Archive | November, 2014

Birder Bucks

Birders at Beaver lake - Simon Thompson photo

Birders at Beaver lake – Simon Thompson photo

Birdwatching used to be for little ole ladies in tennis shoes. Those birdwatchers are joined today by “birders” that roll in Escalades with $1,000 Swarovski binoculars, spotting scopes at twice the price and enough photographic gear to make Ansel Adams roll over in his grave – driving cross country to tick off a common crane or scheduling a guided trip to India in quest of a mangrove whistler.

Of course, most people fit somewhere in between, but they all have one thing in common – a fascination for our feathery friends. A 2011 survey – National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (FHWAR) –teased the birders out of the overall group. They found that there were around 47 million birders over 16 years of age in the U.S. The greatest percentage, by far, of these birders (88%) were “backyard birders.” You know who you are – you put out seed feeders and hang hummingbird feeders and keep a cheap pair of Tasco binoculars and a 20-year-old Golden field guide on the table by the window. Thirty-eight percent of birders (yes there was a little double-dipping) said they take part in birding trips at least a mile from their home.

Birders spend money on a wide range of goods and services related to their passion. The list is extensive and includes optics, field guides, birdhouses, bird feed, lodging, transportation and more. And all of these expenditures have ripple effects throughout the economy. According to the FHWAR report the 47 million U.S. birders generated $107 billion throughout the birding industry, supporting 666,000 jobs and creating $13 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue. A 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study reported that “wildlife-watchers” in North Carolina spent about $827 million pursuing their hobby.

The Old Home State is a premiere birding destination and for good reason. North Carolina has recorded more than 460 species of birds, fifth highest of all states east of the Mississippi. Pelagic (offshore) species are a big draw to the state. The confluence of warm Gulf waters and cold Atlantic currents provide a melting (or cooling) pot of pelagic species. Inland, North Carolina has the greatest elevational range of any eastern state providing opportunities for low-elevation, marsh and estuarine species plus high-elevation specialties as well as anything in between.

 

Scarlet tanager - Simon Thompson photo

Scarlet tanager – Simon Thompson photo

Around 2003 a group of partners including Audubon North Carolina, North Carolina Resources Commission, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, North Carolina State Parks, North Carolina Sea Grant and the North Carolina Extension Service came together to begin work on the North Carolina Birding Trail. Part of the mission of the NCBT is, “To conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.”

During the next six to seven years the partnership worked to produce a series of guides or “Birding Trails” to help birders and other visitors to the state find great birding destinations plus “birder friendly” businesses and accommodations. They did this by creating three trail guides geared to the three distinct geographical provinces of the state – the Coastal Plains Trail Guide, the Piedmont Trail Guide and the Mountain Trail Guide. The area around Asheville and all of Western North Carolina is featured in the 105 sites listed in the Mountain Trail Guide. Some sites in and around Asheville include Beaver Lake Sanctuary, The Biltmore Estate and Devil’s Courthouse along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other sites in Western North Carolina include Kituwah Farm in Cherokee, Whiteside Mountain near Highlands/Cashiers and Lake Junaluska. Site descriptions in the guides include directions, access information, focal species and habitat listings, and on-site visitor amenities.

Birder friendly businesses in Asheville include Wild Birds Unlimited, The Compleat Naturalist and the North Carolina Arboretum. Ventures Birding Tours of Skyland offers guided tours year round in Western North Carolina, statewide, across the country and around the world. To find out more about birding trails and birder resources across North Carolina check out the NCBT at http://ncbirdingtrail.org/.

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Fish Oar Float

Jason Brownlee at work in the French Broad Riverworks shop within Carrier Park

Jason Brownlee at work in the French Broad Riverworks shop within Carrier Park (photo courtesy of French Broad Boatworks)

I recently caught up with Jason Brownlee, the co-owner of the French Broad Boatworks and Asheville native to chat about their handcrafted riverboats and upcoming river tours.

He and his partner William Evert, both avid anglers, skilled carpenters, furniture makers and homebuilders, joined forces five years ago to begin crafting high-end boats for fishermen. But not just any fishing boat, their fleet of hand crafted, oar powered river dories are top-of-the-line and a nod to the traditional ocean vessel that’s known for its seaworthiness and simplicity.

For land lubbers whose river craft knowledge may be limited to tubes and canoes, Brownlee explains that a river dory is kin to ocean fishing crafts designed with a wide flat bottom, pointy prow and stern, and high sides to ride safely on top of the current.

While the pair dabbled for several years on a design, their classic look they’ve adopted has been reengineered with an ultra modern light wood frame that is sheathed and protected by high tech material. However, the interior is where their woodworking skills really shine and gives the boats a nostalgic look they’d like to preserve.

But Brownlee isn’t just a dory enthusiast, he’s also a river advocate; the thirty-seven year old has seen the river corridor at its best and worst.

“The river district used to be an absolute wreck,” remembers Brownlee. But when the restaurants and bars started to make headway on the river, he knew the tides had shifted and wanted to get more involved with its revitalization. “We’re trying to be part of the experience,” he adds.

Brownlee, of course, is overjoyed at the rebirth of the river district and use of the river; he’d just like to give people the opportunity to glide downstream in high style.

Naturally, dories are ideal for anglers to cast on two feet, but its buoyancy makes for a smooth ride too and an ideal watercraft for birding, hauling camping gear, or just a gentle sunset cruise. So this spring, the pair is launching the Asheville Wooden Boat Tour to lure non-anglers to the experience of floating in a craft boat. The roughly one and a half hour tour will cast off from their workshop within Carrier Park to the Smoky Park Supper Club.

 “We really want folks to experience a drift boat,” says Brownlee. “It’s the only way to go down the river.”

