10 North Carolina Destinations Where Count on me NC is Top of Mind

Just For Fun, Travel

As we all begin to start planning trips once again, Count On Me NC – a public health initiative that empowers all of us to do our part to keep one another safe and healthy – has made it easy to find destinations that put you, our visitors, first.

All participating businesses have taken additional training and implemented new procedures such as ensuring staff wear face coverings and undergo health checks before each shift, providing hand sanitizer stations at all entrances, making sure indoor and outdoor seating meet all physical distancing guidelines, and cleaning and sanitizing all tables and surfaces after every use.

Join us in ensuring a safe and healthy trip to one of these 10 destinations by taking the pledge and practicing the 3 W’s (wash your hands, wear and mask and wait 6 feet apart). Additionally, please visit Count On Me NC for tips on how to stay safe when visiting North Carolina.

Two employees wearing masks at Montero's Restaurant putting on gloves while standing at bar

photo: Visit Elizabeth City


Fill a full day in just a half-mile in quaint Elizabeth City, where the walkable downtown on the Pasquotank River features many Count On Me NC-certified stops. Get the little ones excited to start the day with dancing or yoga at Zaribel’s (peruse the schedule for that day’s availabilities). Then the hunt is underway for one-of-a-kind souvenirs at Eclectic Jewelry – where you can find new, estate or handcrafted treasures – and Page After Page Bookstore, which specializes in hard-to-find and unique books while also carrying stationery, gifts and toys. Follow it up by learning about the arts, culture and history of the region at Arts of the Albemarle and Museum of the Albemarle. Finally, you’ll have worked up a hunger, and Montero’s Restaurant – just a five-minute drive away – should be your final stop. Order the Bangin’ Shrimp Tacos – you won’t regret it.

photo: Granville County TDA


Christmas is a time for family and friends – and in Oxford, it’s also a time for maintaining the well-being of those around you while celebrating the season. Begin holiday festivities in Oxford with the Whoville Holiday Open House from Nov. 5-7, 2020, featuring a Girls Night Out, Family Fun Night and a Whobilation celebration. Oxford’s festivities continue Dec. 4-5 with a virtual tree-lighting ceremony and – get this: a “reverse Christmas parade,” where the participants are stationary, and the viewers drive by in their cars. Fun and safe for all those involved! Finally, from Dec. 12-14, cars from counties away can follow the brilliant light that brings them “Back to Bethlehem” at Delrayno Baptist Church, where a full-size nativity scene celebrates the birth of Jesus. Drive through and see the marketplace, shops, townspeople, the inn and myriad angels.

Two kids on snowtubes sliding down a snowy hill on gray day at Hawksnest Snow Tubing Park


North Carolina’s High Country is the place to be if you have kiddos. Strike up a friendship with some animals at the Count On Me NC-certified Apple Hill Farm (open year-round in Banner Elk) on an educational tour, or visit the wildlife exhibits at Grandfather Mountain, which also features a nature museum and the Mile High Swinging Bridge. If science is more up your kids’ alley, introduce them to Mystery Hill (certified), where gravitational anomalies draw more than 70,000 visitors per year. But for an ultimate outdoor winter adventure, fly down all 30+ lanes of fun at Hawksnest, the largest snow tubing park on the East Coast. And since the holidays are sneaking up: Get your shopping done at Original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis for unique local gifts and Tanger Outlets in Blowing Rock for all the deals.

Two women wearing masks and holding up a coffee cup behind the Counter of DeBeen Espresso


High Point, known as the “Home Furnishings Capital of the World,” offers more than 50 furniture stores and outlets, including Furnitureland South, the largest in the nation. Whether you’re shopping for an entire home – now that so much time is spent there – or that one special piece, you will find it here. A great starting point is the High Point Visitors Center (Count On Me NC-certified), where you can access furniture shopping information and talk with the concierge services to help plan your shopping experience. Plus, many hospitality partners – including restaurants and cafes such as DeBeen Espresso – are also certified, showing exactly how they’re doing their part to help ensure your health and safety.

