Ronald King set up a tarp and a popcorn kettle on Afton Mountain a little over two years ago and offered Kettle Korn for sale to tourists, bicyclists, hikers, and locals from his roadside stand beside a deserted and dilapidated old service station. He became a mainstay for two reasons: his product was tasty, and he was there on a regular basis (see Afton Mountain’s popcorn man). He eventually upgraded to a trailer that is similar to a food truck, those popular eateries that can be found in RVA, Harrisonburg, Staunton, and nationwide.
On August 7, Mr. King has been asked to appear before the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals to request a Special Use Permit to be able to continue operating at his current location. He has a business permit but the county requires an additional permit that could put more stringent requirements on his hours of operation and perhaps prohibit him from selling during certain months of the year.
After seeing Ronald King’s “King’s Gourmet Popcorn” on the agenda for this week’s zoning appeals meeting, I called and spoke with BZA secretary John Wilkinson (see list of BZA members) for a little clarification about the issue. The hearing will be held this Thursday, August 7, at 1:30 in the afternoon at the Government Center in Verona. Mr. King will appear before the board to ask for the special use permit and a public hearing will be held for members of the public to speak out.
This is when things sometime get sticky. If there is anyone against his popcorn business being in the area, they can come out and speak. However, if there are those who like his popcorn stand on Afton, they too may speak.
Mr. King’s popcorn stand brings a little life to the area, almost like a ray of sunshine, with his bright yellow trailer, his cheerful popcorn sign, and colorful, seasonal decorations such as last fall’s hay bales, pumpkins, and chrysanthemums. His one offering of Kettle Korn has slowly expanded by adding additional popcorn flavors, then cold bottled water and soft drinks, then pork rinds and hot dogs and local coffee. The picnic tables out front have bright umbrellas that beckon travelers to stop and enjoy a treat while taking in not the burned out buildings views but vistas of the mountains or to people watch in the cool at the top of Afton.
If you’ve been a customer, you know the offerings are good. I like the caramel corn. But most of all I like the fact that someone with an entrepreneurial spirit set up in an area that seemed to have little hope, and made a small oasis of friendliness that offers a respite from the fast-paced world.
If anyone is so inclined to speak on Mr. King’s behalf, please attend the meeting this Thursday, August 7, at 1:30 p.m. at the Government Center.
I have written extensively over the years about the blight that is Afton Mountain. In 2006, there was news that Afton was going to be renovated. However, in March of 2008, I posted photos of the rundown condition of Afton Mountain located at the intersection of the Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, I-64, and Rt. 250. It’s a beautiful location high atop the Blue Ridge Mountains looking into the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Rockfish Valley to the east. A 2004 arson fire had gutted many of the abandoned buildings, leaving charred shells of motel rooms that once graced the mountainside, and they remain along with graffiti spray-painted walls and overgrown weeds.
Tourists pass by throughout the year. The Skyline Drive has a reported 1.5-2 million visitors annually. The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited national parkway in the country with over 17 million visitors. Bicyclists regular bike the area, and Appalachian Trail through hikers regularly pass by throughout the year. But instead of a restaurant or nice overnight accommodations, tourists see burned and abandoned buildings. The only thing left is the run-down former Holiday Inn and a Visitor Center that overlooks the sad decline of Afton Mountain.
That is why King’s Gourmet Popcorn is such a welcome sight. I hope he is able to operate in that location as long as he wants, and that the Augusta County government will work with him to make that happen.
Afton Mountain … the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, the Daughter of the Stars.
– Afton Mountain’s popcorn man
– Afton Mountain: Rundown gateway to the Shenandoah Valley
– Renovate Afton Mountain
– World class entrance to Shenandoah
If you go: