Asheville man honored for environmental stewardship

The Wilderness Society has honored Asheville resident Rob Messick with the Olaus and Margaret Murie Award in recognition of his tireless efforts to document and protect old-growth forest in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

“Rob Messick’s story is truly inspirational,” says William H. Meadows, the group’s president. “Though he had no formal training in the subject, Rob devoted himself to learning everything he could about this complex topic and has played a major role in laying the groundwork for permanent protection of the region’s oldest forestland. All of us are in his debt.”

A Raleigh native who has lived in the mountains for 18 years, Messick got involved in forest protection about 10 years ago. “I went into some old growth in the Smokies with Bob Leverett, who was doing similar research in Massachusetts, and it just got me jazzed,” recalls Messick. “I thought, ‘Wow! It’s still here.’ Since then, we have had to deal repeatedly with the mythology that old growth has been eradicated in the East.”

Messick began attending conferences on the subject, which he remembers as a “college education on Eastern old-growth forests.” He began working intensively with the Western North Carolina Alliance (which presented Messick with its Cunningham Award in 1996), soliciting input from local hunters, birders and others who knew where old growth might be found in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. A 1997 report based on Messick’s findings documented 38,937 acres of old growth in the forest’s 189,000-acre Grandfather Ranger District.

In 2000, Messick and his colleagues produced a study — based, he says, on all the credible research done by individuals up to that time — that identified 77,000 total acres of old growth in the Pisgah and Nantahala forests. Among the ancient trees identified is a 450-year-old white oak found by Bob Zahner on Whiterock Mountain, near Highlands.

Messick is now busy analyzing what he calls an “avalanche of information” developed since 1992 so that he and fellow researcher Than Axtell can update a Wilderness Society report on wilderness in the two national forests, titled North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures.

“It is the Rob Messicks of the world who make it possible for conservation groups to save land,” says Butch Clay, The Wilderness Society’s acting Southeast director. “In making the case that special places in the Nantahala-Pisgah deserve protection, we rely heavily on the data Rob has put together during his years of dedicated research. The Forest Service has seen how credible Rob’s findings are and, as a result, is more likely to protect places where old growth has survived.” The management plan for the two national forests, released in 1994, will soon be revised, and Messick’s findings should help shape the new plan.

The Wilderness Society’s Governing Council presents the award annually to a person, usually unheralded, who has shown dedication to protecting the nation’s natural heritage. Acclaimed naturalist Olaus Murie (president of The Wilderness Society from 1945 to 1962) and his wife, Margaret (who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998) both spent years promoting legislation to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and many other wild places from development.

For more information about The Wilderness Society, visit

A bowl lot of good

Local potters are inviting the public to join them in supporting The Open Door Soup Kitchen in Waynesville by participating in the Empty Bowl Dinner on Monday, March 11, anytime between 5:30 and 8 p.m. (242 Commerce St. in Waynesville). For $15, participants will get to choose their very own bowl from a wide variety of locally made pottery; enjoy a simple meal of soup, bread and tea or coffee; then take the bowl home with them — and, in the process, support those who could use such a meal in their own community.

“Because all of the food, time and pottery is being donated, 100 percent of the money goes to The Open Door,” explains Phillip Johnston of Mud Dabbers Pottery.

Pottery will be donated by a number of Waynesville-based studios, including Mud Dabbers, Burr Studio, Good Earth, Fiery Gizzard, Riverwood, A Different Drummer, Pitter The Potter, Twigs & Leaves, Three Dot, Haywood County Community College’s crafts-production program, and potters Joan Kennedy, Sarah Rolland and Susan Balentine.

For more information, call Phillip Johnston at (828) 456-1916.

Retreat helps mothers, daughters connect

The nonprofit retreat ministry Holy Ground believes females about to enter adolescence should not have to face these changes alone. Staying Connected, a retreat for daughters ages 10-13 and their mothers, happens Friday and Saturday, March 15-16 at the Lutheridge Conference Center in Arden.

Guided by psychotherapist Carolyn Mathis (the mother of two daughters) and Mary Ann Watjen (who specializes in girls’ development and women’s psychology), participants will learn listening and communication skills. The quiet, wooded setting will provide a comfortable environment for exploring and enhancing the mother/daughter relationship. Surrounded by their peers, the girls can feel supported as they begin their transition from childhood to womanhood.

