Tuesday, May 30, 2006

High gas prices may be a boon for N.C. tourism

Believe it or not, but the outrageous price of gas across the state is not preventing people from traveling. Better yet, it may actually contribute to a rise in Tar Heel State tourism.

The Associated Press reports that the "pump pain" may result in more people vacationing in-state (this summer), as opposed to flying to the Caribbean or the Magic Kingdom.

Connie Nelson with the Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau told the AP that calls from out-of-towners were up 25 percent in April compared to a year ago.

"The Memorial Day weekend may be another indicator," said the AP. "Thousands headed to North Carolina's beaches and hotels, and the Inn at River Oaks in Southport reported turning some people away for a lack of vacancies."

And I can vouch that the fact that people were enjoying the coast. It look 45 minutes to drive the roughly 12 miles from Pine Knoll Shores to Cape Carteret on Monday evening -- a clear indicator that people were not dissuaded from auto traveling.

Roberts: N.C. ghost authority

Before Stephen King. Before Pat Conroy. And before Stuart Woods, there was Nancy Roberts.

As a small child growing up in North Carolina, Roberts' books were the absolute best; there were none better. When it came time for my class to go to the library, her books were the first ones I sought out. After all, what's more intriguing to a 12-year old than ghost stories about your backyard?

"She has heard hundreds of ghost stories and collected them in 13 books, prompting Southern Living magazine to proclaim her 'Custodian of the Twilight Zone,'" according to the Wilson Daily Times. Roberts was recently in town to speak at the Ragan Writing Center at Barton College.

And, naturally, someone asked her if she believes in ghosts.

"I believe that people have told me the truth about things that really happened to them. I believe in their veracity. ... "Let's just say that I believe enough to have a healthy respect for these stories."

The article goes on to say that Roberts "has not sought to verify stories herself" ... "but she has seen the Maco Light, a ball of fire on an island off Hilton Head, S.C., and other oddities."

More information on Roberts or her books is available at www.nrobertsbooks.com and you can read the rest of the Wilson Daily Times article here.

Battleship N.C. has a much-decorated, colorful history

The Battleship North Carolina is undoubtedly one of North Carolina's top tourist attractions. For decades, children (both young and old) have enjoyed inspecting the ships inyards and marvel at the gators that swim around the massive vessel that sits in Wilmington. Oh, and the fireworks shows were neat, too.

But the ship's former intelligence officer has completed a 172-page book chronicling the ship; his hope is to shed light on the monumental moments that the ship -- and those that sailed on it -- took part in.

The author, Capt. Ben Blee, wrote the first edition of the book Battleship North Carolina in 1982, according to Freedom Press. This new version "greatly expands on the information provided in the first, including more than 200 new photographs, two dozen new charts and diagrams and a feature called 'Life Aboard,' which has quotes and observations from those who actually served on the ship during the war."

“I want this book to be viewed by naval historians and the general public as the defining history of the Battleship North Carolina,” Blee told the press. “I want readers to believe they are getting an honest, authentic history of this great warship.”

The article goes on to say that "The North Carolina was one of the most decorated U.S. battleships of World War II. It participated in a number of the most famous of the Pacific’s many island-hopping battles such as Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The warship and her crew had to deal with typhoons, Japanese submarines and kamikaze pilots.

"Because of that dangerous and historical experience, the North Carolina holds a special place in the heart of all those who served on her."

Blee concurs.

“For many of those who served on her only for the duration of World War II, that experience was the most meaningful period of their lives, and they love to relive it when they get together,” he said. “Those of us who were career Navy men, serving for years at a time in other ships, are just as proud of our North Carolina service, but those other ships share our affection.”

Read more about the book and the battleship here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lexington releases the hogs

Lexington unveiled its newest round of pig celebrities recently with "Pigs in the City III."

"It was the most unusual of fashion shows in the most unlikely of settings," described the Lexington Dispatch. "Haute couture it was not, but creative art and infectious low-brow humor, it was."

The fiberglass, decorated pigs -- dubbed the "New Pigs on the Block" -- were unveiled during Uptown Lexington Inc.'s gala premier at the Lexington Municipal Club to a crowd of 200. Oh, and there was "catwalk" music from Paris and New York to accompany the hogs.

The 26 pigs now adorn the streets of uptown Lexington, where they will remain for five months.

