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The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Clayton River Walk: A little bit country, a little bit art

Clayton River Walk: A little bit country, a little bit art

Living in Johnston County means we have ample opportunity to explore the great outdoors. Whether playing at a local park, kayaking on the river, or reliving history at Bentonville Battlegrounds, we've certainly got options. Our favorite outdoor adventure, though, is the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse. The trail is part of the Mountain-to-Sea trail of North Carolina, and because it's paved, everyone can enjoy it. 

Sam's Branch Greenway at the Clayton River Walk

Connected to the River Walk is Sam's Branch Greenway, which is equally maintained. Sam's Branch Greenway is 1.25 miles long (2.5 miles round trip), providing a 10-foot-wide paved trail, a butterfly art project and an accessible picnic area. We like Sam's Branch Greenway because of its gently rolling pathway -- bikes can soar down the "hill" but it's not too long to pedal up in the opposite direction. We also like the ever-changing landscape from season to season. Of course, it's at its best in October when trees display gold and red foliage, the field grasses wave a toasty brown and the grass is still green.

Nature and art come together at the Clayton River Walk

Beyond the natural beauty of this country trail along the Neuse, the public art display along the bridge by the butterfly park offers changing exhibits throughout the year. We ventured out early one morning this week (trying to beat the heat), to see the newest display, just installed in May. The new installation, Whimsical Birds, is sponsored in part by a grant from the Johnston County Arts Council to promote art projects on the trail. This art was created by local students from Clayton High School, Clayton Middle School, Cooper and Powhatan Elementary Schools. 

When we rounded a bend in the trail to reveal the bridge, my daughter instantly responded with a loud, "Oooooh!" as she ran ahead to look at all the birds on the bridge. My son, the dog and I (we will blame the heat), took a bit longer to arrive at the bridge. Still, broad smiles spread across our faces as we took in the colorful display. 


Clayton River Walk: Know before you go

 Three parking areas offer easy access to the Clayton River Walk:

  • 2928 Horseshoe Farm Road (2928 Horseshoe Farm Road)
  • Buffaloe Road Athletic Park (5812 Buffaloe Road)
  • Anderson Point Park (20 Anderson Point Drive)

The address to park at Sam's Branch Greenway trailhead (about 1 mile from the butterfly and art exhibit) is 1358 N. O'Neil Street, Clayton, NC. 

Drinking fountains and restrooms are available at the Buffaloe Road Athletic Park and Anderson Point Park. Doggie bags and garbage cans are located along the trail for the benefit of all guests.

 Please note:

  • Pets must be leashed
  • No motorized vehicles are allowed
  • Bicyclists are welcome!
  • Bring water bottles and sunscreen
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes!





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Blueberries and Summer Fun

In terms of U.S. fruit consumption, blueberries rank only second to strawberries in popularity. Blueberries are repeatedly ranked in the U.S. diet as having one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings. And they taste so good in our recipes!

History of Blueberries

Blueberries hold a special place in the foods of North America, since more species of blueberries are native to North America than any other continent. To this day, the United States cultivates and supplies over half of all blueberries in the world. Among the 275 million pounds of blueberries grown in the U.S., Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, and North Carolina are states most heavily involved in blueberry farming. Because of its special interest in lowbush blueberries, the state of Maine is actually the largest lowbush blueberry producer in the world.

How to Select and Store Berries

Choose blueberries that are firm and have a lively, uniform hue colored with a whitish bloom. Shake the container, noticing whether the berries have the tendency to move freely; if they do not, this may indicate that they are soft and damaged or moldy. Avoid berries that appear dull in color or are soft and watery in texture.  

Before storing remove any crushed or moldy berries to prevent the rest from spoiling. Don't wash berries until right before eating as washing will remove the bloom that protects the berries' skins from degradation. Store ripe blueberries in a covered container in the refrigerator where they will keep for up to 3 days. If kept out at room temperature for more than a day, the berries may spoil.

Ripe berries can also be frozen, although this will slightly change their texture and flavor. Before freezing, wash, drain and remove any damaged berries. To better ensure uniform texture upon thawing, spread the berries out on a cookie sheet or baking pan, place in the freezer until frozen, then put the berries in a plastic bag for storage in the freezer.

