Thursday, December 27, 2007

'We're No. 6! We're No. 6!'

According to Census Bureau statistics, North Carolina is the sixth-fastest growing state in America, up to a population of more than 9 million people.

"North Carolina grew by 2.2 percent in the year ending July 1, adding more than 190,000 new people to reach 9,061,032," says the Associated Press.

Among other states with marked population growth is Louisiana, which gained 50,000 residents and appears to be rebounding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. ...

The Census Bureau estimate is reached by measuring births, deaths and migration into and out of each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. ...

The fastest-growing states continue to be in the Rocky Mountain region and the Southeast. Texas also is still attracting new residents at a rapid rate.

Nevada returned to the top spot having increased in population by 2.9 percent to 2.6 million. Nevada held that title for 19 years in a row before being bumped off by Arizona last year. Arizona is the second-fastest-growing state according to the current estimate, with a population increase of 2.8 percent to 6.3 million. ...

Besides Nevada and Arizona, other Western states that made the top 10 list for fastest growth were Utah and Idaho, ranked third and fourth. In the Southeast, Georgia was fifth nationally, North Carolina was sixth, and South Carolina was 10th. ...

Quick hits: Military industry grows, while tobacco interest slows

Military industry growing in N.C.
"For anyone familiar with the state's ravaged textile industry, First Choice Armor's sewing room would be a shock: 100 workers stitching, their humming machines a cheerful undertone to a radio blaring 'Same Old Lang Syne.'

"The state is dotted with dozens of vast, empty mills -- or their wreckage. First Choice, though, moved into one of those shells in 2006 and is running six days a week -- two shifts in some departments -- making body armor, helmets, and bulletproof shields for SWAT teams. It has 200 workers and hopes to expand, said General Manager Paul Koren.

"One reason for its success: Its customers include the military," says the News & Observer. "That makes it exactly the kind of company that state and local leaders are trying to woo, or nurture from local roots. That push, which began in 2004, is aimed at capitalizing on the presence of some of the nation's largest military bases to replace jobs and income from faltering industries such as textiles, furniture and tobacco. There are signs that the efforts are paying off.
..."

Tobacco state bans smoking in state government buildings
"On New Year’s Day, smoking will be prohibited in all state government buildings in North Carolina, a state in which tobacco was once king.

"While North Carolina continues to be the leading producer of tobacco in the country, research linking secondhand smoke to health problems has prompted the change for state buildings.

" 'I have a good friend who says that just because tobacco is our history doesn’t mean that tobacco has to be our future,' said Ashley Bell, chairwoman of the N.C. Alliance for Health, which pushed for the new law. 'It’s a change in thinking publicly.'

"Bell said that the law is meant to protect employees and people who visit government buildings," writes Freedom Press.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New statewide travel guide available

Looking for an easy getaway? Want to hit a festival in the mountains for the weekend, or perhaps hole away at a coastal B&B? Well, the 2008 North Carolina Travel Guide -- hot off the presses -- can help you decide.

The guide was released today in both print and online versions. (To get it, call 1-800-VISIT-NC or visit http://www.visitnc.com/.)

“Whether you and your family enjoy hiking in the mountains, playing golf in the Piedmont or surf fishing on the coast, you will find something for everyone here in our state, as well as hospitable North Carolinians who delight in sharing our heritage with visitors,” Gov. Mike Easley said today in a news release about the guide.

The N.C. Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development produced the guide, which includes information on more than 650 attractions and nearly 4,000 accommodations.

Categories include family reunion vacations, outdoor adventures, nightlife, learning vacations, food and wine hotspots, motorsports and arts and cultural activities.

Quick hits: Blackberries, wine sellers seeing green, and white squirrels

The Napa Valley of blackberries?
"People weren't that interested in buying blackberries 25 years ago, said Kings Mountain farmer Ervin Lineberger.

"Most people picked 'em wild, he said, and didn't put much value on what they called the 'tame' varieties. Dewberries and boysenberries were what people wanted.

