The fungi forager: Franklin man develops a passion for wild mushrooms

Beneath the woodsy world of tree trunks, ferns and leaf litter is another, hidden realm. It’s the world of fungi, where these shadow organisms — not plants, but yet not animals — spread their tendrils through the soil, through the moist decay of fallen branches, into the bark of standing trees, both living and dead. Where the two worlds meet is where the mushrooms grow.

Science program goes statewide: ecoEXPLORE program for kids now available in N.C. State Parks

A program that’s been getting Western North Carolina kids outside since 2016 is now a statewide offering, with a whirlwind tour of 10 North Carolina state parks over the next couple weeks celebrating ecoEXPLORE’s arrival at all 41 park units. 

“There’s a lot of benefits to being outdoors, and it’s something that we’re seeing less and less in adults and children,” said Jonathan Marchal, youth education manager at the N.C. Arboretum in Asheville. “A lot of times it’s almost like a competition — you can go outside and be screen-free, or you can go indoors and be completely immersed in a screen. I think one approach that is helpful is utilizing those items like smartphones as tools to explore the environment, and not just as tools to explore the environment but to engage kids in doing conservation work.”

Kids in Parks logs one million TRACK Trails adventures

In its mission to engage children with the outdoors, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Kids in Parks program is marking a powerful milestone; kids and families have completed one million adventures through the program’s TRACK Trails. This figure represents more than one million miles hiked, biked or paddled, and more than 500,000 hours spent outside.

Believing Bigfoot: Locals log Sasquatch evidence in North Carolina’s mountains

Jeff Carpenter knows the woods. 

A native of Otto who’s spent most of his adult life the next county over in Sylva, he learned from his father Earvin Carpenter what it means to be an outdoorsman and a mountain man. He knows how to hunt and track and orienteer. He’s seen more than a few bears, heard more than a few coyotes, spent more than a few nights camped out in the backcountry. 

But over the last 15 years, he’s become convinced that there’s something out there that doesn’t show up in standard field guides. 

On the upswing: Golf industry changes with the times

Golf is more than a game in Western North Carolina — the wellbeing of the popular past time can be a major indicator of how the regional economy is doing as far as real estate and tourism growth. 

The golf industry — like many others — took a major hit following the recession in 2008. Many courses went bankrupt and closed down, people couldn’t afford to play the game as often, and home building within the country clubs came to a standstill. Even in 2017, more than 200 golf courses across the nation closed as the supply and demand pendulum continues to swing its way back toward the center following 20 years of unsustainable growth. 

Gov. Cooper touts tourism at Nantahala Outdoor Center

It’s no secret that Western North Carolina has long been a haven for outdoor recreational enthusiasts, but as that particular segment of North Carolina’s economy continues to expand, Gov. Roy Cooper is doing all he can to foster further growth. 

‘Leader of leaders’: New Smokies chief ranger brings impressive career to America’s most visited park

After decades roving the backcountry of some of the largest parks in the Western United States, Lisa Hendy is returning to her home state of Tennessee to serve as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s first female chief ranger. 

At least, that’s the headline picked up by news outlets across the country, and it’s true. Hendy will start her new job April 8, and it will be the first time a woman has served that role in the Smokies. But to Hendy, it’s not about gender. It’s about her ability to do the job, and do it well. 

Back to work: Shutdown ends, but effects likely to linger through 2019 season

After 35 days of furlough, National Park Service staff are back to work at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and more than 400 other National Park Service units nationwide. 

“On behalf of the employees of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I want to express our heartfelt gratitude to our partners and communities for their unwavering support over the last five weeks,” said Smokies Superintendent Cassius Cash in a press release. “In addition to the monetary support offered by our partners to provide basic visitor services, we were moved by the number of people and organizations who stepped up to organize litter pickups and the outpouring of generosity expressed to our employees through meals and gift cards.”

Outdoors 2018: The year in quotes

From the depths of winter to the height of summer, valley agriculture to mountain exploration, longtime mountain dwellers to new arrivals, a year in Western North Carolina’s great outdoors can provide a lifetime of stories. In 2018, The Smoky Mountain News covered everything from conservation to kudzu, encountering plenty of colorful characters along the way. Here’s a selection of the best quotes we heard this year, about the mountains and from those who love them. 

Planted in the mountains: WNC botanist reflects on a lifetime of discovery

Dan Pittillo has made his name as a botanist, but he could easily have ended up a dairy farmer instead. 

Born in Henderson County the oldest of five, Pittillo entered the world in 1938, when the Great Depression was in full swing and people were used to not having much. For the first two years of his life his parents didn’t even have a house — the family lived with his grandparents while his father worked to build one. 

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