Archive | Parks

Gaining a Foothold in the RAD

Rendering of Smoky Mountain Adventure Center by Glazer Architecture

Rendering of Smoky Mountain Adventure Center by Glazer Architecture

Twenty-one years after opening Climbmax one of the nation’s first indoor rock climbing gyms in downtown Asheville, Stuart Cowles is on the sharp end again.

In the early 1990’s Cowles left his job as a manager and designer at a climbing gear enterprise in Conway, NH with the goal of opening a climbing gym.

“That was the motivating factor to move to Asheville. I wanted a small city with a solid climbing community that might be able to support it,” he says. Since then, he’s roped in a loyal following and introduced hundreds of folks to the edgy sport.

Fast forward two decades and construction is underway on the Smoky Mountain Adventure Center in the River Arts District (RAD) that will open its doors later this spring or summer. On a small wedge of land on Amboy Road nestled between Carrier Park and the French Broad River Park, the enterprise will feature a state of the art climbing gym, a yoga studio, a beer tap, as well as bike, stand up paddle board and other gear rentals. The outdoor adventure facility was designed by the local architectural firm Glazer Architecture.

Cowles, however, isn’t jumping on the RAD bandwagon. In fact, the entrepreneur took the lead  of the Mountain Sports Festival as the first executive director over a decade ago. While it’s original venue was downtown, “the goal was always to move the festival to the river,” says Cowles.

In 1994, when Climbmax opened on Wall Street, downtown was just on the verge of its renaissance, much like the river district is today. “I decided I wanted to be in the heart of downtown. I looked at opening along the river 22 years ago — at the time it just wasn’t the right place,” he recalls.

Framing of the SMAC commenced on February 11, 2015

Framing of the SMAC commenced on February 11, 2015

But as the rejuvenation of the river district started to turn the bend, Cowles launched a search for another indoor rock gym venue in the RAD. The crux, he says, was finding a workable building for a climbing gym. With assistance from a Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority grant, Cowles decided to take the leap and design and build a new facility in the RAD. While he’ll continue to operate Climbmax, he’s hoping to tie into the growing demand for recreation along the French Broad.

“It’s really a perfect location since the river brings so many active people together,” says Cowles who intends to create a one stop destination for outdoor adventure. “We hope to be an anchor point, engage active people and keep them within the city limits.”

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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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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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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.

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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.

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