For the adventurous child (the sort who will someday raft down the Amazon or scale Kilimanjaro), the next best thing to cornering garter snakes by the compost pile used to be tuning into The Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Where else could a nature-loving wuenderkind get a dose of gorillas, hippos and bloodthirsty leopard seals (without a pricey plane ticket and some serious gear, that is)?
But this year Mutual of Omaha brings the natural world up close -- and off the TV screen -- with its Wild Kingdom Adventure Tour. The state-of-the-art show takes visitors into a virtual world of steamy tropical forests, screeching macaws and chattering gibbons. Turn a corner and enter a new climate: perhaps the African savannah where the sun blazes and lions roar, or the chilly ice floes of the Arctic, where polar bears frolic and those vicious leopard seals hunt unsuspecting penguins (OK, the seals live in the Antarctic, but they're still a travel hazard).
If braving the wilds isn't exactly your speed (or, if you've just returned from the virtual Amazon and are in the mood for a slightly sweeter adventure), the Burt's Bees Mobile Tour offers a different take -- a bee's-eye view, perhaps? -- on the natural world.
This company got its start in Maine as a two-person, homegrown, honey-and-beeswax-candles operation. These days, headquartered in Durham, N.C., Burt's Bees offers beauty and body-care products made with beeswax and other garden-based botanicals such as carrot, banana, ginger, rosemary, apricot and peppermint. Same grassroots feel, but with a more sophisticated marketing plan. While the line of lip balms, body lotions, shampoos and makeup all smell good enough to eat, they're also gentle on the environment.
The mobile tour travels with a sting-free beehive and more than 100 Burt's Bees products, samples and eco information (hand massages are also offered). Also, the honey-based business has partnered with the National Arbor Day Foundation to plant 1,600 trees across the country and give out seedlings at each stop of the tour.
Participants in the 2nd Annual Bele Chere Urban Challenge presented by Food Lion probably know a thing or two about the environment -- at least the handful of blocks in downtown Asheville where they'll be camping out for the duration of the festival.
Last year, the inaugural event was a huge success, drawing applications from men and women of all ages and abilities.
This year, the 12 contestants stake out their own piece of wilderness -- Challenge Island -- in front of City Hall. But feats of strength, mental quickness and creative thinking take place throughout Bele Chere. Fans of reality TV shows like Survivor can appreciate the grueling trials these competitors must endure to walk away with the Urban Challenge title at the end of the festival.
Perhaps they'll even have to battle a wily leopard seal. But that remains to be seen.
Look for the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Adventure Tour in the Health Department parking lot. Burt's Bees Mobile Tour gets buzzing at Arts Park in the Asheville Savings Bank parking lot. Both attractions are free and run throughout the weekend. See www.belecherefestival.com for details.