Archive | Outdoors

Autumn Trip Tips Part 1: Parkway Passages

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Sometimes when it comes to trip planning, we can’t see the forest for the trees: Sorting through the endless seasonal options of entertainment, recreation and tours is so daunting we can’t even decide on a destination. Our biggest challenge comes before we take the first step out our front door. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Whether you want to live like a local or act like a tourist, here are helpful hints and tips to get you jump-started on your autumn adventures and outings. Plan wisely, invite some friends and enjoy the season!

More than 12 million visitors travel the Blue Ridge Parkway each year. However, I’m always surprised to find that most of my local pals have never visited the Blue Ridge Destination Center. The multi-agency information center might be one of the best regional travel resources in our area.

The LEED Gold certified building includes a tree-house design that appears to float above its natural mountain landscape. The facility showcases green building and sustainable design, including a living roof, natural ventilation and a variety of passive solar strategies. Inside, the center features exhibits, videos, an information center, seasonal displays and other valuable information to assist travelers along their parkway experience.

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Check out the 22-foot, multi-media I-Wall that allows guests to navigate the parkway and interactively experience places along the parkway. And be sure to stop by and talk with the staff at the Blue Ridge Natural Area Visitor’s Center to learn more about the region’s natural and cultural history. Children and adults will enjoy the 70-seat theater, which is currently featuring the 24-minute film entitled The Blue Ridge Parkway—America’s Favorite Journey.

The Blue Ridge Destination Center at BRP milepost 384 is a “go-to” stop whether you’re touring the entire 469 miles of the parkway or are en route to Craggy Gardens for a late-afternoon picnic.

 

Autumn starts early in the high country along Bass Lake, Milepost 295 - photo by Carson Cox

Autumn starts early in the high country along Bass Lake,   BRP Milepost 294 – photo by Carson Cox

 

 

Next up: fall color hotlines and reports.

Early fall leaf-looker’s ramble: Fresh air options include a stroll around the Federal Energy and Water Management’s award-winning facility, or take a 1.2-mile circuit hike along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from the Visitors Center parking lot.
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An Otter by any other Name

River otters

River otters

Following our furry thread from last post we will discuss another semi-aquatic quadruped occasionally encountered along the French Broad. The river otter, Lontra canadensis, formerly Lutra canadensis, is a sleek muscular creature well adapted to its aquatic lifestyle. Adult river otters grow to 40 – 55 inches in total length. A third of this is usually tail. The tail is thick at the base and tapers to a point at the end (not the flat paddle-tail of the beaver) and helps propel the otter through the water. They can range from around 10 to 30 pounds with average weight being between 15 and 20 pounds. The feet are fully webbed and its thick fur provides insulation and efficiently sheds water.

They are streamline – the thick neck is as wide as the head. The otter’s eyes and small round ears are set high on its head so it can cruise rivers, lakes and streams and still see and hear. Maybe, especially hear, as the river otter is pretty nearsighted. People in boats often think otters quite bold because they approach so closely but it’s more likely a result of their poor vision. But under water their nearsightedness becomes an attribute as it allows them to see better, particularly in murky water. A nictitating membrane covers the eye allowing them to keep their eyes open under water. River otters also have extremely sensitive whiskers on their muzzle called vibrissae, which are sensitive to vibration and touch. Add to that dexterous and sensitive paws and it’s easy to see that the river otter is quite adapted for its submerged foraging.

The river otter, like the beaver, had been extirpated from North Carolina by the 1930s due to hunting and/or trapping. The last documented sighting being in Haywood County in 1936. A reintroduction effort started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park led to the release of 49 river otters between 1990 and 1995. A group was also released in the French Broad in the spring of 1991. The river otter appears to be doing well and increasing in numbers across Western North Carolina. The swift swimming river otter preys on fish and aquatic invertebrates like crayfish, crabs (in the marsh) mussels, frogs and other amphibians and occasionally birds and/or small mammals.

River otter with lunch. NPS photo

River otter with lunch. NPS photo

Even staid scientists are pushed to explain some otter behavior in terms other than play and/or playfulness. These critters create long mud and/or snow slides (depending on environment) and appear to revel in sliding and splashing into the water. They have also been observed playing with sticks and dropping stones into the water, then retrieving them from the bottom.