"Local radio announcer Willie Edwards elicited groans and laughter by reading corny biographies stuffed with pork references about each pig and evoked applause by introducing the artist who created and the business that sponsored each one," said the Dispatch. "For example, Carolina Style Swine, designed by Gerri Tomlin for Bank of the Carolinas, moved from a small south Davidson farm 'to the Pig Apple to pursue her dream of becoming a designer,' Edwards said. 'She worked for such big name designers as Sowsoon and Versowchi before opening her own shop in Sow-ho.'

"In addition to a fictional bio, each pig had a true story behind its creation. The most compelling was that of Special Olympig, painted for BB&T in Lexington by 40 to 50 county Special Olympics athletes with help from teachers, coaches and other artists. Buddy Thomas, a BB&T commercial loan officer, said the bank's first artist had to pull out. Mary Ann Brown, county Special Olympics director, wanted her athletes to do a pig but had trouble finding a sponsor. Former Uptown Lexington Executive Director Frank Stoner put them together."

Read more about the "Pigs in the City" here.

Ocracoke among the best beaches in the U.S.

"Dr. Beach" has released his list of the America's best beaches, and N.C.'s Ocracoke Island made the cut at No. 3.

The aptly-named Stephen Leatherman is called "Dr. Beach" because he is an international beach expert. (Not sure how you get that gig, but I want it.) Actually, Leatherman is the director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research.

Maui's Fleming Beach Park earned the "best beach" accolade in the U.S. No. 2 was Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin, Florida, with Ocracoke earning third place. The rest of the top 10 was Coopers Beach in New York; Kauai's Hanalei Beach; Main Beach in New York; Coast Guard Beach in Massachusetts; Coronado Beach in California; Maui's Hamoa Beach; and Barefoot Beach Park in Bonita Springs, Fla.

A Hawaii beach, according to the Associated Press, has claimed the top spot on Leatherman's list for the 11th time in the study's 16-year history, including nine in the past 11 years.

"Let's face it, Hawaii is our tropical paradise for America," he said. "It's where the mountains meet the sea. It's idyllic. The scenery there is fantastic."

Top 10 Best Beaches
1. Fleming Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii
2. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin, Fla.
3. Ocracoke Island, Outer Banks
4. Coopers Beach, Southampton, N.Y.
5. Hanalei Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
6. Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
7. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
8. Coronado Beach, San Diego, Calif.
9. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
10. Barefoot Beach Park, Bonita Springs, Fla.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Emerald Isle hopes to purchase pier

It's a sad but true fact: Many of North Carolina's beaches are losing their ocean fishing piers. Another one is on the figurative chopping block: the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle.

But folks -- including the town of Emerald Isle -- aren't giving up without a fight.

“My family and I have been going to this pier for 30 years now. Emerald Isle wouldn’t be the same without it,” a Raleigh resident chimed in, according to an online petition and the Jacksonville Daily News.

Those sentiments summed up the feelings of 1,213 people who signed a petition online by midday Tuesday seeking support for Emerald Isle’s efforts to protect the last fishing pier in town.

The petition, on the Web site www.saveourpier.com, went up Monday. Most respondents backed Emerald Isle’s efforts to partner with the state of North Carolina to purchase Bogue Inlet Pier for perpetual public use. The pier and surrounding properties are under contract to be sold to a private real estate development firm with plans to redevelop an approximately 15-acre site.
The town wants to purchase only the pier and enough property for a parking lot.

“Bogue Inlet Pier is the last remaining ocean fishing pier in Emerald Isle, and one of only two remaining on Bogue Banks,” Town Manager Frank Rush told the newspaper. “The financial reality in today’s coastal real estate market is that ocean fishing piers are likely to be lost forever unless a public entity acquires and operates theses facilities. The town of Emerald Isle recognizes this reality and is taking proactive steps to ensure the perpetual existence of an ocean fishing pier in Emerald Isle.”

Meanwhile, the Daily News reports, the town is also partnering with the North Carolina Aquarium to secure a direct appropriation from the General Assembly to ensure the perpetual existence of a public pier in Emerald Isle.

Any appropriation by the General Assembly would supplant or supplement grant funds that are obtained and would be used to improve the durability of the pier.

