I remember when I could fly. It always happened late at night. I would run out the front door, flap my arms, and swoop up over the trees lining our block. Sometimes I was being chased; other times, it was just for fun. Somehow, I was never surprised, because it seemed so natural.
In time, childhood dreams gave way to more realistic pursuits (e.g. tilting at windmills and searching for painless dentistry), and my yearning for flight was pacified by bird watching and white-knuckled jet transport.
For the practical Blue Ridge environmentalist, however, SouthWings Conservation Aviation makes flight more than mere fancy. The nonprofit SouthWings makes overflights of the good, the bad and the ugly in our bioregion, offering enviros and policy-makers alike a bird's-eye view.
On Thursday, Aug. 14, the Fine Arts Theater will host a benefit for SouthWings (and the Elisha Mitchell chapter of the National Audubon Society) featuring an advance screening of Jacques Perrin's stunning documentary film Winged Migration (see Ken Hanke's review in this issue).
The $30 admission covers both the movie and a Pack Place reception including a brief talk by ornithologist Simon Thompson, as well as hors d'oeuvres and wine.
The benefit happens Thursday, Aug. 14. at the Fine Arts Theater (36 Biltmore Ave.), starting at 7:15 p.m. For more info, call (828) 253-4247.
-- Cecil Bothwell
Charlie's Bunion - or yours?
Concerned about the quality of our air these days? Well, take a hike -- to Charlie's Bunion, that is.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has teamed up with several universities in the region to undertake a study of air-pollution levels and their effects on hikers' health. The study, launched in June, is being conducted on the Charlie's Bunion Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Participants are asked to arrive at the trail between 9 a.m. and noon on any Saturday or Sunday through the end of August. It's an eight-mile hike roundtrip, but hikes of other lengths are also possible.
"They still need more hikers!" reports Friends of the Smokies Director George Ivey, who took part in the study a few weeks ago. "More hikers means more data, and that's a good thing."
The researchers gather data from hikers both before and after their exertions, says Ivey. "Allow 10-15 minutes each time. It's painless and will be of great help in determining the health effects of different air-quality conditions."
"And it's a beautiful hike!" he adds.
Ivy also asks hikers to consider participating even if the air is bad, noting, "If people hike only on the good-air-quality days, then the researchers won't really be able to measure the effects of bad air quality." In fact, he observes, "It's best not to even look at any air-quality data on the day you hike, just so you don't try to anticipate how the conditions will make you feel during the hike."
Findings from the study may influence future decisions concerning federal air-quality standards, as well as decisions affecting both the environment and visitors to our national parks.
For directions or more information, call Dr. Susan Smith of the University of Tennessee (865-974-1108) or Dr. Cindy Atterholt of Western Carolina University (828-227-3669).
-- Lisa Watters
Brother can you spare an hour?
What's the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase "big brothers, big sisters" -- the time your older sibling put a worm in your PB&J? Understandable, perhaps, but the nonprofit organization bearing that name would rather have you think "opportunity."
This year, for example, more kids were referred to the Mentors and Matches Program by their teachers than the group has volunteers to work with them, explains Jamye Davis, assistant director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Asheville. The program operates in Buncombe and surrounding counties, and anyone 16 or older can volunteer (once they've submitted an application and passed a background check). Each mentor meets with an elementary-school student at the child's school for one hour a week during a single school year. Mentor and match may play games, read books, do homework or just talk.
Retired people, notes Davis, make excellent mentors. "Older people don't always think of themselves as being a good fit for being a volunteer but are often surprised to find how well they can work with the children."
The group tries to match each volunteer with a child whose school is close to the volunteer's home or workplace. "Some people use their lunch hour one day a week to spend time with a child," Davis reports.
Genie Joiner says she always wanted to volunteer for the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program but figured she just didn't have enough time. "I was very happy to learn about the Mentors and Matches Program," she declares.
Teachers refer students who need a little extra help and encouragement. Davis reports that program graduates are often more self-confident and show improved behavior.
"Every kid needs as many caring adults in their life as they can get," Joiner observes.
To learn more about volunteering, call 253-1470.
-- Rebecca DeRosa
What's going on?
Tar Heel state government funding woes? Conflict avoidance? Unsavory political maneuvering? Who knows?
Whatever the reason, Xpress has just learned that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources tentatively approved a remediation plan for the former Sayles-Biltmore Bleacheries site in early July without fanfare.
Swannanoa Watershed Coordinator Michael Miller tipped us off after our last issue went to press. The technical-comment period ends Monday, Aug. 18, and copies of the plan are available in the reference section of Pack Library.
Note that the state will consider only technical issues concerning the known and/or suspected pollution on the site and cleanup or containment methods. (See "How do you like deenapples? New questions bubble up in Sayles site controversy," Jan. 15 Xpress www.mountainx.com) The library file includes contact information for DENR.
-- Cecil Bothwell
Cutting the I-26 ribbon
Sprinkle Creek -- Standing alongside of the yet-unopened section of Interstate 26 through Madison County, a man bedecked in motorcycle gear announced that he had no intention of trudging a half-mile down the mountain to attend last week's dedication ceremony.
"I didn't come up here to walk this thing," he informed pedestrians hustling past his bike to reach the ceremony. "I came up here to ride it."
Those who did trot down the eastbound lanes of the six-lane highway clogged with overflow parking for the Aug. 5 event witnessed a spectacle brimming with fanfare. The dedication marked the completion of a nine-mile, $230-million highway project through Madison County that counts among the state's most massive earthmoving projects ever.
