Archive | October, 2014

Autumn Trip Tips, Part II: Hotlines and Fall Color Reports

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The Blue Ridge Parkway may be the most popular and convenient fall leaf-viewing drive, but there are lots of other less-traveled opportunities to see the colors of the season. Explore Asheville offers one of most comprehensive digital guides to the area. The official Asheville Tourism site has a convenient one-stop guide to autumn that includes ongoing coverage from early to late fall. So whether you’re traveling by car, bike, motorcycle or by foot, you can select a variety of tours and hikes throughout Western NC.

 Trust us on this one!

You may have been to Hot Springs, but have you ever been to Trust, NC? Try this mid-fall excursion and head north from Asheville to Weaverville and stop by Well-Bred Bakery for a morning snack and a to-go cup of java. Take US 25/70 to Hot Springs and enjoy the brilliant colors of fall along the Walnut Mountains. The descending trip into the quaint river hamlet offers a dazzling array of fall color along the ridge tops and forest coves. Take a break in town and walk along the river to get an excellent open view of the autumn landscape. Better yet, schedule a half-day rafting trip down section nine of the French Broad and immerse yourself into four miles of fall splendor. Trip note: most outfitters require you to book your trip at least a day ahead. Climb out of Hot Springs along Hwy 209 for approximately 15 winding miles and take a left turn in Trust, NC onto Hwy 63. This last section includes beautiful vistas and historic farmlands of western Buncombe County. The 80-mile fall color tour can be driven comfortably in three hours. Take your time and enjoy the ride!

Follow the yellow blaze: Take a detour off Hwy. 209 south of Hot Springs to Rocky Bluff Recreation Area and the Spring Creek Nature Trail. The 1.6-mile trail offers a convenient leaf-lookers’ day-hike along the cascading mountain stream.

 Next up: Go west, brew enthusiasts!

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M & M’s on the River

Our last blog for our mammalian march along the French Broad will focus on two smaller furbearers, the muskrat (yeah, like Suzy & Sam) and the (don’t tell him he’s small cause he’s got as big ego) mink.

Muskrat swimming - creative commons

Muskrat swimming – creative commons

Muskrats top out at around five pounds and while beavers often go 30 pounds and sometimes 60 there is, occasionally, a little confusion. Sometimes people talk of seeing tiny or “baby” beavers around a beaver lodge – but the small critter they are seeing is actually a muskrat. Beavers often allow muskrats to set up an efficiency apartment of their own within the den. The thought is that beavers have nothing to fear from muskrats and having them around actually provides extra eyes, ears and/or noses to aid in the detection of predators.

Adult muskrats are about two feet long and up to half of that can be the long, bare, vertically-flattened (keeled) tail, which helps propel them in the water. These thick-furred brownish black rodents are highly adapted to their aquatic environment. Besides the keeled tail, their hind feet are partially webbed, their ears can be closed off with a membrane and they can easily stay underwater for 15 minutes.

The muskrat is found across most of North America from Canada to the Deep South (except for Florida where it is replaced by the Florida water rat, Neofiber alleni,) all the way to northern Mexico. Muskrats are promiscuous and may reproduce anytime of the year, they often produce up to three litters per year in North Carolina. While primarily herbivores, feeding on cattails, grasses, sedges, and other aquatic vegetation, muskrats are not averse to augmenting their diet with a little fresh meat, especially fresh-water mussels.

On the other hand, our next riverine rascal, the mink, is totally carnivorous – unabashedly so! This small predator, sometimes called “water weasel” is only 2 – 3 feet long, including 6-8 inches of tail, and weighs about three pounds. It’s primary diet includes fish, shellfish, crayfish, snakes and large insects, but it will sometimes prey on muskrats, nutria, rabbits, geese and swans.

American mink - creative commons photo

American mink – creative commons photo

The natural range of the American mink, Neovison vison, is from Alaska to the southern tier excluding drier parts of Arizona, California, West Texas, New Mexico and Nevada. It has been released, sometimes accidentally, in Europe where it has, unfortunately, thrived and become an exotic nuisance. It can be found across North Carolina and while the population is greater and more secure in coastal marshes and piedmont swamps it is found along the French Broad and other rivers and streams in the mountains. Protecting wetlands, especially wetland riverine ecosystems, is paramount to protecting mink populations.

Mink, like muskrats, are also promiscuous but they are not rodents and they only produce one litter per year. Minks breed in January and February but because they exhibit delayed implantation the fertilized egg is not implanted in the womb for nearly a month and they usually give birth to four or five kits in May.

