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Following the Old Buffalo and Nickajack Trails, Native Americans and early settlers were the first citizens of present-day Watauga County. In 1752, Bishop August Spangenberg, the earliest documented explorer, traveled through this steep terrain and noted the necessity of crawling on hands and knees to stay balanced. Located among the Blue Ridge Mountains, Watauga County grew slowly with few settlers until after the Civil War. The Boone and Blowing Rock Turnpike began to open up the area to commerce and tourists in the 1880s. The establishment of the Watauga Academy in 1899, several ski resorts, and upscale residential developments has changed the landscape. The towns of Boone and Blowing Rock have been listed as some of the best small towns in America and continue to attract new residents and visitors.