You can’t make this stuff up

One of my favorite and most often used aphorisms in this lifetime has been “you can’t make this stuff up.” This adage applies 100 percent to Michael Finkel’s recent national best-selling book The Stranger in the Woods (The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit). Gifted a copy of the book from a friend who had read my book Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods and who thought that I would enjoy reading about “the ultimate hermit,” I dove right into the book and didn’t come up for air until I had reached page 203 at the end of the book.

Making tracks: Kids trails program earns recognition after decade of growth

In 2008, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation launched a new program aiming to get kids and families out exploring the high-elevation corridor. Ever since, the Kids in Parks program has mushroomed into a national endeavor with designated trails from San Diego, California, to Nags Head, North Carolina. 

Kids in Parks was recognized for its decade of accomplishments when it won the Youth Engagement Award at the SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The annual SHIFT Awards recognize individuals, initiatives and organizations that contribute to conservation through human-powered outdoor recreation. 

Uniquely positioned: Grant aims to grow outdoor gear industry in WNC

An effort is underway to make North Carolina’s 24 western counties into the next outdoor gear industry hub, and the far western region is poised to find itself at the epicenter of that wave. 

“We’ve already got tremendous momentum within the outdoor sector from the early work that’s been done to cultivate this sector,” said Matt Raker, director of community investments and impact for Asheville-based Mountain BizWorks. “A lot of that is rooted in our exceptional outdoor recreation assets we’ve got across the region, from Tsali to the new Fire Mountain Trails to the Tuckasegee and the Pigeon River Gorge, you name it — we could go on for a long time. That’s helped attract a lot of entrepreneurs and brands here, but they have some specific needs to be able to grow.”

Oil Nut, that most curious fruit

For Elizabeth and me, the fall season is one of the most invigorating times to get out in the woods and prowl around. Many of the most beautiful wildflowers found in the Blue Ridge, especially the lobelias and gentians, are then coming into their own. And most of the others are in their fruiting stages. The transition from flower to fruit (or seed) is both logical and enjoyable. The varied fruiting forms — which run the gamut from drupes, berries, and pomes to follicles, utricles, loments, and legumes to capsules, achenes, samaras, and nuts — are as attractive and intricate in their own way as any wildflower. And they are, after all, the grand finales of the germination-flowering-pollination cycle.

Poor acorn crop leads to increased bear encounters

A nighttime breath of fresh air turned traumatic for 75-year-old Swannanoa resident Toni Rhegness when she spotted three bear cubs while walking her dog on leash in her front yard Sept. 18.

While Rhegness followed important bear safety rules at her own home — not leaving trash outside and keeping her dog leashed, for starters — her neighbor had left garbage cans outside for pickup the next morning, and the cubs were scavenging them for a meal. Seeing the cubs, the dog barked. Rhegness shouted to scare the bears off and picked up her dog to go inside.

A mile-high view: State-level squabble stalls Jackson County conservation project

To call the view stretching out below the 5,462-foot bald “spectacular,” “impressive” or even “jaw-dropping” would be an understatement. 

It was as clear a day as had been spotted in the mountains this rainy year, skies blue and cloudless ahead of the slowly moving remains of Hurricane Florence. The sun shone on Cherokee to the west, Bryson City visible just a couple folds of land beyond it and the Nantahala Mountains rimming the horizon south and west of the small towns. 

Mis-identifying mushrooms is a risky mistake

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in September 2004.

The cool and humid forests and valleys of the Smokies region are said to be home to a greater variety of mushrooms and related fungi species than any other place on earth.  To some, mushrooms seem spectral and fantastic — like something out of a dream world, best avoided. To others, they represent adventure — objects to be sought out, identified, and understood for their own intrinsic beauty and place in the ecological cycle. And then there are those who pursue them as delicacies — gourmet items that wind up on the kitchen table.

God’s broadcasting station — the great outdoors

When I taught homeschool seminars in Latin, history, and literature in Asheville, I would wait for a cold spell in February and then email my students to come to class dressed for the weather. On their arrival I would lead them outside and hold class for half an hour beneath gray skies and temperatures well below freezing. With any luck we might even find some bits of falling snow. The students would stand shivering in the cold — some of the boys apparently considered t-shirts and shorts appropriate winter clothing — and then we’d tromp back into the classroom.

Bones from coast to coast: Black Mountain runner completes 1,175-mile run while battling cancer

Most people would not see a diagnosis of incurable cancer as an invitation to run 1,175 miles. But Kenny Capps is not most people. 

“It’s a cancer that requires you to say on top of it,” he said. “Moving in whatever way you can, that’s invaluable to being able to live with it. Because you can live with it. I know it’s terminal, but so is life. They don’t have a cure for that either.”

Counting the bears: UTK conducts largest-ever black bear survey

Barbed wire and hundreds of pounds of donuts are the key ingredients in a University of Tennessee Knoxville effort to complete the largest-scale black bear population study ever attempted. 

The 16 million-acre study area covers portions of Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina, but by far the biggest chunk — about 8 million acres — includes portions of 24 WNC counties. Researchers collected data from the other three states last year but are spending the second and last year of the study focused solely on counting bears in North Carolina. 

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