Preserving the Charm: Pittsboro, NC

By Kelley Dodge (2014)

Driving into the quaint town of Pittsboro, we immediately swerve into a parking spot outside the historicChatham County Courthouse. The Victorian-style building, with a three-layer cupola, marks the beginning of downtown Pittsboro. Before making it to the downtown shops we stop, mesmerized by artwork on the first building of the strip. Though still under construction, there is a beautiful mosaic of flowers that has been crafted with shiny pieces of mirror. As we are admiring the artwork, two women walk by, one of whom stops to chat with us. Cindy Edwards, a Pittsboro native, tells us about the town’s priority of preserving its history, emphasizing the displays of public art, which further enhances its charm.

 

Our first indication of this tightly knit community is in sitting down to dinner at S & T Soda Shop, a downtown restaurant that Cindy noted as one of her favorites. Upon opening the menu, we begin reading about the history of the Soda Shop, stumbling across the restaurant’s special acknowledgement of Cindy Edwards, one of the founding proprietors. Pittsboro’s community culture shined at S & T Soda Shop, where everyone seemed to be on a first name basis with each other, frequently moving from table to table to visit friends. Though outsiders, we were warmly greeted at the door and graciously taken care of by our young, energetic waitress. Not only was the service good, but the sandwiches, burgers, and milkshakes were a perfect combo.

 

Leaving S & T Soda Shop we wandered to a side street to explore the Food Truck Rodeo, another event thatmany locals recommended. The Rodeo boasted an assortment of food and drink options spanning from the Carolina Brewing Company to sub-sandwiches, and mini donuts to Italian ice, there was certainly something for everyone. Hosted by the Pittsboro Roadhouse General Store, the Rodeo was set up in a parking lot where people gathered at tables, enjoying their Saturday evening with good friends and good food.

After exploring the Food Truck Rodeo, we wandered back to Hillsboro Street, which runs through the heart of downtown Pittsboro, and stopped into a woodshop and an art store, both of which boasted many interesting crafts.The local artisans emphasized the fact that Pittsboro prides itself on small businesses, but expressed concern for an incoming development, something that Cindy and our waitress at S&T Soda Shop had also mentioned during our conversations. This concern, we soon realized, is one that is shared by many Pittsboro natives. On four different occasions, locals brought up displeasure about a new 7,000-acre technology park currently under construction. While Pittsboro is currently home to about 5,000 residents, the new development, dubbed as a “Live-Work-Play” community is expected to bring an estimated 55,000 people to the area. Local residents, restaurants, and shopkeepers all expressed concern about this influx of people and how it might drive out small local businesses or on the contrary, stimulate too much demand. The development also poses a threat to Pittsboro’s small-town, tight-knit community atmosphere. While the project has already been approved, one thing is sure: it will be nearly impossible to ruin Pittsboro’s innate charm, because the community will fight to preserve its historic, small-town atmosphere.

Leaving Pittsboro as the sun set over the Courthouse, we were smiling ear to ear. Because we had never heard of Pittsborobefore, we journeyed to the town with very low expectations. However, our preconceptions could not have been more wrong. Of all the towns we visited for the Piedmont Region of Highway 64 project, Pittsboro was easily our favorite. We were enchanted by the welcoming community, talented artisans, tasty food, and historic buildings. Just minutes away from Raleigh and Chapel Hill, this gem is a must see for anyone living in or traveling through North Carolina.

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Richard Parr, Hot Air Balloon Pilot

By Katie Stewart (2014)

How many people can call themselves a hot air balloon pilot? Not many. Richard Parr of Pittsboro, North Carolina has been flying planes, balloons, and gliders for 55 years, and he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. We found Richard and his friend John sitting in camp chairs next to their truck at the Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville. The annual October festival began in 1974 and each year it draws thousands of spectators to watch the launch of dozens of balloons. After 41 consecutive years, the festival holds the record for being the second longest held hot air balloon event in the United States. The festival has events for three days, including a spectacular Saturday night balloon glow. Each morning pilots fly their balloons into the festival, and in the evening they launch again to fly out of the festival. Gina and I made it to the final launch on Sunday to watch balloons flyout of the festival.

 

Although we started to feel a bit antsy waiting in the grass for the balloons to appear, it was well worth it to stick around and watch such a magical show. Plus, meeting Richard meant we had an insider’s look at what goes into flying a hot air balloon. When we asked why Richard flies hot air balloons, he gave a simple answer: it’s fun. He gave us some advice that everyone should hear: do what you like. He stressed how important it is to find something we enjoy because we will have fun doing it and it will make us happy. These are wise words worth remembering from a man who has clearly found his passion. He likes to be in the sky, flying towards the clouds, and he enjoys the challenge of navigating in changing air conditions, which can often prove very difficult. Richard explained that balloons are only flown in the morning and evening because wind conditions are more predictable during those times of the day. Pilots are given wind conditions for the day and steer according to the information available to them. Richard always has a print-out of the day’s wind conditions, but sometimes he uses his iPad to see the exact wind conditions when he is in the sky. Richard has two balloons, one for competition and one for passengers, and he flies them in Michigan, Indiana, Texas, and North Carolina. He participates in competitions in which balloon pilots are given a map marked with specific targets. The goal of one of the competitions is to fly in from at least one mile away and drop a small marker on the target. In another competition, pilots are given an area on a map to drop their marker and they must calculate the furthest point from the center. Once they find this point, they must drop their marker so that it is on the edge of the given area, but not outside of it. It sounds complicated, but Richard loves the challenge.

