The N.C. Arboretum announces new executive director

TAKING OVER: Drake Fowler is stepping in as the new executive director of The N.C. Arboretum. Photo courtesy of the Arboretum

Drake Fowler is going to be a natural as the new executive director of The N.C. Arboretum.

Take his name for example. “I grew up in Michigan. My father is a duck hunter, and drake is the term for male duck,” he says. “My brother’s name is Field. I guess that is what you get when you have creative parents.” And fowl-er. Get it?

Fowler, who has served as the arboretum’s chief financial officer and deputy executive director since 2015, succeeds George Briggs, who is retiring Thursday, Aug. 1, after 37 years in the leadership role.

“Personally, I feel like I have been preparing for this position my whole life,” Fowler tells Xpress.

Spending time as a child at a nearby botanical garden and later summers helping to restore the Round Island Lighthouse in the Straits of Mackinac, Fowler gravitated toward landscape architecture. He earned a degree in the subject at Michigan State University. When he and his wife, Rachel, relocated to Asheville 20 years ago for work, they immediately purchased a membership at the arboretum.

“The arboretum is a gem to our community and state — and to think George Briggs started with a used bank trailer in the woods and built this iconic place,” Fowler says. “I know this was a labor of love for George, yet he was never building this place for his own gratification, but for the people of North Carolina. George is a transformational leader. He has transformed many lives of the people he has interacted with over his 37 years of service.”

Fowler’s plans for the arboretum are to “continue to creatively connect people, plants and place through education, design and economic development. It is a magical place where anyone can go on a hike and connect with nature and community. Becoming the executive director is a great honor, and it is not a responsibility I take lightly.”

The N.C. Arboretum is at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way. To learn more, visit

Blue Ridge Parkway boosts camping fees

The National Park Service is increasing fees for camping and other activities on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The new fee schedule is:

  • Frontcountry campground standard sites at three locations in Virginia and five in North Carolina: Doughton Park, Julian Price, Linville Falls, Crabtree Falls and Mount Pisgah, $30.
  • Frontcountry campground group sites: Rocky Knob, Linville Falls, and Doughton Park campgrounds, $45.
  • Backcountry campsites, six-person occupancy, three-night limit, at Rock Castle Gorge near Rocky Knob; Basin Cove near Doughton Park and Johns River Road near Julian Price Park, $15.
  • Noncamper dump station fee, $6.
  • Noncamper shower fee at Julian Price Park and Mount Pisgah campgrounds, $6.

The parkway’s eight frontcountry campgrounds are typically open from May through late October, and reservations for all campgrounds can be made now for the 2024 visitor season at New frontcountry fees will go into effect for reservations made on or after Friday, May 24. Backcountry camping permits are required, and implementation of new backcountry fees is expected later this summer.

To reserve, go to

Seasonal firefly spectacle arrives

The Blue Ghost fireflies, or Phausis reticulata, live in Western North Carolina and can be seen hovering above the forest floor with a lingering bluish glow. FIND Outdoors and the Cradle of Forestry are hosting a guided tour along the cradle’s paved trails. Tours are offered throughout much of May, as well as Saturday, June 1-Friday, June 7, 9-10:30 p.m. Nonrefundable tickets are $50 per adult and $25 per child. All passes must be purchased online. Each tour is limited to 125 participants.

For tickets and more details, go to

New housing’s role in climate change

The WNC Sierra Club has invited Susan Bean, MountainTrue’s director for housing and transportation, to explain MountainTrue’s program, Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC, which advocates for more housing to combat climate change. The Sierra Club meeting is at 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 5, at the OLLI/Reuter Center, 300 Campus View Road, on the UNCA campus.
The program is based on the premise that healthy communities create a healthy environment. The group strives for policies that protect and create homes in places that reduce our collective carbon footprint, according to its website.
For information about Neighbors for More Neighbors, go to To learn more about WNC Sierra Club, go to

RAD Farmers Market staff expands

As Lyric East moves into the role of executive director of the RAD Farmers Market, Rachel Letcher took over as the market’s new manager March 13. Letcher has a decade of nonprofit experience and a master’s degree in public health. An alumna of UNC Asheville, she recently returned to the area after leading a community garden in Birmingham, Ala. Along with her work at the market, she is a board member of the Organic Growers School.

The RAD Farmers Market takes place Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m., at 350 Riverside Drive.

Bees are too busy to bother you

If you see a honeybee swarm, don’t swat at it. Instead, call Henderson County Beekeepers Association, a local club that maintains a list of beekeepers willing to come, collect and move the swarm to a protected apiary. Find the swarm list, local honey sellers and local beekeeping mentors at And consider helping the club raise money for honeybee research by purchasing its $15 sign that reads, “Pardon the weeds, we’re feeding the bees,” at local festivals or 1st Choice Graphics on Spartanburg Highway in Hendersonville.

How to live electric

Electrify Asheville-Buncombe, a program that encourages residents to improve their home’s energy efficiency, take energy conservation actions and improve indoor air quality, launched in April. The initiative’s ultimate goal is to make electrification easier and more accessible to everyone.

Key services of Electrify Asheville-Buncombe include:

  • Home electrification journey and solutions: Get help to start your customized electrification journey. 
  • Energy audits: Local professionals offer personalized home energy audits. These assessments provide insights into your energy consumption and recommend tailored efficiency actions. Up to 40 free or reduced-price audits will also be available to income-qualified citizens.
  • Local collaboration: The City of Asheville, Buncombe County, the Blue Horizons Project, and the N.C. Clean Energy Fund, along with vetted local HVAC installers, are working together to ensure a smooth and locally supported transition to electrified systems.
  • Access to incentives and financing: Access government and utility incentives for electrification. In addition, financing is offered by Self-Help Credit Union. 