Space is limited to 12 mother/daughter pairs, and registration forms/fees must be received no later than Monday, March 4. The retreat costs $210 per pair for one night, $295 for those wishing to stay a second night. Send checks (payable to Holy Ground) to P.O. Box 8512, Asheville NC 28814.

For more information or a registration form, call 236-0222 or e-mail

Acclaimed novelist visits Warren Wilson

Tony Earley, author of the best-selling novel Jim the Boy, will speak at Warren Wilson College on Sunday, March 3. The 1983 WWC graduate returns to his alma mater to deliver this year’s Harwood Memorial Lecture. The free event, sponsored by The Friends of the Pew Learning Center and Ellison Library, happens at 4 p.m. in the Gladfelter Student Center’s Canon Lounge.

The Rutherford County native, who teaches writing at Vanderbilt University, will read from and discuss his work, which includes Here We Are in Paradise (a collection of short stories) and Somehow Form a Family (a volume of personal essays). Boston Globe writer Thrity Umrigar said about these essays, “There are moments of such clear, lucid, diamond-hard writing that it makes you gulp for air.”

But the praise for Earley and his work doesn’t stop there. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote about Jim the Boy, “Everything about Tony Earley’s spare, exquisitely honed novel of a Southern childhood … generated anticipation for whatever he chose to do next.” In 1999, The New Yorker named Earley as one of the best young American fiction writers; in 1996, Granta hailed him as one of the best young American novelists. Earley also received the University of Alabama’s Emerging Artist Award in 2000.

For more information, call WWC Library Director Bill Hubbard at 771-3061.

Just deserts

If you like cookies — or desserts in general — you’ll want to check out the third annual Cookie Cook-Off on Friday, March 8, 7-10 p.m. at On Broadway (49 Broadway in downtown Asheville). Each participating local chef will concoct a masterpiece using one of the following varieties of Girl Scout cookies: Peanut Butter Patties, Caramel deLites, Shortbread, Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Lemon Pastry Cremes, Animal Treasures or the new Friendship Circles.

The 16 chefs toil for the following establishments: Bistro 1896, Black Mountain Bakery, Deerpark (Biltmore Estate), Early Girl Eatery, Gourmet Perks, Grovewood Cafe, The Hop, Laurey’s Catering, Loretta’s, River Market Grill, Savoy, Southside Cafe, Wildflower Restaurant, 23 Page, Zambra and A-B Tech.

Tickets ($15 per person) are available at the door or by calling the number below. The proceeds will benefit the Girl Scouts of Western North Carolina.

For more information, call 252-4442.

Web tools for citizen activists

A new Web site ( offers Tar Heel residents a set of integrated lobbying tools to help them be heard when it really counts — not just on Election Day, but while state lawmakers are debating and voting on critical issues. The N.C. “portal” is one of 50 (one per state) that make up

Constituents can identify their legislative representatives and examine all the state legislation currently under consideration. The site presents the pros and cons of each bill, along with links to in-depth policy analyses by governmental, academic and public-interest sources. Site users then get to vote on the bills, and their lawmakers are automatically notified of the results. An “individual voter portfolio” tracks these mock votes and compares them with lawmakers’ actual votes and with those of other Web-site users, correlated by gender, party, age, etc. Direct links allow easy e-mailing to lawmakers.

The site also includes a chat room and on-line applications for voter registration/absentee ballots, and it automatically compiles all the e-mail it receives, sorted by issue, to help lawmakers take the pulse of public opinion.

Shukoor Ahmed, the founder of, hopes the site will help hold lawmakers accountable on a range of policy issues (education, environment, health, budget, etc.). “I want to help every citizen be a lobbyist, so democracy works,” she says.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Moody of Wisconsin calls the site “an excellent and flexible tool to connect Americans with the elected officials,” while state Rep. Jim Trakas of Ohio says, “Congratulations on an innovative approach to constituent service.”

A pair of other Web sites are also aimed at helping citizens become more effective lobbyists: The affiliated site enables citizens to conduct do-it-yourself polls via e-mail using a simple template, with responses automatically returned and compiled; and helps like-minded citizens unite in grassroots lobbying campaigns.

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