For the past nine years, Blue Ridge Discovery Center has operated without a physical place, utilizing state, federal, and private property to implement programming. Although that period allowed us to develop a strong resume of impact-driven programs, we were constantly faced with the question: Where is your Center?
Today, Blue Ridge Discovery Center (BRDC) is very excited to announce the site of our future home! In partnership with the Konnarock Retreat House (KRH), BRDC has received the generous contribution of the historic Konnarock Training School, in Konnarock, VA. Located at the base of the highest mountain in Virginia, the property is ideally situated to explore, discover, and share one the most dynamic ecosystems in North America. With this Center, we have the opportunity to fulfill our long-term vision by offering residential education, supporting research, and outfitting our very own interpretative center.
Built in 1925, this structure stands today with a storied past of education and community service. Constructed by the Lutheran Church with the support of the Hassinger Lumber Company, the building operated as a girls school for 34 years, serving a chronically underserved mountain population. In 1967 the property was purchased by the United States Forest Service as part of the Mount Rogers Recreation Area. It housed the original Konnarock Trail Crew that built the vast network of trails currently giving us access to the high country. In 1974, it hosted the formation of the Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally, an event that BRDC continues today! After sitting empty for many years, the USFS deeded the property back to the community in 2006. With the mission to restore the historic structure, the Konnarock Retreat House was formed and began fundraising. Having stabilized the building and saved it from certain destruction, KRH came together with Blue Ridge Discovery Center earlier this year to marry a perfect match of a placeless non-profit with a property needing an institution to continue its legacy of community service. Today, we are honored to take on that challenge, continue the great work of those who came before us, and to call Konnarock our future home.
Arriving at this historic step required the sacrifice and dedication of many. As President of the Konnarock Retreat House, the late Dr. Jean Hamm championed the history, mission, and value of this property without rest. Her strength in leadership, no doubt preserved the building and its legacy. The same can be said of Peggy Baldwin, a Whitetop resident who attended the school as a child and who was instrumental in having the property transferred from federal ownership back to the community. The entire KRH board deserves credit for countless hours of on the ground volunteer service and at the same time, having the broader awareness to connect BRDC with this opportunity.
Blue Ridge Discovery Center gives special thanks to its broad network of supporters who have been with us for many years and helped develop our organization. In particular, the Harris and Francis Block Foundation, and the Judge Matthews Foundation who believe in our mission to inspire curiosity, discovery, and stewardship through the wonders of the Blue Ridge.
What all of these people have in common is that they have a great love for this region and have dedicated their lives to sharing what makes it so special. We stand now, with the potential of achieving that great goal of elevating our collective understanding and appreciation of the Blue Ridge.
We would like to invite you to join us for an Open House on December 9, 2017, from 10 to 2 pm, where we will share our full vision of how this property can serve the community. This is also an opportunity to gather stakeholder ideas, build inspiration, and together step into the future of Blue Ridge Discovery Center.
- Aaron Floyd, Executive Director, Blue Ridge Discovery Center
Directions to the Open House and Center:
From Troutdale (Hwy 16)
- Turn from Highway 16 onto Rte 603, Fairwood Rd.
- Continue 10.4 miles to a stop sign
- Turn Left onto Whitetop Rd/Konnarock Rd towards Damascus (Rte 603/600 Combined)
- Travel 500ft and the Center will be at the intersection of Whitetop Rd and Konnarock Rd, where Whitetop Rd turns left and goes towards Elk Garden and Whitetop.
From I-81 North or South
- Take Exit 35 at Chilhowie, VA
- Turn South onto VA-107 (This road may change names a number of times but you do not turn off of it)
- To arrive at the Center, travel 11.4 over Iron Ridge and back down towards Konnarock and the base of Whitetop Mountain
- The Center will be at the intersection of Whitetop Rd and Konnarock Rd, where Whitetop Rd turns left and goes towards Elk Garden and Whitetop.
From Damascus (Hwy 58)
- Head East on Hwy 58 out of town, turning left just under a mile out of Damascus to stay on Hwy 58 (Hwy 91 continues straight towards Mountain City)
- To arrive at the Center, stay on straight on Hwy 58/Konnarock Rd for 12.5 miles (very curvy road and Hwy 58 turns right to go to Whitetop)
- The Center will be at the intersection of Whitetop Rd (Rte 600) and Konnarock Rd (Rte 603), where Whitetop Rd turns left and goes towards Elk Garden and Whitetop.
For more information about the Open House, or our future Center, please email firstname.lastname@example.org