 

The average hot air balloon is eight stories tall and typically flies at a maximum altitude of 2,000 feet, but Richard has braved heights of 11,000 feet in his balloons. Imagine standing in a hilly field on a beautiful sunny day, surrounded by giant balloons being inflated and taking off one by one. That’s exactly what we got to do at the BalloonFest. Wicker baskets were scattered in the grass, standing as tall as my shoulders, and pressurized fire was being blown into multi-colored balloons. The balloons came in all different colors, and some were even shaped like animals. There was a giant pink flying pig, an owl, and a cat. In the field, the balloons were at all different stages of the preparation process. Some were just being unfolded and laid on the ground; others were nearly ready to take off with pilots and passengers. Every time we turned around, there was another balloon flying away that was laying flat on the ground like a tarp or just half inflated when we last saw it.

 

Although we spoke to Richard well before the hot air balloons took flight, we saw him again when all the pilots and their crews were preparing their balloons for the final launch of the weekend. His words about finding something fun that we love to do came to mind when I saw him standing in his wicker basket talking to his crewmembers as his balloon inflated. He looked absolutely ecstatic to be at the Carolina Balloon Fest with his friends, doing what he loves.

Richard was a true example of someone who follows his passions and focuses on doing what he enjoys. Seeing him so happy before the last launch of the weekend left a lasting impression on me that I hope I will always remember, along with his advice to do what I enjoy.

Need a lift? Visit Richard Parr’s ballooning company, Mystic Venture, to book a ride.

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Bramwell - Nothing Attracts Pittsboro Residents like Tigers: Carolina Tiger Rescue (Interview/Snapshot)

Michaela Bramwell (2020)

From the escape of a COVID positive Tiger at the Bronx Zoo early in the year to the release of the popular Netflix documentary, Tiger King, 2020 seems to have a bit of a Tiger theme.  

Pittsboro, NC is located in Chatham County and sits at the intersection of Highway 64 and Highway 15-501. One of the most interesting attractions in the area is the Carolina Tiger Rescue, a wildlife rescue service. The organization has been a part of Pittsboro for over 45 years. Last year alone, 15,000 visitors passed through the sanctuary. 

News of the Tiger escape in New York prompted a fundamental change of how the organization operates, including required mask wearing by everyone at all times, and even special masks for those who come in contact with the animals or their food to limit the likelihood of passing on the virus. Even with those precautions, in March, the organization decided to close to the public for the safety of the staff and the animals. 

“We knew that if COVID was to impact us as a staff, it would possibly limit our ability to adequately care for the animals at the rescue. Sick animal care staff would make things even more difficult. To limit possible exposure, we kept those on-site to a skeleton crew of about 9 essential personnel, all of whom worked tirelessly for three months to keep the animals healthy and cared for,” said Louise Orr, the Communications Director for Carolina Tiger Rescue. 

The organization’s mission is protecting and saving wild cats in captivity and the wild and this year proved that they are committed to that mission. Tours were able to resume in June with extra safety precautions in place.

“We consider ourselves lucky that we are a facility that operates outside, as it's a great way for people to leave their homes safely and engage in an activity that they can feel comfortable doing,” says Louise. 

The organization rescues animals from private individuals who have realized that wild animals don’t make good pets, animals that come from facilities that have closed, and animals that have been confiscated by law enforcement. Originally named the Carnivore Preservation Trust, the organization acted as a breeding facility for small wild cats such as servals and caracals. 

“It's amazing to see the path that the organization has taken throughout the decades - we recognized that breeding was no longer necessary for us and refocused our mission on the rescue of wild cats and other animals in need. We have continually looked at our values and our ethics and adjusted those to become an ethical, accredited organization that truly puts the needs of the animals we rescue first, no matter how difficult!” said Louise Orr, the organization’s communications director. 

Carolina Tiger Rescue focuses on educating the public through tours, presentations, and exhibits. They also educate groups and businesses on how their activities impact wild animals. They occasionally assist legislators and other policy-makers as they pursue legislation and ordinances that ensure public safety and animal welfare. Their overall goal is to have everyone who interacts with the organization to know what they can do to protect wild cats. 

I asked Louise about the best part of her job.

“Being able to form a bond and relationship with a 300-400 pound tiger is an incredible feeling,” she says. 

A unique bond created by an organization that is a jewel of Pittsboro, NC.