The Asheville-based nonprofit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s work included both valuable wildlife habitats, such as the Wiles Creek and Little Rock Creek preserves, and prime farmland at risk of development. Sandy Hollar Farms in Buncombe County and Bowditch Bottoms in Yancey County were among the agricultural projects completed in 2020.
For many environmental organizations across Western North Carolina, COVID-19 fell like a lightning-struck tree across the path to progress. But like an intrepid hiker, WNC’s activists and organizers have bushwhacked new trails for action in the world of the pandemic.
On Nov. 18, nonprofit Conserving Carolina announced that it had entered a contract to buy an unused 19-mile rail corridor between Brevard and Hendersonville for conversion into a greenway. Backers hope the Ecusta Trail will become a regional draw for running and biking enthusiasts.
As urban dwellers flock to rural counties to get their fix of socially distanced outdoor recreation, local adventure shops are seeing a boom. Those located near trails, rivers and campsites have an added advantage: Close to the action means tailored advice and last-minute purchases.
Hikers and photographers from across the state have formed Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina to care for and protect the natural wonder of waterfalls.
Nancy Mercure East, a retired veterinarian from Waynesville, and her hiking partner, Air Force veteran Chris Ford of Knoxville, Tenn., set a new record for hiking all of the park’s trails on Oct. 3 with a time of 29 days, 10 hours and 12 minutes. The two shattered the previous mark of 33 days set by Knoxville trail runner Jeff Woody.
According to a new study by Filterbuy, an air filter industry website, the median air quality index in the Asheville metropolitan area was 15.3% better over the period from 2015-2019 compared with the period from 2005-2009. The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton and Greenville, S.C., metros also showed big improvements.
“We are showing women how to see their land as an asset and how to make it work economically and to see that future,” explains Aimee Tomcho, a Burnsville-based conservation biologist for the National Audubon Society and leader of Western North Carolina’s ForestHer chapter.
Black Folks Camp Too founder Earl B. Hunter Jr. said new marketing collaborations would help him develop more interest in camping among the Black community. And later this month, Asheville-based artist Matthew Willey will begin work on a giant mural of honey bees at Hendersonville’s Hands On! Children’s Museum.
Deteriorating forest roads damage the ecosystem and limit access essential for forest management and the forest-product economy.
Elmore rode a variety of routes around Leicester and north Buncombe County, beginning and ending at his own doorstep at Thatchmore Farm in Leicester. “It started off pretty slow — maybe 30 miles a week — and worked up to over 100 miles a week,” he says, noting that he ended the tour with a 100-mile day.
Xpress contributor Mark Barrett shares his pick of lesser-known Western North Carolina hikes with opportunities to take in the region’s autumn splendor.
“In Pisgah [National Forest] or the Smokies, it’s very difficult to know exactly who owned the land before it became public. With DuPont, it’s not,” explains author Danny Bernstein. “You can trace all of the land to somebody who sold it or gave it away to the state.”
Board member Rick Livingston, who made the motion to deny the recommendation, said the proposed SE Asphalt plant’s location in a “very residential area” off the Spartanburg Highway was incompatible with both the county’s comprehensive plan and East Flat Rock’s community plan.
From Mars Hill in the north to Rosman in the south, from Black Mountain in the east to Maggie Valley in the west, the Hellbender Regional Trail system would link major municipalities in the five-county French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization region through paths devoted to bicyclists and pedestrians.
The coronavirus pandemic may have slowed reporting of tick-borne diseases in the state, but the insects are more prevalent than ever and are heading south, some carrying relatively new diseases.
Some kids have faced social isolation during the pandemic with schools closing and being unable to see their friends. Some youth camps opened their doors in the summer so kids could engage with peers and learn instead of having their eyes glued to a screen.
Together, the city of Asheville and Buncombe County approved over $11 million in funding to install roughly 7 megawatts of solar power at public facilities and area schools. The projects are anticipated to save the governments and local schools roughly $650,000 in electricity costs in the first year and more than $27 million over the installations’ 30-year operational life.
Jennifer Pharr Davis, owner of Asheville-based Blue Ridge Hiking Company, says there’s a simple reason behind the pent-up demand for outdoor recreation: In a world where many activities are either unsafe or unavailable, going for a hike is very appealing.
Commission Chair Laura Hudson argued that the rules placed too much emphasis on tree protection and could become an untenable burden for developers. “If you jam too many requirements onto one small parcel, I think you’re going to kill the development altogether,” she said.
Kevin Bischof is in high demand. Now in his 13th year as a ranger with the North Carolina State Parks, he’s transitioning from serving as superintendent of Mount Mitchell State Park to assuming the same role at Grandfather Mountain State Park. But COVID-19 is delaying the hiring of his replacement, so he’s juggling both jobs.