There was good news this week for outdoors lovers.
In "Blue Ridge Parkway to be Open End to End for First Time in More Than a Year," the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that a long-closed section of the scenic road near Mount Pisgah opened just in time for the July 4 holiday weekend.
The section had been closed since October to shore up a landslide-prone area. Before that, a portion of the roadway north of Asheville near Craggy Gardens had been closed off for nearly a year, also for landslide-related repairs.
In addition, a brutal winter with near record snowfalls and low temperatures across Western North Carolina, had much of the Parkway closed from December through March.
Together with the harsh weather, the closures pulled visitation down 36 percent from January through April compared with the same period last year, Deputy Superintendent Monika Mayr told the C-T.
In related news, the Associated Press reported that "Man Donates, Sells Land to Blue Ridge Parkway." According to the story, which was picked up by outlets across the country, Joe Arrington donated 46 acres in Haywood County near Parkway milepost 440. The sale comes as the Parkway celebrates its 75th anniversary.
To honor the anniversary of the most-visited unit in the National Park Service, WRAL in Raleigh produced a documentary film showcasing the Parkway’s history. UNC-TV plans to air the film later this year.
County governments west of Asheville are hoping such media attention will augment their efforts to market the mountains, according to the Smoky Mountain News. In the cover story, "Who's Visiting the Smokies?" the paper reported that fewer families with young children are flocking to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for a chance to camp under the stars.
According to studies conducted in 2008, the typical tourist to the North Carolina side of the Smokies was a 51-year-old Caucasian with a household income of $53,500.
Although the Smokies remain the country's most visited national park, regional tourism official David Huskins is concerned that as more and more kids become glued to video games, the Internet and iPods, visitation might fall.
“We are an outdoor mecca,” Huskins told the News. “We’re trying to market the region to get more families interested.”
Obesity and unemployment
It's unclear whether that trend is a factor in "North Carolinians Getting Fatter." In the article, the C-T reported that
N.C. ranks 10th in the nation with 30 percent of adult residents obese. Obesity rates are highest in the South, and Mississippi weighs in with the highest rate: 33.8 percent of all adults.
In a more hopeful trend, Mountain Xpress reported that "Asheville Unemployment Declined in May." According to the online post, unemployment in the Asheville metro area dropped from 8.6 percent to 8.2 percent that month.
Statewide, 86 counties saw declines in unemployment, though the numbers had not been adjusted for seasonal shifts in employment offerings.
Of course, it's still a tough job market, and the C-T reported that the "Sour Economy Spurs Military Enlistment."
Last year was the first that all military branches, both active and reserve, had met or exceeded recruiting goals since the force became all-volunteer in 1974, the article noted.
The down economy has also made the recruitment process more competitive: At least 90 percent of new recruits are now expected to have a high-school diploma, military officials say.
Attack of the texters
One man who’ll soon be looking for a job is Everett Clendenin, formerly of the North Carolina Highway Patrol. BlueRidgeNow reported that the "N.C. Trooper Texted Female Co-worker 2,600 Times," which led to his recent resignation.
In another case of what appears to be inappropriate texting by law enforcement, this week's Xpress has a follow-up story on a sexual harassment suit filed against the Asheville Police Department and Sgt. Eric Lauffer (see “Yes But No” elsewhere in this issue).