Friday, June 30, 2006

Shocker: Mountain visitors want beauty, relaxation

A recent study by the 25-county Blue Ridge National Heritage Area shows that mountain visitors escape to the hills for natural beauty and to relax.

This also just in: Water is wet and fire is hot.

In all seriousness, this IS an important study. It shows that tourists don't want man-made (read: tacky) attractions; the scenic beauty of the mountains is enough.

Enough to save, in fact.

"We believe more of our visitors are coming because of the heritage and the chance to escape and relax rather than go to a built attraction," Penn Dameron, the executive director of the heritage area, told the Winston-Salem Journal. "It's not the way we've typically looked at those visitors."

The data was collected from 4,399 surveys collected at 44 tourism destinations. The area stretches from the counties west of Asheville northeast to the counties along the mountains, including Avery, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes and Yadkin.

Eighty-two percent of overnight visitors and 75 percent of day-trippers had no children under 18 years of age in their travel party, the study found. The largest group of overnight visitors was 56 to 65 years old. The largest group of day-trippers was 46 to 55 years old. The study also found that men tended to be more interested in outdoor recreation, and women were more interested in crafts.

"It's really interesting to see how gender had a specific impact on what activities they participated in," said Mike Evans, a business professor at Appalachian State University who helped work on the 400-page report.

After outdoor activities, men also tended to like attending festivals and events, and visiting farms. After craft activities, women tended to enjoy music and tourist sites in Cherokee.

So long to the Pavilion

Yes, I know this is a group dedicated to celebrating NORTH Carolina heritage. But so many thousands of North Carolinians have spent their summers at and around the Myrtle Beach Pavilion that it behooves me to mention its sad demise.

In fact, the ASHEVILLE Citizen-Times talked with several mountain residents who are sad to see the Pavilion go.

On Sept. 24, after 58 memorable years, this 11-acre Grand Strand landmark will shut down for good.

Located directly on Ocean Boulevard, the Pavilion has always been a family favorite, a place to see and be seen. To ride the rides, eat footlong hotdogs and dance at Attic, a club right on the ocean.

“We’ve been going down there since our kids were small, at least 48 years,” said Betty Ann Young, whose family owns Mountain Air, an exclusive community of homes in Burnsville.

“That was the highlight of our trip,” she said of the Pavilion. “Sam (one of their sons) would beg from the time we left here, until we got there, to be sure we could go down to the carnival. That’s what we called it.”

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest Myrtle Beach fan in the world, but it's hard to argue with the impact that the loss of the Pavilion will have on those who have grown up there.

Last March, park owner Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. announced the park would close for good in September.

No more funnel cakes. No more teen dancing at the Attic or carousel rides.

No meeting up with friends and taking spins through the Haunted House, the Mad Mouse or trying their luck at the game booths.

The news hit longtime Asheville resident Allen Boyd like a blow to the chest. “WHAT?” he yelled into the telephone. “No, no, no! That’s an institution, a sin right up there with adultery, lying and murder. That’s like tearing down the Statue of Liberty or filling in the Grand Canyon.”

A bit of a stretch? No doubt. But the end of an era indeed.

R.I.P. Pavilion.

'Tall Ships' could spur region's economic growth

The presence of the "Tall Ships" in Carteret County waters this weekend is a "golden opportunity" for Eastern North Carolina's economic development. And, despite the tourist amenities of the coast, this is a region that could use an economic booster shot.

“This is a real chance for us to showcase our region,” Lenoir County economic developer Mark Pope told the Kinston Free Press. “It’s a great opportunity for us to show off our lifestyle and the quality of life we have in Eastern North Carolina.”

Pope's "territory" is the 13-member county Eastern Region partnership -- the area that is hosting the so-called Tall Ships (Pepsi's America Sail, to be exact).

“This is absolutely an event that will have tremendous impact on all of the region,” Dave Inscoe, executive director of Carteret Economic Development, told the Free Press. “This fits right in with the partnership’s vision plans for branding the region as a whole. It gives us a chance to promote the total region and not just stop at county lines.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Tall Ships are almost here

One of the most anticipated coastal events in some time (since, perhaps, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight) will take place Friday, June 30 through Tuesday, July 4 when the Pepsi Americas' Sail comes to Carteret County. The event has become known as the "Tall Ships." has a great roundup site specifically for the Tall Ships. You can view it here.

In addition, a schedule of events and ticket info can be viewed here.

And the Jacksonville Daily News says that the event is bringing booming business to Crystal Coast communities.

The Buccaneer Inn in Morehead City still had a few rooms available as of last week, but they were expected to go fast. Of the 79 hotel rooms that had already been reserved, front office manager Sonya Ramsay estimated 70 had been rented to people who had called because of the event.

“The last month or so, there have been calls every day. I’ve had at least six calls today; it has been constant,” she said.

Bed and breakfasts in Beaufort were accumulating long waiting lists in case of any cancellations. At the western end of Carteret County, all but a few of the 775 rentals offered by Emerald Isle Realty were reserved, and the business was doing its part to help promote the tall ship event and inform all renters of the upcoming activities, said director of reservations Jeff Lessey.

Some property owners were choosing not to rent their homes that week and attend the event themselves.

“July 4th is our hottest booking time. They are giving up their biggest week for rentals and coming down themselves,” he said.

Monday, June 26, 2006

OBX vacations can be educational

Summer is here (as if the heat wave and severe storms weren't enough of a sign), and it's vacation time for many North Carolinians.

Cherie Speller, an education and community reporter for the Greenville Daily Reflector, has an insightful column (available online here) about how to make an Outer Banks vacation an educational experience as well, especially for children.