Where to find blueberries in Johnston County at markets or pick-your-own farms:

Creekside Farm
300 Pine Tree Road, Selma

Smith's Nursery
443 Sanders Rd., Benson

L & G Farms
6536 Meadowbrook Rd., Benson

Thompson Orchards
4301 US Hwy 701 S., Four Oaks

Lee's Produce
401 W. Main St., Clayton

Clayton Farm and Community Market
439 E. Main St., Clayton


Blueberry Cobbler


    1 bag (1 pound) frozen blueberries (about 3- ½ cups)
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    ¾ cup turbinado (raw) sugar or granulated sugar, divided
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ½ cup milk
    3 tablespoons butter, melted
    ¾ cup boiling water


    Preheat oven to 350°F
    Spread blueberries in ungreased 8 or 9-inch square baking dish or pan
    Sprinkle with cornstarch
    Drizzle with lemon juice
    Set aside
    In medium bowl combine flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder and salt
    Add milk and butter
    Stir just until combined (not smooth)
    Drop mounds of dough onto blueberries
    Pour boiling water over dough and fruit
    Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup sugar
    Bake until biscuits are golden brown and blueberries are bubbly, 45 to 50 minutes
    Serve warm or at room temperature

Number of servings (yield): 8

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Chick-Fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon - A Big Draw to Smithfield

We have heard from visitors that traveled to Smithfield to run in the 3 Little Pigs Triathlon, traveling here from all over the state and beyond -- "We just had to see what a "3 Little Pigs" race was all about".  Sometimes in event planning....the name is the most important thing of all.

The Chick-Fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon will be held in Smithfield, on Saturday, June 14, 2014. The event will begin at 7:30am and include a 250-yard pool swim, 14-mile bike race, and 3.1 mile run.  The event will begin at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center (SRAC) at 600 Booker Dairy Road. The swim will take place at the SRAC pool; the bike course will be from the SRAC parking lot into rural Johnston County on a scenic but mostly flat course; and the run course is an out-and-back course around Smithfield’s community park, and down and back on the new Buffalo Creek Greenway which runs along the Neuse River.

Family activities will also be available including the SRAC splash pool, a misting tent, face painting and the playground at the finish line.  Chick-Fil-A of Smithfield is the title sponsor for the event and proceeds will benefit the Friends of the Park and The Rotary Club of Central Johnston County.

Organizers are excited about the response for the 3 Little Pigs Triathlon as they expect more than 500 participants.  The event is family oriented providing activities for children at the Aquatic Center as family members complete the race.  Last year over $17,000 was raised and funds go directly back into the community through Friends of the Park and the Rotary Club of Central Johnston County. It’s a great time for the participants and their families.  Participants receive a t-shirt and a Chick-Fil-A chicken wrap as part of the event.

Registration information may be found here:

    • The last day to register online for the 3 Little Pigs Sprint Triathlon is Tuesday, June 10, 2014. On-site registration may be available if this event is not full, but your best bet is to register online.
    • Until May 4, cost is $45 for individuals; $80 for relays.




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100 Mile Yard Sale with 500+ Vendors

Tobacco Basket for SaleLess than 30 days from now on June 20th, the 301 Endless Yard Sale (100-miles) will open and will become the largest yard sale in North Carolina history. What started as an idea from retailer Tommy Abdalla and Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver has morphed into a multi-county event that grows every day.  New vendor locations are added each day and families, churches and non-profits join in the excitement to host this event.

Patterned after several existing yard sales, like the World's Longest Yard Sale held in August each year running from Michigan to Alabama along highway 127, we have goals for our sale to expand to the state's borders within the next two years.  We have since discovered more than ten sales that join communities together with this favorite pass-time -- yard-sales or junking!  One of our favorite names of area sales is the Peaches to the Beaches Yard Sale down in Georgia...the name alone is just fun!  It's not a new idea and we didn't "invent" this wheel, we are just riding the wave with thousands of yard sale enthusiasts.

Planning is the key!

Our 301 Endless Yard Sale planning committee has been meeting since January with representatives from Roanoke Rapids, Wilson, Johnston County towns along US 301 and Dunn.  Each month we find more and more businesses that want to be a part of the event, restaurants are gearing up for massive sales, and hotels are offering special rates for visitors traveling here to either bring  their treasures for sale....or treasure hunters headed here to see if they can do the entire 100-mile stretch.  Brochures have been distributed, classified ads are running, banners have been printed -- everything is moving towards a huge turn out!

We have had inquiries from the media -- just how many vendors will you have along US HWY 301?  How many people attended last year -- and how many do you expect this year?  Great questions.

Last year just in Johnston County, we estimated more than 150 vendors and the number of participants was in the 1000s.  The highway was literally bumper to bumper for two days.  So this year we are encouraging more parking at vendor locations to move vehicles off the highway and are letting local law enforcement/EMS and service businesses to route their deliveries along I-95 and not US Highway 301.

Survey for vendor and visitor feedback

With four counties and 100 miles of yard sale -- this year we estimate 500+ vendors and many other family yard sales setting up on their own.  As far as the number of yard sale shoppers we hope for four times the numbers from last year, so expect 20,000 shoppers to be along the highway from Roanoke Rapids to Dunn.  This year, we will be conducting surveys with our vendors and for visitor feedback to learn more information like:

    • How far did you travel to the sale?  City, State demographic information.
    • Expenditure and sales information.
    • Did you stay in a local hotel, campground, or stay with friends and family?
    • What would you suggest to the organizers of the event to make it better?