Instagram: @nic_goodridge


Jackson County is the perfect destination for avoiding the crowds. Fish the best trout waters in the Great Smoky Mountains on the WNC Fly Fishing Trail® (the first and only of its kind in the country), highlighting 15 prime spots to reel in brook, brown or rainbow trout. Or take a deep breath and start the strenuous 3.4-mile hike up Pinnacle Park Trail – where you’ll be rewarded with magnificent panoramic views. Follow up your outdoor day with a flavorful dinner at a Count On Me NC-certified restaurant such as City Lights Café, Guadalupe Café or Lulu’s On Main, plus one of the 30+ beers on tap at Innovation Brewing. And with plenty of vacation rentals, hotels and cabins for your stay, your options for accommodations are endless.

Woman wearing mask ordering a drink at the counter of the Gilded Pear Brew House in Smithfield

photo: Johnston County Visitors Bureau


Treat yourself to a weekend in Smithfield, where Johnston County has been preparing for your return. Get a good night’s rest at the Count On Me NC-certified Sleep Inn & Suites, then head over to downtown – you won’t need to leave here all day. Start the morning off caffeinated with a hot white mocha latte and a smashed avocado English muffin from the Gilded Pear Brew House, then walk across the street to the recently reopened Ava Gardner Museum to learn all about the North Carolina-born actress. Work up an appetite on the Neuse River Walk, and then dinner calls for a juicy specialty burger or shrimp and grits from Simple Twist. On Sunday, take your pick of one of Johnston County’s trails – from beer and wine to golf – to cap off an enjoyable, safe weekend.

photo: New Bern-Craven County


New Bern is brimming with attractions, restaurants and accommodations that have proven they’re doing their part to ensure your health with Count On Me NC certifications. For major fun: Try the Bear Towne Escape Room, plus shopping at Nautical Wheelers, Galley Stores, and the Next Chapter Books and Art. For an eclectic variety of food: Baker’s Kitchen, the Chelsea Restaurant, Cypress Hall, Beer Army Burger Company, and Morgan’s Tavern and Grill are all options within a few blocks of one another in the downtown historic district. For comfortable sleep: The Aerie Bed and Breakfast, a circa 1882 Italianate Victorian, puts you in walking distance of all the previously mentioned restaurants, while other options include the Hampton Inn or Springhill Suites closer to the interstate. And if you happen to fly into town, no worries – Coastal Carolina Regional Airport is also certified.

Woman holding dog on leash on empty beach with sun and ocean in background

photo: Onslow County Tourism


Feel safe immediately in Onslow County when you land at the Count On Me NC-certified Albert J. Ellis Airport, conveniently offering nonstop flights from both Charlotte and Atlanta. Then let the outdoor fun begin: Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from North Topsail Surf & Paddle; cast a line from a pier or into the surf; reflect on military servicemen and women at Lejeune Memorial Gardens; or stroll wide-open North Topsail Beach with your doggos, who are welcomed year-round. You can even visit Bear Island by kayak or with one of our specialty cruise operators. Complete the day with a casual and cozy meal on The Boro’s patio, a nightcap at Dini’s Martinis and Dessert, and a good night’s sleep at any of the three Count On Me NC-certified Hampton Inn Suites.

photo: Scotland County TDA


Make an ordinary weekday thrilling – yet safe – with the U.S. Army Golden Knights at Laurinburg-Maxton Airport in Scotland County, the soul of the Carolinas. Donned “Champions of the Skies,” the Golden Knights are the U.S. Army’s demonstration and competition parachute team, and you can watch them practice thousands of feet overhead every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Afterward, with your adrenaline pumping, head to the Chalk Banks access area for tons of fresh air and a scenic excursion down the Lumber River. And for a post-paddle reward, Cypress Bend Vineyards offers sweet Muscadine wine, an expansive covered outdoor area and views aplenty. At the end of your day, choose the Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn or Quality Inn for your lodging – all four (plus the vineyard!) are Count On Me NC-certified.

People skiing down hill with wintry trees and mountains during sunset in Sugar Mountain

photo: Sugar Mountain TDA


The mile-high village of Sugar Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a sweet spot for winter vacations with social distancing naturally built in. With an average of 70 inches of snow a year, this resort town is known for winter sports and family snowcations. Choose from a variety of vacation rentals nestled deep in the forest or perched mountainside with spectacular panoramic views, and then head outside for safe, wintry adventuresSki or snowboard down the largest vertical drop in North Carolina at the Count On Me NC-certified Sugar Mountain Resort; round up the entire family for a fun-packed day snow tubing; practice your best spins on a 10,000-square-foot ice skating rink; or walk snowy trails and take in the majestic frozen waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest.