"The children have enjoyed most of the places we've visited so far," she writes. "The bonus is that most of them are educational, although we're real slow about pointing that out to the kids to spare some groaning."

Among the highlights listed by Speller are the Wright Brothers Memorial and "The Lost Colony," among others.

She also recommends Jockeys Ridge in Nags Head.

"In Nags Head, it's the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern United States and is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer. A state park, it offers free programs such as a crab clinic, kayaking and kite flying. We climbed to the top of the dune to see the sound side, a great feat hauling a 2-year-old child. My advice is to save this trip until later in the day when it's not as hot (the sand can be 20-30 degrees hotter than the air temperature) and wait until the children are old enough to make the hike on their own."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Canes' win great for the Great State of North Carolina

June 20th, 2006 was proclaimed by Gov. Michael Easley as "Carolina Hurricanes Day" across North Carolina. And rightfully so. After all, the night before the Canes became the first professional franchise in the state to win a championship.

Brett Friedlander of the Fayetteville Observer writes that the win shows that hockey can work in North Carolina.

Certainly it’s not nearly as significant as either of the college basketball national championships won by N.C. State, whose banners already hang from the RBC Center rafters. Or the multiple crowns won over the years by UNC or Duke.

Those are the victories that helped put Tobacco Road onto the map of big-time athletics and gave this area enough of a sporting identity for owners such as [Peter] Karmanos, Jerry Richardson and Robert Johnson to think they could make money by putting pro teams here. And yet, each of those collegiate titles was celebrated by only one segment of the population.

That’s illustrated before the third period of every Hurricanes home game when a highlight reel of local celebrities cheering the team on is played on the RBC Center’s video screen.

The cheers and boos are divided relatively equally when Roy Williams and Sidney Lowe make their regular appearances. And they don’t even show Mike Krzyzewski for fear that the negative reaction might get too out of hand.

But when the lights go down, the music goes up and the Hurricanes skate onto the ice, everyone in the stands is no longer Tar Heels, Wolfpackers and Blue Devils. They’re all Caniacs, the loudest fans in the NHL.

The Observer also ranks the top sporting events in North Carolina history (excluding the Stanley Cup win). You can read that here. Not surprising, college basketball victories earn the most accolades.

And in Winston-Salem, Lenox Rawlings describes how historic the win was.

"Every tradition has to start somewhere. This one starts on an ice patch on a hot summer day at the intersection of Tobacco Road and the road to the future."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Well, the Carolina Hurricanes went and did it. With last night's 3-1 win over Edmonton, the state of North Carolina finally has a professional sports championship. Who would've ever thought that the state's hockey team would get a championship before the Carolina Panthers or Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats? Very few did. But it happened. And the complete Hurricanes "organ-I-zation," the city of Raleigh and the rest of the Triangle should be proud. For that matter, so should the rest of the state.

Instead of trying to come up with something original, I'll just link/summarize what folks across the region/nation are saying on the morning after.

-The News & Observer's Ned Barnett writes that it's a "state of disbelief" right now. "It is a stunning and perhaps transforming win for a Southern region where NHL hockey is less than a decade old. Whatever happens from now on, this region will be home to the Cup for a year and part of its history always."

-N&O Canes beat writer Luke Decock describes how Canes captain Rod Brind'Amour was "overcome with emotion" when he finally got to hoist the Cup. "On the brink of tragedy after missing out on two chances to close out the Edmonton Oilers, the Hurricanes claimed ultimate success with a 3-1 win in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals on Monday, securing North Carolina's first major league title and setting off a night of wild celebration across the Triangle, starting with the scene at center ice at the RBC Center where Brind'Amour accepted the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman."

-And in print everywhere, the Caniacs are being praised for the atmosphere that filled the RBC Center. "From the moment the home team opened the scoring in the second minute and the roar threatened to punch holes in the RBC Center roof, the fans yelled themselves hoarse as they cheered their heroes to Stanley Cup glory in a thrilling Game 7," writes the Durham Herald-Sun.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Appropriately named Smokies still thick with pollution

It's one of the saddest aspects of modern growth in the Southeast: the Great Smoky Mountains have a suffocating haze permanently atop, and, according to the Associated Press, it has "nothing to do with the natural mist for which the Cherokees named the region 'place of blue smoke.'"

The Smokies are the most visited national park in the nation, but it is "under attack from smokestack soot and smog, invaded by non-native pests and challenged by its own popularity. ...

"Millions of dollars in support in the past 10 years from such nonprofit groups as Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association and the contributions of thousands of volunteers to clear trails and build buildings gives them reason for hope."

Air pollution may be the Smokies' biggest challenge. Emissions from coal-fired power plants, industry and motorists hundreds of miles away or just over the next ridge is fouling the Smokies' skies, reducing 113-mile vistas to 25 miles, creating ground-level ozone that makes breathing difficult and drawing air-quality comparisons to Los Angeles.

"The good news is the future is now - here," said Jim Renfro, the Smokies air-quality specialist. "When you look at other plac-es throughout the country, some haven't gotten to the stage we are."

That stage was reached after the park established "irrefutable evidence" after 10 years of monitoring that air quality was bad and getting worse in the late 1990s.

The region's biggest polluter, the Tennessee Valley Authority stepped up a multibillion-dollar program to clean up its coal-fired power plants. In 2005, park and TVA officials announced that emissions were going down.

"We reversed the trend, which I think is a huge success story. Since the late '90s, air quality is improving, and it is expected to continue to improve over the next 10 years," Renfro said. "Is it enough to attain standards and protect the resources? We hope so."

Now hear this: Contest ends in a 'holler off'

It was a scintillating affair, this 38th annual National Hollerin' Contest. And it went right down to the wire.

