Archive | Things to do

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.”

0

Dig In, Y’all: Discover the Asheville Small Plate Crawl

Asheville Small Plate Crawl DishesMost would agree that if there were any downside to living in or visiting Foodtopia®, it would be the impossibility of enjoying every fantastic dish and drink it has to offer: The website exploreasheville.com lists nearly 250 eateries. But Laura Huff and Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, the Asheville Small Plate Crawl’s co-presenters, are out to help you taste as many of the city’s culinary creations as possible.

From February 24 through 26, more than 20 participating restaurants will offer low-priced, small-plate menus for the fourth annual event—menus will consist of five to seven items ranging from three to eight dollars. Select restaurants will also be part of a Biltmore Wine Crawl, offering small plates that have been made or paired with the perfect Biltmore wine. Prizes are up for grabs and awarded based on the number of eateries you visit; the Grand Prize will go to a crawler who makes it to 15 or more restaurants. (There are additional prizes for those taking part in the Biltmore Wine Crawl.)

New For 2015

To be eligible to win, you must check in with each restaurant you visit. Doing so will be easier than ever this year, says co-presenter Laura Huff, blogger behind the popular site carolinaepicurean.com: “I’m thrilled to announce a brand new, custom web app. It’s fun, fast, and accurate.”

All you have to do is download a free QR reader to your mobile device and scan when you pay at a restaurant. Each scan checks you in and enters you into the prize drawing automatically. If you’re crawling from place to place with a group, when anyone in your party purchases a plate, everyone gets to scan the code for validation. If you don’t have access to a mobile device, ask for a “Takeaway Card” at every restaurant; the code on each card can be entered later via your computer.

The Crawl’s Catching On

Although folks have been crawling in Asheville since 2012, the event actually began a few years before in Hendersonville. Huff got the idea back in 2008: “It was born of a wish to help restaurants recover from the market crash,” she says. Since then, it has been well received and expanded by request, which Huff notes is both humbling and fantastic at the same time.

Small Plate Crawls are currently being held in six areas in the region, and four more may be added in 2015. To help with growth, Huff has recently partnered with two culinary powerhouses: Nichole Livengood (Gap Creek Gourmet, NicLive PR) for South Carolina events, and Susi Gott Séguret (Seasonal School of Culinary Arts, Asheville Truffle Experience, Asheville Wine Experience) for North Carolina and Tennessee events.

Plan to Go?

If you plan to crawl this month, visit ashevillesmallplatecrawl.com for all the details, including a list of prizes and each restaurant’s special menu and crawl hours. You can also follow the Asheville Small Plate Crawl on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information. Note that reservations are discouraged.

To make the most of your experience, Huff shares these three tips: 1) Bring cash. Credit cards are accepted, but she reminds that paying with cash is much faster and will help you get to more restaurants. 2) Tip generously; servers are working harder for smaller checks. 3) If you’re crawling in a very large group, Huff and her team ask that you try not to occupy seats for too long, especially if only one or two plates are being ordered.

For information about other crawls, visit carolinaepicureanevents.com. Keep your finger on the pulse of WNC’s food scene at carolinaepicurean.com. Photo courtesy of Asheville Small Plate Crawl.

0

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

Tis the Season to be Counting

 

Braving the cold for the CBC - Amy Kovach photo courtesy National Audubon Society

Braving the cold for the CBC – Amy Kovach photo courtesy National Audubon Society

This year marks the 115th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC.) Frank Chapman, an officer in the fledgling Audubon Society proposed the first Christmas Bird Count in 1900 as an alternative to the traditional “side hunt,” where groups would choose sides and go afield, guns a-blazing and whoever came home with the greatest number of dead animals was declared the winner. Twenty-seven participates held 25 CBCs that day and a total of 90 species were recorded. The 2012 CBC had 2,369 counts with 71,531 participants and included counts in Canada, Latin America and the Pacific Islands. The number of birds tallied in that 113th annual CBC was 64,133,843.

CBCs are the grandfather of “citizen science.” And while citizen science may be sloppy science, it has also proven to be valuable science. There will not be 50,000 bespectacled scientists in white lab coats followed by their statisticians evaluating and recording all the nuances observed afield. There will be you and I and some birders better than we and some birders not so good. Not every birder participating in a CBC will be able to differentiate between a female sharp-shinned hawk and a male Cooper’s hawk. But 99.999 percent of CBC participants do know what a robin looks like and a cardinal and a chickadee and most can count. And learning about population and distribution trends of common birds is just as important (if not more so) as noting how many European wagtails show up on this year’s CBC.