Go to for more info.

Solar energy rebate available

The Blue Horizons Project, a program of Green Built Alliance, is urging homeowners to take advantage of Duke Energy’s PowerPair SM Rebate Program to save on energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint by installing solar energy with battery backup systems. According to a press release from Blue Horizons Project, the cost of electricity is projected to rise over 14% over the next three years. PowerPair combines cost savings and environmental benefits of solar power “with the reliability and security of backup battery storage,” the same press release states. 

“Boosting residential solar is key to transitioning our region to 100% clean energy and adding battery storage to a home’s solar system helps make our community more resilient,” said Michelle Myers, chair of the Blue Horizons Project Community Council, in the media release. 

Enrollment for the pilot program runs through Friday, June 7, with rebates up to $9,000.

Two Western North Carolina-based solar companies, Sugar Hollow Solar and Sundance Power Systems, are approved “Duke Trade Allies” and Green Built Alliance members. Households must work with qualified Duke Trade Allies to receive the PowerPair rebate. 

To learn more about the Duke Energy PowerPair Rebate Program and how to participate, visit

Warren Wilson to conserve 600 acres 

The Warren Wilson College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to partner with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to establish four conservation easements on 600 acres the college owns.

The board of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy will consider approval this summer. 

Once approved and funded, the 600-acre tract of farm and forest land in the Swannanoa Valley would be preserved in perpetuity. 

“The conservation impact of protecting these 600 acres — in the largest remaining privately held tract of farm and forestland in Buncombe County — will be astounding,” Jess Laggis, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy farmland protection director, said in a media release. “This project is highly ranked for conservation value both as undeveloped mountain land and important agricultural land.”

MountainTrue launches design contest

MountainTrue unveiled its Kid’s Merchandise Design Contest, inviting budding artists ages 10-14 to showcase their creativity and love for the mountains. The contest started on Earth Day, April 22, and runs through Friday, May 24.

The theme of the contest, “I Love Mountains,” invites participants to illustrate what makes the region’s landscapes special to them. Designs that celebrate the beauty and biodiversity of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains will be favored, along with those that inspire others to share in the love for the mountains and region.

“We are excited to see the unique perspectives and creative expressions of young artists as they showcase their love for mountains,” Amy Finkler, development and engagement manager at MountainTrue, said in a media release. “This contest provides a platform for youth to connect with nature and share their environmental enthusiasm with the region.”

The winner will be able to collaborate with a professional designer to refine their design and prepare it for merchandise production.

For information and to submit entries, go to

United Way goes solar-powered

Green Built Alliance and United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, thanks to community support through the Appalachian Offsets program, added a solar array atop United Way’s Community Services building at 50 S. French Broad Ave.

According to a press release, cash and in-kind contributions from Asheville-based Blue Ridge Power, as well as a Duke Energy rebate specifically for nonprofit organizations, also funded the project, which will reduce the building’s energy needs by 60%, allowing the nonprofit to use that $20,000 in annual savings to invest in community partners that serve youth and families across Buncombe County.

United Way’s building is the home to 13 nonprofit organizations. 

The Appalachian Offsets program is a local carbon offset program of Green Built Alliance that allows businesses and individuals to calculate and offset their carbon footprint while investing directly in local energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. 

To learn more, visit

Rebuilt Pisgah lookout opens

Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Carolina Mountain Club and the U.S. Forest Service unveiled the rebuilt viewing platform at the pinnacle of the Mount Pisgah Trail, milepost 408, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 3.2-mile out-and-back trail climbs 700 feet, leading to views of the French Broad River valley, Looking Glass Rock, Cold Mountain and the Frying Pan fire tower.

According to a press release, the wooden structure was built in 1979 by the U.S. Youth Conservation Corps. For the rebuild, the foundation funded materials and contractors, and Carolina Mountain Club provided a team of volunteers to reconstruct the platform. Sinclair Broadcast Group loaned the use of its funicular to transport materials up the 5,721-foot peak. 

Kiosks feature only native plant

M.R. Gardens, a local nursery, started a program called Plants for Wildlife to expand access to native plants. Five local retailers are hosting “Native Plant Kiosks” for the spring. Find them at: 

  • Madam Clutterbuckets Neurodiverse Universe, 21 Battery Park Ave., Suite 101.
  • L.O.T.U.S. Urban Farm & Garden Supply, 455 N. Louisiana Ave, No. 8.
  • Honey & the Hive, 23 Merrimon Ave., Weaverville. 
  • Fifth Season Gardening, 4 S. Tunnel Road, No. 450.
  • Town Hardware & General Store, 103 W. State St., Black Mountain.

Plants for Wildlife offers educational days at each of the retail locations so customers can ask experienced native gardeners questions. 

For info, go to

Pisgah Conservancy posts new kiosk and wayfinding signs

The Pisgah Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service unveiled a new kiosk at the Cat Gap Loop trailhead and wayfinding signage along the Cat Gap Loop and John Rock trail system.

The previous kiosk had outdated information and a map that displayed areas well beyond this trail system. 

“Before this, we had a kiosk with a map that showed vast areas of western North Carolina all the way into Tennessee. Now, you have a high-quality map focused on this trail system, as well as maps on larger wayfinding signs at confusing intersections along the trail,” said John Cottingham, the conservancy’s founder and executive director, in a media release.

According to the press release, the three-paneled kiosk includes information about the area’s geology and human history, safety information for visitors and more. Later this spring, new signage will also be installed along the Art Loeb and Ivestor Gap trails on and around Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain.

For more information, visit


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