Turn your money green

Asheville is a tourist town: In Buncombe County alone, tourism generates about $800 million a year, and that number is expected to grow in the coming years. In a recent study, for instance, the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau found that hotel revenues appear to be increasing again; they reached nearly $90 million last year and are expected to approach $100 million in 1999. Hotel-room occupancy rates are also on the rise, after having leveled out for several years.

And, in a separate but related “conversion study” — comparing the number of people who inquired about our area (via Chamber of Commerce advertising, their Web site, or after seeing various articles and TV shows) with the number who actually visited here — the bureau compiled some demographic information about the people who visit our area. The average annual income of tourists who visit Asheville is nearly $60,000; their average age is 48, and only 15 percent have children under age 12. Biltmore Estate attracted more than 50 percent of those “conversions,” and most of them, — 92 percent — came to our area by bus or car.

With so much money at stake, says the Chamber, it’s crucial that the folks who represent us to visitors — a.k.a. the local hospitality industry — are talented, efficient and friendly. To encourage such behavior (and to kick off National Tourism Week), the Chamber recently gave out several tourism-related awards. Bobbi Cannon received the first William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award; Cannon is the president of Mountain Meadows Publications, which publishes This Week In Asheville, said to be the oldest weekly tourism publication in the U.S. In addition, the Chamber gave Spirit of Hospitality Excellence in Service awards to: Mandy Ostapchuk, guest-services representative at Courtyard by Marriott; Millie Walden, ticket-plaza associate at Chimney Rock Park; Brian Yates, beverage manager for the Great Smokies Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort; Bill Borenstein, event-services manager at the Asheville Civic Center; and Celena Grey, the recently retired convention manager for Young Transportation.

To learn more about the conversion study and/or the Chamber awards, call Marla Tambellini at 258-6138.

A Parkway saved is a Parkway earned

For years, the Blue Ridge Parkway has been among WNC’s top tourist attractions (number two according to the CVB study, above), so it’s obviously in Asheville’s best interest to preserve the scenic road and keep it pretty. That’s exactly what the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a local nonprofit group, seeks to do. And, to educate the public about its goals, the group is holding its second annual North Carolina Environmental Adventure Weekend, May 21-22.

Beginning with a Friday-evening dinner and program at the Balsam Mountain Inn, the event will continue on Saturday with various activities, including a tour of selected Parkway attractions, from Waterrock Knob to Mount Pisgah, with speakers at each stop. Presentations will be given on a wide range of topics, such as cultural and human history, vegetation, Parkway history and environmental changes. The speakers will include Mars Hill College Professor Harley Jolley, an expert on Parkway history; Western Carolina University Professor Ann Rogers, who will talk about the Precambrian Era; forestry professor John Palmer, who will share his knowledge of native trees and rhododendrons; and retired National Park Service chief scientist Dr. Garret Smathers, who will speak about environmental impacts.

The program is open to the public, but registration is limited. Payment is by donation, but the recommended fees for members are $25 per person, $35 per family; the recommended fees for nonmembers are $35 per person, $45 per family. Box lunches cost $7 each. To register, or to learn more, call (800) 228-7275.

Going up … for 50 years

It’s no news that Chimney Rock — the 315-foot rock formation/tourist destination 25 miles southeast of Asheville — is an interesting geologic structure. But most visitors don’t appreciate what an engineering feat the privately owned park’s elevator system is. The shaft was carved (vertically and horizontally) through 454 feet of igneous granite, which is among the world’s hardest rocks. And, since its installation in 1949, the elevator has carried thousands of tourists to the peak each year.

The 26-story shaft was cut from above and below, using a 3-inch circular diamond drill. More than eight tons of dynamite later, the shaft had been enlarged to its final 8-by-12-foot dimensions. The blasting was completed in a remarkable 91 days, and the entire project, including installing the Otis Elevator, cost about $150,000. Incredibly, no one was hurt during the construction work.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 23, the park plans to celebrate the elevator’s 50th anniversary with a short program; displays will chronicle the daring efforts of engineers and construction workers who built what was then the highest elevator in the state. Among those on hand will be Lucius B. Morse III, the grandson of Lucius B. Morse, who purchased the property with his brothers Hiram and Asahel in 1902; and Todd B. Morse, Hiram’s great-grandson; the family still owns the park today. Also present will be several retired Otis Elevator employees who helped make the Morses’ lofty dreams a reality.

For more information about the park or the anniversary celebration, call Mary Ritter at 628-3393.

Knowledge is power

Being a kid isn’t easy, and it’s getting harder all the time. To help provide answers to commonly asked questions, the N.C. Department of Administration has recently updated its Youth Rights and Responsibilities handbook. The 60-page booklet uses a question-and-answer format to explain state requirements on school attendance; how a child can obtain an employment certificate; what constitutes child abuse; what parents are legally required to provide for their children; and other topics.

First printed in 1982, the handbook has been revised and updated every few years; now, for the first time, it’s also available on the Web ( “This handbook is designed to help young people face the anxieties of growing up with knowledge and information and to advance them toward becoming productive, dependable adults,” explained Administration Secretary Katie Dorsett in a recent press release.

The Department of Administration is also accepting applications for the new American Indian insignia license plates. Considered a “symbolic form of recognition” for N.C.’s large Native American population, the General Assembly authorized the new license plate last year; to date, the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs has already collected half of the 300 license-plate applications needed to get the special plates produced. North Carolina has the largest Native American population (more than 80,000) of any state east of the Mississippi River, and the seventh-largest in the nation.

For information on how to order Youth Rights and Responsibilities, contact the Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office at (919) 733-9296, or write to: 217 West Jones St., Suite 218, Raleigh, NC 27603-1336. To learn more about the American Indian insignia license plates, or to obtain an application form, contact the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs at (919) 733-5998, or write to: American Indian License Plate Program, N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs, 217 West Jones St., Raleigh, NC, 27603.

— centrifugally compiled by Paul Schattel

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