In either case, Rush said, the town would convey Bogue Inlet Pier to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores to operate as a part of the aquarium. It’s an arrangement that would be similar to Jennette’s Pier at Nags Head, which is owned and operated by the N.C. Aquarium Society in partnership with the N.C. Aquariums.

The addition of Bogue Inlet Pier to the aquarium system would provide more educational opportunities through aquarium programs and offer a possible research location for state universities and other marine science programs.

It would also be another step toward efforts to ensure public ocean fishing piers in the northern, central and southern coastal areas of North Carolina, Rush said.

Rogers: We must protect and preserve barbecue

Columnist Dennis Rogers of the News & Observer has a passionate diatribe in the May 24th issue calling for the preservation of "good" North Carolina barbecue.

"Far too much second-rate pig meat is being peddled as authentic North Carolina barbecue these days," he writes. "I have been faithful to the Holy Grub. Yet I feel like a lovesick cowboy who has been done wrong by a cheatin' gal."

Among the suggestions (along with just plain high standards) are the creation of a Barbecue Society and a Historic Barbecue Trail -- not unlike Civil War trails that already exist.

"The society would sponsor a celebration of the tasty trifecta of smoke, swine and time called the Tarheel Barbecue Classic. Barbecue experts from the east, Piedmont and mountains would gather in Raleigh for a weekend of eating, cooking, seminars and storytelling devoted to the food that once made Parkers Barbecue on U.S. 301 in Wilson among the state's most famous tourist attractions.

"And -- please remove your hat as a sign of respect -- there would be an official Barbecue Hall of Fame. The first inductees would likely be the Rev. Adam Scott of Goldsboro, a black Holiness preacher who sold barbecue off his back porch in the 1930s; Bob Melton, whose restaurant on the Tar River was legendary in Rocky Mount; Warner Stamey, the godfather of Lexington-style pig; and Eastern North Carolina's own King of 'Cue, the recently-deceased Pete Jones of Ayden's Skylight Inn. They are this state's Sultans of Smoke."

Rogers goes on to note that if you are interested in talking to Winston-Salem lawyer Jim Early about a Society, then you can reach him at at 1320 Westgate Center Dr., Winston-Salem, NC 27106 or send an e-mail message to JIM@jimearly.com.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Coastal Living rates 'em all

Coastal Living magazine's website, CoastalLiving.com, has compiled its "Best of the Coast" lists which includes such topics as "Best Seafood Dives" in America, "Top 10 Bike Trips" along U.S. coasts, "Top 10 Aquariums" and much more.

While North Carolina spots rated highly on some parts of the magazine's "Best of" lists, the state was shorted on others.

First, the good:
  • The Outer Banks ranked among the top 10 places for bike riding. "This ride would rank higher if not for wind and traffic," said Coastal Living. "The arrowhead-shape formation of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks thrusts way out into the Atlantic Ocean—usually beyond sight of the mainland. These narrow, flat strips of sand afford lots of water views, especially on the Pamlico Sound side. The ride’s difficulty depends on whether the capricious sea breezes provide a helpful tailwind or nasty headwind. The main road, two-lane Highway 12, lacks bike lanes or even much in the way of shoulders. Spring provides the best combination of nice weather and light traffic. A 28-mile lighthouse-to-lighthouse ride (plus a free ferry ride in the middle) runs from the famous Hatteras Light on Hatteras Island to the Ocracoke Lighthouse on the western tip of Ocracoke Island."
  • The "Scenic Cycling" topic notes Carolina Tailwinds on Ocracoke Island. The company "offers four- or six-day tours of North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island and Outer Banks in the spring and fall. The route snakes through scenic Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A luxury bike tour of the Outer Banks explores the northern coastal region of North Carolina. Riders may bring their own bikes or pay an additional fee for rental."
  • Beaufort was rated among the places with the best boardwalks. "If glitz and glamour aren't your forte, stroll down the boardwalk in this quaint North Carolina town. Friendly locals abound, as well as boaters who've docked their craft to get a better view of Carrot Island's wild horses, or to peruse an antique store or two. The view (and beer) from the Dock House is exceptional, and the live music and fresh crabs on a summer night can't be beat. "
  • And Cape Lookout National Seashore was voted among the top 10 National Seashores and Lakeshores. "The more-accessible Cape Hatteras National Seashore, just to the northeast, gets more attention, partly for the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. But the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, with its striking black-and-white diamond pattern, is pretty cool, too. And the three unbridged, nature-dominated Cape Lookout islands—North Core Banks, South Core Banks, and Shackleford Banks—show what the Outer Banks were like just a few decades ago, before strip malls and giant rental homes. Check out Portsmouth Village, an eerily well-preserved ghost town."

