Tag Archives | outdoors

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? 

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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

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Going Green with Blueways

 riverlanding

There are many ways to salvation, and one of them is to follow a river.

                                          – David Brower

 Most of us are familiar with the benefits of greenways in our communities. The recent completion of Asheville’s Reed Creek Greenway Phase III is a good example: The 1,300-foot section bridged the existing paved trail to Glenn Creek Greenway, creating a green corridor from Magnolia St to Merrimon Ave. A connected community of parks, trails, recreation, transportation and health makes our region more livable and sustainable. But what about blueways? What are they, and what are their benefits?

Understanding Blueways

To begin exploring the concept of blueways, think “water trails” or “navigable waterways.” Blueways offer compatible and multiple use resources similar to greenways, and, realistically, they already exist. Lakes and rivers have always drawn people to their waters, and, by law, navigable waters are public thoroughfares. However, the lands along their banks and shores may be privately owned. So, blueways—or developed water trails—provide legal access points, signage, maps and other amenities.

Additional community support from user groups, government agencies, landowners, volunteers and outfitters can greatly expand a blueway’s development. Facilities such as boat ramps, camping areas and restrooms extend recreational opportunities along a trail and enhance a users’ experience. In some cases, the connectivity of multiple resources can transform a day outing into a multi-day excursion.

Blue Trail Issues

Blueways garnered a lot of national attention in May 2012 under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The Department of Interior unveiled an ambitious, albeit ambiguous, federal initiative establishing national water trails as a class of national recreational trails under the National Trails System Act of 1968.

The Secretarial Order established a network of designated water trails on rivers across the country. Key focus points of the program promoted outdoor recreation and national recognition to existing, local water trails.

Unfortunately, the non-regulatory program was dissolved two years later due to increased opposition from landowners, stakeholders and several politicians. Most of these skeptics cited an increased threat of federal regulation and an infringement on their property rights. However, regional and state blueway development efforts have propagated and have continued to prosper around the country.

 

blueway

Blueways in the Carolinas

The Carolinas’ currently have a number of blueway initiatives underway. The Carolina Thread Trail is a regional network of greenways, trails and blueways that meanders through 15 counties and two states. The “thread” includes 220 miles of trails throughout the foothills and piedmont of North and South Carolina. These multi-use trails are open to the public and accessible to nearly two million people who live, work and play within the region.

Smoky Mountain Host of North Carolina currently showcases a number of western NC’s rivers and lakes in their promotion of Smoky Mountain Blueways. The destination marketing organization serves seven western NC counties and the Qualla Boundary of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. According to their website, “Blueways (also known as blue trails) are the water equivalent to land based trails and greenways.” The organization reports that recreational trails often stimulate the local economy, preserve natural areas, promote healthy lifestyles, improve water and air quality, and connect people to natural places.

Southern Appalachian blueways and paddle trails also connect borders when their rivers and lakes meander through state lines. Close to home, the French Broad Paddle Trail includes a developing recreational water trail with designated campsites and boat ramps that stretches close to 140 miles through western NC and eastern Tennessee. In Tennessee, the paddle trail joins the French Broad Blueway, which includes a 102-mile section that flows to the confluence of the Tennessee River.

Connecting corridors with blueways, greenways, recreation, culture and natural areas links our heritage to our landscape. Some advocates treasure their rivers and lakes as tributaries to the past while others envision a blueprint for the future. Still others living along proposed corridors often oppose public trails and right of ways. Whether they are adjacent landowners, businesses or farmers, some express concern over privacy, government regulations and increased foot traffic.

TELL US: What’s your take?

We hope to open up a discussion and invite others to write about their ‘connections’ to rivers, parks, trails and other outdoor recreation topics. Send us your ideas, comments or news to Sammy Cox, coordinator: ashevillepocketguide@gmail.com.

 

 

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Fish Oar Float

Jason Brownlee at work in the French Broad Riverworks shop within Carrier Park

Jason Brownlee at work in the French Broad Riverworks shop within Carrier Park (photo courtesy of French Broad Boatworks)

I recently caught up with Jason Brownlee, the co-owner of the French Broad Boatworks and Asheville native to chat about their handcrafted riverboats and upcoming river tours.

He and his partner William Evert, both avid anglers, skilled carpenters, furniture makers and homebuilders, joined forces five years ago to begin crafting high-end boats for fishermen. But not just any fishing boat, their fleet of hand crafted, oar powered river dories are top-of-the-line and a nod to the traditional ocean vessel that’s known for its seaworthiness and simplicity.

For land lubbers whose river craft knowledge may be limited to tubes and canoes, Brownlee explains that a river dory is kin to ocean fishing crafts designed with a wide flat bottom, pointy prow and stern, and high sides to ride safely on top of the current.

While the pair dabbled for several years on a design, their classic look they’ve adopted has been reengineered with an ultra modern light wood frame that is sheathed and protected by high tech material. However, the interior is where their woodworking skills really shine and gives the boats a nostalgic look they’d like to preserve.

But Brownlee isn’t just a dory enthusiast, he’s also a river advocate; the thirty-seven year old has seen the river corridor at its best and worst.

“The river district used to be an absolute wreck,” remembers Brownlee. But when the restaurants and bars started to make headway on the river, he knew the tides had shifted and wanted to get more involved with its revitalization. “We’re trying to be part of the experience,” he adds.

Brownlee, of course, is overjoyed at the rebirth of the river district and use of the river; he’d just like to give people the opportunity to glide downstream in high style.

Naturally, dories are ideal for anglers to cast on two feet, but its buoyancy makes for a smooth ride too and an ideal watercraft for birding, hauling camping gear, or just a gentle sunset cruise. So this spring, the pair is launching the Asheville Wooden Boat Tour to lure non-anglers to the experience of floating in a craft boat. The roughly one and a half hour tour will cast off from their workshop within Carrier Park to the Smoky Park Supper Club.

 “We really want folks to experience a drift boat,” says Brownlee. “It’s the only way to go down the river.”

Visit their website for more information about the Asheville Wooden Boat Tour launching this coming spring. www.frenchbroadboatworks.com

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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.

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.
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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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From the Backwoods to the Backstory

atsign14

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.

turks

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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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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