Look for some fun social media contests during the event with Facebook posts for the best "buy" during the Yard Sale, with prizes from the destinations for winners.  This event is coordinated by the local Convention & Visitors Bureaus in Halifax, Wilson, Johnston and Harnett Counties with several town officials to provide services like signage, vendor coordination, and special event permits.

A special thanks to everyone that makes this event happen -- just a few more weeks to go!!!!



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Trent Lassiter- JoCo's Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

Trent Lassiter, who is widely known in Johnston County as the general manager of Springhill Outfitters, has built the county’s largest banquet hall and entertainment complex on his family's farmland near Selma. Trent is a 2009 graduate of Mt. Olive University, which recently presented him with the Young Alumnus Achievement Award for his exceptional business achievements. The Farm is a one-of-a-kind venue located on approximately 10 acres on Batten Road just off I-95 Exit 101 beside Springhill Outfitters.

Trent had the idea for this building after hosting the Farm Fest concert in 2012, as he needed a facility that would provide space for bands, staging, and for indoor events as well.  He also knew of other needs for a large meeting space in the county. As a member of Duck's Unlimited, their annual dinner needs space for 400+ people so he made sure the facility could accommodate a crowd that large.  Trent also saw a need for a facility for weddings in the county, and the banquet space was built with a dance area in the middle of the floor with that in mind.  Overall, the building is 10,000 square-feet and can be utilized for multiple types of events like weddings, banquets, concerts (indoor and outdoor), birthday parties, and business seminars and retreats.  One of the more unique features is the patio space with a fire pit and outdoor lights.

The outside portion of The Farm can handle up to 5,000 people for concerts and has ample space for exhibitions/shows which will also bring people to the county. Construction of The Farm was completed in October 2013 and this year's concert series will begin on May 31st with one of Trent's friends, Scotty McCreery, American Idol Winner taking the stage with Eric Paslay, Blake Kearney Band and special guests Sadie and John Luke Robertson from Duck Dynasty on A&E.

“There is nothing like this anywhere in the county,” he said. “I think people are really going to like it.”

Trent has had the idea for The Farm for several years, but seriously decided to make it happen for two reasons; he said he has always had a love of the concert-type entertainment industry, and really believes that The Farm is something that will be good for the county. He hopes visitors will stay in local hotels, eat out, shop and come back to visit another time.

We agree Trent, and we thank you for having the vision and dedication to make it happen!

Needing a Meeting Facility? For booking information at The Farm please contact Anna Evans, the venue manager, at 919-750-5464 or visit thefarmnc.com.



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National Travel and Tourism Week

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Food Takes Center Stage at 30th Annual Ham & Yam Festival

countryham+biscuitOne big change is coming to the 2014 Ham & Yam Festival, scheduled for May 2 and 3 as food will take center stage.  In an effort to return to the agricultural roots of the festival, all food vendors will offer an item that features either country ham or yams.

“For the 30th annual Ham & Yam Festival, we wanted to return to the roots of the festival, and celebrate the fact that ham and sweet potato producers are still thriving here in Johnston County,” states Sarah Edwards, festival organizer and Interim Director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation.

In addition to the Kiwanis Club’s ever popular Stevens Sausage country ham biscuits, food vendors will offer sweet potato funnel cakes, sweet potato pie, sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato desserts, sweet potato fries, sweet potato chips, sweet potato smoothies, sweet potato muffins, and baked sweet potatoes.

The Kiwanis Club’s annual Ham & Yam supper, scheduled for Tuesday, April 29, will feature Stevens Sausage country ham, yams, cabbage, and corn bread.  The supper is from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church, located at 140 E. Market Street in Downtown Smithfield; tickets are $7.00, and will be available at the door.

In addition to the food, a full schedule of events on Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3 will attract more than 25,000 thousand people to Downtown Smithfield, where the festival occupies several blocks.  Craft and commercial vendors line the streets, local entertainers perform on two stages, and there are activities for the entire family.  The festival features free concerts on Friday and Saturday nights; The Breakfast Club, America’s favorite 80s tribute band will take the stage at 8:00 p.m. on Friday after Girlz Girlz Girlz opens at 6:00 p.m.  Neon Radio will open the free Saturday night concert at 6:00 p.m., with Who’s Bad: the Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band taking the stage at 8:00 p.m.

The Ham & Yam Festival is organized by the nonprofit Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation.  To learn more about the Ham & Yam Festival, please visit www.hamandyam.com, or call Sarah Edwards at 919-934-0887.

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Strawberry Picking -- a Fun Family Outing

Rows of ripe strawberries are waiting at Smith's Nursery, located in the McGee's Crossroads Community. Rows of ripe strawberries are waiting at Smith's Nursery, located in the McGee's Crossroads Community.