Those are the items that Coastal Living got right; however, N.C. beaches and beach amenities were left off the other categories:
  • Favorite Seafood Dives
  • Pocket Beaches
  • Off the Beaten Path
  • Top 10 Seafood Markets
  • Top 10 Aquariums
  • Best Seaside Drives

Got any thoughts on what N.C. spots could be included in these lists? Discuss it in the "Comments" section. Some suggestions?

  • Favorite Seafood Dives: Crab Shack in Salter Path and Island Grill in Atlantic Beach
  • Top 10 Aquariums: The new N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Agri-tourism coming to Eastern N.C.

It's not always easy drawing tourists to the non-coastal parts of Eastern North Carolina. But a new mindset is hoping to change that.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service is featuring Greene County, for instance, in its Southeast AgriCulture Tourism event on Tuesday, May 23.

“This is our chance to show what a small rural county can do,” Stan Dixon, extension director for Greene County, told the Kinston Free Press. Dixon stated that, as of May 19, more than 50 people had signed up for the tour.

According to the newspaper, guests for the tour include farmers from other counties, agriculture students from North Carolina State University and representatives from tourism departments in other counties.

“This sets us on the map and adds another niche to what we have to offer,” Dixon said.

Know of any other agri-tourism events? Talk about them in the "Comments" section.

Still 'Fun Days' in state's oldest town

People swarmed to Bath, the state's oldest town, on Sunday, May 21, for Bath Fest.

The arts-focused festival was created to replace Fun Days as the town's premier event (now that the tricentennial is over). Bath Fest featured displays by area artisans, and the "selling wares from watercolors and baskets to duck decoys, jewelry and pottery," according to the Washington Daily News.

“We felt like Fun Days had kind of played out. We had a committee that wanted to do something to bring people into Bath and to showcase the town,” a spokeswoman at the Historic Bath visitor’s center told the newspaper.

“To be honest, I didn’t know how creative some of my neighbors were," said Bath resident Jennifer Taylor. "There’s a lady down there who does quilting that I didn’t know about. There’s a lady I’ve known forever who makes pocketbooks and I never knew it. There’s a lot of talent in Bath."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Pigs in the City: Take 3

One of the most unique and entertaining public art displays in the state has been the city of Lexington's "Pigs in the City" project, which gives local and regional artists the chance to paint hogs to place all around town. (Lexington does, of course, have a style of barbecue named for it, after all.)

The third version of "Pigs" will be unveiled on Tuesday, May 23 at a fashion show-like presentation.

"You'd think we would run out of creative pig ideas, but it's not happened yet," Uptown Lexington Inc. President Greg Turlington told the Dispatch.

According to the paper, this year's litter includes Pigabunga, a pig surfer dude designed by Jan Fritts for M&L Motor Co., and SunSwine Sally, a bikini-clad sow created by Andrea Campbell for Breeden Insurance.

More on the 'Age of the Aquarium'

The opening of the redesigned and expanded N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is gathering attention from across the state. (The new fishbowl opens today, Friday, May 19.)

In addition, the Greenville Daily Reflector has a brief note, while the News & Observer has an article about the aquarium being "reborn."

"I've got a lot of people asking about it -- very many," Stanley Smith, owner of the beachside, 23-unit Oak Grove Motel in nearby Salter Path, told the paper. "I think it will make a big impact. It will give families a place to go.

"Me, too. I'm dying to see what it looks like."

He's not alone.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

PKS aquarium ready for grand opening

One of North Carolina's more remarkable attributes is the quality and quantity of state aquariums. There are three along the coast; the latest one to be remodeled is the aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, which will re-open after a $25 million expansion (to three times its previous size) this Friday.

The highlight of the new aquarium is a 306,000-gallon ocean tank -- complete with a replica of a German WWII U-boat -- with an array of sealife surrounding it, including tiger sharks.