Should you happen upon a river otter while paddling, swimming, fishing or simply enjoying the French Broad, consider yourself lucky on two fronts. While the river otter is making a comeback, it’s not extremely common, so you are lucky to get a view. Plus, perhaps in a larger sense, river otters are indicators of good water quality – the fact they are in the French Broad attests to the work done to make the French Broad a cleaner, healthier ecosystem.

Next post will be M&M – muskrats and minks!

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Get Outside with Kids

Boating is an adventure all ages can enjoy.

Boating is an adventure all ages can enjoy.

There’s no better time than the crisp days of autumn to explore the outdoors and take in the region’s spectacular show of color. Here’s a quick guide to bona fide adventures within a couple hours radius of Asheville that are fun for kids and adults too.

Hike: Sam Knob

The highest points of North Carolina’s backcountry may seem out-of-reach for young explorers, but the short hike to the 6,050-foot peak of Sam Knob is one an entire family can conquer. This double summit near the Blue Ridge Parkway is an ideal outing to take in colorful fall vistas at the roof of the Pisgah Crest and for snapshots of the Shining Rock Wilderness which was among the original fifty wild areas designated by the Wilderness Act in 1964. The route up has a diverse landscape of lush vegetation, rolling meadows, steep rocky slabs, and two grassy knobs separated by a shallow gap. With few trees to obscure the view, the peak highlights captivating vistas across rows of wild ridges and well-known landmarks, such as Shining Rock Ledge and Devil’s Courthouse. In all, a 2.2 mile round trip.

Getting there: From Asheville, follow the parkway south for 26.5 miles. Just past milepost 420, turn right on Forest Road 816 (Black Balsam Road), and follow to the terminus at the Black Balsam parking area.

Paddle: French Broad River (Hot Springs to Murray Branch Picnic Area)

An ideal canoe float or introduction to whitewater on the French Broad. This portion of section 10 is peppered with easy rapids along a four mile section of the river from the town of Hot Springs to the Murray Branch Picnic Area just upstream of the Tennessee state line. Paddle through a few wave trains and look for great spots to swim.

Getting there: From Hot Springs take U.S. 25/70W across the bridge, turn left at the end of the bridge, then right on SR 1304 for four miles. Reserve a raft from the Hot Springs Rafting Company or contact Bluff Mountain Outfitters to arrange a shuttle.

Mountain Bike: Jackrabbit Mountain – Mountain Biking and Hiking Trails

In 2010 Clay County leaders unveiled a 15-mile playground for fat-tire lovers on a hare- shaped peninsula of land bordered by Lake Chatuge near Hayesville. A great ride for families with kids is the gentle 3.1-mile Central Loop that sprouts a handful of shorter branches — all junctions are well marked with maps and color-coded blazes. Don’t forget to bring a bathing suit for a dip in the lake and keep your eyes peeled for a rope swing near the trail.

Getting There: From Hayesville, take U.S. 64 east to N.C. 175. Head south for 3.4 miles and turn right on Jackrabbit Road. In a half mile, turn left into the trailhead parking lot.

If you’re planning a outing with kids, here’s a list of ten essentials to consider to make your next adventure a grand slam!

 

1. Plenty of water
2. A first aid kit
3. An abundance of healthy snacks and a special treat for the summit
4. A best friend
5. Rain gear
6. The Lorax
7. An extra outfit and a back-up pair of socks and shoes
8. A magnifying glass
9. Patience
10. A back-up plan

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From the Backwoods to the Backstory

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Last week, I treated myself to a birthday run along the Appalachian Trail (AT). While traversing a steep switchback, I slowed to a walk and began reflecting on the past. My mind played a revolving slideshow of frames, memories, photographs and experiences. During the nostalgic tour, it dawned on me that the historic trail has been part of my life for 50 years!

I was seven years old when I took my first step on the trail—a wonderful beginning to a life-long relationship with the outdoors. That day, my friend and I rode on horseback above Georgia’s Vogel State Park through a beautiful cove forest. Years later while in college, I spent weekends day-hiking sections in north Georgia. After I graduated, I started section-hiking the 2,100-mile trail in 1982. My future wife, Candace, and I tackled the climb along the strenuous approach trail in the dark. We camped at Nimblewill Gap and we hiked up to the AT’s southern terminus on Springer Mountain.

