North Carolina offers 15 certified retirement communities

Carol Timblin

Roanoke River Lighthouse, Edenton, North Carolina (Photo by Kip Shaw)

Offering a diverse landscape that stretches 500 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains, North Carolina is a magnet for retirees from all over the country, including many from the Mid-Atlantic region.

Beyond its beauty, North Carolina offers a mild four-season climate, a cost of living that’s below the national average, taxes comparable to those of other states, excellent health care, opportunities for lifelong learning, a rich cultural heritage, and unlimited recreation. The Tar Heel State is also home to 15 communities certified by RetireNC, a program administered by Visit North Carolina.

“Certified communities have demonstrated they have the housing and health care options, cultural, continuing education, and volunteer opportunities, and low crime rates that make them excellent choices for retirement living,” said Andre Nabors, who works with RetireNC.

Central North Carolina

Lumberton — named an All-American City Award winner by the National Civic League — is located on the I-95 corridor, midway between New York and Florida. It was the state’s first certified retirement city and is accessible to world-class golf, military bases, Atlantic Ocean beaches, the state capital of Raleigh, and other large cities. Its nearly 22,000 residents enjoy cultural events and festivals year-round, many staged in the historic downtown, as well as continuing education opportunities. Recreational opportunities abound, too, especially around the Lumber River, designated a “National Wild and Scenic River.”

Roanoke River Lighthouse, Edenton, North Carolina (Photo by Kip Shaw)
Roanoke River Lighthouse, Edenton, North Carolina (Photo by Kip Shaw)

“Within an hour’s drive of Lumberton, potential residents will find a vast assortment of cultural activities, as well as historic properties and museums in all directions,” says Sarah Barbee, who promotes the area. “Recreational sites and facilities abound, too.”

Seven other certified retirement cities are located in central North Carolina.

Laurinburg, with a population of 16,000, was settled by Scots Highlanders around 1785 and is known for St. Andrews University. Sanford has 29,000 residents and offers lakes, historic sites, and golf courses, including one designed by Donald Ross. Asheboro, population 25,000, is the home of the North Carolina Zoo and is almost midway between the coast and the mountains.

Pittsboro, with just 4,000 residents, lies south of the Research Triangle and is in close proximity to several universities, including North Carolina-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State, Duke, and North Carolina Central. Eden has 16,000 residents and is just an hour from Greensboro and Winston-Salem, plus it boasts both the Smith and Dan rivers. Reidsville’s Market Square is the scene of festivals from May to October and Lake Reidsville is a 750-acre lake offering water sports as well as hiking and other activities.

The most recently certified location is Jamestown, near High Point in the western triangle, which also includes Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

Eastern North Carolina

Edenton, population 5,000, sits on the Albemarle Sound in the northeast corner of the state, with easy access to the Outer Banks and metropolitan Norfolk, Va. North Carolina’s first state capital was the site of one of the first tea rebellions in America, carried out in 1774 by 51 women of the town.

Today, Edenton is known not only for history, but for its extraordinary quality of life, encompassing everything from cultural events to eco-friendly recreational adventures. Continuing education is offered through College of the Albemarle and nearby Elizabeth City State University.

“Edenton possesses the many qualities that people search for when looking to not only retire, but also find that perfect place to live, work, and call home,” says Nancy Nicholls, who promotes the area. “For several, a first-time visit leads quickly to falling in love with what has designated as ‘One of America’s Prettiest Towns,’ and making Edenton your home.”

Three other NCRetire-certified cities lie in the eastern part of the state.

Tarboro, population 11,000, touts itself as a “front porch kind of town,” with friendly folks who make any visitor feel welcome. Its 250-year history, original 15-acre Town Common, and location on the Tar River add to its charm.

New Bern, with 30,000 residents, sits at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, just 35 miles from North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. With 300 years of history as a backdrop, it is considered one of the “Top 10 Coastal Towns Where You Can Afford to Retire,” according to MarketWatch. It also is the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola and the home of novelist Nicholas Sparks.

Winterville is known for its quality of life, outdoor recreation, and the access to state parks and beaches it provides its 9,500 residents. The closest large city is Greenville, the home of East Carolina University and all its activities and amenities, including a medical school.

Western North Carolina

Mount Airy rose to international acclaim when Andy Griffith put his hometown on the map with his popular 1960s television series. The Andy Griffith Show’s fictional town, Mayberry, was said to be based on Mount Airy. Today, often called “Mayberry USA,” the town of 10,000 stages the ever popular Mayberry Days festival, featuring the surviving stars of the show, every fall.

Located in the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area, Mount Airy is a part of the Piedmont Triad region — Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point — known for its outstanding medical school, several universities, cultural opportunities, and rich history.

“Mount Airy is attracting active retirees and those wanting to relocate to the area because of our outstanding quality of life,” says Jessica Icenhour, who promotes the area. “Our city offers many recreation opportunities for active retirees, including two greenways where people can walk, bike, tube, canoe or kayak, picnic, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Ararat River or Lovills Creek. Several state parks and the Blue Ridge Parkway are a short drive from the city.”

Two other certified retirement cities are located southwest of Mount Airy in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.

Lenoir, population 18,000, offers an abundance of arts and culture and outdoor recreation around Wilson Creek, designated a “National Wild and Scenic River” by Congress in 2000. The nearly 8,000 residents of Marion enjoy outdoor activities on Lake James and convenient access to the cities of Hickory and Asheville via I-40.

“Retirees make a positive impact on our economy and they also bring a wealth of knowledge and experience with them. Some start businesses such as book stores, coffee shops, and art galleries and many serve as volunteers in their communities,” Nabors said. “It’s a real win-win situation.”

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