The Green Scene

A fireside chat with naturalist John Muir

Imagine spending an evening with John Muir — conservationist, naturalist, mountaineer, explorer, author, philosopher, storyteller and founder of the Sierra Club (those 19th-century folks stayed busy). As local author Thomas Crowe writes, "As if by some kind of time-warp or reincarnation intervention, John Muir will be returning to the mountains of Western North Carolina for the first time since his visit in 1867 as part of his now-famous thousand-mile walk."

Stop mountaintop removal! The Madison County 4-H "Roots and Shoots" Club held a rainy march on Sept. 20, protesting the practice of mountaintop-removal coal mining. Photo courtesy Roots & Shoots

Muir — or, to be more precise, actor Lee Stetson — will be giving a fireside chat on Thursday, Oct. 8, on behalf of the local nonprofit Western North Carolina Alliance. (Stetson, who has a 20-year history performing as Muir, is also featured in Ken Burn's documentary film series, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, which you can catch on PBS.) You may know Muir for his work out West — his tours of the Sierra Nevadas or his efforts to protect Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park. But he toured our mountains too, writing in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, "Looking out over the mountains of Western North Carolina, the scenery is far grander than any I ever before beheld." Muir is often credited as the architect of our national-park system. "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people," he wrote, "are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful, not only as fountains of timbers and irrigating river, but as fountains of life."

To learn more, visit The fireside chat begins at 7 p.m. at the Crest Center Pavilion, located northwest of downtown Asheville, on Thursday, Oct. 8. Tickets are $35 at the door. The event includes a reception and a tour of Asheville's newest eco-community, the Villages at Crest Mountain.

And to read more of Thomas Crowe's reflections on Muir, go to

Marching for peace, rain or shine

Rain didn't keep the Madison County 4-H "Roots and Shoots" Club from marching on International Peace Day, Sept. 20. The youngsters wanted to draw attention to mountaintop-removal mining, which provides most of the coal used by power plants in Western North Carolina. The kids made signs naming many of the locations of the mountains that have been lost to the mining method, such as one near Rawl, W.Va., explains coordinator Sierra Hollister. The club members and parents marched on the shores of Lake Julian, which was created to provide water for Progress Energy's Skyland power plant.

Reading, Riding and Retrofit get the cash

The Asheville Buncombe Sustainable Community Council has received $30,000 from the Asheville Hub for development of a community sustainability plan and $25,000 from Buncombe County for the development of the Reading, Riding and Retrofit project, which aims to reduce energy costs at local schools while educating children and the community about sustainability.

The Community Council — a Hub initiative — is developing a community-action plan for sustainability. The plan will build upon local and national best practices, as well as the region's core strengths. "Communities in Europe and on the West Coast have been engaged in comprehensive sustainability planning for some time," said Michael Leahey, sustainability coordinator for the council. "We will take the best attributes of their plans and combine them with our own solutions to create a community-action plan whose impact will stretch beyond Asheville and Buncombe County into the surrounding watershed region (Madison, Haywood, Henderson and Transylvania counties), and ultimately into all of Western North Carolina."

Reading, Riding and Retrofit is a comprehensive project to "green" 54 public school campuses within the Asheville and Buncombe County districts. It's the council's first community-wide sustainability initiative, proposed and designed by Robin Cape. The three-Rs program is being undertaken as a vehicle for economic revitalization, energy savings and learning about environmental stewardship, but also aims to achieve large-scale energy and operational cost reductions through building upgrades and retrofits in existing school buildings, resource conservation, renewable energy applications and vehicle enhancements. Cape and Leahey will present further details about the program at ASC's 2009 conference Oct. 12-14 in Santa Fe, N.M.
For more information, contact Robin Cape, Community Council vice chair, at 216-4009. The Hub is a regional alliance of community leaders oriented toward advocacy, the future and a cutting-edge vision of shared community leadership.

Send your environmental news to or call 251-1333, ext. 152.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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