Buzzworm news briefs

Dating by prayer or kitchen timer

Though employing very different methods, two local matchmaking businesses boast pretty impressive success rates — if one uses trips to the altar to measure these kind of things. After opening its doors just a little more than a year ago, The Connectors, a Christian-oriented matchmaking service, has racked up one marriage and several engagements. Meanwhile, Asheville Speed Date, an events-oriented service that started in the fall of 2002, has succeeded in getting five couples to the altar and two engaged. Plus, the first “Speed Baby” — born to a couple who met on a speed date — was delivered recently (on Valentine’s Day, no less).

Fairview couple Diana and Evan Bacon — who themselves met via KISS-FM’s dateline eight years ago — discovered they had a knack for matching up their friends. They started The Connectors to provide “a safe way for people to meet, other than the Internet or barrooms,” explains Diana.

The Bacons use a combination of profiles, personal interviews with clients and a good dose of prayer to come up with their matches. Potential matches first connect in a comfortable meeting room at the Bacon’s business, and then it’s up to them if they want to take it any further, notes Diana.

To date, 100 customers have signed onto the service (at a cost of $50 per year). And though they don’t have to be churchgoers, says Diana, “we’d kind of like for them to believe in God.”

On the other hand, Asheville Speed Date usually holds its events in “barrooms,” so to speak — more than 50 to date at such nightspots as the Bier Garden and Tressa’s. Participants meet each other via a series of seven-minute dates throughout the evening. At evening’s end, they let Asheville Speed Date founder/organizer Erik Field know which of their dates they would be interested in seeing again. Whenever a mutual interest is expressed, it’s a “match.” Both parties are contacted the following day and provided with names and phone numbers.

Asheville Speed Date is partnering with the Asheville Area Arts Council to host a Singles Open House from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15, at the council’s Front Gallery (11 Biltmore Ave.). This is not so much a speed-dating event as an “open mixer,” explains Field. “A chance to get out and mingle.”

The evening will include wine tastings conducted by Rob Campbell, owner of The Wine Guy, inspiring artwork from the Arts For Life Foundation and entertainment provided by the bluegrass duo Blue String Theory. Admission is $20, and part of the proceeds will benefit the Asheville Area Arts Council.

To connect with The Connectors, call the Bacons at 628-0079 or visit www.evandianaconnectors.com. To learn more about Asheville Speed Date, call Field at 254-1011.

— Lisa Watters

Pause for the cause

The Asheville Area Arts Council has added a twist to its annual auction. The Arts Alive Auction 2005 and all of the bidding will take place online on eBay through March 16.

For every item sold, the Arts Council will split the proceeds evenly with the artist. Potential buyers who visit the Arts Council’s eBay listing can link to auction participants via the Arts Council’s Web page.

For more info, call or e-mail the Arts Council (258-0710; info@ashevillearts.com) or check out their Web site (ashevillearts.com).

— Tracy Rose

Spelling for literacy (and bragging rights)

In my last spelling bee, I was felled in front of all my junior-high-school classmates by the not-so-tricky word “marriage.” (For some inexplicable reason, I neglected the “i.”)

So next week may offer a chance to either redeem myself — or flame out even more dramatically — when I join Mountain Xpress teammates Melanie McGee and Tim Navaille as we attempt to spell our way to victory in Altrusa International of Asheville’s 15th annual spelling bee.

The free, public event is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 14, in A-B Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium (in the Laurel Building on the Asheville campus). But organizers emphasize that this is a fund-raiser, with all donations benefiting the Literacy Council of Buncombe County.

A variety of local businesses and organizations are fielding teams, including the Asheville Altitude, A-B Tech, the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Asheville City Schools Foundation, the Asheville Women’s Club, the Buncombe County Schools Foundation, CarePartners, Christ School, Laurey’s Catering, MAHEC, Park Ridge Hospital’s emergency-room nurses, Phi Theta Kappa, the Reems Creek community, Wachovia’s downtown office and WOXL. The Citizen-Times, Parsec Financial, Wachovia Bank and WOXL are major sponsors.

