Retirees Enjoy Spectacular Scenery, Abundant Recreation, an Artsy Vibe and a Certain Mountain Mystique in Cozy, Safe Black Mountain, North Carolina
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
In beautiful western North Carolina, where the Swannanoa Valley meets the Black Mountains (the Blacks), the cozy town of Black Mountain (population 8,200) got its start as a train stop in 1893. From the Great Depression until the late-1950s, it was the home of Black Mountain College, a somewhat radical liberal arts college that emphasized the importance of art. Students traveled from around the region to study architecture, painting, design and more under visionaries of the day, including Albert Einstein and Buckminster Fuller. Even though the college is long gone, its imprint lingers, as Black Mountain has an offbeat, artsy vibe.
Today, today the town known as the "Front Porch of Western North Carolina," and it has grown by 4% within the last decade, attracting big city escapees, vacation home owners and retirees. In fact, 48% of residents are age 45 or better. The crime rate is below the national average. Politics lean to the left. Thirty-five percent of residents hold at least a four year college degree. Racial diversity is minimal.
Black Mountain's cost of living is 12% above the national average, and the median home price is $265,000. Historic wood frame homes, bungalows, Craftsmans, chalets, brick ranch ramblers and lake view properties are all for sale. Most homes sit on wooded land, and many are tucked into the hillsides around town. The area has a number of planned neighborhoods, including upscale Village of Cheshire, which has homes from the $500,000s.
North Carolina is not particularly friendly when it comes to taxes and retirement. Social Security is exempt from taxation, but the state taxes most other retirement income (IRAs, 401(k)s, private and public pensions) at a flat rate of 5.49%. The Bailey exemption keeps some retirement benefits received by state and federal government retirees if they had five or more years of service as of August 12, 1989 safe from taxation. There is also a tax credit for long term care insurance premiums, up to $350 per person per year. Real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value, but people age 65 or better with less than $29,000 annual income may have the greater of $25,000 or 50% of the appraised value of their home excluded from the taxpayer's assessment. The state also has a circuit breaker tax deference program in place for residents age 65 or better. In New Bern, the annual taxes on a $260,000 home are approximately $2,200.
Black Mountain, North Carolina
Black Mountain has a certain Southern mountain mystique, and while it is a little touristy, it is not overly commercialized. It has a small but cute and walkable downtown with bookstores, wine shops, cafes, eateries and general retailers in red brick buildings with awnings.
Dining options are varied, from Mediterranean and Thai to German and BBQ. Shopping is somewhat limited, but Ingles Market has food staples and the farmers' market has all sorts of fresh produce. When residents want to shop in box stores or enjoy the amenities of a larger metropolis, they head 15 miles west to Asheville (population 85,000).
Because artists and craftsmen call this town home, a pottery, jewelry or quilting gallery or studio is never far away. For artistically-inclined retirees, the Black Mountain Center for the Arts offers classes and hosts art contests, storytellers and dance ensembles. Community events include the Sourwood Festival, the L.E.A.F. Festival and the Black Mountain Art and Craft Show.
White Horse Black Mountain is a performance and event center in the heart of downtown and hosts jazz concerts, string duos, belly dancers, bluegrass quartets, piano concerts and other performances. There are food tours, house tours, pottery markets and more. Several Christian retreats, including Ridgecrest and Montreat, are also nearby.
Black Mountain borders Pisgah National Forest, so vacationers come to rock climb, river raft, camp, bicycle and hike. This area is also known for its fly fishing and is within a short distance of world-class trout and small bass waters. Golfers enjoy three 18-hole courses, and Lake Tomahawk in the heart of town is the spot for picnicking. The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Biltmore Estate, Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park are all close at hand.
The Black Mountain Recreation and Parks Department manages the Lakeview Senior Center. It sits along the banks of Lake Tomahawk and has a good selection of programs for people age 50+. Lunches are provided Monday through Friday, and a variety of classes and activities are offered. These include yoga classes, line dancing, a chess club and many more. Trips are also offered.
Black Mountain does not have a hospital, but there are six large medical centers within 25 miles. The closest is Mission Health in Asheville, 15 miles away. Accredited by the Joint Commission and licensed for 763 beds, it is a teaching hospital, a stroke care center and a Level II Adult Trauma Center. It is award-winning for clinical excellence, general surgery excellence, safety excellence and more and offers a number of services designed just for older adults. Medicaid and Medicare patients are accepted. For military retirees, Asheville has a VA hospital.
Mountain Mobility operates Black Mountain Trailblazer, a limited van transportation system, Monday through Saturday. The cost to ride is 50 cents, but people age 65 or better ride for free. A dial-a-ride service is available, too, as are rides to the Senior Center for lunch. While Asheville has a regional airport, the nearest international airport is in Charlotte, North Carolina, 115 miles away.
Black Mountain's weather is similar to other areas in the southeastern U.S. but with slightly cooler temperatures thanks to the elevation (2,400 feet). The average July high is 84 degrees, and the average low is 64 degrees. The average January high is 46 degrees, the average low is 27 degrees. On average, the area receives 47 inches of rain and nine inches of snow each year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Black Mountain is above the national average. The sun shines 213 days of the year.
Retirement in Black Mountain has some drawbacks. Even though Asheville is close by, Black Mountain might be a little too isolated for some people. Many homes sit on hilly terrain. Some residents feel the town is growing too fast and worry about losing their small town quality of life.
And so although Black Mountain is not perfect, its rural, creative vibe and scenic setting continue to cast a spell, enticing many a retiree to call this Southern mountain hamlet home.
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