Gov. Mike Easley was on hand, and he officially dedicated the roadway as the "Liston B. Ramsey Freeway" in honor of the late Madison County legislator. Plenty of officials joined Easley on the stage, including Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett, assorted members of the Council of State, and federal and state highway officials. WNC legislators, county commissioners, citizens and a phalanx of reporters further swelled the crowd.
Curiously enough, however, the trepidation felt by some Madison County residents over what the new road will bring was reflected in the invocation delivered by Madison County political fixture Larry Leake, who alluded to unspecified risks associated with the new highway and the problems that local officials will have to face.
But Easley extolled the "countless benefits" he saw I-26 bringing: providing better access to jobs, education and health care, and igniting economic growth in Western North Carolina and the Appalachian region overall.
"We're no longer isolated," Easley told the crowd. "We're now part of the rest of the world."
After the ribbon cutting, Madison County resident Janette Buckner (who took pictures of the governor posing with her grandchildren) said her feelings about the new highway were "kind of mixed."
"It's beautiful and I hope it helps the economy of Madison, but I'm a little bit worried about the traffic -- because of the school buses. But we'll just have to wait and see."
Though many Madison County residents had voiced concern about school buses having to share the winding U.S. 23 (which I-26 now replaces) with tractor-trailers, Buckner and her husband, Shelby Buckner, say it's their understanding that school buses will also run on at least a portion of the new interstate.
Meanwhile, Mars Hills resident Sandi Ball said that while opinions seem to be split down the middle in Madison County, she sees some personal benefits: "I like the fact that I'll be able to get to Johnson City sooner."
A 20-something WNC native (who declined to give his name) said he was worried about his parents (who live in northern Buncombe County) having to navigate I-240 in Asheville with the extra traffic the new road will bring. "It's really foolish for them to open this up before working out the problems they're going to have down in Asheville. That's just beyond me. ... I think people are going to die for it, unfortunately."
But at least on the surface, worries about the future seemed remote amid the festivities. Folks checked out the new $6.1 million welcome center, drank free lemonade offered by the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, and sampled munchies provided by assorted other vendors with an interest in the travelers driving on the WNC's newest highway.
-- Tracy Rose
Furniture at play
I have just three words for Mobilia (43 Haywood St.), downtown Asheville's new contemporary-home-furnishings store: fun, fun and fun!
When you walk in the door, you feel like you've time-traveled to 2030, when people apparently take a much more playful approach to furniture. There's the primary-colored "spaceship" couch with assorted swiveling parts that you can reconfigure to your taste. A dining-room table that looks like it came straight from the Mad Hatter's tea party. Modern chrome-and-glass bar counters and stools. Colorful ottomans shaped like cubes, half-moons or stars. And a brightly painted child's loft that begs even the soberest grown-up to cut loose and play a little.
"Neither one of us could find contemporary home furnishings in the area," reports industrial designer Renate Schuchardt, explaining why she and longtime friend Cynthia Turner, an architect, decided to open the retail store early last month. "We would always have to travel out of town" to find what they were looking for, she said.
The store is laid out in sections, each containing complete furnishings for a particular kind of room. "People feel so at home, they sit on all our furniture," notes Schuchardt. "We think that's great!"
When I tell Schuchardt about the teeny, tiny condo I plan to move into next year (did I mention it was little?), she shows me various pieces she thinks might work well in a confined space: a coffee table that adjusts to dining-room height; couches that double as beds or offer extra storage space; a lamp with a second small, adjustable gooseneck light that can be used for reading or to spotlight a prized piece of art.
"We have a lot of multipurpose furniture as well as furniture on wheels for easy moving and easy cleaning," notes Schuchardt.
Schuchardt explains that what she and Turner look for in furniture is good design. That, she says, "can come in any price range and in any category." Accordingly, the prices range from $10 for a rice-paper lamp to $2,898 for a Pinnacle Award-winning bow bed by John Kelley.
Store hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; noon-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Sundays; and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call the store at 252-8322.
-- Lisa Watters
Thinking outside the box
We've all been there. It's a week till moving time, and you need you some boxes. You call your friends who moved a month ago, but they've already recycled theirs (some folks have no consideration!). You hustle to your local grocery store, but all they have is egg-carton boxes -- great for lugging books around but not much else. So what's a girl to do?
Why, go to the Buncombe County Transfer Station (190 Hominy Creek Road) in West Asheville, of course. Real-estate firm Beverly-Hanks & Associates recently teamed up with Quality Forward and the county's Solid Waste Department to set up a recycling shed at the station specifically for receiving and distributing used moving boxes.
"One of my sales associates, Ann Babcock, works with Quality Forward, and ... she came to me with the idea of participating," explains Beverly-Hanks President Neal Hanks. "We liked the project, because it was a service to people buying and selling houses -- and it was an environmentally friendly project. It encouraged recycling, which we thought was good for the community, too. ... You're not filling up the landfill with used boxes."
The firm paid for the shed, and Beverly-Hanks volunteers installed shelves and containers to hold the boxes.
The plan now, says Hanks, "is to distribute literature [printed by Quality Forward] to our customers so that they're aware that the facility is available and they can drop off boxes or pick them up when they're moving."
Transfer station hours are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturdays. If you have used boxes to drop off, they should be clean and flattened. For more information, call 250-6205.
-- Lisa Watters