For more information regarding participating businesses, plus tips on how to celebrate the holidays safely, visit Count On Me NC.

New NCHSAA Calendar = New Obstacles

Lifestyle, Sports

The NCHSAA Board of Directors met last night via zoom and were able to come up with an amended calendar for the 2020-2021 season.

The decision to amend the 2020-2021 sports calendar was not one that was taken lightly, as the NCHSAA was guided by the NFHS and others in order to make a properly informed decision.

The first practice date for football has been pushed back all the way to February 8th, with the first game coming February 26th. Another big change to the football season is that all NCHSAA teams will only play 7 games this season, with the final contest date set for April 9th.

The first practice date for Basketball will be December 7th, and the first game will be January 4th. Basketball will only play 14 games this season.

Now that we have an updated schedule and something to look at and plan around, is how are these small schools going to work around this new schedule with everything being right on top of one another? Do not get me wrong, I think that its great that we are going to be playing every sport (with the exception of indoor track) but I think this is really something we need to look at and prepare for.

We are going to end up having some overlap in one way or another when it comes to these shortened seasons, but I do think that the NCHSAA did the best that they could. However, with this overlap, we need to think about the multi-sport, small school athletes who are playing every sport that they can. This year, if a female student-athlete plays volleyball and then wants to play basketball, she will find that very hard to do as Volleyball season runs from November 4th into January 8th, and basketball overlaps that running from December 7th, through February 19th.

I do not think that this is going to be a major problem, but I do think that it is important to keep these multi-sport kids in mind when we get back in the swing of things, as they might be spread a little thin.

North Carolina rural educators get support for remote learning

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North Carolina Rural Educators

RALEIGH: More than 1,300 educators from rural North Carolina participated in a virtual conference focused on remote learning to help them be better prepared to teach throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Cooper opened the REAL(Remote Education and Leadership) Conference and gave the welcoming remarks via a video message.

“When we had to close schools for in person learning in March, you were quick to adapt, staying connected to your students and making sure they continued to get the best education possible,” Governor Cooper told the participating educators. “I appreciate your efforts to help address the challenges to remote learning and help students get connected to stay on track in their studies.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic schools across North Carolina switched to remote learning in the spring and many students will continue to learn remotely as the new school year begins. Remote learning can be especially challenging in rural communities due to a lack of internet access and other technology resources and funding challenges.

The REAL Conference offered a professional development opportunity for rural educators designed by rural educators. At the conference, rural educators got the opportunity to learn best practices in remote learning and discuss how to addressing unique challenges faced by rural educators.

Participating educators chose from over 40 sessions throughout the day covering all grade levels. Sessions provided first-hand experience of remote learning tools and best practices. Topics included: Virtual STEAM: Hands-On Learning at Home; Digital Tools to Support Distance Learning; Accessible Remote Learning for Exceptional Learners; Connecting with Disconnected Students; Mindfulness-Based Social Emotional Learning; How to Assess Learning Games; Ed Puzzle: Actively Engaging Students with Videos; Bitmoji Interactive Lessons in Google Slides; Museum Learning Opportunities; and multiple topics on Google Classroom. Dr. Mary Hemphill, former superintendent of Scotland County Public Schools and current director of K-12 Computer Science at the NC Department of Public Instruction, gave the keynote address.

Educators and parents can view the recording of the REAL Conference HERE.

Conference hosts included the North Carolina Business Committee on Education (NCBCE), a nonprofit housed in the Governor’s Office, along with Governor Cooper’s Hometown Strong initiative for rural North Carolina, the Department of Public Instruction and the NC Virtual Public Schools.

When schools transitioned to remote learning, NCBCE partnered with Hometown Strong to launch the Remote Learning Working Group) to help improve remote learning in rural counties by getting more students connected to the internet and helping educators adapt to teaching remotely. The Working Group includes experts in education and technology from the public and private sectors.

Content for the REAL Conference was developed by the Remote Learning Working Group as well as a team of educators from rural North Carolina: Joseph Hayes from Edgecombe County Schools, Sonia Boone from Halifax County Schools, Kristy Marslander from Hyde County Schools, Heather Herron from Swain County Schools and Wendy Harrell and Phyllis King from Robeson County Schools.

