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Out Of The Ashes: Community On Wayah Bald

  Two years ago, wildfires scorched the mountains of western North Carolina. The Camp Branch Fire around Wayah Bald in Macon County burned over 3,000 acres but only destroyed only one structure.

 

Wayah bald looks down over the town of Franklin from over 5,000 feet. Generations have come to this spot before a cabin was built by the Jones family in 1939. Fred Jones remembers coming here his whole life. Today is different.

 

“You’re hearing music in the background, you’re hearing people gathered around a 15-gallon cast iron stew pot to make Brunswick stew,” says Jones.“We’re probably going to serve about 125 people today to celebrate the grand opening of the cabin.”

Credit Lilly Knoepp
Brunswick stew is traditional North Carolina fare. The Jones family stirs their cast iron pot with a wooden oar.

Fred and his family have hosted a Brunswick stew here for the last 25 years. It’s a tradition adopted from his wife Jennifer’s family in Highpoint - they even let them borrow their original stew pot. The Jones’ family roots in Macon County go back to the Silers who founded Franklin.

 

The stew has brought as many as 200 people to the cabin each year, making it a community gathering place full of meaning for a lot of people.  But two years ago, the family cabin was burned to a pile of ash and rubble.

 

“It was a terrible day. It was Thanksgiving when we found out it had burned. We were really sad that day but we had to have perspective because in a different week a different fire burned down in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge,” says Jones.

“People lost their homes, not just their hunting cabins. They lost their lives.  So we were really sad at the loss but we knew that we would rebuild.”

 

The Jones family estimates over 300 people have volunteered to help them rebuild over the last two years, not including the contracting crew who built the foundation.

 

Woody Malot is a family friend who has come up to Wayah many weekends to help rebuild. He had the big job of hooking up the kitchen sink and the propane stove to outfit the new cabin.

 

“I think the old cabin was a labor of love too. It was here forever and hopefully this one will be too,” says Malot.

 

Just over 110 people and around 10 dogs came together together on top of the mountain celebrate the cabin, community and stew.

Credit Lilly Knoepp
The new cabin was full of people for this year's Brunswick Stew.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.