Green roundup: Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail nearing launch

FACE TIME: Visitors to the Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail can expect to see the region’s startling diversity of salamanders, fish and other aquatic wildlife. Photo by Jason Meador, courtesy of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission

The cool mountain streams of Western North Carolina are home to some of the world’s most diverse arrays of salamanders, fish and other aquatic wildlife. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission hopes visitors soon will come face to face with those critters — even if the view is through a diving mask.

The Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail, a collaboration between the NCWRC, Mainspring Conservation Trust and MountainTrue, will guide adventurers through 10 snorkeling locations across 10 WNC counties. Each site will have public access and educational signage to help snorkelers identify the species they might see.

“River snorkelers will get to experience our rivers through the fishes’ eyes and explore all of the unique and beautiful species that are hidden just under the surface,” says Luke Etchison, a wildlife biologist with the NCWRC and one of the trail’s co-creators, in a press release announcing the effort. “You’ll get the chance to see crayfishes, mussels, aquatic snails, salamanders, aquatic insects and fishes you don’t normally see, even if you fish.”

Etchison told Xpress that kickoff events for the trail are being finalized but will take place from June through August. Events in the French Broad River watershed are scheduled at the Canton Recreation Park on Saturday, June 17, and at Mills River Park on Monday, June 19. More information will be available by the end of May at

The snorkel trail collaborators hope to open sites across all of WNC, with potential expansion to northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee. MountainTrue requested $150,000 for the effort from the state, but the trail is not mentioned in the 2023-25 budget bill passed by the N.C. House.

Early College students share plans for Azalea Park

A project in the making since 2020 has yielded results for Azalea Park. Students from Buncombe County Early College developed several recommendations for the East Asheville facility, home to the John B. Lewis Soccer Complex and a large dog park. (Daniel Walton has served as an occasional adviser to students on the project.)

FLOWERY PRESENTATION: This proposal for a pollinator garden was one of many ideas offered for Azalea Park by Buncombe County Early College students during a May 5 event at The Collider. Photo by Daniel Walton

During a May 5 event at The Collider, small teams of students presented detailed ideas to make the park a more valuable community amenity, such as rain gardens to mitigate flooding issues, an outdoor classroom, educational signage and a stage for performances. Many groups proposed adding pollinator gardens to the site; they noted that Azalea Park does not host any of its namesake foliage.

Most of the recommendations came with price tags of less than $5,000 each. Asheville City Council member Kim Roney, who attended the May 5 event, said the city would consider the student projects but hadn’t set aside any funds for implementation.

However, Roney said she would encourage city staffers to explore grants available for environmentally focused work through the federal Inflation Reduction Act. She also encouraged students to push for support from occupancy taxes managed by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.

Get involved

  • The N.C. Forest Service seeks community input on a master recreation plan for the DuPont State Recreational Forest. The document will guide trail maintenance and development across the 12,400-acre forest in Henderson and Transylvania counties. More information and a survey link are available at
  • N.C. State Cooperative Extension is accepting applications for prospective extension master gardeners through Thursday, June 1. Volunteers will receive intensive hands-on training in horticulture to help local residents solve common garden problems. More information and an application form are available at
  • MountainTrue kicks off its MountainTrue-a-thon fundraising campaign on Thursday, June 15. Participants collect pledges for miles hiked, biked or paddled through the end of August, with the most successful fundraisers receiving prizes. More information and registration are available at

Save the date

  • Asheville GreenWorks will hold two Hard 2 Recycle events from 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, May 27, and June 10, in Buncombe and Henderson counties, respectively. Participants can drop off batteries, electronics, food-grade plastic foam and other items not accepted by municipal recycling services. Exact locations were not confirmed as of press time; more information is available online at
  • The WNC Sierra Club hosts RiverLink leaders Lisa Raleigh and Renee Fortner for a discussion of the French Broad River’s past, present and future at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 7. The presentation, available both live at the UNC Asheville
    CAN YOU DIG IT? RiverLink staff, partners and supporters celebrate on April 12 as greenway construction begins at the future Karen Cragnolin Park. Photo courtesy of RiverLink

    Reuter Center and online via Zoom, will focus on the challenges the river now faces due to bacterial contamination. More information and advance Zoom registration are available at

  • The Organic Growers School has announced its 2023 season of forest farming tours on Sundays, July 30, Aug. 6, and Sept. 24. Participants will see how local growers incorporate livestock, medicinal herbs and mushrooms into forests to create systems that are both profitable and ecologically sustainable. More information and registration are available at

Money moves

  • A coalition of groups working to deconstruct the Ela Dam in Whittier has received a $4 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As previously reported by Xpress, the project aims to reconnect 549 miles of the Oconaluftee watershed to the Tuckasegee River, restoring habitat for species like the eastern hellbender.
  • The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina’s Pigeon River Fund awarded over $246,000 to organizations working on water quality issues in Buncombe, Haywood and Madison counties. The largest grants include $35,000 to the town of Woodfin for riverbank restoration work at Riverside Park, $35,000 to Mountain Housing Opportunities for stormwater design at Waynesville’s Balsam Edge affordable housing development, and $30,000 to Asheville GreenWorks to develop training materials for the volunteer StreamKeepers program.
  • Curbside Management, which handles recycling for the city of Asheville and Buncombe County, received a $60,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to improve its facilities. The money will go toward a new optical sorter and conveyor belt, allowing the company to capture more value from incoming materials.  
  • UNC Asheville students Dylan Major and Ari Puentes each received the Goldwater Scholarship, a competitive national award of $7,500 for undergraduates in scientific fields. Major is researching the data analysis of air temperatures over oceans, while Puentes has examined the effects of prescribed fires on forest mushrooms.

Community kudos

    • Work has begun on a greenway section through Karen Cragnolin Park in the River Arts District. The paved path through the property — a former junkyard that has been under remediation by RiverLink since 2006 — will connect Carrier Park with French Broad River Park, with construction expected to be completed by late summer.
    • The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy received a 102-acre conservation easement at Crabtree Bald in Haywood County from Ginger and Rich Lang. The property contributes to a network of land conserved by SAHC stretching into Sandy Mush that protects key wildlife habitats and water sources.


  • Mike Huffman, stormwater division manager for the city of Hendersonville, was named the city’s first Sustainability Hero by the Hendersonville Environmental Sustainability Board. The award recognizes Huffman’s leadership on water quality improvement and stream restoration initiatives. The city also hired Caitlyn Gendusa as its first sustainability manager.
  • Monte Cosby, a student at Warren Wilson College, was featured as the subject of Monte: Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop, a new documentary by outdoor brand Patagonia. The film, which debuted at Warren Wilson on April 29, shares Cosby’s path from the public housing projects of Richmond, Va., to a full scholarship as part of the college’s cycling team.


  • Material Return, a Morganton-based textile manufacturer, announced the creation of the first “circular sock” in the U.S. The Second Cut hike sock, launched in partnership with clothing company Smartwool, was made by recycling over 750,000 used socks into new material.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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