Thirty years later, I’ve covered more than 800 contiguous miles through four states. On my recent reflective journey, I rambled along one of my backyard hikes along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. During my two-hour adventure, I ran through an open meadow adorning Turks Cap Lily, Wild Bergamot, Queen Anne’s Lace and Great Lobelia. A rufous-side towhee sang in the thicket, and a ruby-throated hummingbird hovered above.

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Even though it was early August, I could detect the early signs of a changing season. At 4,000 feet above sea level, the constant breeze revealed the sizzling sound of drying leaves. Birch and cherry trees began to turn, and their yellow leaves littered the ground beneath them. Earlier in my run, I had seen bear scat chock-full of cherry pits, their fruit providing the mammals with one of summer’s last natural sweet treats. Food becomes scarce for bears between the berry and mast season. During this transition, bear sightings in backyards become more common as they search for convenient food sources such as bird feeders and trash cans.

Whether I’m on the trail for a couple of hours or a few weeks, the AT always treats me well. After all, the trail, whose path travels through 14 states, ultimately led me to my 25-years-and-counting side trip to Asheville. Like many others, I find the journey more interesting than the destination. But sooner or later, we all have to settle down long enough to generate funds for our next great adventure, build an abode, raise a family or grow a garden.

Next month, Asheville Pocket Guide is introducing an exciting series entitled The Backstory. We’ll share the entertaining lives and stories of others who have landed in Asheville after a life-changing adventure, personal quest or an intriguing cross-cultural experience. In some cases, these sensational exposures and experiences have inspired local Ashevillians to open up boutique nurseries, outdoor adventure businesses and exotic teahouses. Others have committed their lives to making a difference in the region they live in. Some have become community leaders, directors of nonprofits or successful professionals in their field. What they all share is a vagabonding spirit and a deep-rooted sense of adventure. Come join us for these fireside chats, storefront discussions and heartfelt testimonials.

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Leave it to Beaver

Beaver swimming - creative commons photo

Beaver swimming – creative commons photo

We’ve watched birds dive, glide and wade in and along the French Broad and we will surely watch more but for now we would like to turn our attention to some of the furry critters that one may happen upon in and along the river.

The American beaver, Castor canadensis, was common along and in the rivers, streams, bogs, swamps and marshes of the Eastern United States before European settlement. But for trappers they were just swimming bundles of money – an easy target. Legend has it that the last native beaver in North Carolina was trapped in Stokes County in 1897.

The state of North Carolina, at the urging of trappers and other wildlife enthusiasts, began reintroducing the giant (35lbs.–55lbs.) rodent about 40 years later. In the absence of large predators like red wolves and cougars – and the presence of good habitat the beaver population rapidly expanded and they can now be found across the entire state.

This compact, rotund rodent is covered with luxuriant brown to black fur and can reach lengths of 2–3 feet plus another 12-18 inches of flat, hairless, paddle-shaped tail that propels them in the water and serves as an alarm. When a beaver feels threatened or senses danger it will slap the water with its tail creating a thwack that can be heard at great distances both above and beneath the surface of the water. Their hind feet are large, webbed and clawed. The front feet are smaller and not webbed. Its four large yellowish-orange, ever-growing and ever-sharpening incisors provide the perfect tools for felling trees for food and shelter. The beaver is awkward and clumsy on land but in the water – sublime.

That large flat tail is both paddle and rudder in the water making beavers powerful agile swimmers. Valves seal their ears and nose while underwater and a clear membrane closes over their eyes giving them built-in goggles. Their lips close behind those incisors allowing them to gnaw underwater. They can stay underwater for as long as 15 minutes.

The beaver is second only to Homo sapiens in its ability to manipulate its habitat. And as the Bard would say, “…therein lies the rub…” The beaver’s hard-wired penchant for damming running water can sometimes flood low-lying areas, both agricultural and residential. And its tree-felling abilities sometimes put it at odds with landscapers and/or timber concerns.

But this same penchant makes the beaver a keystone species and its dams create more, ever-decreasing, wetlands, boosting biodiversity by creating habitat for a host of critters – fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds (wading birds, waterfowl and others) and other mammals like river otters, muskrats and minks. Beaver ponds also help control erosion and sedimentation plus recharge groundwater resources.

