Archive | Greenway

A Flurry of Wintry Wanderings

 

iceflower

We’ve already had a couple of brutal arctic air masses intrude on our region this winter. When the temperatures drop below 10 degrees and the winds gust over 25 mph, most of us lay low, slow down, snuggle up and enjoy the post-holiday calm. This may be the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and scout out future outdoor adventures. Here’s a sampling of some chilling but not totally frozen seasonal options.

Urban Landscape and Boutique Adventures

Forget the car, hide the keys and search out a car-free outing. On a chilly day, walk or bus into downtown Asheville. Bundle up and take a brisk, self-guided tour of historic Montford isolating its unique architectural features—from corner turrets, to pebbledash exteriors, to hipped dormers. See if you can identify the recent ‘infill’ development, which includes green-built homes and new construction that replicate the Montford style. Stroll along Reed Creek Greenway from Weaver Boulevard to Magnolia Street, then reward yourself with a warming wintertime beverage at High Five Coffee. Jot down a winter/spring gear list while sipping on your coffee or chai.

After the break, hit the pavement again and climb Lexington Avenue into downtown. Crest Patton Avenue to Biltmore and browse seasonal sales at Mast General Store. Continue to shop local by visiting Diamond Brand’s new downtown outpost at the Aloft Asheville Hotel. Plan on a few hours to enjoy this little gem of an urban adventure.

Take a self-guided tour of historic Montford

Take a self-guided tour of historic Montford

Commute to the Commuter Stretch of Parkway

Chilly, sunny day? Grab some friends and head south, young men and women! Base out at Katuah Market in Biltmore Village and pick up some grab-and-go trail lunches. Drive south for a few miles until you reach the ramp for the parkway. Pull off to the right along the gravel parking area (MP 389) to pack your lunch and water, then cross the parkway and start your day with a four-mile out-and-back trek along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This convenient and easy hike parallels the parkway most of its course. Some folks opt to spot a second vehicle along the parking area south (before the parkway bridge that spans I-26) to create a shorter 2.5-mile point-to-point option.

Highlights include a pine needle littered tour under towering white pines, frequent deer sightings and a mid-hike picnic along Dingle Creek. After lunch, gently ascend from the bottomland forest and start planning your next section hike while you still have a captive audience.

Pile back in the car, but instead of calling it a day, head to Biltmore Village to sample craft beers at French Broad Brewing Co. and Catawba Brewing Co. Both are conveniently located within a stone’s throw of each other, so you can add a bit more yardage to your day’s hike and not feel too guilty eating one of the delicious pretzels at French Broad.

Weather or Not?

So, it’s a totally freezing day—too bitterly cold to paddle, run, hike or walk. What can you do to get out of the house? When the going gets tough, this lifelong adventurer sometimes goes shopping. Here are a few of my favorite ‘shelters from the storm.’

ScreenDoor: It’s pretty easy to spend an hour or two browsing through the eclectic collage of antiques, yard art, home furnishings and garden treasures. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking through a labyrinth while I navigate through the meandering aisles filled with inspiring creations. Be sure to browse the interesting collection of wholesale books next door, which range in subject from natural history and cooking to home interiors and kid-friendly reads.

 Earth Fare and Frugal Backpacker: This cross-training adventure blends gear and groceries. From downtown, go west and cross over the French Broad River. Bulk up on some dry goods, locally produced kombucha tea, artisan breads and organic veggies at EarthFare, then step next door to the local outfitter. Frugal offers a variety of closeout, discounted and manufacturers’ samples. It’s a great place to stock up on some keep-you-dry goods including socks, bivouacs, boots and other waterproof apparel. So next time the weather forces you indoors, take advantage of the opportunity and take the time to plan your next great adventure.

 

Urban Landscape + Boutique Adventures ~ Take a self-guided tour of historic Montford isolating its unique architectural features—from corner turrets, to pebbledash exteriors, to hipped dormers. Stroll along Reed Creek Greenway then reward yourself with a warming wintertime beverage at High Five Coffee. More tips? 