The theme of the aquarium is North Carolina "from the mountains to the sea." Along with ocean exhibits, a Smoky Mountain Trout Pond (with rainbow, brook and brown trout) is on hand, as well as fish and animals from the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions. There's also a river otter display, featuring otters Pungo and Neuse.

Aquarist Meredith Owens told the Jacksonville Daily News that the two otters have adjusted to the new environment well, and she’s looking forward to teaching the public more about the animals.

“By making people more aware they are out there we can protect their habitat,” she said.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

See N.C. from the mountains to the sea

Much thanks to a co-worker for alerting me to this great site which allows you to see town webcams from all across North Carolina.

Wanna see a sunrise from Atlantic Beach?

What about a view from atop Grandfather Mountain?

Or perhaps a weather cam from high atop Hickory? They're all here.

The master gatherer of these webcams is Reggie Hunnicutt, who states (on his site) that people "love to view their favorite places when they can't be there in person. That is why I built this comprehensive Live Web Cam directory of North Carolina."

Great job, Reggie!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Still a Variety Vacationland

Though it no longer proclaims it on our license plates, North Carolina remains a "Variety Vacationland." And it appears that folks truly understand and appreciate the wealth of opportunities in the state.

According to figures released on May 16 by the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development (but not, oddly, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), tourist spending in the state jumped to a record $14.2 billion in 2005 -- up from 7 percent from the year before. The spending increase was the biggest annual jump in five years. Also, the number of business and leisure trips in the state -- by both in-state and out-of-state travelers -- totaled 64.5 million last year, up 2.9 percent.

Now, if we can only get the license plates changed back.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Theater of the American South to premier

A new festival in Wilson is set to get underway this week. The Theater of the American South will begin its first three-week run on May 18 with Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at the Boykin Center. Also to be performed is the one-may show, "Haint."

The Theater of the American South was created by Raleigh attorney Gary Cole to celebrate Southern theater, according to the Wilson Daily News.

A neighbor, Raymond Rodgers, is set to star as Big Daddy in "Cat."

"In addition to these two theatrical productions, the festival features lectures, concerts, and demonstrations on southern cuisine, famous Wilson barbecue, literature, gospel music, and much more," he wrote in a neighborhood email. He also noted you can read more about the festival at www.theateroftheamericansouth.org. "Each day of the festival features activities for the whole family, though I wouldn't recommend "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for tender ears, as we are using the rarely produced unexpurgated final version of the play that Tennessee Williams wrote before he died. ... "The dates are May 18,19,20,21,25,26,27,28 and June 1,2,3, and 4. You can reserve tickets online at the above link."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Lowe's return a 'homecoming'

College basketball is as much a part of North Carolina culture and heritage as sweet tea, barbecue and the Wright Brothers Memorial. And so it's a huge deal when one of the Big Four schools has to go out and find a coach.

Sidney Lowe, the on-the-court captain of N.C. State's 1983 "Cardiac Pack" National Championship team, is returning to his alma mater to coach the Wolfpack.

Yes, Lowe wasn't State's first (or second, third, fourth or fifth) pick. Yes, he has no college coaching or recruiting experience. But what Lowe lacks in those departments he more than makes up in one other:

He's "one of us."

Sidney Lowe understands the culture of college basketball in N.C. He knows that it's important that State beat Duke and North Carolina (just like Roy Williams knows he must beat Duke and State, and Mike Krzyzewski must beat UNC and State). That counts for a lot.

Lenox Rawlings, for my money the state's best sports columnist, put it better in the Winston-Salem Journal than I could:

"Sidney Lowe means homecoming. Sidney Lowe puts a smiling face on the swaying basketball program, and he puts an orderly mind inside the locker room. State fans know this intuitively, either from personally witnessing Lowe's college career or from watching videotapes of the 1983 title game against Houston.

"He played smart, supplying proper pace to Coach Jim Valvano's deliberate offense and directing the traffic flow. The Wolfpack clinched the 54-52 upset when Dereck Whittenburg fired a 30-foot airball that Lorenzo Charles snagged behind wandering Hakeem Olajuwon. Charles slipped in a buzzer-beating dunk, and the 'Cardiac Pack' slipped into the NCAA history books.

"Lowe played every minute that Albuquerque night. He made 4 of 9 shots, drawing enough defensive respect to create jumper space for Whittenburg (6 for 17, 14 points), Thurl Bailey (7 for 16, 15 points) and Terry Gannon (3 for 4, seven points). State made 23 baskets, and Lowe assisted on eight of them. He scored eight points. He never committed a turnover. Never. ...

