Community leaders in Burnsville knew the conversion of Highway 19E to a four-lane scenic byway was a pivotal time in their town’s development. The highway runs parallel to Burnsville’s historic downtown and city leaders knew they needed a memorable “front door” to welcome travelers, businesses and investors. Artist Jack Mackie was chosen to create the Burnsville Gateway Plan to reflect the town’s history and craft traditions.  

Working with the N.C. Department of Transportation and the community, Mackie designed a series of 30-foot glass telescopes that will mark the east and west entrances of Burnsville.  Inspired by the town’s namesake, Captain Otway Burns, who used a telescope at sea, the gateway also celebrates the incredible craft artists who call Burnsville home. With its proximity to Penland School of Craft, Burnsville is home to many glass artists who collaborated on the design and creation of the scopes.


Watch a video of making glass for the telescopes.

The first marker was installed in the summer of 2019 and landscaping is being installed in Winter 2020. 

Watch a video of making glass for the telescopes here.  

A second SmART project is engaging regional artists to create traffic light pole wraps at five major intersections along 19E. The pole wraps will be laser cut from aluminum and powder coated with designs inspired by local flora and fauna.  

Community and Economic Impact

  • The N.C. Department of Commerce shifted Yancey County from a Tier 1 to a Tier 2 status in 2019, and the county experienced the highest percentage increase in median wages in the state.
  • The Historic NuWray Inn has re-opened along with a new brewery, new restaurants and building renovation for residential spaces in downtown Burnsville.
  • The occupancy tax in Yancey County has tripled in the last eight years, attracting the interest of hotel developers. Tourism expenditures topped $40 million in 2018, despite the lack of a major hotel.
  • The Toe River Arts Council has attracted several national and regional funders in support of Burnsville’s SmART projects.
  • The N.C. Department of Transportation is also investing in expanded landscaping for the Burnsville gateways and the conversion of 19E to a designated state scenic byway.
  • The gateway has employed more than 50 local artists, and all materials for fabrication are being sourced locally.