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Birder Bucks

Birders at Beaver lake - Simon Thompson photo

Birders at Beaver lake – Simon Thompson photo

Birdwatching used to be for little ole ladies in tennis shoes. Those birdwatchers are joined today by “birders” that roll in Escalades with $1,000 Swarovski binoculars, spotting scopes at twice the price and enough photographic gear to make Ansel Adams roll over in his grave – driving cross country to tick off a common crane or scheduling a guided trip to India in quest of a mangrove whistler.

Of course, most people fit somewhere in between, but they all have one thing in common – a fascination for our feathery friends. A 2011 survey – National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (FHWAR) –teased the birders out of the overall group. They found that there were around 47 million birders over 16 years of age in the U.S. The greatest percentage, by far, of these birders (88%) were “backyard birders.” You know who you are – you put out seed feeders and hang hummingbird feeders and keep a cheap pair of Tasco binoculars and a 20-year-old Golden field guide on the table by the window. Thirty-eight percent of birders (yes there was a little double-dipping) said they take part in birding trips at least a mile from their home.

Birders spend money on a wide range of goods and services related to their passion. The list is extensive and includes optics, field guides, birdhouses, bird feed, lodging, transportation and more. And all of these expenditures have ripple effects throughout the economy. According to the FHWAR report the 47 million U.S. birders generated $107 billion throughout the birding industry, supporting 666,000 jobs and creating $13 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue. A 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study reported that “wildlife-watchers” in North Carolina spent about $827 million pursuing their hobby.

The Old Home State is a premiere birding destination and for good reason. North Carolina has recorded more than 460 species of birds, fifth highest of all states east of the Mississippi. Pelagic (offshore) species are a big draw to the state. The confluence of warm Gulf waters and cold Atlantic currents provide a melting (or cooling) pot of pelagic species. Inland, North Carolina has the greatest elevational range of any eastern state providing opportunities for low-elevation, marsh and estuarine species plus high-elevation specialties as well as anything in between.

 

Scarlet tanager - Simon Thompson photo

Scarlet tanager – Simon Thompson photo

Around 2003 a group of partners including Audubon North Carolina, North Carolina Resources Commission, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, North Carolina State Parks, North Carolina Sea Grant and the North Carolina Extension Service came together to begin work on the North Carolina Birding Trail. Part of the mission of the NCBT is, “To conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.”

During the next six to seven years the partnership worked to produce a series of guides or “Birding Trails” to help birders and other visitors to the state find great birding destinations plus “birder friendly” businesses and accommodations. They did this by creating three trail guides geared to the three distinct geographical provinces of the state – the Coastal Plains Trail Guide, the Piedmont Trail Guide and the Mountain Trail Guide. The area around Asheville and all of Western North Carolina is featured in the 105 sites listed in the Mountain Trail Guide. Some sites in and around Asheville include Beaver Lake Sanctuary, The Biltmore Estate and Devil’s Courthouse along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other sites in Western North Carolina include Kituwah Farm in Cherokee, Whiteside Mountain near Highlands/Cashiers and Lake Junaluska. Site descriptions in the guides include directions, access information, focal species and habitat listings, and on-site visitor amenities.

Birder friendly businesses in Asheville include Wild Birds Unlimited, The Compleat Naturalist and the North Carolina Arboretum. Ventures Birding Tours of Skyland offers guided tours year round in Western North Carolina, statewide, across the country and around the world. To find out more about birding trails and birder resources across North Carolina check out the NCBT at http://ncbirdingtrail.org/.

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

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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! 

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

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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!

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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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