"Can he stand the recruiting grind that he avoided so long, for cause? Can he tolerate the backbiting, back-slapping schizophrenia of State's impatient fans? Other than short-term wealth, can he derive personal profit from swapping the predictable, luxurious pro lifestyle for the exhausting, perpetual pursuit of Duke and Carolina?

"The hard questions multiply, but at homecoming people ask soft questions and remember good times and hope that good times will return somewhere down the road.

"This is homecoming, and the road begins here, with a toast and a smile."

Downtown Fayetteville museum to grow

One of the more special aspects of North Carolina's history and heritage is her commitment to the nation's military. And one city where you can truly feel that commitment is Fayetteville, the home of Fort Bragg and the 82nd Airborne.

The exquisite Airborne & Special Operations Museum -- still just an infant, as the age of museums go -- is undergoing its first expansion since its 2000 opening. The new exhibit will tell the "story" of special ops.

“We’ve been quiet for too long,” Lt. Col. Hans Bush, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, told the Fayetteville Observer. “It’s an important story. We want to make sure it gets told."

The new $950,000 gallery is being built in space once used for storage at the museum. The Army, according to the newspaper, is giving the museum equipment for exhibits, including a Humvee, a four-wheeler and a laser targeting device used for close air support.

John Duvall, the museum's director, told the Observer that obtaining the Humvee was a coup.

“They are not easy to come by. We are at war,” Duvall said. “We were told to just go away, it wasn’t going to happen.”

For more on the museum expansion, go here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Four Oaks tackles image, destiny

Following in the footsteps of Waltham, Mass., and Cherry Hill, N.J., the town of Four Oaks, N.C., is hoping to remake itself into that of a quaint village with an "eye-catching" grist mill "rising above a pond," complete with a welcome center "offering country hams and jelly preserves," and -- for good measure -- a "row of bed and breakfasts." Also planned is a train depot downtown.

Currently, the majority of people who zip through (or by) Four Oaks on Interstate 95 notice very little other than some fast food restaurants. But the town hopes to change all that within the next decade.

On May 2, the town board adopted district rules for its interchange and downtown. The rules are aesthetic guidelines that should result in a "cohesive village rather than a hodge podge of businesses," according to the News & Observer.

The rules also say what the town will not allow: mobile home parks, batting cages, tattoo parlors, tarot card readers, adult establishments and more.

Mayor Linwood Parker explained to the newspaper that the town the town sprang up with the railroad. A depot could serve as a museum and meeting place.

More problems for N.C.'s fish

A study by the National Marine Fisheries Service claims that proposed Navy sonar training could hurt a variety of fish species off the coast of North Carolina. The report goes on to say that fish may stay away from the sonar area, which could, in turn, affect the state's seafood industry.

"If they are doing acoustic exercises on a routine basis, I think it's possible that fish will avoid that area," Steve Tulevech, a marine biologist, told the News & Observer. "It could wipe out the recreational and commercial fishing operations and all the stuff that goes along with that -- sale of hotel rooms, bait, tackle and restaurants that depend on that tourism."

The area in question is a 660-square-mile area off the N.C. coast which the Navy has preferred for its training range, which "would teach sailors and pilots to use sonar to track submarines," according to the paper. "The surveillance system uses pulses of sound bounced off submerged objects to pinpoint and track subs."

The Navy's study said the sonar would affect the behavior of whales but would have "minimal" effect on fish.

"I've got very serious concerns about how it could affect fishing off the North Carolina coast, not just mammals but commercial and recreational fishing," Randy Ramsey, immediate past president of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, told the News & Observer.

Read more here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More concerns for N.C. fishermen

The N.C. Division of Public Health has issued its largest ever fish advisory due to unsafe levels of mercury found in fish statewide.

The Kinston Free Press reports that the state's health department "recommends that women of childbearing age and children under 15 stop eating 22 types of fish and have only one meal per week of another 34 types of fish and seafood."

Among the kinds of fish that should be avoided are: (from the sea) canned white tuna (albacore tuna), South Atlantic grouper, king mackerel, marlin, shark, Spanish mackerel, swordfish and tuna (fresh/frozen); (from the fresh waters) catfish (caught wild), jackfish, largemouth bass and warmouth.

