Buzzworm news briefs

Hot ticket

It’s unlikely that any environmental defense group takes a broader view of our region than SouthWings, a nonprofit conservation organization based in Asheville. SouthWings is the conservation movement’s eye in the sky, providing the skilled pilots (all volunteers) and aerial education needed to bolster environmental efforts across the Southeast. Since its founding, the team has sent representatives of more than 450 organizations skyward, offering conservation groups, the media, community leaders and policy-makers a view of environmental impacts as they can only be seen from the air. Recent flights have supported photography and feature stories on mountain top removal coal mining in The New York Times, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, BBC TV and ABC News’ Nightline.

Now SouthWings will offer a different kind of view by presenting the Asheville premier of Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. Executive Director Taylor Barnhill said the Sundance Film Festival hit from director Davis Guggenheim offers “a passionate and inspirational look” at Gore’s efforts to spread awareness of climate change and expose the misconceptions that surround it.

The film will be screened Thursday, June 29, at the Fine Arts Theatre as part of a fund-raiser for the conservation-through-aviation organization. The screening will follow a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception at Pack Place’s The Forum from 5 to 7 p.m. A raffle and auction with a chance to win SouthWings flights over the mountains of WNC. The film runs from 7:15 to 9 p.m. Tickets for both reception and film are $50 and must be pre-purchased, as seating is limited. No tickets will be sold at the door.
For information and tickets, visit www.southwings.org/film_flier.html or call 225-5949.

— Cecil Bothwell

Yes, Tom, but I still can’t afford to buy a house

To hear Tom Tviedt tell it, this is something of an economic Golden Age for the Asheville metropolitan area.

Tviedt is the research director for the Asheville Metro Business Research Center, an organ of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. Last week he guided a roomful of business owners, realtors, tourism moguls and media types gathered at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel through the 2006 Asheville Metro Economy Outlook.

For accounting purposes, the “metro area” includes the city itself and the surrounding counties of Buncombe, Haywood, Madison and Henderson.

Tviedt’s presentation, which was billed as “fast-paced,” leaned heavily on graphs. “We don’t stray far from the truth,” he said. “We’re not very exciting that way.”

The good news? “Very stable” job creation, record-breaking employment (170,600 people currently hold jobs), and year-to-year, a steady rise in health-services jobs. Within the industrial sector, while old-school manufacturing’s edifice might be crumbling, new, highly specialized trades are offsetting the loss of jobs. “Manufacturing probably needs a new name,” Tviedt said. “But it’s not drying up. It’s not going away.”

Tviedt, a self-professed number cruncher, is as at ease with regression and variance as he is with a roomful of listeners. He showed himself to be a bit of a myth buster, too. Think Asheville’s population growth is explosive? Nope. It’s holding to about 1.5 percent annually, what it’s been for the past 30 years. Think the mountains are being overwhelmed by a Sunshine State tide? Think again. Nearly half of the current growth comes from within our own state.

“The big news in local real estate?” Tviedt asked. “There is no big news.” Sales are up about 4.7 percent for the past three years. The average home price is up 16 percent.

The message was, always, graphs don’t lie.

There was much offered in the way of reassurance. The shadow of recessions, for instance: “In the past, they’ve barely nipped this area,” Tviedt said. And the health-services field promises to grow more as home-health care expands to serve an aging population.

It’s not all blue skies, though. “There are some risks for the long term,” the researcher noted. One is losing the “authenticity” visitors seek when coming here. Boomers may find someplace else to move. (“It won’t happen overnight.”) There is a risk, too, of losing skilled workers to other regions.

And yes, there is a disparity between wages and housing affordability. Tviedt could offer little advice on this count. “I wish there was a magic bullet,” he said. (Insert mournful trombone riff here.)
To subscribe to the Chamber’s economic e-news, visit www.ashevillechamber.org

— Kent Priestley

Larvae on board

Last Tuesday Zak Fein and Joanna Pardo, both interns at the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, watched as a dark-winged butterfly called a mourning cloak eased itself from a chrysalis, the brittle capsule it had spent the past several days in. It wasn’t moving, much.

“C’mon,” Pardo said impatiently. “Do something.”

“You try spending three days in a sleeping bag and see how you feel when you come out,” offered Fein.

These are impatient days at the Nature Center, whose “Beauty of Butterflies” exhibit opens on July 1. In preparation for the exhibit, which runs through September 4, center staff have stretched a canopy of netting over a hoop frame, a walk-through world of beauty lined with flowering plants both foreign and domestic. The controlled environment will allow visitors to walk among the butterflies like an endless loop of the opening scene to Disney’s Song of the South.

