Lake Junaluska Duathlon: Athletes give rave reviews to new race

Between blue skies and blue water, the inaugural Lake Junaluska Duathlon won over dozens of runners and bikers this weekend.

“It’s basically the perfect set-up. I couldn’t imagine a better venue,” said Ken Howell, a racer who lives in Haywood County.

Aside from the picturesque setting, racers reveled in the sheltered nature of the lake, where traffic could easily be controlled, said Pat Burgin, another racer from Haywood County. Burgin could only think of one negative to the venue.

“The hills,” he said. “But I don’t think there is much we can do about that.

Aside from the fabulous location, many athletes were happy about the debut of the duathlon in general. While there has been a proliferation of triathlons in the region over the past couple of years — a line-up that consists of swimming, running and biking — swimming can be a turn off to many racers. A duathlon cuts out the swimming leg and instead combines running, then biking, followed by a final leg of running.

Kelly Anderson, 36, a biker and runner in Haywood County, had been clamoring for a duathlon. When this one was announced, she started a Saturday morning duathlon training class at the Haywood Regional Fitness Center where she is a regular instructor.

“I hope we have it every year,” Anderson said of the new race. “It was nice not to have to drive to Charlotte or Florida or somewhere. Hopefully it will grow.”

The duathlon was put on by Greg Duff of Waynesville, whose company — Glory Hound Events — has become a leader in staging races throughout the region. Since Duff started Glory Hound Events three years ago, he has launched more than half a dozen new races, three of them in Haywood County, not to mention several existing races for which he has taken over the management.

“It’s a ton of work. None of this would be happening without him,” said racer Thomas Howell, a long-time member of the Haywood County racing scene.

For Howell, who lives a short distance from the lake, Saturday’s course largely followed his training route.

“It’s like what I do every Saturday,” said Howell, an Iron Man and marathon runner who typically travels far and wide on the race circuit.

This weekend was a nice change, with the bike route passing within half a mile of his home. His kids were able to roll out the door and cheer their dad as he went by on his bike, then high tail it to the lake and greet him as he ran across the finish line.

The event had a large pool of volunteers, some who are regulars in the race circuit, often the family and friends of the athletes. But several people who live at Lake Junaluska pitched in as volunteers as well, getting their first taste of the excitement and adrenaline that flows through the air at races.

“I am so impressed with the number of volunteers out here,” Burgin said. “I’ve done a lot of racing and I’ve been to some where they are asking spectators at the start line to help because they don’t have enough volunteers.”

While locals loved the close-to-home duathlon, more than half the racers came from out of the area, contributing to the tourism economy in the process.

“I was so pleased to see so many people participating in this who came to Lake Junaluska and the mountains for the first time,” said Jimmy Carr, executive director of Lake Junaluska. “I think the event has given Lake Junaluska and Haywood County a lot of visibility with a whole different audience.”

Weavers bring finest of craft to WNC

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

This April, nearly 100 professional weavers and spinners will converge at Lake Junaluska in Haywood County for the Southeast Fiber Forum.

They’ll come to share their knowledge and learn new crafts — “everything from broom making to surface design to knitting to weaving to basketry,” says Marjorie Warren, board chair of the Western North Carolina Handweavers Guild and also chair of the Fiber Forum.

Attendees are members of the Southeast Fiber Forum Association, a group of 877 weavers hailing from Texas all the way to Virginia.

This year’s theme of the Forum is based on the United Nation’s declaration of 2009 as “Year of Natural Fiber.” The focus at the forum is on fibers that are natural and sustainable such as wool, linen, bamboo, cotton and flax — essentially, anything that isn’t synthetic.

“There is a great awareness this year, with everything going ‘green,’ of being environmentally conscious and using what is available to us,” Warren said.

Western North Carolina’s abundance of natural resources makes it a fitting location for the conference, with its focus on all things natural. The region is also fitting due to its long tradition of weaving, dating back thousands of years to the Cherokee who first wove baskets out of the bark of the rivercane plant. Today, many weavers still make a living from their craft, practicing it in all different forms. WNC weavers will teach classes at the Forum to weavers from around the country.

“We’re so fortunate in this area that we have so many wonderful teachers that we don’t have to fly everybody in,” said Warren. “This is a chance to showcase the teachers in our area.”

Two of the presenters from the region represent the diversity of the craft in Western North Carolina. Kathie Roig, a weaver who owns KMR Handwovens in Dillsboro, uses a complicated Swedish loom to weave her creations, which include functional items like placemats, scarves, tote bags and baby bibs. Roig uses sustainable materials like cotton to form her pieces. She also works with tencel, a unique material made out of wood pulp that drapes and feels like silk.

“It’s produced relatively environmentally friendly,” said Roig. “How you get yarn from things can be harmful for the environment, but tencel is relatively not.”

Roig, who teaches weaving at the prestigious John C. Campbell School of Folk Art in Brasstown, says WNC has a rare concentration of weavers in a small region.

“What I see is a stronger focus on having your craft really support you,” Roig said. “There’s many more folks here that are supporting themselves from their work and being successful at it.”

Beth Johnson, a weaver in Cherokee, emphasizes the use of natural fibers of many different kinds. Johnson works with the Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources, which works to preserve the materials that Cherokees have used for thousands of years to make their crafts. At the moment, Johnson is working with some local bison ranches to obtain fiber from the animals. Cherokee at one time wove the bison fiber with their fingers instead of on a loom, making for very intricate pieces.

Johnson is also researching plants the Cherokee used to weave, including hemp and mulberry bushes.

At the Forum, Johnson is teaching a workshop that teaches a sustainable form of weaving similar to recycling. This form originated in Japan, and employs old kimonos cut into strips and woven into a lightweight fabric. Johnson makes scarves and bags with this method.

“Nearly all weaving traditions all over the world have some way of recycling stuff, whether through patchwork quilting or weaving rag rugs,” Johnson says.

The work of Johnson, Roig and other weavers who will be teaching at the Fiber Forum is on display at Gallery 86 in downtown Waynesville through Saturday, April 25. The public is also invited to check out the display of vendors and crafts at the Fiber Forum all day Saturday, April 18, at Lake Junaluska.

The Naturalist's Corner

The front that passed through the week before Thanksgiving brought the first waterfowl fallout of the season to Lake Junaluska. I passed by on Thursday afternoon (11/17) and observed one snow goose with a small group of Canadian geese. Friday afternoon I returned for a longer look and found one gadwall in the back of the lake near the newly designed wetlands; a number of hooded mergansers in the same area; numerous American coots there and all around the lake; a double-crested cormorant sunning itself on the little island beneath the osprey platform; and a wood duck near the entrance road off US 19. There were a couple of pied-billed grebes around the lake. A small raft in the middle of the lake contained American wigeon, ring-billed ducks and lesser scaup. A group of bufflehead were also out in the middle of the lake along with one horned grebe.

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