Thanks to Google, Smithfield Foods, AT&T, Fidelity Investments, Dell, American Tower, and Tony Brown of Public Consulting Group for their sponsorship of the REAL Conference through NCBCE.

Quote from members of the Remote Learning Working Group:

“Google is excited to help facilitate this important conversation between educators, the business community and state leaders regarding remote learning—a challenge that is top of mind for nearly everyone as we approach a new school year,” said Lilyn Hester, Head of External Affairs – Southeast, Google and leader of the Remote Learning Working Group. “We look forward to discussing solutions to ensure our children have the connectivity required to keep their education on track.”

Dr. Eric Cunningham, Superintendent of Halifax County Schools said, “The REAL Conference, the remote learning conference focused on supporting North Carolina’s rural educators provides a much-needed benefit for rural school systems. Halifax County Schools will benefit greatly. Our teachers are excited and ready to participate.”

Dr. Steve Basnight, Superintendent of Hyde County Public Schools said, “I want to thank all the fantastic educators who worked to make the REAL Conference a reality. This will provide a tremendous opportunity for our staff to receive professional development on remote learning and collaborate with other educators right before we begin our teacher workdays to open the new school year!”

About the North Carolina Business Committee for Education:

The North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) is a business-led, education non-profit (501-c3) that operates out of the Office of the Governor. Since 1983, NCBCE has provided a critical link between North Carolina business leaders and the state’s education decision makers, helping to create connections between the education curriculum and the overall work readiness of citizens across the state. Learn more at ncbce.org.

About Hometown Strong:

Governor Cooper created Hometown Strong to build partnerships between state agencies and local leaders to champion rural communities. The effort leverages state and local resources, identifies ongoing projects and community needs and implements focused plans to boost the economy, improve infrastructure and strengthen North Carolina’s hometowns.





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Scoring Points: Football for NC and GA pushed back

Just For Fun
Scoring Points, meeting, sports setbacks, basketball, fake fans

The Georgia High School Association held a private meeting earlier today to discuss the upcoming fall football season start dates and schedules. The meeting was not broadcast publicly, but according to sources the competition date for football will be pushed back for two weeks, but the football conditioning and all other sports starting dates are unchanged.

The first football games will be held on labor day weekend, with scrimmages on August 21 and 28.

There will be a full regular season and a full playoff schedule as of right now.

Practice will begin next Monday, with pads starting August 1.

North Carolina has some of the same things, pushing back their start date 2 weeks to September 1, to allow players and coaches a chance to get a grip on things.

Personally, I think that this postponement of the season is probably going to end up being a good thing. With pro sports starting back up and everything, it will give the high schools something they can look at and model after, as long as those professional sports end up going over well.

I think that the postponement was inevitable, and I am just glad that they are planning on playing at this point in time. A year without sports would be detrimental to the community in-itself, much less the athletes that would be missing out on playing.

Luckily, all signs are pointing toward the fact that both Georgia and North Carolina will have some sort of fall sports season. If you would’ve asked me a month ago if I thought that we would be in a position to play at all I would have told you heck no, But, at this point, I’m at about an 80% certainty that will we see games played in the coming months.

Stay tuned to the FYN Sports page to find out the latest updates on the GHSA, NCHSAA, and TSSAA upcoming fall seasons.



Check out more of Jake West’s Scoring Points by reading last week’s article: Athletics in NCHSAA hands: Good or bad?. Also remember, in sports, points are scored by both sides, so send in your opinions on sports to [email protected] and see them in our next Sunday Edition.

Scoring Points: Athletics in NCHSAA hands: Good or bad?

Just For Fun
Scoring Points, meeting, sports setbacks, basketball, fake fans

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference earlier today, where he announced that school systems will be operating on Plan B which is a split, virtual and in-person, system this fall. School districts are also allowed to operate under plan C, which is strictly virtual online learning. Regarding sports, he announced that he is leaving the decision about whether or not to have upcoming athletics seasons to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA).

