Archive | Recreation

In the Spirit of These Times

tgate

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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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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A Summer of Music By the River

 

RiverMusic

Tonight’s the night: the kickoff of RiverMusic, a free summer concert series set against the backdrop of our French Broad. The event, entering its third year, is hosted by local nonprofit RiverLink. The organization works tirelessly to revitalize the river and bring people to its banks and waters to live, work, and play.

Of course, RiverMusic is about the latter. Not only does it feature live entertainment from well-known national and local acts, but it also offers countless food trucks and beer merchants hawking delicious drinks and dishes. New this year, vendors will work together to create food/beer pairings.

To get the full scoop, I caught up with RiverLink’s Dave Russell as he was preparing for opening night.

MC: Why did RiverLink begin the concert series? Why music?!
DR:
RiverMusic is staged to get folks down to enjoy the splendor of the French Broad River and discover the River Arts District. For years, neither the river nor the district were destinations for anyone, and we’re hoping to change that. It’s also a fundraiser to assist us in working for more parks and green space in our community. We chose music because nothing gets Asheville out more than beer, fresh air, and music.

MC: You encourage folks not to drive to the concerts, since parking is limited. What will you have set up for cyclists and river rats?
DR: We’ll have Asheville on Bikes for bike storage. Folks can put in at Bent Creek, Asheville Outdoor Center, Carrier Park, French Broad River Park, or Hominy Creek Park and float down to the venue if they want. Our river access consists of a set of stairs down to the water that allows folks to easily get their boats up to the event. We don’t have any special infrastructure for storing boats and tubes, but we can always find a spot for them.

MC: Seen any unexpected alternative modes of transportation over the years?
DR:
At our very first concert, a man galloped up on a horse!

MC: What’s the feeling you hope folks leave each event with about the French Broad?
DR: We want folks to leave feeling like the setting was perfect, the entertainment great, and that the river is a place they want to return to. We want them to come back not only for the concerts, but to tube and canoe and fish and to spend time in the River Arts District perusing the awesome studios.

Must-Know Info

Who/What: RiverLink’s RiverMusic free concert series
When: Kickoff is Friday, May 30, 5-10 pm featuring headliners Orgone, with additional dates through September; click for a full lineup of musical acts, two of which have river in their band name!
Where: At RiverLink Sculpture and Performance Plaza in the River Arts District
How: Entrance to the event is free, but bring money for refreshments; click for details about parking, pets, and more

Read another Asheville Pocket Guide blog post about the River Arts District.

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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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