Archive | April, 2014

Birding in the Citay!

Urban parks and open spaces provide convenient bird watching opportunities.

Urban parks provide convenient bird watching opportunities.

Some of the best year-round birding in the area can be found just two miles north of the heart of downtown Asheville. The Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society’s Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary is located on Merrimon Avenue at the southern end of Beaver Lake. A lot of different habitat packed into a little over eight acres offers the chance for a lot of diversity within a small area.

There are conifers and hardwoods, a small pond with marshy edges, wetlands, weedy fields and open water on Beaver Lake. Common nesting species include Gray catbird, eastern towhee, northern cardinal, ruby-throated hummingbird, yellow warbler, yellow-throated warbler, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, red-bellied woodpecker, red-eyed vireo, tree swallow, red-winged blackbird, green heron and many more. Some not-so-common nesters that have been documented on a regular basis include warbling vireo, Baltimore oriole, orchard oriole and brown-headed nuthatch.

And of course there’s migration when almost anything is possible. A dozen-warbler morning is not uncommon during migration when you can toss the possibility of chestnut-sided, magnolia, northern parula, palm, blackpoll, northern waterthrush, Canada, hooded, common yellowthroat and many more including golden-winged and blue-winged into the mix alongside the nesting warblers. Scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks often add their music and color during migration. Fall migration can be just as wild with fallouts that will leave you dizzy. And storm driven waterfowl and/or shorebirds can bring surprises to Beaver Lake during spring or fall migration and throughout the winter. Some recent surprises include red-necked grebe, white ibis, American avocet, lesser and greater yellowlegs, pectoral sandpipers and Caspian tern.

This urban birding oasis was destined to simply be an extension of more strip malls along Merrimon Ave. until Elisha Mitchell Audubon raised enough awareness and money to purchase part of the site in 1988. The group owns about half the site and manages the rest through an agreement with the Lake View Park homeowner’s association. Now there are trails and 3/8 of a mile of boardwalk plus the trail alongside Beaver Lake for birders, “butterfliers” and other outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. There is parking at the entrance to the sanctuary, which is open dawn to dusk. Be sure you pay attention, because the gates open and close automatically. There is a little bit of additional parking available at the Beaver Lake dam on the corner of Merrimon Ave. and Glen Falls Rd.

Add an hour to your commute to work – nothing makes that cubicle more bearable than remembering the gorgeous American redstart you just left foraging for insects at the edge of the pond. And it’s a great place for a “green” birding expedition – just hop on your bike and hit the road.


Rad Classes in the RAD

River Arts District

The River Arts District’s (RAD) semiannual Studio Strolls are amazing ways to immerse yourself in the Asheville arts scene—whether you’re a local or visitor. But if you only take part in the district through this passive experience, you’re missing out. Hands-on opportunities in painting, drawing, and ceramics abound all year. And if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find some unexpected class options, including chances to…

…Study Sake
at Blue Kudzu Sake Company: 372 Depot Street

Think sake is a distilled product, or a rice wine? Not so fast, says co-owner Mitch Fortune. “Sake is brewed in a totally unique way compared to other alcoholic beverages,” he shares. “It really belongs and is in a whole category of its own.”

Enter the brewery’s education program, taught by Fortune and other Certified Sake Professionals—a title only around 1,000 people hold. Four classes clear up misinformation: Sake 101 covers the basics, Sake 102 explores the brewing process, Sake 103 delves into history, and Sake 104 features an in-depth style exploration. Each costs $35 and includes a tasting flight, handouts, an appetizer sampler, and a 90-minute presentation.

Visit for upcoming class dates, times, and registration info + a look at their tasting room menu. Note: Classes should be taken in succession.

…Tackle Textiles
at Cloth Fiber Workshop: Studio D122 Riverside Drive

Fittingly, this textile arts learning/teaching space is located in Cotton Mill Studios, a warehouse where denim was once produced for Levi Strauss. In other words, there was and is a strong textile culture and community here. “To keep it going, we need to share our knowledge and technique,” says founder and director Barbara Zaretsky.

That’s why Cloth offers classes to all levels, including beginners. This spring and summer, take everything from screen printing to embroidery. For a true Asheville experience, don’t miss their place-based class on dyes: You’ll tour the landscape to discover local dye plants.

Visit for upcoming class dates, times, prices, and to register.

…Work on Wellness
at Nourish & Flourish: Suite 201, 347 Depot Street

There’s a wellness class here nearly every day of the week, but not one is run-of-the-mill.

Try “Yoga for the Eyes” on Fridays. The class combines yoga and qigong with the Bates Method, an alt-therapy for improving eyesight. Or sign up for Nia on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, a cardio workout drawing from martial arts, dance, and the healing arts.

Less classes and more not-to-miss events, you can also drop in for kirtan on Tuesdays or Dances of Universal Peace once a month. A Google search will fill you in if you’re not familiar.

Visit, or call 828-255-2770 for details. Nourish & Flourish is also a Network Care practice and juice/tea bar.

There are many more rad classes in the RAD. For artists offering them, grab a 2014 Studio Guide, or scroll through it online at Also visit for class info and links to all the businesses in this bustling section of the French Broad River corridor.


Long May You Run

Vintage postcard circa 1911 ~ Confluence of the Swannanoa & French Broad Rivers.

Postcard circa 1911 ~ Swannanoa & French Broad Rivers.

I first met the French Broad River while section hiking the Appalachian Trail. My companions and I were hiking from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Iron Mountain Gap. Midway through our trip, we traversed the north side of Bluff Mountain down into one of the AT hikers’ favorite towns, Hot Springs. Along the way, we noticed the rushing waters of the French Broad on its last leg before it enters Tennessee. I told them: “This place feels like home!”

A year later, my family and I packed our bags and moved to Asheville. My very first spring here, I paddled the French Broad’s headwaters near Rosman through six counties and two states. Looking back, I realize that I’ve been connected to this Southern Appalachian gem for three decades.

The tranquil section that flows through Asheville affords a variety of recreational opportunities, including fishing, paddling, floating, birding and more. Several parks along its banks attract both residents and visitors. Boat launches, the greenway, a recreation park, dog park and bike routes follow the river’s course along a revitalized city district showcasing local restaurants, craft breweries, art galleries, music halls and outfitters.

If you’re looking for something new to do this spring and summer, get out and explore the river. We’ll be sharing some of our own stories and adventures along the way, and we invite you to do the same.

In All Good Things, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne muses, “All good times, all good friends, all good things got to come to an end.” He even gestures to a river’s end. But for some of us, the river is just a beginning — an open-ended invitation to a lifetime of adventure and understanding. For me, each time I take out, load my gear and secure my canoe, I always walk back down to the river’s edge and look upstream to where I’ve been. Then I look downstream and ponder, “Long may you run!”

Run the same river twice! You might be surprised with the seasonal changes of the river. A winter paddle down the French Broad exposes the industrial era of the river district, while the forested banks of summer encloses her natural beauty.