Tony Peacock from Carrboro knocked off Kevin Jasper, a two-time champion from Mocksville, in a "holler off" at the Spivey's Corner event on Saturday.

"The main event featured six men and started at 6 p.m.," writes the Fayetteville Observer. "Twenty minutes later, the judges huddled with red clipboards. They declared a tie, ushering a 'holler off' between Jasper and ... Peacock.

"Jasper had't prepared for a runoff, but he repeated his crowd-pleasing Tarzan yell and hollered, 'How Great Thou Art,' his mother's favorite.

"Peacock, who had tucked a violet shirt into his khaki pants, gave his signature yell: 'Whoooooo-la-la-la-la-looooow!' and performed other hollers."

Read more about his uniquely North Carolina event here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

It's time for some hollerin'!

If there is one sure way to get some air time with David Letterman, it's to win the National Hollerin' Contest, held each June in Spivey's Corner, N.C.

This year's contest, the 38th annual, will be held Saturday, June 17th at the Spivey's Corner Fire Department. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. The hollerin'? Well, that gets started at 4 p.m.

The last few years, Roseboro native Larry Jackson has crushed the competition [writes the Fayetteville Observer]. He won his sixth title last year, and he picked up three consecutive victories in the contest from 2001 to 2003.

Jackson is a good example of what the National Hollerin’ Contest is all about. Like many of the participants in the contest — there were about 20 last year — Jackson learned hollerin’ from his grandfather. It’s an art that only exists today because of those who passed it on future generations, said Wayne Edwards, an organizer.

“It was something to do out in the fields for some people,” Edwards said. “You might not be able to sing, but you could holler.”

So hollerin’ became an informal form of communication or entertainment in portions of the rural South.

It’s evolved over time, and newer generations of hollerers add their own special touches to their hollers. But Edwards and other organizers of the National Hollerin’ Contest prefer what they call “old timey hollerin’,” the original incarnation of the form.

“We even let judges hear examples of it before the contest so they know what to listen for,” Edwards said.

Read more here.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Taking a "dip" in the natural pools of Western N.C.

Granted, it has a lot to work with, but the Asheville Citizen-Times (along with numerous other Western North Carolina newspapers) does a great job of highlighting its region's natural assets.

This latest article touches on the various natural "swimming holes" that are available for public enjoyment in the mountains of Carolina.

"They appear like a mirage on a hot day - deep natural pools of translucent, icy water in the middle of the mountains," says the article by Lindsay Nash.

"If it were up to the regulars, you probably would never hear about them. But some secrets are too good to hold onto, especially when it comes to some of the best spots in the area to cool off.
Swimming holes abound in Western North Carolina, you just have to dig a little to find them - or in most cases - hike a little."

Of course, these aren't chlorine-filled, balmy waters of "country club" swimming pools.

"It's like zero degrees in there," 9-year-old Jacob Russell of Weaverville told the paper before taking a dip in a swimming hole in the Pisgah National Forest.

But despite the temperature, there's something about swimming holes that keep people coming back for more.

"Pools are boring," said Russell's 13-year-old brother, Mark.

And with that, the brothers headed to the nearby bridge for another jump into the blue-green water.

The article goes on to list some of the best WNC swimming holes; it even includes a map.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Canes can make Carolinas sports history

With one more win (in three chances) in the Stanley Cup Finals the Carolina Hurricanes can make history by becoming the first professional sports team in the Carolinas to win a championship. The Canes lead the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in the best of seven series, with Game 5 taking place in Raleigh tonight at the RBC Center.

A win, either tonight or in any of the next two games (if necessary), would "carry the state into a new era," writes the Charlotte Observer.

North Carolina, long famed for winning college men's basketball titles, could have its first major-pro sports champion.

The arrival of four big-time pro teams over the last 18 years showed how much North Carolina had grown. But a title would further shift perceptions about the state.

"It can counter the image that North Carolina is more Mayberry than more metropolitan," said Harvey Schmitt, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.

The Associated Press states that the Canes give fans torn by college basketball rivalries the chance to unite; East Carolina football coach Skip Holtz believes the Canes are the right team at the right time.

A scoreboard picture of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams brought boos from some of the Carolina Hurricanes’ fans. Sidney Lowe, the new North Carolina State coach, got the same treatment.

In North Carolina, basketball loyalties are passed down like family heirlooms. But with the Hurricanes one win from bringing the first major professional team championship to North Carolina, the rabid ’Caniacs who fill the RBC Center, and the ticketless fans who party outside as the game goes on, have embraced hockey as they might a NASCAR champion or ACC MVP.

Fans in these parts are proving a Tar Heel can love a game played on the ice. So can a Demon Deacon, a Blue Devil, those running with a Wolfpack or sailing with the Pirates.

‘‘Everybody for the longest time would argue that North Carolina was all about basketball,’’ said East Carolina football coach Skip Holtz, who took time off from preparing the Pirates for next season to attend Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Edmonton Oilers in Raleigh.

‘‘I think this is a great sports state,’’ he said. ‘‘They follow it, they’re rabid, they’re animated. They’re great sports fans, and they’re going to follow a winner.’’

A Stanley Cup championship may mean a richer following statewide for the Hurricanes. The immediate goal, however, is to further embrace the Triangle, according to the Durham Herald-Sun.

The Canes think they need to do more to capture the imagination of sports fans in Durham.

Matt West, the team's vice president of business operations, is especially cognizant of the Bull City. He lives in Durham and was the Durham Bulls' director of sales before joining the Canes' organization in April 2004.

"We'd like to be the team or the entertainment component of this region that everybody could agree on, that everybody could support," West said. "It's kind of funny because I live 25 to 30 minutes from our building, and yet there are many people that feel Durham is light years away from Raleigh. They're not on the same planet."

