A new report by conservation nonprofit MountainTrue finds that E. coli concentrations in the French Broad River near Asheville regularly exceed eight times the standard considered safe for swimming by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The State of Our French Broad River report reflects hundreds of water samples gathered from across the watershed during the 2022 swimming season. Average E. coli levels in the central French Broad River basin, which includes popular recreation areas such as the River Arts District and Hominy Creek, were over 1,900 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water. The EPA standard for safe swimming and tubing is 235 cfu per 100 mL; if ingested, E. coli can cause diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting.
Other parts of the river showed less contamination but still exceeded EPA guidelines. The Upper French Broad near Brevard and Hendersonville averaged about 600 cfu of E. coli per 100 mL, while the Lower French Broad near Hot Springs averaged about 400 cfu per 100 mL.
Hartwell Carson, French Broad riverkeeper for MountainTrue, told Xpress those results were somewhat better than the nonprofit’s observations in 2021. However, he noted that the 2022 swim season had seen less rain, which causes runoff and generally leads to higher E. coli measurements.
“Sources of pollution are not a mystery,” notes the report’s executive summary. MountainTrue identifies poor agricultural practices, failing wastewater systems and poorly managed development as the main causes of river contamination. Stress on the river is expected to increase, the report continues, as climate change drives heavier, more frequent storms and their resulting runoff.
The full report is available at avl.mx/crj.
Dawn Chávez leaves Asheville GreenWorks
One of Western North Carolina’s most influential environmental organizations is seeking new leadership following the departure of Dawn Chávez. The executive director of Asheville GreenWorks left the nonprofit June 2 after eight years to become the head of the national nonprofit Environmental Leadership Program.
Edward Macie, Asheville GreenWorks’ board chair, thanked Chávez for her service in a press release announcing the move. He noted that she had tripled the organization’s budget since taking the helm, established the Tree Protection Task Force and spearheaded successful campaigns for the city of Asheville to allocate more resources toward urban forestry. Most recently, Asheville City Council voted May 23 to lease 1.3 acres of city-owned land to GreenWorks for a new native tree nursery at $1 annually.
Eric Bradford, the nonprofit’s operations director, will serve as interim executive director until a permanent replacement is named, likely by January. The new leader will be charged with carrying out GreenWorks’ updated strategic direction, which focuses on building equity and local resilience to climate change.
Good to know
- Through the end of June, the Western North Carolina Nature Center and N.C. Arboretum are each offering free admission for the other’s members. Members of each institution will also receive a discount when buying a membership with the other. More information is available at avl.mx/cpu.
- Haywood Community College in Clyde has opened its newly expanded Dahlia Ridge Trail system. The 3.5-mile hiking network, supported in part by a $66,000 grant from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, includes paved, gravel and natural paths throughout wooded areas of the college campus.
- Multiple road projects are taking place along the Blue Ridge Parkway this summer, which may lead to road closures throughout the season. Parkway officials encourage visitors to plan ahead and check the latest closure information at avl.mx/7tw.
- Invest Appalachia, an Asheville-based impact investment organization, released a new report regarding climate resilience in WNC and other parts of central Appalachia. The analysis, which cites previous Mountain Xpress reporting on climate migration, notes that the region will likely serve as a “climate receiver place” for people from other parts of the U.S. The full report is available at avl.mx/cqy.
- The WNC Nature Center celebrated the birth of nine pups to its resident red wolves, Gloria and Oak. The litter boosts efforts to restore the critically endangered species, once widespread throughout the Southeast, of which fewer than 20 individuals are thought to live in the wild.
- Nikki Jones, the WNC region director for the Brevard-based outdoor education nonprofit Muddy Sneakers, was presented with her N.C. Environmental Education Certification by state Department of Environmental Quality staffers during a May 12 ceremony at Polk Central Elementary in Mill Spring. The honor recognized Jones’ work to restore a nature trail at the school, part of 200 hours of training and community service required for the certification.
- Several local food and farming nonprofits received substantial grants from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. The Organic Growers School received $54,000 to coordinate the WNC Food Justice Planning Initiative, as well as $50,000 for farmer coaching and education. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy also received $50,000 to grow sustainable agriculture programs at its community farm in Alexander.
- Three local projects got backing as part of the NCDEQ’s inaugural Food Waste Reduction grant cycle. CompostAVL, an Asheville-based curbside compost service, received $14,000 to increase its food waste hauling capacity and to add new customers. Buncombe and Henderson counties received $30,000 and $20,000, respectively, to expand their composting capacities.
- Members of Flat Rock’s Episcopal Church of St. John in the Wilderness have established a “Good News Gardeners” group. Volunteers meet monthly at the Kanuga Conference Center’s Foster Educational Garden to help grow produce for the Edneyville Food Bank. More information and volunteer signups are available at avl.mx/cqw.
- In honor of National Pollinator Week, the Botanical Gardens at Asheville hosts a bumblebee survey training on Friday, June 23, 10-11:30 a.m. Bryan Tompkins with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will train participants how to identify different bees and contribute to the newly launched Southeast Bumble Bee Atlas. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/cqx.
- Buncombe County’s Extension Master Gardeners continue to offer a full lineup of classes through the growing season at their Asheville Learning Garden, 49 Mount Carmel Road. Upcoming options include Foodscaping Edible Plants in Flower Beds on Thursday, June 29; Kid-Friendly Gardening on Thursday, July 13; and Disbudding Dahlias for Better Blooms on Thursday, Aug. 3. All programs start at 10 a.m.; more information is available at avl.mx/ckn.
- Fall enrollment is now open for the N.C. Arborteum’s Blue Ridge Naturalist and Blue Ridge EcoGardening Certificate of Merit programs. Participants in the courses, which generally take one to three years, gain a deep understanding of the region’s ecology, botany and other natural features. More information is available at avl.mx/cpv.
Save the date
- Greenway advocacy group Connect Buncombe partners with the nonprofit RiverLink for a cleanup of the Swannanoa River on Friday, June 23. The cleanup area, in East Asheville along Azalea Road, runs parallel to the planned AVL Unpaved trail network and Swannanoa River Greenway. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/cri.
- MountainTrue holds several guided adventures throughout the region in July. Options include a French Broad River float near Hot Springs from Wednesday-Friday, July 12-14; a hike in the proposed Craggy National Scenic Area near Barnardsville on Friday, July 21; and a river snorkel near Boone on Saturday, July 29. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/929.
- The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s annual Farm Tour returns Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 23-24. All farms on the tour are within an hour’s drive of Asheville and showcase the region’s agricultural diversity, from fruits and vegetables to livestock and fiber. More information and passes are available at avl.mx/bt9.
- The WNC Gardening Symposium, organized by the region’s Extension Master Gardeners, comes to Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock on Wednesday, Oct. 11. With the theme of “Seeds of Joy: The Evolution of Your Home Garden,” the event will feature YouTube personality Linda Vater and Craig Mauney of the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center. More information is available at avl.mx/bka.
- The Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau announced that Asheville has been selected as the host city for 2024’s Adventure Travel Trade Association conference. The event, taking place June 11-13, will bring roughly 350 adventure travel professionals to the region. More information is available at avl.mx/cqf.