Because of their small size, excellent senses (and desire not to be noticed) and the fact that they are primarily nocturnal, mink are some of the least-seen critters along the French Broad. You should consider yourself quite fortunate if you get to cross paths with this elusive “water weasel.”

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Up and Running in the RAD

Inside the Asheville Running Company

The Asheville Running Company in the River Arts District (Photo: Asheville Running Co.)

Randy Ashley is accustomed to being a step ahead of the pack. The accomplished distance runner had a successful competitive running career that spanned over two decades including qualifying for two Olympic marathon trials in ‘96 and ‘00.

Now he’s blazing new trail as general manager of the Asheville Running Company in the blossoming River Arts District (RAD).

“I noticed how busy it was at the Wedge and for art strolls,” says Ashley. “I thought someone ought to open a running shop.”

At first, everyone he talked with got cold feet. After all, the RAD may be known for its food, beer and art, but not for its retail shopping. Eventually owners Judi and Dan Foy, whose son was coached by Ashley at the Asheville School, loved his idea and in early September the store opened its doors in the Pink Dog Creative building located at 346 Depot Street, a former warehouse that’s now home to art galleries, two restaurants, and the Asheville Area Arts Council.

While opening a retail shop in what was formerly the city’s most desolate terrain may be chancy, Ashley is acquainted with the challenges. With a partner he opened a running store in Biltmore Park Town Square in 2002, but may have been a few years too early.

Now, with the booming running scene in Asheville and excitement about the revitalization of the RAD, he’s betting the time is right to get a foothold in the shoe business.

In addition to stocking a wide range of top-of-the-line running shoes, accessories and apparel, he also plans on bringing his passion for the sport, knowledge of the area, and skill as a team and personal running coach to the table.

The store hosts weekly group runs that Ashley says are non-competitive, “citizen-type runs” led by store ambassadors, while the footprint and design of their space allows them to host a variety of events, including a series of fitness programs.

“We want folks to feel welcome here and to take advantage of what we have to offer,” says Ashley. “We’re in this for the long-haul.”

To find out more about their weekly runs and other events, check out their Facebook page or their soon to be launched website at ashevillerunningcompany.com

 

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Get On the Bus for an Asheville Halloween

LaZoom Asheville Halloween Tours

You know that the French Broad River Corridor is an awesome-packed stretch of river and land for outdoor adventures, delicious dining experiences, and art excursions—after all, you’ve traveled it with an Asheville Pocket Guide in hand! But did you know it’s also the “birthplace” of one of Asheville’s creepy (and comedic!) characters? Legend has it that Hellena Handbasket, a LaZoom haunted guide, has her origins right in the river.

If you want to hear the full spooky story, you’ll have to ‘get on the bus’—the iconic purple one you see and hear around town—this October. LaZoom offers their Haunted Comedy Bus Tours year-round, but there’s no more perfect time to hop on than now. It’s an Asheville Halloween experience like no other.

“This time of year is one of our favorites, and our haunted guides really get in the spirit and fun of it,” shares LaZoom’s Anne Mallett. “Something about Halloween and the excitement and involvement of the community really brings a whole new level of fun to the tour!”

LaZoom’s Haunted Haunts

Supernatural stops include a secret location that’s home to a real ghost and the site where Zelda Fitzgerald died. According to Anne, the story behind the mental hospital where Zelda lived and perished in a fire is “pretty creepy,” but she’s quick to point out the tour is very much comedy based and not terrifyingly scary. That being said, though, the tour isn’t for kids. You must be 17 or older to take a spin in the hilarious, haunted wheels.

If you’re old enough and ready to laugh and scream as you learn about Asheville’s mysteries and tales of murder, deceit, and scandal, Anne suggests you book your tour now. For Halloween, they do add a number of additional tour times between October 15th and the 31st—they also beef the show up a bit—but tours this time of year consistently sell out. Costumes are encouraged.

You can buy tickets and learn more online at lazoomtours.com. You can also purchase tickets by calling their office at (828) 225-6932 or stopping by their ticket booth at 14 Battery Park Avenue.

Happy Asheville Halloween!

 

Ghouly grub: LaZoom’s haunted tour departs from behind Thirsty Monk in downtown, putting you a stone’s throw from oodles of Asheville’s amazing eateries. Head downtown early then get your fill of food and fun.
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