With more than 110 years under its belt, the CBC is the longest running ornithological database on the planet. Scientists at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, which has joined with Audubon to make CBC data more relevant and more accessible note that, “The CBC’s current relevance is as a comparative historical source of information on bird changes, a coarse means of capturing large bird changes, and a conservation-oriented recreational pursuit by birders. There are better ways of measuring changes in wintering bird populations. On the other hand, since the CBC system is already in place at no cost to anyone but those who participate and over long periods of time interesting trends are documented, the running of CBC’s by birders should not be discouraged.” Add to that a bibliography of scientific papers and articles that lists well over 250 titles that have incorporated CBC data and it becomes apparent that the science aspect of this citizen-science project, albeit primitive and unwieldy is of significant value.

CBCs help track the range-expansion of introduced species like Eurasian Collared doves. These birds began appearing on CBCs in the late 1970s. We had our first on the Balsam CBC back in 2005. creative commons photo

CBCs help track the range-expansion of introduced species like Eurasian Collared doves. These birds began appearing on CBCs in the late 1970s. We had our first on the Balsam CBC back in 2005. creative commons photo

But it was the citizen or social aspect of the CBC that got the ball rolling back 115 years ago and still sustains it. The camaraderie of being afield with like-minded souls probably rousts more CBC participants out of bed on those cold winter mornings than any thoughts of scientific contribution. And when darkness begins to envelope count day and participants gather to share lists and swap stories of the ones that did or didn’t get away it’ll be that camaraderie that takes center stage. And it’s that camaraderie that’s integral to conservation.

We didn’t create DuPont State Forest or preserve the Needmore Tract because we read, in some scientific journal, about the need to preserve biodiversity. We protected these areas because we were connected to these areas. We had experienced them. As the number of people who experience CBCs or other citizen-science projects increases the number of people who become connected increases. And the more people who are connected to more wild places, means more wild places will be protected.

For more info and a schedule of local and regional counts visit North Carolina Christmas Bird Counts and South Carolina Christmas Bird Counts.

 

 And, in the spirit, please enjoy:

 The Night Before Christmas Bird Count

by Don Hendershot

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas Bird Count and all through the house

Was the whirr of computers and clicks of the mouse.

Maps and notes were clipped to the copy stand with care

In hopes the long-billed curlew still would be there.

Compilers and counters tossed in their beds.

Visions of grosbeaks and palm pilots danced in their heads.

The GPS lay nestled and ready on the map;

Spotting scopes, binoculars all covered with lens caps.

Then all of a sudden, quietness — not clatter.

No mouses were clicking, what could be the matter?

On the screen was nothing, not even a flash.

How could it be — the computer had crashed.

There it was, quiet, not even a glow.

But wait, a laptop on the table below.

Quick type in birdsource.org and see what appears.

Whew, trogons and titmice, flickers and finches all are still here.

So reassuring to know; what a great trick,

Technology and nature merged with a click.

BBSes list CBCs, too many to name,

Bits, bytes and modems all part of the game.

On checklists, on palm pilots, listers were listin’.

On PCs, on Macs, ordinary citizens

Were lurking and threading, following it all.

Cyberspace packed as thick as the mall.

All the birds will be counted, most before they fly.

The rest will be IDed as they take to the sky.

Field guides perused by more than a few.

Sibley’s and Peterson and National Geographic too.

No source will be spared and that is the truth.

Wingbars and eyerings will be noted as proof.

Whistles and chirps and other bird sounds,

Properly noted and all written down.

Birders afield in boats and afoot

Will first count and then prepare to input

Data on species, data on numbers, in fact

Data all about birds; their presence — their lack.

Data on birds that eat seeds and eat berries;

Birds that nest in trees or in eyries.

Data spread across the WWW, high and low,

Just click on a hypertext and away you go.

There are cables and wires and plugs with teeth.

Some go over, around, or come up from beneath.

Small screens and big screens, the size of a telly,

All sitting on tables that wobble like jelly.

And placed carefully and safely away on a shelf,

A wireless computer one can use by oneself.

Into the field the counters are led,

Armed with technology from their feet to their head.

With Swarovski, Leica and Zeiss hard at work,

Birders count birds with barely a jerk.

Then off to Compaq or Dell or Macintosh they go

To key in their data under the computer’s soft glow.

When suddenly amid all the bells and the whistles,

A first year goldfinch clings to last year’s thistle.

And suddenly high tech or low tech, even no tech’s alright

It’s you and a bird sharing the same winter sunlight

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are regular winter visitors to Western North Carolina - Lewis Scharpf photo courtesy National Audubon Society

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are regular winter visitors to Western North Carolina – Lewis Scharpf photo courtesy National Audubon Society

0

Extended Season: Asheville Farmers Markets Still Bustling

Holiday Asheville Farmers Markets

Good news, farmers market fanatics: Even though the traditional tailgate season has come to an end, a handful of markets are still open for your holiday shopping needs. What’s more, several will operate all winter long thanks to their intrepid vendors and managers!