Strawberries are one of nature's perfect and sweet fruits that can be used in many different recipes that will surely delight your family.  If you are looking to get out of the house after winter is finally gone and spring is here to stay, a visit to a local strawberry farm is a great idea. Let the kids head up a row of strawberry plants with a bucket and they can pick and eat as they go (a little dirt won't hurt them!).  Johnston County has several local farmer's offering pick-your-own or pre-picked berries, so if you are in a hurry...just drop by and load up.  Find the tasty fruit at Smith's Nursery and Strawberry Farm, Beasley's Berries, 701 Farm Market, and the Clayton Farm and Community Market. For more things to do this spring on local farms, visit www.johnstoncountync.org/agritourism.

History of the Strawberry

The name Strawberry was derived from the berries that are "strewn" about on the plants, and "strewn berry" eventually became "Strawberry".  They really are not berries or fruit at all, but enlarged ends of the plant's stamen. Strawberry seeds are on the outer skin, instead of in the inner berry, and there are about 200 seeds per berry.

The berries are non-fat and low in calories, rich in vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, fiber, and vitamin B6. Over history the strawberries have been used in medicines, for sunburn, discolored teeth, digestion, and gout. As far back as the 13th century, the Strawberry was used as an aphrodisiac.  American Indians allegedly invented Strawberry shortcake, mashing berries in meal to make bread the colonists enjoyed--but they must have used wild strawberries since strawberries have been cultivated in America only since 1835. The Hoveg variety was imported into Massachusetts from France in 1834.

For a variety of strawberry recipes, stay tuned in to our FACEBOOK posts this May like this popular Strawberry Pie (which went viral last year on FB):

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Ham and Yam Festival Throws Back to the 80s

2014 Ham and Yam Logo Even our logo for 2014 has some 80's style - sunglasses and punk hair!

The Ham and Yam Festival began in 1985 as a challenge from Johnston County ham producers to the ham producers of Smithfield, Virginia.  No longer is there a competition between ham producers, but a weekend of great food, fun, and music.  Johnston County is recognized as a top producer of North Carolina's sweet potato crop, so it is fitting for the festival to honor the agricultural heritage of the area...and ham and yams go so good together!!

What started as a food festival has expanded to offer a barbecue cook-off attracting great cooks from throughout the area to compete for cash prizes. Attendees will also find many varieties of hams and yams at the festival – barbecue plates from the cook-off, country ham biscuits, sweet potato fries, funnel cakes, ice cream, and desserts. YUM!

The festival hosts the “What’s That Yam Thing?” contest, a favorite for school-aged children given the opportunity to turn sweet potatoes into works of art. Visitors wander through the festival area filled with hundreds of booths occupied by face painters, local non-profit organizations, and vendors selling items including garden flags, handbags, pottery, handmade jewelry and many other arts and crafts. The family event keeps crowds entertained with performances on three stages, children’s games, carnival rides, and the very popular pig races.

We’re throwing back to the 80s... at the 2014 Ham & Yam Festival!

Face painting at the Ham & Yam FesitvalFor the 30th Annual Ham & Yam Festival, we’re returning to our roots and celebrating hams, yams, and the 1980s. For the first time ever, all food vendors will offer an item featuring country ham or yams. In addition to the food, attendees will be treated to entertainment, activities, and vendors lining the streets on Saturday. Free concerts will be held at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights at the Stevens Sausage Pavilion at the Neuse River Amphitheater. The Breakfast Club will bring real hair, real 1980s clothes, real vocals, and real musical talent when they take us back on May 2. The audience will be singing, dancing, and moonwalking along when the festival closes May 3 with an 8:00 concert featuring Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band.

Learn more at www.hamandyam.com or call 919-934-0887 and follow on FACEBOOK.

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JoCo Breweries Participate in NC Beer Month

Deep River Brewing Co. In just one short year, Johnston County has entered the craft beer industry with two breweries opening in 2013.  Deep River Brewing in Clayton, opened their doors in April 2013 and Double Barley Brewing opened in September.  As our new breweries build awareness, expand distribution and gain new customers, they have the opportunity for the first time to be part of the NC Beer Month, April 1-30.

The NC Division of Tourism, Film, and Sports Development is celebrating "all things beer" across the state from Asheville to Wilmington in 26 communities.  North Carolina now has over 100 breweries and this industry continues to grow like the wineries around the state.  The month-long list of activities includes festivals, sweepstakes, hotel packages, food parings in area restaurants and much, much more.  You can follow activities on Twitter, Google+ or use #NCBeerMonth to keep connected.

In our area of the Triangle (only 30 minutes east of Raleigh), Deep River will be hosting a First Year Anniversary Party on April 4-6 with new brews, food, music and a whole lot of fun.  We have enjoyed getting to know Paul and Lynn Auclair this year, working together to expand our Wine Trail to include breweries and to promote their events.  Likewise with Larry and Cheryl Lane of Clayton, we have found brew masters are fun, creative, hard-working folks and we think the world of both couples....and we thank them for choosing Johnston County to open their businesses.  Double Barley Brewing's Lounge-like Tap Room also offers a variety of appetizers.