A potential Stanley Cup might be the vessel the Hurricanes need to make further inroads in the Durham market.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Saying goodbye in an unconventional way

There's not much I can add to the following story, so I won't try. Let's just say that all of the folks involved teamed up for a beautifully moving -- and environmentally touching -- way to say goodbye to loved ones off the coast of North Carolina. You never want to see people (or pets) pass away, but these folks have given themselves up to the sea and to the Earth, and it is a magnificent gesture.

When about 50 people stepped from a dock in Sneads Ferry last week for a voyage out in the Atlantic they weren’t boarding a charter for fishing. They set sail to witness a “green burial” of their loved ones. Families and friends huddled in groups. They hugged, held hands and peered into the calm waters that would soon turn to 6- and 8- foot waves. Despite the swelling sea, they were able to say goodbye to eight family members, a dog named “Scruffy” and a sea turtle named “Dare.”

The Kemps Ridley sea turtle provided the inspiration for the name of the reef — the first of its kind in the country. And Thursday, two miles off the coast of Topsail Beach, Dare’s Reef began to grow.

Ten artificial reef balls — varying in weight from 400 to 4,000 pounds — were lowered to the ocean floor by a crane on a nearby ship. In a matter of days, the balls should begin teeming with fish and other marine life. Each reef ball was cast of
eco-friendly concrete mixed with the cremated remains of loved ones. It’s a way for family members and friends to honor those who loved the sea while giving something back to it. ...

Patty Webb and her children cried when the bell chimed for their husband and father William Stover. They knew the reef burial was perfect for him — and he could never have been separated from their dog, “Scruffy,” of course.

“I think he would have been proud of his son and daughters to find a special place for him and Scruffy,” Webb said. “He loved the ocean and it’s a remarkable idea.”

Dennis Riley said the same of his daughter, Julie.

“I think she would have loved this,” he said.

Julie Riley, of Wichita, Kan., died Jan. 12 after battling cancer for 18 months. She had requested a reef burial because she fell in love with sea turtles. She also wanted to improve their environment. Julie read the story of Dare on the Internet and decided she wanted to be a part of her reef. ...

Ashley Moore said the memorial was something her family would never forget. They plan to become certified to dive down to the reef and visit their loved one — families are given the exact coordinates of the location.

For more information on Eternal Reefs, visit their Web site at

Friday, June 09, 2006

Some Charlotte folks are on Canes' bandwagon

No, Carolina Hurricanes fever has not swept over the city of Charlotte. But the Canes' Stanley Cup finals run (they are up 2-0 on the Edmonton Oilers as of this writing) has excited the small-but-loyal fan base in the Queen City, according to the Charlotte Observer.

They met over the Internet (doesn't everybody these days) and gather to watch a team that's creeping into the consciousness of Charlotte-area sports fans.

Brian Firmstone of Charlotte said groups of 20 or more in his unofficial Carolina Hurricanes fan club have been meeting to watch games at Dave and Buster's at Concord Mills.

The crowd watching the Hurricanes' pursuit of the Stanley Cup has included native Southerners and relocated hockey fans from Detroit and the Syracuse area.

"Judging by the accents, it's about 50-50," Firmstone said.

Game 3 of the finals is at 8 p.m. Saturday, and Carolina holds a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series that could bring North Carolina its first major professional team sports championship.

Hurricanes officials say interest in the Hurricanes throughout North Carolina -- including Charlotte -- is increasing, but say the overwhelming majority of season ticket holders are from the Raleigh-Durham area.

As I pondered last week, it is interesting that Charlotte (or more of the state, for that matter) has not embraced the Canes; by the same token, it appears that Raleigh can boast a number of Carolina Panthers fans. Granted, hockey is not a "native" sport. And the distance between the cities is, as the article points out, similar to the chasm between Detroit and Chicago.

"I can't say that Charlotte is a market that we can draw from on a regular basis, but we have interest there," Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford told the Observer. "But I do think as time has gone on, especially this year, we're becoming more of a state team."

Rutherford said the NFL's Carolina Panthers get more of a regular audience from Raleigh than the Hurricanes do from Charlotte, though that's difficult to quantify.

The nature of the sports allows for the Panthers to attract more fans from a larger region, Rutherford said. The Panthers play eight home games, on Sundays when many fans don't have to work. A Hurricanes fan holding even half a season ticket would have to drive the five-hour, 40-minute round trip between Charlotte and Raleigh for 20 games, many on weeknights. Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos said the team's efforts to grow a fan base are based in the Raleigh-Durham area.

"Hopefully as the sport catches on, wider and wider in the state, people will like it," said Karmanos, who is from Detroit. "But we're four hours from Charlotte, I believe. So that's quite a ways. That's as far as Detroit is from Chicago."

For the record, shows that Detroit is 4 hours, 31 minutes from Chicago and Charlotte is 2 hours, 40 minutes from Raleigh. Though Karmanos overestimated the distance, his point that Charlotte hockey fans will only make that trip on an occasional basis seems valid. Firmstone grew up in Detroit and is one of the growing number of Carolinas residents relocated from areas that have had NHL teams for decades. Those fans are one group with interest in the Hurricanes.

Fans in Charlotte may not be so quick to hop on the bandwagon when the regular season cranks up next year. (After all, there's nothing quite like playoff hockey.) But the Hurricanes fanbase appears to be growing -- slowly, but surely.

"You're almost on the world stage now in the finals," Rutherford said. "And the fact that we have so many good, young players ... people can say, they're not leaving, they're going to be there for a while. I think it generates more interest."

Big Apple takes a bit out of BBQ

North Carolina barbecue recently received rave reviews in an unlikely place: A New York City publication.