Beavers live in these dams but in other situations like deeper lakes and larger rivers (like the French Broad) they build lodges and/or burrow into the banks. All beaver domiciles have underwater entrances that lead to dry

Beaver lodge - creative commons photo

Beaver lodge – creative commons photo

living/nesting chambers.

These nocturnal rodents mate for life. They live in colonies that include the adult pair, kits (newborn) and yearlings. The yearlings are driven away usually after a year or so and left to establish territories of their own. The size of the territory depends largely on suitable habitat and food supply and can range from a pond of a few acres to a half-mile or more of riverbank.

Next month we will talk about the river otter another semi-aquatic mammal that has made a comeback in the rivers of North Carolina.

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Art History: Explore the Art Loeb Trail

A small hiker on Black Balsam along the Art Loeb Trail.

A small hiker on Black Balsam along the Art Loeb Trail.

 

“Named in tribute to Arthur J. Loeb, industrialist, conservationist, and hiker who so deeply loved these mountains …”

These are the words on one of my most cherished mementos: a folded program commemorating the dedication of the Art Loeb Trail—one of Western North Carolina’s most revered footpaths—on November 9, 1969. I came across it years ago while researching a magazine story marking the route’s 40th anniversary.

The thirty mile path, named after the late Brevard trail blazer, covers some of the finest terrain in the region. Much of it is doable in short day-hikes, including Black Balsam. The mountain is a 6,200 foot behemoth within an hour walk of an easily accessible trailhead near the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it’s one of my favorite hikes.

To be sure, I’m fond of the ridgetop path’s glorious views. But I have a soft spot for Loeb, too. I wish I’d met him—he died in 1968 at age 54 after a brief battle with cancer. In a wool Pendleton shirt, hiking boots, and a worn leather backpack, Loeb got out in the woods every weekend to explore new trails or hike some of his favorites, sections of which eventually became the Art Loeb Trail.

He didn’t start out as an avid hiker. The Philadelphia native moved to Brevard at 26 to work at the Ecusta plant, which once stood along the Davidson River. After suffering a heart attack in his mid-forties, he began walking as part of his recovery. And he walked … and walked…

His healthful jaunts eventually led him to the woods where he discovered a delight in being outdoors. He also became a dedicated trail volunteer: One of his projects involved linking sections of hiking trails from the Davidson River near his home in Brevard to Cold Mountain.

He never finished, but a few months after his death, the Carolina Mountain Club and the U.S. Forest Service finished the trail and named it in his honor.

Nearly a half century after his death, the trail is as popular as ever and a fitting tribute to the WNC hiking pioneer.

To pay homage to Loeb, day-hike to the grassy top of Black Balsam or continue north on the trail into the Shining Rock Wilderness. To access the trailhead to Black Balsam, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 420 and turn on FS Road 816. Follow the road to one of several trailheads, or park in the lot at the end of the road.

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In the Spirit of These Times

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River Arts District Tailgate Market

What a wonderful July 4th weekend this year, right? Thirty percent humidity, crisp mornings and clear blue skies across our region. Summertime fun to be nabbed at every turn. I feel regenerated and hope you do, too. Of course, the season is far from over. Here’s a roundup of midsummer happenings and happenstances I discovered during my time off.

River Arts District Tailgate Market

Even though I was a little late for work last Wednesday, I pulled off Clingman Avenue, scored a perfect parking space and walked over to the River Arts District’s newest farmers market. Immediately, I spotted my friend, Neil, proudly carrying his weekly cache of CSA veggies. I scurried around the booths admiring summer’s early harvest of potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and fresh herbs. Next week, I hope to get my first taste of a locally grown tomato! The fresh vegetables reminded me of the farm-to-table dinner my wife, Candace, and I enjoyed a couple of days earlier. We celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary at Grove Park Inn’s EDISON. The local fare, North Carolina Craft ales and splendid mountain views, capped off a beautiful celebration – one that reminded both of us of our honeymoon trek along the Appalachian Trail and Lake Santeetlah.  

