WYTHEVILLE, Va. — Every other day, Heather Kime drives about a dozen miles to the top of Big Walker Mountain, carrying on a three-generation family tradition of showing travelers a good time along U.S. Highway 52.
Here, at a 3,405-foot elevation, the 56-year-old Kime serves ice cream cones, hot dogs and cold drinks plus bluegrass and old-time mountain music, performed on weekend afternoons on a rustic porch with a million-dollar view of the Jefferson National Forest.
This spot on the Wythe-Bland county line used to be crossed by the Appalachian Trail.
Today, it remains a favorite stop for motorcyclists, who love to brave the curves of U.S. 52, an old-school highway running parallel to I-77.
The site’s star attraction, still, is the Big Walker Lookout tower, standing 100 feet high and dating to 1947.
In 2003, this destination survived a fire and ultimately rose again with a new store and weekend mission: serve the best ice cream (from Franklin County’s Homestead Creamery) plus appearances by bands and crafters.
“Is there any other place else like this around here?” wondered a traveler from Florida on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Answer: not hardly.
“Everything’s operating smoothly,” said Ron Kime, Heather’s 78-year-old father. “It’s growing. It just depends on the weekend. Some weekends are slow, and some weekends are gangbusters.”
Even so, the Kimes are now talking about an inevitable sundown on their weekend parties.
“We’re planning on selling Big Walker ... when it sells,” Ron Kime said slowly.
And, with that, a hush fell over the Kime clan: Heather and Ron plus Dee Kime, Heather’s mom and Ron’s wife. This hard-working trio gathered on the front porch of the Big Walker Country Store, built by Ron Kime after that devastating fire of 2003, which destroyed the original gift shop and a handsome, five-bedroom home.
“We’ll operate as is, all the time, until the day that it’s turned over to someone else,” Ron Kime said.
“I can’t tell the people who have the money to buy it what they’re going to do with it after they own it,” Kime added. “It’ll make a little money. But, basically, it’ll have to be family-run.”
Reason for selling: Heather’s health. She’s battled cancer and now has trouble walking. She uses a cane to get around.
“We do not plan to change anything that we’re doing now in any way, shape or form,” Ron Kime said. “We know that it’s a slow and tough thing to do, selling the place.”
The Kimes are, for now, still toying with a price-tag.
What’s more, they plan to exercise patience — for weeks, months or even years.
The 75th anniversary of Big Walker Lookout is coming up in 2022, Heather Kime said. “And I’m still planning the 75-year celebration,” she added. “Until we have a signed contract from somebody who’s serious, we’re not changing anything.”