"Chip Allen, the son of E. L. 'Sonny' and Janie Allen of Salisbury, is now working for the United Nations Credit Union in New York, and he got an unexpected surprise the other day when he picked up a copy of a magazine, Time Out New York, and opened to an article about — what else? — Salisbury," according to Rose Post's article in the Salisbury Post. "So, of course, he sent a copy to his parents. Touted on the cover with the come-on, 'Chow Down Out of Town,' the article by Reed Tucker is headlined 'The Squeal Deal' and the subtitle tells you quickly what it's about. 'Pork,' that subtitle says, 'is king on a tour of North Carolina Barbecue.'

"And Salisbury is treated handsomely by Tucker, who gave special attention to College Barbecue on Statesville Blvd."

The article goes on to state that while Chip Allen lives and works (and even vacations) in the Northeast, he still finds it difficult to "satisfy his hometown tastes."

"Every time he comes home," his mother says, "he has to stock up on Cheerwine and eat his fill of barbecue at College Barbecue."

And he was so thrilled with the Time Out article, which expresses his attitude exactly, that he immediately sent his parents a copy.

The Time Out writer was on his way to Charlotte when he discovered Salisbury's barbecue.

"Like visiting a hotel with hourly rates, there's something unseemly about devoting an entire getaway to food," he wrote. "Vacations, we're taught, are for getting sunburns and visiting places where George Washington slept, not moving up another pants size.

"Still, I grew up down South and, like those California-born New Yorkers who whine about not being able to get good Mexican food, I pine for real barbecue. It's worth planning a trip around."

Almost every town in North Carolina, he said, is graced with at least one good pork restaurant ("pig is what you'll get — no barbecued beef here") and the biggest problem is choosing where to go.

Coastal residents worry about 'Kudzu'

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's proclamation that it covers "Dixie like the dew" could just as easily be "We cover Dixie like Kudzu."

Anyone who has ever spent any time in the South has no doubt seen this fast-growing foliage take over ditches, old barns, road shoulders, trees, telephone poles and more. Now, folks along North Carolina's coast are worried about what they call "Kudzu of the Coast": vitex rotundifolia.

Sharon Lewis keeps a scrapbook documenting the progress she’s made building up and protecting the dunes in front of her oceanfront property [according to Freedom Press].

A sand fence funnels pedestrians toward the beach and off the dunes and sea oats. Other vegetation have taken root — another measure in the fight against beach erosion.

Now Lewis doesn’t want to see the “Kudzu of the Coast,” creep in and take over what she’s accomplished.

“I’ve worked like crazy to build up the dunes and I don’t want to see this happen,” said Lewis, pointing to a patch of the menacing beach vitex plant growing in the dunes along oceanfront areas of Emerald Isle.

Lewis was among a small group of Bogue Banks residents who attended a presentation this week about the plant. She then followed David Nash to the beach for a look at the exotic shrub.

He didn’t have much good to say about it beyond one obvious but highly deceptive trait.

“It’s attractive; I won’t take that away from it,” said Nash, a dune plant expert with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. But its pretty purple flowers don’t disguise the negative impacts of the invasive plant that has become the focus of a two-state task force.

Nash, who is North Carolina’s coordinator for the Carolinas Beach Vitex Task Force, said the goal is to locate, document and eradicate the plant before it gets out of control.

“If we don’t do something now, then in 50 years or 100 years, or however long it takes, it will be the kudzu of the coast,” he said.

Read more here.

1898 panel hopes for action in Wilmington

As mentioned on June 1, a Wilmington panel has recommended reparations and restitution regarding the infamous 1898 Wilmington race riots. A follow-up article in the Star-News states that the members of that panel hope that action will be taken; the fear is that nothing will really be done.

"Members hope their call for restitution won't follow the same path as those of other cities seeking healing from a violent past," said the newspaper.

"I don't even want to guess what the legislature will choose to do with this," said Ruth Haas, commission member and director of the Cape Fear Museum. "I think that if there were a real commitment to the total package, it would go far."

The report shows that in November 1898, as part of a statewide white supremacy campaign, Wilmington's city government was overthrown, the campaign's black and white opponents forced out of town and violence claimed an unknown number of lives.

One of the commission's recommendations is funding for a permanent museum exhibit showcasing the bitter yet compelling history. Haas said the museum's display panel of 1898 history is not extensive and needs to be updated. The report calls for a redevelopment authority and economic incentives to bring more minority-owned businesses to Wilmington.

Commission member Kenneth Davis said he supports all of the recommendations but is unsure what will come of them. "I'm not overly optimistic given the political climate," he said.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

'Graduation' day for the 'Lucky 12'

North Carolina may not be one of the first states people think of when the subject of sea turtles comes up. But many Carolina residents do their parts each year to see to it that the eggs that are laid on N.C.'s beaches are protected. Coastal residents guard these locations in hours-long shifts, keeping people and animals away.

On Topsail Beach on Wednesday, the "baby" turtles known as the "Lucky 12" made the trek to their ancestral home while hundreds of people cheered them on, according to the Jacksonville Daily News.

The eager onlookers could be seen in kayaks offshore or standing amid the waves for a closer look.

Some laughed, some jumped, some cried and some clapped.

But it was obvious to everyone who witnessed the annual event that the 100-to 200-pound animals were happy to go home to the ocean. The turtles were out of sight in a matter of seconds.

“It’s like watching your kid graduate,” said eight-year volunteer Beth Howard with the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center at Topsail Beach.

The sea turtle hospital has spent months and in some cases years preparing the 12 loggerhead, green and Kemp’s Ridley turtles to be released back into their familiar habitat.