  Double Barley Brewing
As a marketing organization...we want to bring more visitors to Johnston County, and by working closely with our breweries and hotels, we have several special rate offers for NC Beer Month on our website.  Visitors will enjoy hotel discounts, as well as, coupon offers from the breweries upon check-in.

For the full list of special events at the breweries for live music, food trucks, and other happenings, visit their website calendars for details.  And for an in-depth look at each business, visit our landing page, www.johnstoncountync.org/jocobreweries  ... we know you will love their unique brews and getting to know Paul, Lynn, Larry and Cheryl.

Happy NC BEER MONTH...let us know what local brews are your favorites!  Post up your picture with your favorite brew on our Facebook page and receive a set of JoCo Postcards!


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Johnston County heads to New York!

New York Media Mission Public LibraryWelcome to New York...the city that never sleeps! The Big Apple! The media capital of the world! Okay...I know that last one doesn't sound as exciting, but when part of your job is to get people visiting and writing about your county then this is a big deal.

For the second year I got the opportunity to head to New York City to participate in the New York Media Mission. The North Carolina Division of Tourism puts this event together for destinations and visitor bureaus across the state to pitch their specific attractions to a variety of New York media outlets. This includes big names like The New York Times, Rachel Ray Show, CBS News, etc., but it also includes freelance writers and bloggers.

The event took place in a gorgeous room at the New York Public Library, where people from all over North Carolina came to promote their destination. There were also restaurants and North Carolina-based food and drinks being served. The atmosphere was very laid back and welcoming for all the New Yorkers coming to see what North Carolina had to offer.

This particular media mission always makes me a little nervous. I'm never sure how much interest Big City people have in small, rural towns-- although they do love the accent. This year I was pleasantly surprised. I talked to many people about how we have embraced the agritourism concept, and the transition of farms into attractions. Many of them were also interested in our new breweries and distillery (Deep River Brewing, Double Barley, and Broadslab Distillery) that use locally grown products to create their drinks. They wanted to hear more on our food, our festivals, and our Hollywood starlet, Ava Gardner. Throughout the event there were many questions asked about our wonderful county and I left satisfied with how it went (I even got some of them saying "y'all").

Set up for New York Media MissionWhile I was up there I did some sight-seeing, but it was extremely cold. Since I didn't have much time, I bundled up (fleece leggings became my best friend) and toured the city. A high of 17 degrees meant I was visiting places that involved hot drinks. I was there the week before the Super Bowl so the excitement was building and fans of the Broncos and Seahawks were starting to arrive. I had never been to New York City while it was snowing, so I had to visit Central Park with inches of snow. It really is a spectacular city.

With the threat of bad weather back here, I had a second of worry that my flight was going to be cancelled, but I was lucky enough to have North Carolina welcome me home with more snow and temperatures just as cold as New York!

I had so much fun in the little bit of time I spent in New York City. From the people I met (both New Yorkers and fellow North Carolinians) to braving the cold, this event makes me appreciate Johnston County even more. We know how much our small towns have to offer and I am lucky enough to spread that nationwide.

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Howell Woodstock Moves Event to April

DSC_0030The organizers of the Howell Woodstock event took last year off to transition the event to the springtime versus a early November date.  The thought process behind the move included several benefits for attendees, including:  fishing for the children, better weather for hiking and outdoor activities, and prime bird-watching opportunities.

So this year's event is scheduled for Saturday, April 5th, with exhibitors, kid's activities, and hayrides beginning at 1pm and running until 5pm.  Astronomy seminars continue after 5pm and the nighttime Statewide Star Party activities begin at 8pm.

Families are encouraged to bring a fishing pole to try your luck in the Savannah Pond located near the front of the property.  Other activities include nature hikes, rock wall climbing, hayrides, mobile fish aquarium, art exhibits, live music, BB gun range, inflatables and other rides and s'mores when the sun goes down.

Educational programs begin at 2pm in the Learning Resource Center with the following topics:

2pm     Soaring with Raptors
3pm     Living with NC Venomous Snakes
4pm     Micro Structures of Animals
5pm     Exoplanets
6pm     Black Holes
7pm     Weather on Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn

Also enjoy local BBQ from White Swan, Zaxby's, door prizes, and much more!  Howell Woods is located at 6601 Devil's Race Track Rd., I-95, Exit 90, near Four Oaks, NC.  Event takes place "rain or shine", and for more information visit their website, johnstoncc.edu/howellwoods or call 919-938-0115.

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Ava Gardner Honored in Spain and Museum Exhibits Artifacts

This orange two-piece suit worn by Ava in "The Sun Also Rises", will be on display at the Retrogack 2014 Film Festival honoring Ava. This orange two-piece suit worn by Ava in "The Sun Also Rises", was on display at the Retroback 2014.  North Carolina’s own Hollywood legend Ava Gardner was honored during an international classic film festival in Granada, Spain, February 21 through March 2.

