Buzzworm news briefs

Brown Mountain lights reproduced in lab

The popular paranormal-themed television series The X-files might not seem like the best source of information on an actual phenomenon. But in an episode titled “Field Trip,” in which Mulder and Scully travel to Western North Carolina to investigate some suspicious skeletons found at a site near Brown Mountain, they actually get it right. Well, mostly.

In explaining the celebrated Brown Mountain lights, Mulder says to Scully, “It’s a famous atmospheric phenomenon dating back nearly 700 years and witnessed by thousands of people — back to the Cherokee Indians. Strange, multicolored lights are seen to dance above the peak of the mountain. There’s been no geological explanation, no scientific, credible explanation at all.”

That much is true. But then Mulder goes on to say, “There are those of us who believe these multicolored lights are really….”

“UFOs,” Scully finishes for him. “Extraterrestrial visitors from beyond who apparently have nothing better to do than buzz one mountain over and over again for 700 years.”

“Sounds like crap when you say it,” Mulder admits.

In fact, though, Mulder’s guess is as good as anyone’s. There are dozens of theories (both paranormal and geological) about the source of the lights, but despite high-level investigations by the U.S. Weather Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, the mystery has never been conclusively solved.

Now, however, researchers might be a little closer to the answer. The League of Energy Materialization and Unexplained Phenomena Research, an Asheville-based paranormal-research team, recently announced that they have re-created the puzzling Brown Mountain lights on a miniature scale.

The L.E.M.U.R. team has been studying and documenting the lights for nearly 10 years, using an array of high-tech research methods including electromagnetic-field metering, electrostatic-field detection, infrared and standard photography, telluric monitoring (measuring currents in the ground), Geiger counters, VLF (very low frequency) receivers, and temperature gauges. The group has also partnered with professional geologists, nuclear physicists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and a former NASA engineer.

The lights, according to L.E.M.U.R. founder and longtime paranormal researcher Joshua P. Warren, “appear to be natural plasmas created by intersecting electrical discharges on and around the ridge.”

Based on their research, the L.E.M.U.R. team decided to build a plasma chamber (designed and constructed by paranormal investigator Robert McGhee) to see if they could create similar illuminations in the lab. Their findings, the group reports, suggest that the lights are a sensational form of natural plasma.

Plasma, explains Warren, “is the fourth state of matter. If solid water has energy added (in the form of heat), the molecules simply spread apart, creating liquid. If energy is added to the liquid, the molecules spread farther apart, creating a gas (steam). But if even more energy is applied, something remarkable happens: There is so much energy that one or more of the electrons are ripped from each atom, creating a swirling, luminous soup of free-floating electrons and atoms that now have a positive charge (positive ions). This is the plasma state. Even though the majority of the known universe exists in a state of plasma, [the most] familiar plasmas on earth are lightning bolts or candle flames.”

This knowledge, notes Warren, “can lead to technological innovations in communication, transportation and nonlethal weaponry. It’s an exciting discovery that has implications for understanding other such enigmatic lights in nature.”

L.E.M.U.R. plans to release a complete report on its data soon. In the meantime, a photograph from the group’s experiment — showing a plasma form apparently hovering in midair between glowing electrodes — can be found online at www.brownmountainlights.com.

— Lisa Watters

RiverLink offers free teacher training

RiverLink and its partners are sponsoring a free water-awareness training Friday and Saturday, Oct. 8-9, for 20 teachers in Buncombe, Madison and Haywood counties. The program is designed to bring the French Broad River watershed into the classroom by involving students in aquatic-insect sampling in area streams. Although the training is geared toward eighth-grade science teachers, social-science and math teachers are encouraged to apply and work in collaboration with biological-science instructors.

The training will take place at the Cradle of Forestry (where the teachers will learn how to monitor stream health) and at UNCA (where they’ll receive intensive online training). Funded by a grant from E-NC, RiverLink has developed an online GIS resource that enables students and teachers to access historical, cultural, chemical and biological information about the French Broad River watershed.

Each participating teacher will receive stream-monitoring equipment, curriculum activities, printed material and a substitute-teacher allowance. The curriculum and printed materials will be provided by Project WET, a national nonprofit that promotes awareness, appreciation and stewardship of water resources. Upon completing the training, participants will receive nine continuing-education credits.

A grant from the Pigeon River Fund is paying for the training.

The registration deadline is Friday, Sept. 24. For a brochure and application, call RiverLink at 252-8474.

— Megan Shepherd

Bumps in the road

Apparently, folks in east Asheville like to walk a lot. In any case, pedestrian safety, new sidewalks for Haw Creek and traffic calming dominated the discussion at the Asheville City Council’s Aug. 31 community meeting, held in the East Asheville Community Center.

Whenever there’s a fifth Tuesday in the month, Council members typically use it to visit a city neighborhood and check in with the folks who live there. And unlike Council’s agenda-driven formal sessions, these community gatherings are scripted entirely by residents, who line up and pepper Council members and senior city staffers with questions, complaints, concerns and — every now and then — a bit of praise.