For everyone involved, it was a long, difficult road. Each of the turtles was found stranded and in dire need of medical assistance and tender loving care. The problems included massive head injury, shark bite, propeller wound, starvation and entanglement in fishing line. Each turtle was treated by a veterinarian, and some underwent multiple surgeries. ...

It should be noted that Beasley's operation is one of the most respected turtle rescue facilities in the United States.

“It’s an opportunity for us to get together and to rejoice in the fact that we have been able to bring these turtles to full recovery and that they are ready to return to the wild,” Jean Beasley, director and founder of the hospital, told the newspaper before the release. “… And it’s an opportunity to carry this message (about conservation) to school children because they are our hope for the future.”

For the rest of the story, go here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Beaufort native the face of America's Sail

Capt. Horatio Sinbad is coming home.

"Sinbad and his crew earned the right to bring the 2006 Pepsi Americas’ Sail to his home port of Beaufort, and over the past two years, he’s become the face of the maritime festival that will be held in Carteret County from June 30 to July 5," according to the New Bern Sun Journal. "He now appears in television commercials, on posters hanging in windows and cardboard cutouts featured at store displays."

The event, famously known as the "Tall Ships," will be arriving on the North Carolina Crystal Coast in just a few weeks. and it's very important to Sinbad.

“This means a lot to me personally,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 32 years and now (Pepsi Americas’ Sail) is an opportunity to bring this type of event here and show the people in Carteret County what it’s all about.”

The newspaper lists the following information about the 2006 Pepsi Americas’ Sail
When: June 30 to July 5.
Where: Beaufort.
Events: tours of tall sailing ships, 15-mile regatta, artists market, entertainment, Fourth of July parade and fireworks.
Tickets: required to tour ships.
For information:

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ava Gardner lived life 'like a rocket'

Hollywood screen legend Ava Gardner was born near Smithfield in 1922, and today the Johnston County town honors her with a museum. (A very good museum at that.)

Now, there is a book devoted to telling the story of Gardner's rise to motion picture fame and her tumultuous marriages and love affairs.

"Lee Server devoted three years to the 500-page Ava Gardner: 'Love Is Nothing,' plus 51 pages of sources, an index and other reference material," said the Associated Press.

"Speaking from his New Jersey home, Server said the research took him on the road 'since Ava's trail goes all over the world,' including Madrid, London, her birthplace in North Carolina, Hollywood and Puerto Vallarta -- 'she put that place on the map when she made Night of the Iguana there.'"

Read more here.

Praise and respect for Grandfather Morton

More from the funeral of Hugh Morton (see blog post below).

From the Asheville Citizen-Times:
It is a beautiful time of year on Grandfather Mountain, with the rhododendrons in full bloom and the approaching warmth of summer blending with the cool of higher altitudes to create near-perfect temperatures.

It was the type of relaxed, blissful climate Hugh Morton enjoyed for decades.

Amid that backdrop hundreds of mourners came Sunday night to Grandfather’s Nature Museum to pay their respects to Morton, the mountain’s owner and nurturer for the past 55 years.

Morton died of cancer at age 85 on Thursday, and friends and family mingled for two hours at his visitation remembering a kind, gentle man whose passions included a love of nature.

“He was the right man for the mountain,” said son Jim Morton. “He left a beautiful place for everybody to enjoy from now on.

From the Associated Press:

They came across the Linn Cove Viaduct that was born of Hugh Morton's greatest battle, up the side of a mountain he fought to preserve, to pay their respects Sunday to North Carolina's biggest booster. ...

In attendance Sunday was Morton's good friend, musician and longtime TV host Arthur Smith. It was Smith who joined Morton in 1962 at a statewide televised debate with the head of the National Park Service, which wanted to route the Blue Ridge Parkway over Grandfather Mountain.

Smith's declaration -- that it didn't seem right for Washington bureaucrats to take away the mountain Morton loved and was caring for -- helped carry the public relations battle. The park service ended up taking the parkway around the side of the mountain.

The Linn Cove Viaduct, built to accomplish the feat, has become North Carolina's most famous stretch of road, a staple of tourism posters and advertisements.

"He did so many things, from the [Wilmington] Azalea Festival to the battleship [USS North Carolina] to Singing on the Mountain," a gospel festival held annually on Grandfather Mountain, Smith said.

On the wall Sunday was one of Morton's most famous photographs -- a shot of the Charlotte skyline, nearly 85 miles distant, taken from atop Grandfather Mountain on an exceptionally clear day.

Queen City just not getting into Canes' run

Raleigh and the rest of the Triangle may have gone "Cup Crazy" over the Carolina Hurricanes' run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but there are apparently still parts of North Carolina that could not care less.

One of those areas is the state's largest city, Charlotte. That is, at least according to the Charlotte Observer (which probably covers the Clemson football better than it covers the Canes).

"The Carolinas' National Hockey League team, the Carolina Hurricanes, begins fighting for the Cup Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers," said the Observer.

"This is the team's second title shot in four years; if they win, it would be the Carolinas' first major championship in a pro sport.

"But the Canes' recent success isn't exactly rubbing off in the Carolinas largest city, Charlotte. ...

"The proof is in the numbers: More than 10 percent of Raleigh-area households saw the Canes' last semi-final game, while 3.2 percent watched in the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem Triad. In Charlotte, just 1.3 percent of homes tuned in.

"In uptown offices, Northern transplants talk about hockey, workers said, though usually about the frustration that their home teams failed to reach the finals. The Canes were born in 1997 when the Hartford Whalers moved South. ..."

The annoying part of the article is this next line: "Charlotte might have more interest if the Canes played here and not three hours east in Raleigh, fans said."