(A complete list of fish both high and low in mercury can be found here.)

An expert with the Neuse River told the newspaper that the majority of mercury that is emitted into the environment comes from coal-powered power plants.

“These power plants have the ability to control their emissions of mercury,” explained Larry Baldwin, the Neuse River Foundation's lower Neuse River keeper. “They’re just not doing it.”

Baldwin told the Free Press that his concern is more for the fishermen who "fish for their next meal."

“They’re going to be asking themselves, ‘Do I eat today or do I worry about mercury?’”

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Big goings-on in Blowing Rock

The quaint, picturesque village of Blowing Rock will be busy over the next several months. Its 44th annual Art in the Park will be held one Saturday over the next six months, according to Scott Seaman of the Blowing Rock Victorian Inn. The dates for the event are May 13th, June 10th, July 15th, August 12th, September 19th and October 7th from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the American Legion Grounds in Blowing Rock.

In addition, the village will be hosting Celtic Festival 2006 on May 20th from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. "by the lake," with a concert to follow at 7.

The Guilde of St. Andrew of North Carolina recreates the ambiance, intrigue and pagentry of the 16th century noble and royal life, with particular emphasis on the Court of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.

Be sure to enjoy turkey legs, roasted corn on the cob, Celtic beers and drink. You can also trace your family roots, see Falconry demonstrations and much more.

(Here's a plug for the Victorian Inn.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Hay isn't just for horses, you know

(Special thanks to Dare Society member Brett Charlton for alerting us to this piece.)

Wake County Deputy Sheriff Kent Rogers has posted on the site davesgarden.com about his interesting way to grow tomatoes: on a bale of hay.

"I've been a traditional gardener all my life, but tried straw bale gardening last year as well," he wrote on the site. "I tried several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash, and zucchini in the bales and they all did outstanding."

Rogers goes on to give some in-depth directions to being successful with this type of gardening.

"One thing I’ve noticed—and this could be just a fluke—is I have not had to spray my plants with any pesticides such as Liquid Sevin. I haven’t had any worms, bugs or other pest bother my straw bale garden. Maybe it has something to do with the plants being off the ground."

And if a lack of bugs and worms weren't a good enough reason to try this, Rogers says this: "For those of you who may have physical problems doing tradtional gardening, you may want to try this method. Even wheel chair-bound folks could garden with this method."

Read more here.

'Our State' celebrates, well, our state

Our State magazine, the preeminent North Carolina-centered publication, will be raising a toast to the Old North State June 9-11 with "Celebrate Our State: A North Carolina Festival."

This festival -- dubbed the newest festival on the East Coast -- is music-themed, and really appears to be showing the range in musical tastes and talents in the state. Scheduled to perform, among others, are General Johnson & the Chairman of the Board, the Avett Brothers, David Holt & the Lighting Bolts, the Catalinas and perhaps the most celebrated of all North Carolina musicians, Doc Watson.

Read more about the festival, which will be held in High Point, here.

A berry, berry good idea

North Carolina's farmers and experts at N.C. State University hope that the growing (and commercial) season of the state's strawberries can be extended. Currently, the window of commercial opportunity is shorter in North Carolina compared to other states, notably California. But if a solution can be found, the strawberry industry could grow into a huge economic engine for the state.

According to the News & Observer, strawberries are more lucrative than just about any other crop North Carolina farmers grow, "bringing in an average of $1,500 an acre, according to N.C. State University's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics." In fact, that's "comparable with tobacco in its heyday, which brought farmers between $1,000 and $3,000 an acre before the government stopped propping up the price last year. It's a far cry from traditional row crops such as corn and soybeans, which usually bring farmers less than $50 an acre."

Not too shabby.

"We have at least a generation of Americans who have no earthly idea what a good strawberry tastes like," Jim Ballington, an NCSU researcher and the state strawberry breeder, told the paper, citing that California has berries with a longer shelf life but hardly the flavor of a good strawberry. "Shelf life is the only thing that matters."

Ballington hopes the strawberry researchers can figure out a way to extend the season enough "that they would have a fighting chance at breaking into the grocery store market."

But here's to hoping that the flavor isn't sacrificed. That would be berry bad.