0

Going Green with Blueways

 riverlanding

There are many ways to salvation, and one of them is to follow a river.

                                          – David Brower

 Most of us are familiar with the benefits of greenways in our communities. The recent completion of Asheville’s Reed Creek Greenway Phase III is a good example: The 1,300-foot section bridged the existing paved trail to Glenn Creek Greenway, creating a green corridor from Magnolia St to Merrimon Ave. A connected community of parks, trails, recreation, transportation and health makes our region more livable and sustainable. But what about blueways? What are they, and what are their benefits?

Understanding Blueways

To begin exploring the concept of blueways, think “water trails” or “navigable waterways.” Blueways offer compatible and multiple use resources similar to greenways, and, realistically, they already exist. Lakes and rivers have always drawn people to their waters, and, by law, navigable waters are public thoroughfares. However, the lands along their banks and shores may be privately owned. So, blueways—or developed water trails—provide legal access points, signage, maps and other amenities.

Additional community support from user groups, government agencies, landowners, volunteers and outfitters can greatly expand a blueway’s development. Facilities such as boat ramps, camping areas and restrooms extend recreational opportunities along a trail and enhance a users’ experience. In some cases, the connectivity of multiple resources can transform a day outing into a multi-day excursion.

Blue Trail Issues

Blueways garnered a lot of national attention in May 2012 under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The Department of Interior unveiled an ambitious, albeit ambiguous, federal initiative establishing national water trails as a class of national recreational trails under the National Trails System Act of 1968.

The Secretarial Order established a network of designated water trails on rivers across the country. Key focus points of the program promoted outdoor recreation and national recognition to existing, local water trails.

Unfortunately, the non-regulatory program was dissolved two years later due to increased opposition from landowners, stakeholders and several politicians. Most of these skeptics cited an increased threat of federal regulation and an infringement on their property rights. However, regional and state blueway development efforts have propagated and have continued to prosper around the country.

 

blueway

Blueways in the Carolinas

The Carolinas’ currently have a number of blueway initiatives underway. The Carolina Thread Trail is a regional network of greenways, trails and blueways that meanders through 15 counties and two states. The “thread” includes 220 miles of trails throughout the foothills and piedmont of North and South Carolina. These multi-use trails are open to the public and accessible to nearly two million people who live, work and play within the region.

Smoky Mountain Host of North Carolina currently showcases a number of western NC’s rivers and lakes in their promotion of Smoky Mountain Blueways. The destination marketing organization serves seven western NC counties and the Qualla Boundary of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. According to their website, “Blueways (also known as blue trails) are the water equivalent to land based trails and greenways.” The organization reports that recreational trails often stimulate the local economy, preserve natural areas, promote healthy lifestyles, improve water and air quality, and connect people to natural places.

Southern Appalachian blueways and paddle trails also connect borders when their rivers and lakes meander through state lines. Close to home, the French Broad Paddle Trail includes a developing recreational water trail with designated campsites and boat ramps that stretches close to 140 miles through western NC and eastern Tennessee. In Tennessee, the paddle trail joins the French Broad Blueway, which includes a 102-mile section that flows to the confluence of the Tennessee River.

Connecting corridors with blueways, greenways, recreation, culture and natural areas links our heritage to our landscape. Some advocates treasure their rivers and lakes as tributaries to the past while others envision a blueprint for the future. Still others living along proposed corridors often oppose public trails and right of ways. Whether they are adjacent landowners, businesses or farmers, some express concern over privacy, government regulations and increased foot traffic.

TELL US: What’s your take?

We hope to open up a discussion and invite others to write about their ‘connections’ to rivers, parks, trails and other outdoor recreation topics. Send us your ideas, comments or news to Sammy Cox, coordinator: ashevillepocketguide@gmail.com.