The fact that the Carolina Panthers reside in Charlotte has not stopped the rest of the state from embracing the NFL team, so why is it so hard for the rest of the state to latch on to the Canes? Is it because it's a "Yankee" or "Canadian" sport? Or is the state just not big enough for college basketball, college football, NBA basketball, NFL football, PGA golf, NASCAR and hockey? Doubtful.

Former JAG officer Brown an accomplished author

I've had the pleasure recently to trade correspondence with North Carolina attorney and former NAVY JAG Don Brown, the author of Zondervan publisher's Navy Justice Series. Don's books include Treason, Hostage and Defiance.

About Treason (from his website): "When Muslim terrorists infiltrate the Navy Chaplain Corps, Lieutenant Zack Brewer, just three years out of law school, is pitted against the world’s greatest defense attorney in the court-martial of the century."

About Hostage: "When terrorists attack, JAG officer Zach Brewer faces a deadly choice. Save the woman he loves – or the lives of millions."

About Defiance: "With life and death hanging in the balance, NCIS Agent Shannon McGilverry races against the clock to protect the Navy's most famous JAG office, while searching the globe for its most famous missing one."

Go to to learn more about Don and to learn more about these riveting books.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Rest in Peace, Grandfather Morton

Perhaps the greatest "champion" of North Carolina's culture and beauty, Hugh Morton, passed away on June 1. Below are some excerpts from the many articles about the man who owned and promoted Grandfather Mountain, saved the USS North Carolina battleship and was the "unofficial" state photographer.

From the News & Observer:

In more than six decades of advancing causes public and private, Morton, who was 85, became known as a formidable force on such issues as development along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the preservation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. He inspired thousands of schoolchildren to donate nickels and dimes to save the USS North Carolina battleship.

Morton, for many, wasn't a household name. But in a persistent push, Morton did more than perhaps any other person to promote North Carolina's beauty and

"He was truly one of North Carolina's treasures," Gov. Mike Easley said in a prepared statement Thursday night.

William Friday, a friend and former UNC system president, said in an interview that Morton was "probably North Carolina's most effective ambassador when it came to telling the story of the joy of living in this state."

"He'll be an example to people of what you do when you have the talent to serve the state without any expectation of compensation," Friday said.

From the Charlotte Observer:

His personal stage was the 5,964-foot peak he inherited and turned into one of the state's leading tourist attractions. When mountain firs and red spruce started dying in the 1980s, Morton, an acclaimed photographer, used the sad images to campaign for cleaner air.

"He wants to be remembered as the guardian of Grandfather Mountain," said his daughter, Catherine Morton. "His regret was that he was not going to outlive it." ...

He died at home in Linville, at the foot of his mountain, among the lavender blooms of Catawba rhododendron. He was 85.

His ashes will be scattered on the rugged peaks.

From the Asheville Citizen-Times:

From the time he was 13, Morton took his camera everywhere, photographing Gen. Douglas MacArthur in World War II and the Blue Ridge Mountains up until his death. He shot his final photo, of a 4-month-old bear cub, on May 20.

“He didn’t waste a minute of his life,” his grandson, Crae Morton, said Thursday night. “He was always on the move. ... He left a wonderful legacy for the rest of us.”

From the Associated Press:

He had a flair for promotion, dreaming up the "Mile-High Swinging Bridge" that became the symbol of Grandfather Mountain and running publicity for Luther Hodges' successful 1956 gubernatorial campaign.

And in his most famous campaign, he stopped the National Park Service from building the last 7.7 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway over Grandfather Mountain, saving the mountain he owned and loved.

"That was the most important thing as far he's concerned, his most important calling," Catherine Morton said Thursday night.

Dunn's General Lee museum set to re-open

He is undoubtedly the lesser known of the famous General Lees, but General William C. Lee was perhaps more important in the annals of history than the other, more revered Robert E.

"Bill" Lee was a native of Dunn, and is known throughout that area (but perhaps rarely anywhere else) as the "Father of the Airborne." It was Lee who encouraged the U.S. military to begin using paratroopers -- a decision that ultimately led to victory in World War II. In fact, when paratroopers jumped from planes in the invasion of Normandy, they tossed aside the usual yell of "Geronimo!" in favor of "Bill Lee!"

Now Lee's hometown is set to re-open the Gen. William C. Lee Museum -- which is actually his former home.

From the Fayetteville Observer:

A lifelike mannequin of Gen. William C. Lee sits at a desk in his living room, now a museum dedicated to his legacy as the father of the airborne forces.

He is looking at a map of Europe as a radio broadcast of the D-Day invasion plays in the background. His wife, Dava, also depicted as a strikingly lifelike mannequin, stands over him. Her hands rest on his shoulders.

It is believed that in this setting in 1944 the real Gen. Lee listened to the pivotal World War II invasion that he had helped plan before suffering a heart attack.

The exhibit is among new displays at the Dunn museum in Lee’s three-story brownstone. The Gen. William C. Lee Commission spent almost $400,000 to renovate the museum by adding state-of-the-art exhibits that interweave Lee’s personal life with airborne history.

The commission plans to unveil the improvements during a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. on June 6, the 62nd anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The ceremony kicks off a series of events to mark the 20th anniversary of the museum.

“It far exceeds our expectations,” said Chuck Turnage, who serves on the commission. He is the chairman of the celebration committee.
The Observer also offers a terrific photographic slideshow about the Lee Museum. View it here.

How 'bout them Canes?

A North Carolina professional sports franchise is one step closer to winning a championship. And it's not in football or basketball.

The Carolina Hurricanes (can we quit referring to them as the former Hartford Whalers?) are in the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in four years after holding off the courageous Buffalo Sabres in Game 7 last night at the raucous RBC Center. (See, the RBC Center CAN be loud.)