About 50 people turned out for the east Asheville meeting. They wasted no time in letting Council members know that speeding cars, rumbling trucks, and a lack of sidewalks were at the top of their list of concerns. Avon Road resident Sara Harris decried the “cars and motorcycles that go down the street at 90 mph.” She added that if her neighborhood had “some speed humps, that would help.”

Ned Guttman, the president of the Redwood Home Owners Association, noted, “Once again, there is an intolerable amount of cut-through traffic” in his neighborhood. His group, said Guttman, has been working with the city traffic engineer to develop a traffic-calming plan (using measures such as speed bumps) for Redwood. But if those changes prove ineffective, “We’ll come back to the City Council for additional remedies,” he warned.

Chris Pelly, chairman of the Haw Creek Community Association’s Pedestrian Safety Task Force (whose very name is perhaps another clue to how big an issue this is for neighborhood residents), asked Council members to help his community finalize plans for a sidewalk system. Haw Creek residents, said Pelly, have been working on a sidewalk proposal since 1996 and have even secured several state grants to help fund the project. But it’s stalled because of one or more property owners who refuse to grant sidewalk easements, he reported.

“It’s crunch time,” Pelly declared, adding, “We need support and some backbone from Council. Nobody likes eminent domain,” he added. “But these properties are the last piece of the puzzle.”

That got the attention of City Attorney Bob Oast, who noted that the potential for litigation put limits on how much Council could respond. Mayor Charles Worley, however, said he has “no problem doing whatever is necessary” to ensure that Haw Creek gets its sidewalks.

The mayor also indicated that the Haw Creek sidewalk issue (including, presumably, what to do about the holdouts) would come before City Council in mid-September.

— Brian Sarzynski

Free your sole

Girls on the Run of WNC invites everyone to Free Your Sole, a fund-raiser to be held at the Gypsy Moon Sofa Bar on Thursday, Sept. 16 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Rachelle Sorensen, program director of Girls on the Run of WNC, describes the music at the event (compliments of DJ Mingle) as “old-school funk and soul.” Accordingly, the appropriate dress is funky and athletic (including sneakers). Local restaurants and caterers including Zambra and Barley’s Taproom will provide the food, accompanied by beer from Catawba Brewing Co. and wine from Skyland Distributing Co.

Tickets are $20, and all proceeds go to Girls on the Run of WNC. Prizes such as a Camel Pack, a spa package from the Grove Park Inn, running shoes, an Outward Bound trip, and massages will be raffled off throughout the evening.

Sorensen and co-director Shontel Jung have coached more than 100 girls since the local program’s inception in 2002. Girls on the Run of WNC is the local chapter of Girls on the Run International, a nonprofit prevention program. The program helps preteen girls develop self-respect, a healthy body image and healthy lifestyles through running games and workouts.

“Our curricula addresses all aspects of girls’ development — their physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual well-being,” says Sorensen. At the end of the 12-week program, the girls run a 5K race. “Kids love the program. We encourage healthy lifestyles and connect girls to health-minded peers. If people feel strong and learn to take good care of their bodies, then they will take better care of themselves when faced with sex, drugs, alcohol and food,” says Sorensen.

Gypsy Moon Sofa Bar is at 13 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by calling Rachelle Sorensen at 777-2786 (e-mail: girlsontherunWNC@aol.com).

— Megan Shepherd

New Parkway facility sparks concerns

Preliminary plans for a regional visitor facility for the Blue Ridge Parkway were first discussed two decades ago, and almost $1 million in funds for preliminary work on the project was included in this year’s federal budget. With the money now available, plans are moving forward for an elaborate facility adjacent to the new Parkway headquarters at Hemphill Knob, just north of the intersection with U.S. 74A/Interstate 40. The ambitious project could include such features as an IMAX theater, a multimedia natural-history display, an auditorium and other amenities.

Not everyone is happy about the location, however — a mere two miles from the existing visitor facility at the Folk Art Center (which is just north of the Parkway’s intersection with U.S. 70 in east Asheville).

“What will happen to the craftspeople and their families who depend upon the Folk Art Center for a living?” asked Tom Bailey, managing director of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, in an open letter to supporters of the organization. The Allanstand Gift Shop, the Guild’s flagship craft store, is housed at the Folk Art Center.

Phil Noblitt, management assistant to the Parkway supervisor, told Xpress: “We bought the land [for the new headquarters] with the intention of siting the visitor center here. Are we opposed to looking at other locations? No. Do we have an investment in this location? Yes.”

The Blue Ridge Parkway is hosting a public “scoping” meeting Thursday, Sept. 9 from 2-8 p.m. to “gather ideas and recommendations and to acquaint the public with preliminary plans.” Although it’s not a public hearing, it will be the first chance for area residents to evaluate the project and weigh in on it. Parkway Superintendent Daniel W. Brown emphasizes that input received at the meeting will be used to develop alternatives to be presented at a second meeting slated for late October.

For more info about the scoping meeting, call Phil Noblitt at 271-4779, ext. 242.

— Cecil Bothwell

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