 

 

0

Shake Rattle and Dive

Female belted kingfisher with dinner - Teddy Llovet photo

Female belted kingfisher with dinner – Teddy Llovet photo

Often it is the loud, dry, rattling call of the belted kingfisher that alerts the paddler to its presence. This noisy fisherman calls in flight as it patrols up and down the river searching for prey. The belted kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, is one of three kingfishers found in North America. The other two barely make it to the southern U.S. The ringed kingfisher, which is larger is sometimes found as far north as south Texas and the green kingfisher, which is much smaller can be found in south Texas and occasionally Arizona.

Once you get the silhouette of this chunky, big-headed bird with the heavy bill and raggedy crest dialed in, you will be able to pick it out perched on tree limbs, snags, power lines – basically any suitable perch on or near the water where it can watch for its prey below. The belted kingfisher feeds on amphibians and crustaceans as well as fishes. It likes to perch over water where it can simply plummet headfirst into the water to take unsuspecting prey. It does, also hunt on the wing – stopping to hover before diving for prey.

Male belted kingfisher - note the single blue band across the breast - USFWS photo

Male belted kingfisher – note the single blue band across the breast – USFWS photo

The belted kingfisher is a stocky bird about the size of a male Cooper’s hawk (14 inches in length.) it is one of the few birds where the female is actually more colorful than the male. The head and back of both sexes is slate blue and the feathers are black tipped with small white dots. Both sexes have a blue band across the breast and white underparts. The female has a second chestnut-colored band across its belly that extends down the flanks. This second stripe is thought to help camouflage the female when she is on or at the nest. The nest is a burrow dug into an exposed bank on or near the water’s edge. Males and females both help excavate the nesting site, which can be up to eight feet long. The burrow tilts up at the back end where the eggs are.

Belted kingfishers nest from the southern U.S. to Canada and Alaska. They are obligate migrants – meaning they move southward in the winter as water sources freeze. They can overwinter as far south as Central America and northern South America. Birds that nest far enough south to have open water in the winter are generally year round residents. Whether in migration or just post nesting dispersal, belted kingfishers do tend to wander. They have been recorded from the Galapagos Islands, British Isles, Greenland, Hawaii and other places far and wide across the globe.

The oldest known fossil of a kingfisher is from Alachua County Florida and dates back 2 million years. Fossils of the belted kingfisher as we know it, dating back to the Pleistocene (600,000 years ago) have been discovered in Tennessee, Virginia, Florida and Texas.

The belted kingfisher is a year round resident along the French Broad. And while it is likely more common and more active during the summer nesting season don’t be surprised, should you take advantage of some winter high water, to be greeted by its garrulous call.

 

0

Take Me to the River

bridgeAsheville is a runner’s paradise: Cool summers, moderate winters, never-ending trails and convenient urban routes provide a ‘no excuse’ running environment. The area boasts a number of intriguing runs along our local rivers and streams. Here are a few local favorites riverbank runs.

Connect Asheville!

The parks and greenway along the French Broad offer one of the most accessible river runs in Asheville. On any given day, hundreds of runners, cyclists and walkers utilize the riverbanks and paved greenway.

Local runner and marathoner Uta Brandstatter enjoys running along the greenway and Carrier Park. “I like the convenience: car-free and ‘flat’ terrain,” she says. Brandstatter, also a hospice nurse, has run several marathons, including the 2013 Boston Marathon. Finding long stretches of level ground in Asheville can be challenging, another reason she likes this run. “A few years ago, I often ran on the greenway and Carrier Park during my 18-mile training runs for a coastal marathon.” Brandstatter combined the park and greenway with a run on the river road (Riverside Dr./Lyman St.) to extend her mileage. Another park bonus she pointed out, “Seeing other active people running and biking there is motivating for me!”

