In the years following World War II the leaders of Western North Carolina faced an enormous challenge: how to bring a region the size of New Jersey together to address the future in a spirit of cooperation? Historically, this had not been the “mountain approach.” The lack of adequate highway systems isolated one community from another. County boundaries became a source of pride and prejudice.
Independence and self-sufficiency became a hallmark of the region made up of a diverse ethnic heritage, Scotch-Irish, German and Western European cultures. These groups remained largely segregated from the minority African-American and Cherokee Indian cultures of the region. The fierce independence of these mountain people, while giving rise to unique music, dance and storytelling, served in many ways to separate one valley from another.
Every valley and its coves formed tight knit communities. These communities were to become the building blocks of an emerging regional concept. From within organized communities challenges were addressed — from obtaining rural mail service to the building of Interstate 40, from organizing volunteer fire departments to bringing rural electrification into remote communities, from preserving craft traditions to building a network of community colleges.
As a result of local needs, two organizations began their efforts to bring people together. Western North Carolina Associated Communities (WNCAC) and Western North Carolina Community Development Association (WNCCDA) began life in 1947 and 1949, respectively.
These organizations are recognized for their leadership roles in several regional achievements, including: upgrading the region’s highway system, helping to complete the Blue Ridge Parkway; developing and expanding the WNC Farmer’s Market, the NC Arboretum, the WNC Ag Center, the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, the Mountain Research Station, “Unto These Hills” and founding the Friends of the Smokies to benefit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
From the beginning these two organizations have recognized community achievements that have had a profound effect on the lives of Western North Carolina citizens. Community buildings, fire and rescue departments, shelters, mentoring programs, beautification projects, preservation of history, along with a myriad of other activities have added, beyond measure, to the quality of life for all citizens. Today, communities are establishing technology centers, economic development strategies, and preserving the qualities that make their communities a special place in which to live.
For almost 60 years, Western North Carolina Associated Communities and Western North Carolina Development Association successfully worked to benefit communities across the mountains through parallel efforts. In the late 90’s, these two nonprofits merged to continue a rich history of community development in Western North Carolina. In 2002, WNC Communities became the name to continue enhancing this proud heritage.