Asheville Farmers Markets Deck the Halls, Er, Tents

If you’re after that perfect gift, all the fixins for a family meal, or even a Christmas tree, area tailgates have got you covered. They turn into one-stop holiday shops come December. Find artisans selling everything from handcrafted jewelry to candles, and farmers offering fresh-cut trees, meats, cheeses, eggs, honey, fall produce, and more.

If you’re near the French Broad River Corridor, shop West Asheville Tailgate Market, which moved indoors this month to the Mothlight; the market is held Tuesdays from 2:30 until 6 pm and runs through December 23. Asheville City Market is also close by, just on the edge of downtown. This month, it’s in its usual location—the parking lot of the Asheville Public Works building on South Charlotte Street. But manager Mike McCreary is trying something unusual: For the holidays, he invited local hard cider makers Naked Apple Cider and Urban Orchard Cider Company plus local winemaker Addison Farms Vineyard to serve up samples and sell their potables. The market runs Saturdays from 10 am to 12:30 pm.

Where to Buy Local This Winter

After the holidays, Asheville City Market will head inside the public works building for the winter, beginning January 10 (running Saturdays, 10 am-noon). It’ll offer the same local food finds it does the rest of the year: baked goods, jams, meats, cheeses, eggs, and, yes, produce—think hardy crops like apples, potatoes, and greens. In fact, according to Molly Nicholie, program director for the local food nonprofit ASAP (which runs the tailgate), you might find more farm-fresh produce there and at other winter markets than you’d expect.

“There are a lot of farmers who really understand that winter tailgates are great opportunities for them to extend their season,” she says, adding, “There’s a lot more produce at winter markets now than there was a year or two ago.”

Nicholie also reminds that Appalachian Grown partner grocery stores—those committed to sourcing products certified by ASAP as locally grown—have local foods to offer now and throughout the cold months. Look for meat from Hickory Nut Gap Farm and Brasstown Beef at select Ingles. And visit groceries like Katuah Market and French Broad Food Co-op, which, she shares, continue to fill their shelves this time of year with Appalachian Grown veggies like roots and winter squash.

For complete lists of Western North Carolina markets open during the holidays and winter season, including dates and times, visit ASAP’s community website fromhere.org. To find Appalachian Grown partner groceries, browse their online Local Food Guide at appalachiangrown.org. Winter market photo courtesy of ASAP.

 

 

0

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

photo (7)

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! 

0

Autumn Trip Tips, Part II: Hotlines and Fall Color Reports

photo (5)

The Blue Ridge Parkway may be the most popular and convenient fall leaf-viewing drive, but there are lots of other less-traveled opportunities to see the colors of the season. Explore Asheville offers one of most comprehensive digital guides to the area. The official Asheville Tourism site has a convenient one-stop guide to autumn that includes ongoing coverage from early to late fall. So whether you’re traveling by car, bike, motorcycle or by foot, you can select a variety of tours and hikes throughout Western NC.

 Trust us on this one!

You may have been to Hot Springs, but have you ever been to Trust, NC? Try this mid-fall excursion and head north from Asheville to Weaverville and stop by Well-Bred Bakery for a morning snack and a to-go cup of java. Take US 25/70 to Hot Springs and enjoy the brilliant colors of fall along the Walnut Mountains. The descending trip into the quaint river hamlet offers a dazzling array of fall color along the ridge tops and forest coves. Take a break in town and walk along the river to get an excellent open view of the autumn landscape. Better yet, schedule a half-day rafting trip down section nine of the French Broad and immerse yourself into four miles of fall splendor. Trip note: most outfitters require you to book your trip at least a day ahead. Climb out of Hot Springs along Hwy 209 for approximately 15 winding miles and take a left turn in Trust, NC onto Hwy 63. This last section includes beautiful vistas and historic farmlands of western Buncombe County. The 80-mile fall color tour can be driven comfortably in three hours. Take your time and enjoy the ride!

Follow the yellow blaze: Take a detour off Hwy. 209 south of Hot Springs to Rocky Bluff Recreation Area and the Spring Creek Nature Trail. The 1.6-mile trail offers a convenient leaf-lookers’ day-hike along the cascading mountain stream.

 Next up: Go west, brew enthusiasts!

0

Autumn Trip Tips Part 1: Parkway Passages

photo (2)

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.

destin

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.
0