Retirees Who Choose Rural Boone, North Carolina Enjoy a Youthful Energy, Inspiring Mountain Scenery, a Cute Downtown and Great Outdoor Recreation
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Characterized by the Blue Ridge Mountains' densely wooded rolling hills, scenic northwestern North Carolina, an area known as the "High Country," is home to Boone (population 18,500), a closely knit, rural mountain hamlet named after famous 18th-century frontiersman Daniel Boone. Appalachian State University (population 18,000), the 6th largest campus in the University of North Carolina system, is here, too, and is Boone's lifeblood, giving the town an energy sometimes lacking in smaller communities. And since Boone is just 15 miles east of the famed Appalachian Trail, a well-traveled hiking trail that runs from Maine to Georgia, tourists and outdoor types find their way here, too. The town has even landed on a "best places to live" list or two.
Boone has grown by 40% in the last 10 to 20 years, but its crime rate remains below the national average. Residents lean slightly to the right politically, and 40% of them are college educated. Racial diversity is minimal. When Appalachian State University (also known as ASU or "App") is in session, just 16% of Boone's population is age 45 or better, but empty nesters and retirees who live here seem to love it.
The cost of living is 5% above the national average, and the median home price is $220,000. Housing comes in all shapes and sizes, from beautiful chalets to mobile homes, many nestled in the hillsides. Modest single family homes are for sale in starting in the mid-$100,000s, but inventory of nicer dwellings starts in the high-$100,000s to low-$200,000s. Many homes belong to people who hiked the Appalachian Trail and then returned to build a vacation residence. Yonahlossee is a lush mountain resort with properties for sale. There are rental properties available, both houses and apartments, but many of these are taken up by students.
North Carolina is not particularly friendly when it comes to taxes and retirement. Social Security is still exempt from taxation, but the state taxes most other retirement income (IRAs, 401(k)s, private and public pensions), less a $15,000 deduction for married people and a $7,500 deduction for single people, 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 Boone, the annual taxes on a $220,000 home are approximately $2,375.
King Street is Boone's main avenue and has tidy, locally owned shops, bookstores, general stores, banks, pets stores, emporiums and fun restaurants, including the old jail house that is now a cafe. Many of the retail establishments target the college crowd, but the Boone Mall is the largest indoor mall in the area and has nearly 40 stores, including national merchants such as Panera Bread, J.C. Penney and Sears Hometown. Boone also has a Wal-Mart, and a popular farmers' market is held every Saturday from May through October. Additionally, 35 outlet stores are five miles away in Blowing Rock.
Boone appreciates its heritage and celebrates it each summer with sold out productions of Horn in the West, a Revolutionary War tale, at the Daniel Boone Amphitheatre. History buffs enjoy the Southern Appalachian Historical Association's Hickory Ridge Homestead, a wonderful living history museum depicting the period immediately following the Revolutionary War through the early-1800s. Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival is a fall event with music, storytellers, great food, symposiums and even Fess Parker wine dinners. Residents enjoy art, food and entertainment during the First Friday Crawl. The North Carolina Symphony occasionally performs at Blowing Rock's Chetola Resort. When in the mood for quiet contemplation, Daniel Boone Native Gardens is a soothing place to spend an afternoon.
Boone, North Carolina
Recreation could hardly be better. The Greenway Trail is a flat, three-mile long path through the heart of Boone and invites the young and young at heart to partake in healthy walks. The Watauga County Parks and Recreation Department offers a year-round calendar of public recreation programs, and the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are in every direction, boast not just the nearby Appalachian Trail but are a premier destination for camping, skiing, fishing, hiking, rafting, bicycling.
Three ski areas are within 20 miles of Boone, ensuring that winter is never boring, and Watauga Lake, just 45 minutes away, is the place for summer swimming and boating (and Watauga River is the best spot for fishing). For those that prefer to experience nature from the safe confines of an automobile, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers sweeping vistas of extraordinary mountain scenery. During the summer and fall, back roads are dotted with fruit and cider stands.
For people seeking indoor activities, the Watauga County Project on Aging operates the L.E. Harrill Senior Center, a place to gather and find camaraderie. Classes, health screenings, games, tax assistance, transportation, as well as trips and picnics, are offered. The Watauga County Library, another favorite indoor spot, is housed in a beautiful building just north of downtown. It has ebooks, an interlibrary loan program, guest author lectures, classes (origami, computers, day trading, etc.), a book club, a geneaology club, public access computers with high speed internet and more.
Watauga Medical Center is the primary medical facility and is part of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. With 117 beds, WMC provides a full range of care and is a regional referral hospital accredited by the Joint Commission. It is award winning for patient experience and pulmonary care, and its Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center is recognized as an approved community cancer care center by the American College of Surgeons' Committee on Cancer. WMC accepts Medicare patients. It does not, though, receive glowing customer reviews. Charles A. Cannon Jr. Memorial Hospital is 15 miles away in Linville, is accredited and receives better reviews. For military retirees, Mountain Home (40 miles) has a VA medical center.
ASU has a pretty downtown campus and boasts a good academic reputation. Each spring, the University Forum Lecture Series brings nationally-recognized speakers to town to discuss world events, and the school's Turchin Center for the Visual Arts is the largest visual arts center in the region. The football team, is no slouch, either, winning the NCAA Div I FCS National Championship in 2005, 2006 and 2007 (Boone weekends are a little rowdy during the fall). Nineteen other varsity sports give fans plenty to cheer all year long.
AppalCart provides public transit and has a fairly extensive route system throughout Boone (making many stops at ASU and to many nearby towns). A para-transit service is available, too, and has buses that are "low floor," meaning they have no steps. Best of all, all in-town routes, regular and para-transit, are free. The nearest international airport is Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, 85 miles away.
Boone sits 3,300 feet above sea level. As a result, summers are cooler than in other parts of the state and winters are longer and colder. Summer high temperatures are usually in 70s and low 80s, and winter temperatures are in the 20s and 30s. On average, the area receives 55 inches of rain and 40 inches of snow annually. Residents warn winter visitors to beware of black ice on winding mountain roads. The sun shines 205 days of the year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Boone ranks above the national average. The air quality is good.
A Boone retirement does, though, have some drawbacks. It is a remote place and hard to reach (Johnson City, Tennessee with 65,000 people is the closest city and is 40 miles away). Local leaders have adopted a growth plan, but much of Boone seems to have sprouted up somewhat haphazardly. Not everyone is happy about the attention that their town has been attracting or about the expensive homes that have been popping up on once pristine mountainsides. The poverty rate is above the national average, but much of this is due to the large student population. Long time residents also grumble about traffic congestion. The number of college kids may be a turn off for many retirees.
Yet, Boone is an inviting place. Still unspoiled and unassuming with mountain charm and a bit of academic sophistication, it offers a peaceful lifestyle in a beautiful setting. For many retirees, it may be just the place for that perfect retirement.
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