Cooper stated, “The NCHSAA will be making the decisions about high school sports and what they’re going to engage in.” He went on to say, “I love fall sports and enjoyed playing them in high school. I know a lot of our student-athletes want to get back into playing sports. The NCHSAA will be consulting with public health experts, including our staff here at the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s my understanding that they will be making specific decisions a little bit later on in the process.”

I’ve been thinking about this decision since I listened to Governor Cooper’s press conference on Tuesday morning, trying to weigh the good and the bad.

In my honest opinion, I think that since Cooper left it up to the NCHSAA to decide, they, in turn, will leave it up to school districts to decide whether they want to play or not. I think that the NCHSAA will give the go-ahead initially, but a lot of things will have to fall into place for sports to be played at their full potential. All in all, I do not think that it was necessarily a bad thing for this decision to be left up to Que Tucker and the NCHSAA board, but it does now present them with even more unanswered questions since the school systems will be operating at basically a fifty percent capacity.

It feels like, with every press conference and news release we get, more questions are left at the end than there were before. Hopefully, when the NCHSAA meets in two weeks we can get a plan of attack and know what to expect going forward.



Check out more of Jake West’s Scoring Points by reading last week’s article: New GHSA shot clock rule good for the game. Also remember, in sports, points are scored by both sides, so send in your opinions on sports to [email protected] and see them in our next Sunday Edition.

Scoring Points: Minor League Baseball Cancelled

Just For Fun
Scoring Points, meeting, sports setbacks, basketball, fake fans

As many of you may have already seen or heard, the upcoming Minor League Baseball season has been canceled. This decision is detrimental to the livelihood of the thousands of players that are in the MiLB system. With the Pro Baseball Agreement between Major and Minor League Baseball set to expire this year, MLB has already targeted some teams to place on the chopping block, in order to follow the NBA’s lead and make the developmental process easier and more concrete.

Hopefully for our community and the surrounding areas sake, no local area teams such as the Asheville Tourists or the Chattanooga Lookouts will be cut in the coming year. Not only are the rostered players effected, but the people who depend on the seasonal jobs that these clubs provide for them are monumentally impacted. Also, one thing that I can not seem to get off of my mind are the way that younger players in high school are going to be impacted. Without the Minor League Baseball system around, they may opt for heading to a college strictly for academics sake, putting their dreams of playing collegiate baseball and advancing to the next level on the back burner.

I also am saddened to think about the impact that this is going to have on the return of our local high school sports in the area. Cancelling a whole season of profitable baseball does not bode well for the way that the people in power’s minds are operating. I realize that the MiLB is a huge system with a ton of players and staffers and that high school sports are minuscule in comparison, I just hope that this does not set a precedent for things to come.

With the way that things are going in the GHSA and NCHSAA, I do not think that we have too much to worry about, but it is something to think about!


Check out more of Jake West’s Scoring Points by reading last week’s article: COVID causes more high school sports setbacks. Also remember, in sports, points are scored by both sides, so send in your opinions on sports to [email protected] and see them in our next Sunday Edition.

NC sports return on the horizon

Just For Fun
Scoring Points, meeting, sports setbacks, basketball, fake fans

Ask and you shall receive! The North Carolina High School Athletic Association sent out an email on Tuesday to over 400 member schools that declared its ban on sports related activities would end on June 1st. What a breath of fresh air to have a statement come out with actual substance.

The one thing that will hold schools back from resuming activities such as weightlifting and off-season workouts will be Governor Coopers mandated stay at home order. The commissioner of the NC high school athletic association Que Tucker said that if the stay at home order is not lifted by the June 1st date theyve set to resume activities, then they will have to also push that date back to coincide with the stay at home order until it is also lifted.

As of May 8th, Gov. Roy Cooper has allowed North Carolina to move into Phase 1 of a reopening plan which allows 50% capacity in retail stores and for child-care centers to open. It also calls for a 10-person limit on gatherings.

Later this month phase two is set to go into motion, which would likely increase the number of people allowed at gatherings and potentially open the door for student-athletes to return to campus.

I know we’re all watching the news and seeing that pro sports are likely to return without any fans and one would think that something like that would also be set into motion in the high school realm of sports, be it giving tickets to student athletes to give to their families and only allowing a certain number of people inside the gate, but that’s a different bowl of soup. I believe that we should cross that bridge when we get there, and in this moment be happy that there are even TALKS of a return to sports activities as soon as June 1st!

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