But you don’t have to be a long-distance runner to enjoy this run in the park. There are several options and distances for all levels. Choose from multiple loops or figure-8’s in Carrier Park to an out-and-back, park-to-park 6-mile stretch from the French Broad River Park to Hominy Creek Park parking lot. Water fountains and restrooms are available at the French Broad River Park and Carrier Park.

Swannanoa River Romp

A charming route, this run begins and ends at Buncombe County’s Charles D. Owen Park. Start with a 1-mile warm up around the park’s two lakes. A grassy trailhead at the western end of the park leads to Warren Wilson’s River Trail that straddles the river and college farm.

The trail hugs the banks of the Swannanoa river for nearly 2.75 miles and provides a gentle out-and-back course. Turn around at Old Farm School Road. Route highlights include rolling farmland, a 40’ rock outcrop overlooking the river and several deep-plunge pools. The trail is well-groomed but keep your eyes out for roots and rocks. Of course, respect the college’s trail rules and regulations (posted at the trailhead), which require dogs be leashed.

Sneak Route Along Bent Creek

Those who know me well know that I’m pretty thrifty. Paying for an entrance fee to run trails just isn’t in my DNA, especially with all the free options in WNC! I love the NC Arboretum, and I’ve supported them from the very beginning. But when it comes to running there, I take advantage of their free entry policy for walkers, cyclists and runners (first Tuesdays of each month are free for motorists, too).

Park at the Bent Creek River Park parking lot off Hwy. 191 and walk under the bridge along the M-T-S connector trail built years ago by a local Eagle Scout. Cross over the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance ramp and enter the gates. Past the gatehouse, take a left onto Hard Times F.S. Road and cross Bent Creek, then take a right on the wood chip trail that runs upstream along the creek and intersects with Bent Creek Road (gravel).

To keep it simple, stay on Bent Creek and continue along the stream until you reach the Arboretum’s boundary. Continue through the self-closing gate and enter Pisgah National Forest. When you reach the intersection of Hard Times, continue straight for a scenic ¾ mile loop around Lake Powhatan. The trail snakes along the lake and beach area before it enters into a rhododendron-laced natural tunnel that leads to the dam. Downstream approximately ¼ mile, the trail returns back to Hard Times Road/Bent Creek Road intersection. The entire out-and-back ‘lollypop’ route covers a shade over 5 miles.

What are you waiting for? Grab one of your pals or four-legged friends and add one of these river excursions to your running repertoire.

River run tip ~ Pack a towel and a change of clothes. After the run, treat yourself to a dip in the stream or river. Some say cool water stimulates the body and boosts recovery after exercising. Try it, you’ll like it!

0

River Rendezvous

Urban infill, greener pastures and Elvis sightings were discussed during the monthly RiverLink bus tour.

Urban infill, greener pastures and Elvis sightings were discussed during the monthly RiverLink bus tour.

A dozen or so curious guests and I spent the first full day of spring touring the river district—an adventure I highly suggest you sign up for (details below).  Karen Cragnolin, executive director of RiverLink, guided us along the informative bus tour, which featured the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. Even though I’ve lived here for nearly 25 years, I soon discovered several new chapters about the local history, recent riverside developments and future plans along the corridor.

Cragnolin shared intriguing stories ranging from a mystery bystander named Rockefeller to a close encounter with Elvis. In between these tales, we learned news about the bridge-to-bridge development of New Belgium Brewery, crossed over a stream with no name, and heard about a trolley era transportation system that was once powered by a hydroelectric plant on Hominy Creek.

The French Broad has a life of its own, and there are many ways to interpret the people, places and events along its historic past. It was fascinating to connect Asheville landmarks with their origins. When we dig a little deeper into the past, we better understand the present world we live in. The way we historically move people is a stellar example.

The first street railway in Asheville operated in 1898 and ran from Depot Street to the Public Square (Pack Square). In its heyday, the expanded operations carried over three million passengers annually along 18 miles of tracks in 43 streetcars. Once, the trolley lines extended west of town as far as the present location of The Asheville School. Eventually, around 1934, buses replaced streetcars.

