The earliest European settlers to the Appalachian region were originally from the highlands bordering Scotland and England, with many arriving by way of Ulster, Ireland. These Scotch-Irish settlers, as they became known, formed the core community of what is known
today as the central Appalachian region, spanning parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The settlers' culture, already distinctive, was enriched by the influence of the original Cherokee, as well as by the later influx of Swedish, Finnish and German woodsmen, enslaved Africans, and Welsh miners. The resulting mix forged a uniquely American culture, fiercely independent and with its own styles of music, arts, folklore and speech. Its small communities have struggled with economic, environmental and educational challenges, as first logging, then mining,
dominated and waned. Yet, to this day, Appalachian communities remain surrounded by incredible natural beauty -- and rich with an equally impressive artistic legacy.
For an exciting introduction to Appalachian culture, check out one of the several fine Appalachian folk schools, where you can spend a weekend, week, or longer learning traditional music, dances, and arts. Families with diverse interests will even find there are plenty of options to please everyone, at levels from novice to advanced. At North Carolina's John C. Campbell Folk School, for example, music lovers can take classes in fiddle, dulcimer, pennywhistle or more -- while woodworkers can actually learn to make those beautiful, delicate wooden instruments. Need more choices? Contra dancing, spinning, weaving, writing, nature studies, painting, clogging, metal working and throwing pots are just a few of the many options. Oh, and by the way, they'll also cook delicious healthy meals for you.
Other outstanding folk arts schools include:
To fully experience the mountains where the Appalachian culture was born -- from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Great Smokeys -- head to the woods. There are three National Parks established to preserve these stunning natural areas, with the Appalachian Trail running throughout them.