It is hard to say a bad thing about butterflies. Sure, their young chew holes in plants. But their sublime patterns and colors, their habit of sipping flower nectar and distributing pollen, and their penchant for personal transformation (who, after all, has ever seen a phoenix, for crying out loud?) all redeem their bad habits as larvae. Many of their six-footed cousins — roaches and bedbugs, to name a couple — are hard to get behind, but butterflies: Who doesn’t love a butterfly?

So it’s a can’t-lose proposition for the Nature Center to bring all these colorful species together under one roof, to show off the miracle of their life cycles. Education specialist Eli Strull says 30,000 visitors are expected to visit the exhibit during the course of the summer.

Last week there were just few butterflies to be seen, the vanguard of a lepidopteran riot to come. A gulf fritillary and a black swallowtail were flitting around, looking for some nectar or a bruised banana to feast on. The other butterflies, the first of several generations that will greet early visitors, were still in the chrysalis stage — all potential, hanging inside a wooden case the size of a fusebox. Their names were written on stickers above them: red admiral, pipevine swallowtail, zebra swallowtail etc. Laying nearby were a couple of hairy-looking chrysalises, temporary homes to several species of giant moths — io, cecropia, luna — new to the exhibit this year.

Of them all, only the gulf fritillary chrysalises were showing much life. They rocked back and forth with all the swing and abandon of Mardi Gras revelers.

Pardo and Fein shifted their gaze from the torpid mourning cloak (a disappointment, frankly) to the fritillaries and their forbidden dance.

“Check it out,” Pardo said. “They’re shaking their booties.”
For more information about “Beauty of Butterflies,” call the WNC Nature Center at 298-5600.

— Kent Priestley

The 110 mph woman

What flashed through the mind of local speed demon/deep-tissue massage therapist/outdoors enthusiast/fledgling movie star Bettina Freese the moment she slid into a 110 mph wipeout on her 900 Supersport Ducati? Was it sheer terror? Did childhood memories flicker before her eyes?

“Well, mostly, I was thinking about my motorcycle,” admits Freese, who was racing her bike at a Kershaw, S.C., track, at the time her misfortune took place. “I’d seen people crash and just get up and walk away afterward, so I wasn’t afraid I was going to die or anything.”

Nerves of steel. That’s what it takes. And Freese, who has been riding motorcycles for 20 years, didn’t let hobbling off the track with two torn ligaments and a broken ankle stop her from climbing back on the bike.

In fact, several days later Freese learned that she’d won a part in a film about the Blue Ridge Parkway featuring none other than a motorcycle trip down the scenic road. She first heard about the flick during a fortuitous visit to Strick’s motorcycle repair shop, when a mechanic told her that a movie director from Southern California had called up, needing a babe on a bike. Freese, who was scheduled to be in her first-ever motorbike race the day after her audition, was a shoe-in for the role, the total package.

But by the time filming started on June 18, her sweet ride was still in recovery from that fateful wipeout, which ended up costing her $3,000 in repairs and several weeks of physical therapy. Not to worry, though: Her boyfriend, Ben Hinker, let Freese borrow his 900 Supersport Ducati, which just happens to be red instead of yellow.

The movie, created by Aperture Films of Laguna, Calif., was commissioned by the National Park Service and tells the story of the area’s rich culture and craftsmanship through the eyes of a father who takes his daughter on a heritage tour via motorcycle. It features local artisans, old-time jam sessions and, of course, stunning views of a red blur streaking down the road.

“I’ll probably get wiped out again up there by some RV from Florida,” Freese jokes.

When and where can you view this 30-minute, based-on-a-true-story flick? Beginning in October of 2007, in all the welcome centers along America’s most cherished ribbon of highway. In the meantime, check out Farther Than the Eye Can See, an Aperture Films documentary about blind climber Erik Weihenmayer’s ascent of Mt. Everest.

— Rebecca Bowe

Gay-pride rally on Wall Street
Out and proud: ‘Tis the season for gay-pride rallies from coast to coast. In Asheville, local LGBTQ organizers are gearing up for the 5th Annual Stonewall Pride March, held to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City. “Unlike gay-pride events that you generally see across the nation during this time of year, this will be explicitly noncorporate,” says one of the organizers, Finn Finneran of Asheville. “We want to celebrate — and educate people about — the history of queer resistance.” The Stonewall Pride March, which will convene at Pritchard Park at 2 p.m. this Sunday, July 2, will feature speakers and a marching band. And in the evening, an after party is planned at the Phil Mechanic Building in the River District; starting at 8 p.m., it will include bands, DJs and a drag show for a suggested donation of $5-15 (proceeds will benefit Tranzmission’s “queer books to prisoners” program). At left, a scene from last year’s march.
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