Visit their website for more information about the Asheville Wooden Boat Tour launching this coming spring. www.frenchbroadboatworks.com

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Drink Up, Thaw Out

Urban Orchard's Hot Cider by Jeff Anderson

The weather outside is already a tad frightful, but that doesn’t mean you should stay stuck indoors by the fire. After all, Asheville’s bars and cafés serve a bevy of beverages that are just as warming and delightful. So get out and explore our beloved French Broad River Corridor knowing that a cup to warm up is never far away.

Drinks in the District

If you’re strolling through studios in the River Arts District (RAD), stop into Clingman Café for piping hot organic, fair trade coffees and other café standards. Tea lover? Visit the tea room at Nourish & Flourish, where they serve an impressive selection of black, green, white, pu-erh, and botanical loose-leaf teas, also organic and fair trade certified.

For spirited sips, pull up a bar seat at The Junction and order one of their spicy cocktails to take the chill off your bones. Several items on the drink menu include fiery, nay hellish, ingredients: Their Apex—a spin on the classic sidecar—stars Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, and their Bally Broad incorporates Hellfire bitters, while their Far East warms with wasabi (see recipe below).

The bar + restaurant also features daily drink specials, focusing, says bar and front-of-house manager Courteney Foster, on local and seasonal ingredients. She looks forward to using forthcoming cranberries and blood oranges, as well as spices like cinnamon and nutmeg—expect fun spiked riffs on hot chocolate and cider, too. Junction bartenders can also create custom cocktails; I’ve requested a Hot Toddy there that took all my winter blues away.

Go East West

Speaking of cider, this time of year things also heat up at Urban Orchard Cider Company, just outside the RAD. The cider bar always has at least six taps of their own housemade hard cider. Three are flagships and regularly available: Dry Ridge, Ginger Champagne, and Sweet English. Co-owner and head cider maker Josie Mileke cites their Ginger Champagne’s nice warming finish on the palete, and shares that their Sweet English makes its way throughout the cold months into a hot mulled cider made with brown sugar, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg (pictured above; photo by Jeff Anderson, courtesy of Urban Orchard Cider).

Their other three taps are a rotating seasonal, experimental selection, one of which available now is sure to warm you up. Their Cidra del Diablo, a special for the cidery’s one-year anniversary, is as hot as it sounds: It’s infused with habaneros, along with a little vanilla for some cooling relief. In addition to cider, Urban Orchard also has a full espresso bar and café, serving chai, hot chocolate, drip coffee, and more.

Of course, warming cups can be found all over town. If it’s coffee you’re after, travel our online Asheville coffee trail, and stay tuned for our print Cafe Culture pocket guide.

The Junction’s Far East Cocktail

Ingredients:
1 1/2 ounces vodka (like Tito’s)
1 ounce yuzu sake
1 ounce orgeat (an almond syrup; buy or find recipes for making online)
1 ounce lemongrass tea
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Wasabi powder

Instructions:
Shake and strain first five ingredients. Serve in a martini glass with a wasabi-coated rim. Recipe courtesy of Courteney Foster.

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Autumn Trip Tips, Part III: Go West, Brew Enthusiasts!

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You’re definitely a local if…you’ve visited all of the 18 breweries in Asheville and Buncombe County. But now it’s time to spread your wings and experience the unique charm and treasures of other WNC Breweries. Our Oktoberfest pick includes the three sweet craft beer breweries of Haywood County. Just a short and scenic 30-minute drive west of Asheville, the town of Waynesville offers a great weekend outing full of adventure, shopping, fine restaurants and locally crafted beer! Nestled in the shadow of towering Cold Mountain, the town’s historic district and Main Street begins the brewery tour. If you’re looking for the perfect combination of food and drink, start the day with lunch at The Tipping Point Tavern. The tavern started brewing and serving its own beer in 2012, and it has a great selection of pub fare served by a friendly staff. Our first pick-of-the-day is their Hiking Viking Blonde. I stopped by last month and had an interesting seasonal Blueberry Blonde. Perfect! To ensure you have enough fuel for the day’s tastings, invest in their Grandma’s Oatmeal Cake.

Sammy Cox shares an autumn brew with Frog Level Brewing Co.'s owner/brewer Clark Williams

Sammy Cox shares an autumn brew with Frog Level Brewing Co.’s owner/brewer Clark Williams

Next up, and only a short drive or hop down the hill, is the historic Frog Level area of town. This revitalized railroad district includes a delightful collection of shops, galleries, antique stores, an artisan coffee house and Frog Level Brewing. As soon as you walk in the restored brick warehouse you’ll feel right at home. Inspiring, wide-angle landscape photography and local art greets you as you walk into the friendly space. You’ll feel like a local “level-head” as soon as you order up and start talking with the servers, brewers or patrons.  Check out Lily’s Crème Boy Ale for a “light and refreshing” second beer of the day. Be sure to step out on the shared back porch (Panacea Coffee Co.) and patio overlooking Richland Creek. One of the best brew porches in Western Carolina!

To complete the Waynesville Brewers’ Tour, place your last call at Bearwater’s Brewing . The award-winning brewery offers a variety of small batch brews including several of their 2013 Carolina Championship of Beers. I recently enjoyed one of the silver medal finalists, the Shining Creek Ale, inside their cozy taproom. Be sure to sample some of their barrel-aged beers and their collaboration beers with other local breweries. For more info about WNC Breweries and self-guided tours, visit: A Guide to the Craft Breweries & Pubs of Western North Carolina.

 

 

Brew to view outing: Old Butt Trail/Shining Rock Creek/Shining Creek Trail/Big East Fork. Highlights include streamside trails, high country views and house-size boulders along the Big East Fork. This is a strenuous hike but like the beer with its namesake, a smooth finish to the day! 

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