Trail Connections

Saturday, I found myself running along a sacred stretch of single track through cove forests, rhododendron slicks and George Vanderbilt’s personal footpath to Buck Spring Hunting Lodge. Earlier, I texted a friend teasing him that I was going on a “soul-searching” run in the High Country. Heading back from Bent Creek Gap on my out-and-back run, I heard some rustling along the heath thicket. Ambling along the dry leaves came the first of two black bears. Once they got wind of me, both bears seemed naturally curious about my presence. Their inquiring looks reminded me of my young chocolate lab’s meddling ways and natural curiosity. Once the young bears parted, I casually walked in the same direction then continued my holiday run to Chestnut Cove.

 

Sleepy Gap Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Sleepy Gap Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Reflections From the Viewshed

After my refreshing run, I cruised south along the Blue Ridge Parkway. There have certainly been some noticeable changes along the parkway and neighboring national forest since I moved here 25 years ago – much more activity and demand on our natural resources. The Sleepy Gap parking lot spilled over with cars, tourists and day-hikers as I descended a couple of thousand feet in less than 10 minutes. Down by the river, a group of paddlers launched their watercraft into the confluence of Bent Creek and the French Broad. A few paddle boarders appeared to be standing on water as they gently glided downstream. Heading north, I exited onto Amboy Road and took a brief stop at Carrier Park. A couple of locals were enjoying their morning on the lawn bowling green. The park was filled with folks cycling, walking their dogs and enjoying the holiday weekend. I never take days like this for granted, but I have to say that playing outdoors in our region is relatively easy whether it’s a holiday or not. That’s what I’ve always appreciated about our outdoors community that actively engages itself with the mountains, forest and streams. I’ve lived closely by a quote of Edward Abbey who reasoned: “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.” Take the grumpy old desert rat’s advice and get out and enjoy it this summer!

So what’s in your back pocket? The Asheville Pocket Guide invites you to share your seasonal adventures with us! Email: ashevillepocketguide@gmail.com.

 

 

Midsummer playlist:

Mr Cody, The Honeycutters
Relatively Easy, Jason Isbell
Fisherman’s Blues, The Waterboys
Four Miles, Town Mountain
A Feather’s Not a Bird, Rosanne Cash
Disappearing Ink, Randall Bramblett
Coast, Eliza Gilikyson

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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.

 

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I Walk the Line

Lori Wilkins finds her groove on a slackline at Carrier Park

Lori Wilkins finds her groove on a slackline at Carrier Park

 

Two sturdy trees, 50 feet of nylon or polyester webbing, and a soft landing are all that’s needed to set up a slackline. All of which are abundant on Sunday afternoons at Carrier Park where a group of dedicated slackers – as they’re known – can be found just downstream of the picnic shelter at Carrier Park in a cluster of trees along the French Broad River.

Lyle Mitchell has been organizing the collective of slackers since February – what devotees of the sport call a “jam” – from four in the afternoon to sundown. What drew Mitchell to the pastime was to become a better rock climber. And indeed, the sport was developed by climbers who, several decades ago, spanned rope or webbing between two trees to hone their balance.

Since then, the sport has taken a path of its own.  For instance, soon after getting hooked on slacklining Mitchell pursued a popular outgrowth of the sport performing traditional yoga poses on a slackline.

Yoga aside, to simply balance upright in a single spot or to place one foot in front of the other on a one inch wide piece of slightly tensioned webbing takes more than just flexibility and confidence. Mitchell says that finding a place of mental and physical stillness is necessary in order to get the feel for a slackline. And even on a leisurely Sunday afternoon on the banks of the river there’s plenty to addle your state of mind – walkers, dogs barking, bicycles grinding.

Mitchell points out that any strain or stiffness in your body is amplified by the looseness of the line; your nervous energy transmitted into wild tremors on the webbing.

“You have to be present in the moment. As soon as your mind wanders you’re off the line,” he says.

But unlike rock-climbing, which typically involves a destination (the top), Mitchell says the end game of slacklining isn’t necessarily to get from one tree to the other. “The goal is to get a better sense of where your body is in space; how to engage your sense of being,” says Mitchell who adds that the weekly jams are beginner friendly and regular attendees will demonstrate a few fundamentals to help newbies off the ground.

If you’re up for the challenge check out the group’s Facebook page (Yoga Slackers Asheville) or for less than $100 rig up your own line in the front yard – a nod to the simplicity and versatility of the sport.

 

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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!

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