No sight required: Summer camp spurs blind youth to outdoor adventure

When Sam Chandler heard that the summer camp he’d been attending for years planned to launch an adventure camp, he was sold. Chandler — who at 17 is a rising senior at Tuscola High School in Waynesville — was quick to sign up for the week of ziplining, hiking and whitewater rafting at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. He came back for a second year, and, when he’d maxed out the two-year cap on adventure camp attendance, returned this year as a counselor.

It would be a common story of summer camp memories and corresponding summer camp allegiance, but for one simple fact: Chandler, like the rest of the teens embarking on these outdoor excursions, is mostly blind. 

A loving push: Cullowhee farm provides growth, safety for people with autism

Grayson Wolfe is the kid with the huge smile on his face as he jumps between stepping stones on the obstacle course. He’s the kid biting his tongue in concentration as he prepares to descend the slide; the kid blowing air through a straw with all he’s got to power his paper boat through the water; the kid leaning over to hug one of the adults volunteering that day at Full Spectrum Farms.

“He’s really shining here,” said Grayson’s dad Ron Wolfe, watching his son play. 

Adventure for all: Outdoor camp for youth with special needs builds friendships and confidence

Intermittent breeze ripples the water atop Lake Junaluska as the sky vacillates between sun and cloud, but the wind can’t quite carry away the excited shouts and chatter of the 60 kids and teens strung out along the dock, casting lines in the water or paddling its surface in red canoes. 

“There goes Maggie!” somebody shouts, pointing to a little girl whose head just barely rises above the top of the canoe as she reclines between two teenage volunteers and another young girl, who supports Maggie carefully from behind. 

Just sit on the porch and breathe

I write this down in the country again ... seated on a log

in the woods, warm, sunny midday. Have been loafing here deep

among the trees, shafts of tall pines, oak, hickory, with a thick

undergrowth of laurel and grapevines — I sit and listen to the

pine tops sighing above, and to the stillness ...

— Walt Whitman, Specimen Days (1892)

Backyard trails: Local mountain bike trails surge to popularity

In 2013, Western Carolina University cut the ribbon on 7-mile trail system zig-zagging an otherwise unbuildable piece of university property. 

Over the five years since, the trails have become an indispensible resource for mountain bikers — as well as trail runners and hikers — in the Cullowhee area, and last fall a trio of WCU employees set out to back up those observations with hard numbers. 

Bracken among the world’s most common plants

 “Here and elsewhere, bracken is such an aggressive plant that one wonders why it has not taken over the world.”

— R.C. Moran, A Natural History of Ferns (2004)

Bracken fern is said to be one of the five most common plants in the world. Standing up to five feet high, it is the coarse leathery fern you have no doubt encountered in disturbed areas, thickets, and dry open woodlands.

Jackson votes in favor of Blackrock conservation

A 441.5-acre piece of land high in the Plott Balsams is well on its way to being permanently conserved following a unanimous vote from the Jackson County Commissioners to contribute $250,000 to its conservation. 

Learning bird songs is an art unto itself

 Editor’s note: This column first appeared in a May 2009 issue of The Smoky Mountain News.

In the opaque early-morning light outside our bedroom windows, the birds that reside in our woods — or do we reside in their woods? — commence warming up for the day with tentative calls and whistles. The male cardinal seems to take the lead most mornings. Before long, however, the patterns arrange themselves into a tapestry of music.

New state office to focus on outdoor recreation growth

Outdoor recreation leaders in the region recently had the opportunity to weigh in on a newly established North Carolina Outdoor Recreation Industry Office whose aim is to help the industry and recruit more business. 

The Naturalist's Corner: Back in the saddle

I have had, since 2004, one of the best gigs any bird nerd could ask for. That was when I was awarded my first U.S. Forest Service (FS) bird survey contract for three districts in the Pisgah National Forest. To say I didn’t know what I was getting into would be a great understatement. I was given some over-the-counter maps and a list of coordinates and was told all I had to do was find the points, mark them and then survey them.

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