Green in brief: MountainTrue turns 2022 Bioblitz into friendly competition

Olivia Votava handles a ringneck snake during MountainTrue’s 2019 Bioblitz.
HIDE AND SEEK: Olivia Votava handles a ringneck snake during MountainTrue’s 2019 Bioblitz. Photo courtesy of MountainTrue

Aspiring Western North Carolina naturalists have the chance to earn some bragging rights through the 2022 Bioblitz hosted by Asheville-based nonprofit MountainTrue. Through Sunday, June 19, residents of Clay, Henderson, Madison and Watauga counties can compete for the title of “County Champion of Biodiversity” by submitting photographic observations of plants, animals and fungi through iNaturalist.org.

The county that provides observations of the most unique species will receive the overall crown, and individual participants can earn prizes for submitting the best observation of each week. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/bn1.

“By expanding the blitz to four counties and making a game of it, we hope to be able to engage more people and find more species,” said MountainTrue public lands biologist Josh Kelly in a press release announcing the competition. “We might even find some that have never been recorded in our region.”

2022 marks the third year of MountainTrue conducting its Bioblitz on the iNaturalist platform. Last year, participants submitted 2,890 observations of 1,643 unique species.

Chamber research highlights impact of WNC’s outdoor economy

Full parking lots at trailheads and mountain biking spots throughout WNC are obvious signs of the area’s vibrant outdoor recreation industry. But recently released numbers from Riverbird Research, a division of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, have added some data to support those anecdotal observations.

Across 18 WNC counties, the outdoor economy accounted for over 10,000 jobs in 2020 and generated over $773 million in gross regional product. The sector grew by 9% in the region from 2015-20, outpacing its statewide growth rate of 5%.

In comparison, according to Riverbird, the country as a whole lost 1% of its outdoor economy jobs over the same period. Researchers also found that WNC now hosts 70% more such jobs per capita than the national average.

“Capitalizing on our research capabilities to conduct analyses like this puts weight behind what we all collectively think we know about how this industry has grown,” said Clark Duncan, the chamber’s senior vice president of economic development, in a press release announcing the numbers. “These kinds of studies build on our knowledge and can help identify issues the industry might face in infrastructure, technology or knowledge. They also reveal synergy for further economic development and can inform advocacy initiatives.”

A recording of Duncan’s May 19 presentation to chamber members about the data is available at avl.mx/bn6.

Good to know

  • MountainTrue’s Swim Guide is back for the summer recreation season. The nonprofit’s weekly updates, available at SwimGuide.org and via an app for Android and Apple phones, list E. coli levels for over 85 locations throughout WNC, northeastern Tennessee and north Georgia. Federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines say that bacterial concentrations should be less than 235 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters in designated swimming areas.
  • RiverLink has released an updated version of its WaterRICH Guide, an online resource for residents interested in water management. The site includes a list of native plants for rain gardens, rain barrel installation instructions and details on constructing stormwater control measures. More information is available at avl.mx/bmg.
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway is officially back in business, with all campgrounds, picnic areas and visitor centers fully open as of Memorial Day. Parkway officials encourage travelers to check for intermittent road and facility closures at avl.mx/7tw before visiting — and to have backup plans in case parking is unavailable at a specific trailhead.
  • The U.S. Forest Service is now requiring all overnight visitors to the Panthertown Valley in the Nantahala National Forest to lock food and scented items in a bear canister or locker. According to a USFS press release, bears in the area have shown “bold behavior over food in the past several years,” including damaging tents and lingering near campsites. More information on bear safety is available at BearWise.org.
  • Library cardholders across nine area counties, including Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison, can now check out free passes to the WNC Nature Center. Each pass admits up to two adults and four children. More information is available through local branch libraries.
  • Asheville Parks & Recreation has a full slate of activities planned throughout the summer, as listed in the department’s program guide at avl.mx/bmz. Outdoor offerings include bird-watching, skate nights at Carrier Park and adult volleyball leagues. Guides are available online and at all city community centers.

Save the date

  • Asheville-based author Laura Lengnick releases the second edition of Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate Tuesday, June 14. The new version includes updated data on regional weather patterns and additional stories of climate-smart food production, including Fairview’s Hickory Nut Gap Farm. More information and book preorders are available at avl.mx/bme.
  • As part of its summer gardening series, the Organic Growers School hosts a workshop on integrated pest management at Smith Mill Works in Asheville 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 14. Clay County Extension Director Lisa Gonzalez will guide participants through ecosystem-based strategies to reduce insect damage on crops. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/bmh.
  • The Astronomy Club of Asheville hosts a public stargaze at Madison County’s Grassland Mountain Observatory starting at sunset Friday, June 17. A gate code for the observatory, required for entry, will be posted to AstroAsheville.org by 5 p.m. the day of the event.
  • Buncombe County’s Lake Julian Park opens to camping for one night Saturday, June 25, as part of the Great American Campout. Participants can enjoy a campfire with s’mores, a birding excursion and meals provided by Buncombe County Parks and Recreation. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/bm9.

Community kudos

  • The Lab Rats, a group of students from Buncombe County’s Nesbitt Discovery Academy, earned first place in the oral presentation category at the NC Envirothon. The winning team consisted of Catie Banks, Zane Moore, Sadie Moore, Piper Sales and Sydney Selmensberger.
  • New Belgium Brewing completed a major expansion of the solar energy system at its River Arts District brewery. At 446 kilowatts, the project more than doubles New Belgium’s previous solar capacity across its locations in Asheville and Fort Collins, Colo. The company also announced plans to install a 503-kW solar array at its East Coast distribution center in Enka.
  • The Community Foundation of WNC’s Pigeon River Fund awarded over $234,000 in grants to area organizations working to improve water quality. Major gifts include $45,000 to the Haywood County Soil and Water Conservation District to develop a flood mitigation plan for the Upper Pigeon River and Hominy Creek areas, as well as $30,000 to Asheville GreenWorks to expand its French Broad River Litter Prevention Program.
  • CFWNC also awarded $105,000 to local nonprofits focused on food and farming. The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project received $80,000 for its Farm Fresh for Health wellness program, while the Organic Growers School got $25,000 to provide education and mentoring for early-career farmers.
  • The Asheville-based nonprofit Bountiful Cities Project received a $40,000 grant from the CFWNC’s Women for Women Giving Circle. The funds will support an urban agriculture program targeted toward “apprentices of color and those with low generational wealth.”
  • The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy accepted a 63-acre conservation easement from Leonard Wiener in Ballard Cove near Weaverville. The property will protect mountain slopes and several streams that flow into Reems Creek.

Making moves

  • The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services named Sean McKeon as the manager of the WNC Agricultural Center and Mountain State Fair. He replaces Matt Buchanan, who retired earlier this year.
  • Toral Patel-Weynand is the new director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Southern Research Station in Asheville. Her previous work has focused on forest management science and climate adaptation in forests and rangelands.
  • Asheville’s David Huff joined the nonprofit Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Council of Advisors. Huff is a conservation photographer and founder of the Peak 1 Group, a consulting practice.
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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the News Editor of Mountain Xpress, coordinating coverage of Western North Carolina's governments, community groups, businesses and environment. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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