Despite what the national (and even some state) media would have us believe, hockey is popular and accepted in "NASCAR country," Carolina.

Case in point:'s SportsNation poll from yesterday, before the game. It asked readers to vote on what they will be watching that night: the Eastern Conference finals; the NBA playoffs; the national spelling bee; or the women's softball college world series. Only two states -- N.C. and New York -- had voted for hockey by about 4 p.m. On a state-by-state comparison, just 48 percent of those in New York planned to watch hockey, while 45 percent picked basketball. In North Carolina -- a state that supposedly doesn't "get" hockey" and is supposedly a "basketball state," some 65 percent voted that they planned to watch hockey.

So there.

"Native Tar Heels and the thousands who have moved from points North to the
land of college basketball and humid June nights partied Thursday as the
Hurricanes earned a place in the Stanley Cup finals," said this Associated Press article from the Charlotte Observer -- a paper that does a passable job of covering the Canes.
"I'm loving every minute of it. It was a great game," said Ricky Adcock, 44, of Durham. He said he grew up a football fan and started following the hockey team about six years ago as his son, now 19, took to the sport.

"Now I'm a big-time fan," he said as passers-by howled in the RBC Center's parking lot. ...

"Raleigh's becoming a Canes' town," said college student Brad Gandolfo, 23, of Raleigh. "Hockey is catching on in the South. ... I love the Canes. I love hockey. Hockey in person is the best thing." ...

"We have people that know the game, love the game and support these players and this team unbelievably," [player Doug] Weight said. "I've been so impressed with our fans. I'll be honest with you, it was a huge, huge part of this series."
Go Canes! Now go beat the Edmonton Oilers and bring the Stanley Cup down here to "NASCAR" country.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Celebrate National Trails Day

Saturday, June 3 is National Trails Day across the United States. But one doesn't have to travel far to find great Western North Carolina hiking hot spots at which to celebrate the day.

"Whether used for hiking, biking, dog walking or just wandering, the trails of Western North Carolina are a leafy-green smorgasbord for those who enjoy a healthy helping of the outdoors," says the Asheville Citizen-Times.

National Trails Day “started as a day to get outdoors and celebrate trails and human-powered recreation,” Ivan Levin, National Trails Day coordinator for the organization that started the event, the American Hiking Society, told the newspaper. “The first year, there were probably 100 or so events around the country. In 2005, there were 1,132 trail day events with attendance of more than 121,000. We keep increasing. People are taking more of an active interest in their public lands.”

The article goes on to give some great tips for some Asheville-area trails and events.

Epperson preserved music of the Appalachians

Bluegrass and string music is alive, well and popular in North Carolina and in the United States. And one man to be thanked for that was Ralph Epperson, who passed away on May 31 at age 85.

Epperson started WPAQ 740 AM in Mount Airy in 1948. The station served to promote and preserve the traditional music of the Appalachians.

"Epperson and the station are nationally known for their efforts to keep the tradition of string-band music alive by recording community and regional musicians in the 1940s and '50s and then creating a space for the music on WPAQ," said the Winston-Salem Journal. "Over the years, such musicians as Mac Wiseman, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and June Carter played on the station. So did Tommy Jarrell and Benton Flippen - whose banjo and fiddle styles are distinctive to Surry County."

Wayne Martin, the folk life director for the N.C. Department of Cultural
Resources, says that the station's influence cannot be separated from the health
and vitality of the music.

"He made that material accessible to the people who live in the region, and hearing their family members and neighbors on WPAQ has had an incredible effect," Martin said. "One reason Surry County and the region is looked at as the hotbed of old-time music is because of what Ralph did. He joyfully presented it back to the people."

Read more about the remarkable life of Ralph Epperson here.

Bill Leslie: Bloggin' it

Longtime WRAL-TV personality (and giften musician) Bill Leslie is proud of his home state. His blog, "Tar Heel Traveler," on shows that. Leslie is adept at describing and promoting the people and places that he visits in his journeys across North Carolina.

In recent posts, Leslie has talked-up the mountain town of Hendersonville, where he stayed at the Echo Mountain Inn (I can attest to the quality of that place); the stylings of musicians Bet and Rob Mangum ("it felt like a homecoming of dear friends or family," he wrote); and the coastal wonders of Pine Knoll Shores ("And by all means when you're in the area go for the shrimp and grits at Clawson's 1905 on the Beaufort waterfront!").

It's hard to argue with that logic.

Action called for regarding 1898 Wilmington race riots

It's one of the saddest (and less-talked about) moments of North Carolina's history: In November 1898, Wilmington's city council was overthrown in a rash of statewide white supremacy movements that was propogated by the Democratic party and egged-on by newspapers, including the Raleigh News & Observer. Up to that point, African Americans served in a variety of state and local government positions.

Even more tragically, however, was the fact that an untold number of people were killed at the height of the race riots, which are well-known in the Port City but rarely discussed anywhere else.

Perhaps no more.

"The legacy of the 1898 Wilmington race riot, according to recommendations made to state lawmakers on Wednesday, should be aggressive redevelopment of the city's Northside and a statewide effort to make sure the lessons of the event are not forgotten," according to this article from the Wilmington Star-News. "After six years of research and debate, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission presented its completed 660-page report to the N.C. General Assembly on Wednesday."

The report states that, among other things, minority homeownership should be increased in Wilmington, and the commission suggested "as a possible action that the government 'use its eminent domain power to acquire vacant commercial properties,' and sell them to poor residents with guaranteed mortgages."

Statewide, the commission hopes to make the race riots a more well-known event. "Among the recommendations with statewide impact, a unit on the 1898 events would be made a permanent part of the state public school curriculum. Also, the commission recommended that a television documentary be produced and aired nationally."