The ten-day event, Retroback 2014, featured screenings of Gardner’s movies and other classic films in the Isabel la Catolica Theater. An opening ceremony included a tribute to Gardner and a concert by Granada’s philharmonic orchestra. An added attraction was an exhibition of memorabilia from the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC, open to the public in a nearby bank, the Fundacion Caja Rural.  Museum Director, Todd Johnson traveled to Spain with movie posters of Ava’s films being shown, as well as, several movie costumes from the Ava Gardner collection.

Retroback has been held annually since 2009 and to date has honored Hollywood greats Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlon Brando. Hepburn’s son, Sean Ferrer, is Honorary President. “Miss Gardner’s life and own ‘Cinderella’ arc is almost a carbon copy of my mother’s life story of ‘poverty to legend'," he said. His father, Mel Ferrer, co-starred with Gardner in Knights of the Round Table (1954) and The Sun Also Rises (1957). “He always referred to her as a ‘true lady’ and the most classically beautiful woman he had ever met.”

Retroback 2014Festival organizers decided to honor Gardner because they consider her “one of the great myths of cinema.” She first visited Spain in 1950 while filming Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and moved there in 1955 to escape constant media scrutiny in the US. She fully embraced Spanish language and culture and spent much of her leisure time dancing the Flamenco and attending bullfights. “Her free spirit and her passion for life made her love Spain and Spain love her,” a recent Retroback release stated. Although she retained her American citizenship, the Spanish government attempted to collect huge sums in back taxes from the actress, so in 1968 she moved to London, where she lived until her death in 1990.

Today Gardner is memorialized with a bronze statue by noted sculptress Cio Abelli at Tossa de Mar on the Mediterranean coast in northern Spain. It was commissioned in 1998 by leaders of a grateful community who recognized the vital role Gardner played in bringing tourism to the area after her unforgettable portrayal of the enchantress Pandora Reynolds in 1951.

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in Smithfield, NC and showcases exhibits on Ava’s life and career, visit www.avagardner.org or call 919-934-5830 for more information.

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301 Endless Yard Sale Expands in NC

Tobacco BasketThe towns of Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Four Oaks, Micro and Benson located along US 301 in Johnston County will have company at this year's 2nd Annual 301 Endless Yard Sale, to take place the weekend of June 20-21, 2014.

Patterned after the long established 127 Longest Yard Sale that runs from Michigan to Alabama, and inspired by the HGTV television show Flea Market Flip, the communities along US 301 will join together with vendors offering deals, antiques, collectibles and more along a 100 mile stretch of highway between Roanoke Rapids to Dunn, NC.

The US 301 Endless Yard Sale officially starts on the third Friday of June on the 20th and runs through Saturday beginning at 7am and ending at 5pm. Many sellers will be located along the stretch in well established visitor sites like the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly and TWN Antiques in Selma...as well as families, churches, and schools on the route with participating vendors.

This event was spearheaded by Mayor Cheryl Oliver of Selma and encouraged by retailer Tommy Abdalla, who annually attends the 127 Sale. Tommy's enthusiasm is catching and our immediate goal includes bringing visitors to the county for the two days sale.  And who knows, maybe one day it will run the complete 301 highway from Delaware to Florida.

The Visitors Bureau is providing marketing support and helping to coordinate meetings for the event’s organizers with each town.  Visitors are invited to explore the country roads of Johnston County every year looking for the unique collectible and rare finds they may have been dreaming about...that special antique just might be along the 301 Endless Yard Sale.

For more information on the event and contacts in each town, visit the official website, www.301endlessyardsale.com

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Ava Makes the Cover of Our State Magazine

Ava Gardner appears on the cover of the March 2014, Our State Magazine. Ava Gardner appears on the cover of the March 2014, Our State Magazine.

Ava Gardner, a native of Johnston County would appear on hundreds of magazine covers during her career as one of Hollywood's elite.  With extensive research, we are confident in saying she was the first and only North Carolina woman to be on both Time and Newsweek Magazines covers.

Now, Ava is honored again as Our State Magazine, has chosen a portrait by Dutch artist Bert Pffeifer which is owned by the Ava Gardner Museum, as the cover of their March issue.  Our State Magazine is North Carolina's premiere travel and life-style magazine on the state and has frequently featured Johnston County attractions, festivals, and businesses.

It goes without saying we are thrilled they chose Ava Gardner to grace their cover and the article inside features the fashion of Ava and the museum's exhibits that showcase her life and career from her humble beginnings as a farmer's daughter in the Brogden community til her death in London in 1990.  This feature will spark new interest in the museum and no doubt bring new and repeat visitors to Smithfield.

We hope our readers will be inspired to visit us soon!
Time MagazineIn September 1951, Gardner appeared on the cover of Time magazine, featured in a story titled “The Farmer’s Daughter,” which also  covered the history and importance of the female star in Hollywood.  Time, in its piece on Gardner, added some caveats, noting that she was not “the most beautiful babe” in Hollywood, nor was she the best actress.  However, she exuded an allure and mysterious qualities, that sent the glamor meters clicking...she just might be the one new star who could bring glamor back to Hollywood.