Contestants compete for prizes donated by local businesses. There’s even a reception for audience members and participants during the intermission.

Since starting the spelling bee in 1990, Altrusa of Asheville — with the community’s help — has raised more than $108,000 to support local literacy efforts. Altrusa International of Asheville is one of the worldwide volunteer service organization’s many chapters. The Literacy Council of Buncombe County, (which is co-sponsoring the spelling bee) aims to improve the basic education and English-language skills of adults living in the area. Trained volunteers provide one-on-one and small-group tutoring. The Council started in 1992 with the merger of the Altrusa Literacy Council and the Asheville-Buncombe County Literacy Council.

So whether you want to support literacy efforts — or just like to watch local folks being put on the spot — there’s sure to be a spot in the a-u-d-i-e-n-c-e for you.

In case of inclement weather, the spelling bee will be rescheduled for April 4. For more info, contact Executive Director Amanda Edwards of the Literacy Council at 254-3442.

— Tracy Rose

Asheville’s buried black history

Kenilworth has a storied past. But all too often, discussions of the Asheville neighborhood’s roots reach back only a century, and dwell more on aesthetics like home architecture than the history of the people who lived, died and came to rest there.

The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County invites locals to look further — and deeper — into Kenilworth’s underground history. Next week, the organization will again turn its attention to the South Asheville Cemetery, an overlooked but fascinating piece of Asheville acreage at the end of Dalton Street.

Back in 1840, the Smith-McDowell family donated land there to provide a burial ground for slaves. For the next century, until it closed in 1943, the site remained the main cemetery for Asheville’s African-American community. According to local researchers, the land eventually housed an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 graves.

For decades thereafter, the cemetery fell into neglect and was overgrown with weeds, trees and ivy. But in 1997, a group of local citizens reactivated the South Asheville Cemetery Association and pledged to restore the resting place to its proper place in history. That organization, along with the Preservation Society, the Western North Carolina Historical Association and crews of volunteers from AmeriCorps, Warren Wilson College and UNCA, has done much to clear debris and restore the cemetery grounds. But much work remains to be done.

“You know, we tend to mostly spend good time, energy and money on preserving our historic buildings, and a lot of times cemeteries get left in the lurch,” notes Bill Wescott, Preservation Society president. The South Asheville Cemetery, he says, should be recognized as one of “the ultimate pieces of family history and cultural history in this region.”

Anyone who wants to know more about the ongoing cleanup and recognition efforts is welcome to attend the next public meeting of the Preservation Society, which will be held in Asheville High School’s media center at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15. Local experts on the cemetery who will speak and field questions include David Quinn, chairman of the South Asheville Cemetery Association, George Gibson, former president of the association, and association member David Moore, an archaeology professor at Warren Wilson College.

For more information, contact Preservation Society executive director Marge Turcot at 254-2343.

— Jon Elliston

Let the sun shine in

Open-government advocates, mark your calendars: March 13 is the first annual “Sunshine Sunday,” a national rally day of sorts that’s modeled on an experiment Florida newspapers launched in 2002 to fight official secrecy. Keeping government open to public scrutiny is a year-round endeavor, but come Sunday, freedom-of-information concerns will claim center stage in print and broadcast media across the country. And that’s just the kickoff for the “Sunshine Week” planned by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and like-minded groups.

The year-old North Carolina Open Government Coalition, a broad consortium of media outlets, journalism schools, librarians and other concerned parties, is coordinating the offensive in our state. Coalition leaders are planning speeches, public-information forums and a host of other initiatives, including editorials and articles calling attention to freedom-of-information triumphs and trials at the state and local levels. Sue Wilson, the Associated Press’s N.C. bureau chief, has been compiling “horror stories” of citizens and journalists who were barred from obtaining what should be public records.