During the tour I noticed our present-day system, an Asheville Redefines Transit bus, as we turned down Clingman Ave., passed the RiverLink office, and headed into the River Arts District (RAD). As we entered the RAD, Cragnolin reminisced about the district’s vacant buildings and warehouses when she first moved to Asheville. Today, she shared, the district includes one of the highest densities of artist-owned properties in the country.

Current riverside development features the shipping container architecture of The Smoky Park Supper Club.

Current riverside development features the shipping container architecture of The Smoky Park Supper Club.

The tour included historic sites as well as unsightly scenes along the riverfront. Abandoned warehouses, brownfields, steep slope development and former landfills became part of the discussion. She pointed out that our river faces ongoing challenges including poorly managed steep slope development, habitat degradation and urban runoff. RiverLink’s  “Forever Option” guides the nonprofit’s long-term land-use strategy and conservation efforts. These conservation easements permanently protect riparian corridors and water quality along waterways.

The tour continued with an eastbound journey along the Swannanoa River, a major tributary of the French Broad. The river’s course meanders 22 miles through Buncombe County, with land uses along it ranging from antique warehouses to a reclaimed recreational park. As we traveled near the WNC Nature Center, Cragnolin revealed that Thomas Wolfe often retreated nearby to a rustic cabin on a knoll above the river. Asheville’s native son maybe best known for looking homeward, but he also wrote a sequel to the classic entitled Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man’s Hunger in His Youth.

Today, we enjoyed our time along the river. The Asheville Pocket Guide is all about connecting you to these unique places and stories, both old and new! Take a tip from us and experience the river up front and personally. Connect with your hometown river and the French Broad watershed on these monthly two-hour guided tours of the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan. $/Members Free. For more info, visit: riverlink.org.

0

The Green Within

hcg_logo_240

When I start talking about the Hominy Creek Greenway in the heart of the city’s west side I have a tough time containing my glee. Though small in size (just fourteen acres) it’s big in meaning. Acquired by the city in 2011 – the beloved parkland is a testimony to what a group of dedicated citizens can accomplish.

In 2006 My neighbor Doug “Brotherhug” Barlow spearheaded a grassroots effort to conserve the land when he moved to Asheville from Atlanta. Then, the overgrown corridor and right-of-way for an underground sewage line was overgrown, trashy and dangerous. Even still, Barlow saw beyond that and envisioned a thriving, wild, and much needed community green space.

Many others agreed. His effort to conserve and purchase the tract was enthusiastically backed by neighbors, non-profit organizations and local government. The wave of support (and funding) is a sign of the times; it’s a by-product of a growing and forceful movement in Asheville to create more pockets of connected urban greenspace. That may seem a superfluous goal since our city is surrounded by over a million acres of public forest. Yet for a town that places such a premium on quality of life, recreation, and the environment some argue that we’ve lagged behind other urban areas in the amount of greenways and natural parkland.

Fair enough, but there may be a good reason for the shortcoming.

In the decades following World War II, policymakers figured there was little reason for recreational resources since the town was flanked by a heap of opportunities in the national forests, and state and national park land.  City Hall was also shackled by the highest per capita debt of any other city in the nation when the thundering economic boom of the 1920s crumbled — bolting a fiscal ball and chain that city leaders didn’t shake until the mid 1970s.

The result was an underdeveloped local park and greenway system and little to no vision to expand it.

Fast forward a few decades and behold the Hominy Creek Greenway. The once derelict corridor of green space now filled with users – pet owner, cyclists, swimmers, families – is a pillar of the West Asheville and it’s hard to imagine my neighborhood without it. That’s a great testament to our people, leaders and the kind of institutions that make Asheville such a great place to live and visit. And not just for the parkland around, but for the green space within.

 

0