about local wineries, detailing hours, accommodations and special events. Another display case holds information about the moonshine days in Wilkes County.

And, of course, a lot of information is available about the Blue Ridge Parkway. Brochures can be found about everything from hiking, camping and what’s available at each mile post.

Local artisans have their crafts on display also, including handmade quilts, pottery, paintings, woodwork and more.

Stacy Dunn, travel specialist with the Northwest Visitor’s Center, said in May the center had 6,507 visitors. In 2018, there was a record number of 61,994 visitors and 60,393 in 2017. These numbers don’t include people who just stop to use the restroom facilities.

Dunn said one of the center’s popular features  is their .8 of mile walking trail. The trail, which is mostly level, winds through a field and the edge of the woods. It features benches for resting and information signs describing the flora and fauna on the trail. Dunn said the trail is popular with local people as well as truck drivers stopping for a break.

One person comes every morning to walk his dog, she said.

Green technology

When the Northwest Visitor’s Center opened Oct. 1, 2009, it was designed using “green” technology. The center is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Level certified site.

According to their website, the main building areas were designed to allow for the maximized use of natural light during the day. There are also solar panels on the roof which heat the hot water for the restrooms.

A rainwater catchment system collects water from the roof and is piped to a 26,000 gallon cistern, which is treated with chlorine and then used to flush toilets and urinals. Heating and cooling is provided by a geothermal heat pump. The building has an energy efficient shell, which was built using green building materials.

Fourteen photovoltaic panels above the entrance walkway convert solar energy into DC electricity, which is then converted to AC power, used on site.

Dunn said visitors stop by from all over the United States and world. She said every week someone comments about the beauty and cleanliness of the facility, saying “it’s the nicest they’ve ever seen.”

The Northwest Visitor’s Center is a hidden treasure in Wilkes County that doesn’t want to be hidden.

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