Newsweek Magazine [United States] (24 November 1952)By November 1952, Ava would be featured on the cover of Newsweek, not only for her popularity in Hollywood, but she was now Mrs. Frank Sinatra and causing a media storm wherever she went.

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Ava’s “Kissing Kin” Meet in Smithfield for Seminar

Ava Gardner Age 4 Ava Gardner, (picture of Ava at four-years-old) was born in the rural community of Brogden, seven miles east of Smithfield.

Comments we hear often at the museum are... "I am related to Ava", "I went to school with Ava", or "I dated Ava"...visitors to the museum are eager to make a connection to the local Hollywood star born in Johnston County.

Now family and interested fans can meet Ava's kin and learn more about genealogy methods at the same time.  The Ava Gardner Museum and the Johnston County Genealogical and Historical Society will hold a genealogy seminar, “Ava Gardner’s Kissing Kin,” on April 12 in Historic Downtown Smithfield.

“This event is for those who claim kin with our hometown Hollywood star and also for anyone who wants to learn more about the revolutionary use of DNA in genealogical research,” says Museum Director Todd Johnson. The event, taking place 8:30 am to 1 pm, will begin with registration and a tour of the Ava Gardner Museum and will continue in the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.

Cynthia Wells of Cabarrus County, a noted speaker on the topic of genetic genealogy, will present “Exploring the Mysteries, Exploding the Myths: Expanding Your Family History Using DNA,” a lecture she delivered during the 2013 annual meeting of the International Society of Genetic Genealogists in Dublin, Ireland. Information about DNA projects involving the Gardner and related families will be included.

Presentations on Ava Gardner’s ancestry will follow, including a Show-and-Tell segment. “We suspect many of Ava’s relatives across eastern North Carolina have lots of information, family stories, heirlooms, and photographs, and we would love to have some of them share with our audience,” Johnson adds.

Research to date indicates Gardner’s ancestors carried the following surnames: Baker, Barnes, Batts, Cherry, Cobb, Dilday, Duke, Ellis, Forbes, Gardner, Gray, Harrell, Jordan, Vickers, and Webb. Most of her family lines can be traced to pioneer settlers of the Virginia and Carolina Tidewater region in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The cost for the event is $10 per person, and advance registration is recommended. For more information call 919-934-5830, or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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"Moonshine" now Legal in Johnston County

Jeremy Norris producing several "shine" products and two rum spirits. Jeremy Norris now producing several "shine" products and two rum spirits.

Jeremy Norris was always intrigued by his grandfather's stories of making whiskey in the woods, sampling the product by moonlight, and the tales of hiding from lawmen who came to bust up the stills.

Of course, Jeremy's grandfather was a bootlegger. In fact,  the Norris family has been making whiskey in the woods of Johnston County since the 1700s.

Norris is carrying on the family tradition, but now in a completely legal way. Broadslab Distillery, located near Benson, has been legally manufacturing spirits since 2012 on the land once owned by his grandfather.  But now Jeremy can stay out in the open and out of trouble with the law.

Although distilled spirits have a long way to go to catch up with beer and wine, they’re a growing business in North Carolina. Agnes Stevens, public affairs director for the state ABC Commission, said there are 14 working distilleries in the state, with more on the way. The oldest is Piedmont Distillers in Madison, which started producing liquor in 2005.

Distilleries were outlawed in North Carolina in 1909, 11 years before Prohibition went into effect.  After Prohibition ended in 1932, the state permitted breweries and wineries to operate, but continued to ban the manufacturing of spirits. That ban was lifted in 1979.

It looks like distilleries are following the same growth pattern that wineries and breweries have in North Carolina -- which are booming!

Distillery operators must obtain a permit from the federal department of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a state ABC permit and a city or county business license.  Labels must also be approved. Bottles can only be sold at state ABC stores, which are required to have a separate section for North Carolina-made products.

Before Prohibition, North Carolina had more distilleries than any other state. Below is a recipe for you to try for your next get-together!  Enjoy!


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Needing a Meeting Facility?

New county-wide Meeting Facilities Guide printed in 2014. New county-wide Meeting Facilities Guide printed in 2014.

We've got you covered. Not just for your normal business meetings, we have many unique venues for weddings, family reunions, conferences, and outdoor spaces for shows, concerts, and expos.

One of our new marketing pieces is the Meeting Facilities Guide, a printed piece promoting Johnston County as a prime meeting destination in the Triangle. Why not try something new, convenient and affordable? Here are a few reasons why you should plan your gathering in our county.

    •  Just 30 minutes from the Triangle area.
    •  Conveniently located along interstates I-95 and I-40.
    • Unique venues such as historic homes, wineries & breweries, and outdoor spaces.
    • A variety of hotels, restaurants, and shops to entertain your guests.
    • Venues are affordable and accessible.
    • The Visitors Bureau is here to help assist planners with site inspections, bids for space, leads for group hotel rates, and conference services (a MAJOR plus!).