The North Carolina Press Association will be pushing its case for new legislation to shine some light on state economic incentives to private companies, such as the controversial $242 million tax credit and incentives package the General Assembly granted Dell Corporation last year for a planned computer plant in Winston-Salem. While some lawmakers and business lobbyists say that incentive deals must be negotiated behind closed doors to protect against competition from other states, openness advocates say there’s too much of the public interest at stake to keep such negotiations shielded from taxpayers.

And at the national level, Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the OPEN Government Act of 2005 back in January. The proposed legislation, which is drawing bipartisan support and accolades from open-government supporters, would expand the reach of the Freedom of Information Act — which the Bush administration has steadily chipped away at — for the first time in more than a decade.

Promoting such reforms and raising public awareness of citizens’ right to know is key to democracy, according to Andy Alexander, who chairs the ASNE’s Freedom of Information Committee. “An alarming amount of public information is being kept secret from citizens, and the problem is increasing by the month,” he says. “Not only do citizens have a right to know — they have a need to know.”

For more information, visit www.sunshineweek.org and www.ncpress.com.

— Jon Elliston

Wolf’s den with a view

Wolf Laurel Ski Slopes — the largest private employer in Madison County, — has opened a new lodge, which is the centerpiece of its rapidly expanding year-round resort development. The Wolf Ridge Lodge, a 22,000-square-foot timber and glass facility, officially opened Feb. 19.

The rustic lodge features stone fireplaces and panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The facility includes a rental shop and pro shop, plus a full-service steak restaurant opening in June. In addition, Wolf Ridge features a new beginner’s slope that connects to other areas of the mountain, as well as a new double chairlift.

“Wolf Laurel Slopes has made significant changes throughout the years and we are proud to be one of Western North Carolina’s top-rated ski slopes,” said Orville English, owner of Wolf Laurel. “The new lodge will be a great beginning for the new resort and for next year’s ski season.”

Surrounding the new lodge, English and developer Rick Bussey are building the Scenic Wolf Mountain Resort — a year-round family resort which will consist of 70 home sites. The resort will include full amenities including the Lodge restaurant, tennis courts, pool, playground and walking/biking trails with access to nearby activities such as whitewater rafting, hiking, mountain biking, fly-fishing and rock climbing. The project will be constructed in four phases; phase one is almost complete.

For more information, visit Wolf Laurel’s Web site at www.skiwolflaurel.com or phone (800) 817-4111 or (828) 689-4111.

— Cecil Bothwell

Weigh in on your water

Asheville and Buncombe County’s long-running war of words over water has taken on a greater urgency now that time is running out for the Regional Water Agreement.

If no new deal is reached by July, here may be some predictable results: The Regional Water Authority will be disbanded, and Asheville will assume control over any future extensions of the system. Buncombe County will stop making annual payments of about $1.8 million to the city for Sheriff’s Department services the city doesn’t use. The city will resume responsibility for managing and maintaining several recreational facilities, including McCormick Field and the municipal golf course. And Asheville, like most North Carolina cities, will charge county residents living outside the city limits more for water. (Exactly who is covered by the 1933 Sullivan Act, which prohibits differential rates for some county residents, will probably be a matter for the courts to decide.)

The city, which is committed to rate differentials and using water-line extensions to control growth, has said that it’s content just to let the agreement unravel. But Asheville has indicated a willingness to discuss several matters, such as a cap on the additional percentage it charges non-city residents, safeguards against the city’s raiding water revenues to cover general-fund expenditures (as happened in the past), and assurances that any limits placed on water-line extensions won’t hamper economic development in Buncombe County.

The county, meanwhile, would like to form a truly independent regional water authority, similar to the Metropolitan Sewerage District, that would have full control over system staff, infrastructure, rates and line extensions.

County residents will have a chance to voice their own opinions on these issues at a public forum on Monday, March 14, in the fifth-floor courtroom of the Buncombe County Courthouse, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

For background on the two governments’ positions, visit their respective Web sites (www.buncombecounty.org and Asheville’s www.fairwater.org).

— Jonathan Barnard

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