Johnston County's largest auditorium space is the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium in Smithfield that seats 1,000 and for sit-down meals the Ag-Center in Smithfield and The Farm outside of Selma hold approximately 400 people. If you aren't looking for a large space, there are several intimate venues such as the newly opened Brick & Mortar in Clayton and the Preston Woodall House in Benson.

As the demand for meeting space grows, local business leaders are expanding to accommodate inquiries. On our part, we plan on attending more meeting related tradeshows to make connections with planners in a variety of regions. To receive a copy of the Meeting Facilities Guide or to learn more about meeting in Johnston County, please contact us at 919-989-8687 or search our website, www.johnstoncountync.org.

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2014 Visitors Guide Published

2014 Visitors Guide has New Format 2014 Visitors Guide has New Format

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau (JCVB) is pleased to announce the arrival of the 2014 Official Johnston County Visitors Guide.  This year’s guide has a new concept as a “destination” planner giving visitors additional tools to plan a visit with suggested itineraries, feature stories on area businesses, and travel deals.  The guide features several themed sections with editorial copy introducing visitors to the destination, with a center map of Carolina Premium Outlets, which by far is the largest attraction in the county.

The upcoming 150th Battle of Bentonville Reenactment is the featured event on the cover of the new visitors guide, which will take place March 21-22, 2015.  That may seem far away, but this guide will be on the shelf for the next twelve months and will be used in many upcoming advertising campaigns to promote the event.

JCVB prints 90,000 Visitors Guide each year to promote the county and the guide is entirely sponsored by the 3% county-wide occupancy tax, which is paid by visitors to the county.  Guides are distributed to all NC Welcome Centers in the state, RDU International Airport, AAA Offices along the eastern seaboard and along I-40 west.  Guides are in visitor centers across North Carolina, as well as, around the county in more than 100 locations such as hotels, attractions, Chambers of Commerce, town halls and retail stores.

If you are planning a trip through North Carolina along I-95 or I-40...or you are looking for a short weekend get-a-way for golfing or shopping, call us for a new Visitors Guide at 1-800-441-7829!

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Christmas Lights Provide Holiday Cheer

December is packed full of events, parties, and shopping...why not enjoy a drive through the country-side for a Christmas Lights show!  Johnston County is lucky to have two locations where you can visit to see a wide variety of outdoor light shows and displays this holiday season. Meadow Lights in Meadow, NC is a gorgeous display of thousands of lights that continues to amaze audiences with familiar scenes; while every year they seem to add new displays.  Lights on the Neuse, in Clayton, NC, allows you to experience holiday scenes on a hayride around the farm and end the evening around the campfire with s'mores!  Kids and adults will have a wonderful time ...remember to bundle up!

4546 Godwin Lake Rd.
Benson, NC 27504

Meadow Lights Meadow Lights is the perfect holiday attraction for the family.

The Meadow Lights is one of the largest and oldest Christmas Lights Shows in Eastern NC, starting when the owner wanted to decorate his home and yard for his children to enjoy. These decorations grew and grew over the years, and soon others in the community started to enjoy the lights also. As the community got involved, so did the number of people wanting to see them. Today, there is over 30 acres of lights and people from all over the state come to experience them. To get the full experience families of all ages can take a train ride through the lights and see all the animations up close. Before you leave you have to stop at The Old Country Store where Santa and every type of candy, preserves, drinks, and much more are waiting for you. This year don't miss out on the carousel rides. If you haven't been to the Meadow Lights, head out there this year and you won't be disappointed. Who knows - it might even become a family tradition for years to come!

1620 Loop Rd.
Clayton, NC 27527

lights_on_neuse_barn Take a stroll through the enchanting 3D Christmas house at Lights on the Neuse

Located in Clayton, NC, Lights on the Neuse allows families and friends to get together to celebrate the magic of Christmas. The main attraction is the Christmas Hayride, a one-mile long, 30-minute old-time tractor-pulled hayride through a beautiful Lights Extravaganza, filled with Christmas music and holiday magic. While you're there take a tour of The Christmas Barn to see an enchanting 3D Christmas house and buy some old-fashioned Christmas candy, hot chocolate, or a wonderful s'mores kit that you purchase and cook at the picnic area. Don't forget to bring your camera to get a picture with Santa! Call or visit their website for ticket information and details.



Tis the season all around the county for Christmas Parades and Christmas Tree Lighting Events in every town. For a full list and schedule of holiday events visit our website at www.johnstoncountyevents.com and enjoy the magic of Christmas with friends and family.

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

beer wine and shine trail logo

Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.


Meeting Planners

meeting venue with presentation screen

Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?


Group Tour Operators

girl with camera in travel group

Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.


Hotel Packages

hotel bed and pillow with johnston county logo

We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.


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Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
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