"That's changed," writes the Charlotte Observer. "Now the berry business is brisk as their health benefits make news. And Lincoln County farmers are getting in.

"About a dozen longtime Lincoln farmers have signed up to grow blackberries for SunnyRidge Farms, a Florida-based international berry seller. The company also plans to open a distribution center early next year north of Fallston around the intersection of N.C. 18 and N.C. 27, said production manager Stanley Scarborough.

" 'Lincoln County hopefully someday will be the Napa Valley of blackberries,' he said. ..."

Holiday season big for wine sales
"Christmas is a time when North Carolina’s wine industry benefits from their products being used as holiday presents all across the state," says News 14 Carolina.

" 'We love holidays because people are here and they are collecting and adding wines to take to parties, to take as house gifts, as presents,' said Lenna Hobson with RagApple Lassie Vineyards. 'Just general Christmas gifting, if you will, but they've also built in some time for them so they're also coming to taste wine and to have a good time.'

"With more than 60 wineries across the state, many residents are snapping up bottles. ..."

Brevard's famous white squirrels branch out
"Driving along, you see a flash of white, tail twitching, darting through a lawn or scurrying up a tree.

"You do a double take, slow down to get a better look. Sure enough, it's a squirrel, but snowy white instead of the usual gray with white underneath.

"But you're not in Brevard, where the rare white squirrel is plentiful and famous enough to have a festival and gift shop named after it, or even in Transylvania County," writes the Hendersonville Times-News.

"Readers report dozens of white squirrel sightings in Hendersonville, Flat Rock, Etowah, Horse-Shoe, Mills River and across much of Henderson County. Local legend has it the squirrels colonized the Brevard area in the 1950s from a pet white squirrel or squirrels that escaped. The snowy critters now make up about 25 percent of all squirrels in Brevard, according to the White Squirrel Research Institute, run by Bob Glesener, Brevard College associate professor of ecology/biology, emeritus.

"And they are spreading. ..."

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Chapel Hill institution closes its doors

(OK, so I lied about yesterday's post being the last before the holidays. So sue me. I just couldn't resist not commenting on this below.)

I was in either seventh or eighth grade, and my classmates and I from Dunn Middle School made the trip to Chapel Hill to visit the Morehead Planetarium. (It was for an educational show, by the way, not a Pink Floyd Lazer Show or some such.) Before the visit to the planetarium, we all went to the Rathskeller for dinner.

As a small-town boy from Harnett County, it was a cultural experience. The dankness of the place; the names written and carved into the tables and walls (we swore for years that we saw "Michael Jordan" written on our table); the bottomless cup of sweet tea.

As a lifelong N.C. State fan, I have been taught to mistrust and despise all things Chapel Hill (save for the magnificent School of Government, by the way). I will admit, however, that the Rathskeller has long stood in my mind as the quintessential college hangout.

Well, it is no more.

"Signs in the windows of the 59-year-old business stated the department had seized the property because taxes on it had not been paid," writes the Fayetteville Observer. "A note posted on the restaurant’s Web site by owner Francis Henry made it unclear when or if the place will reopen. ...


"That sense of history is part of what endears the place — known for serving extra cheesy lasagna, greasy steaks and apple pie topped with cheese — to alumni."

Genny Lou Exum, who lives in Fayetteville and graduated from UNC in 1958, likened the Rat to Franklin Street’s version of the Old Well, a campus landmark.

“I think the charm of it just never, ever leaves you,” she said. “I think everybody that ever went down there just fell in love with it.”


R.I.P., Rat.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quick hits: Gothic, Southern Christmas and the death of a film pioneer

(Note: This may be the last post 'til after Christmas. Happy Holidays, everyone!)

Haven Kimmel gets spiritual in 'Used World'
"Haven Kimmel - who spent a chunk of this autumn as a visiting writer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington - is one of those cheerful boundary-hoppers who's hard to pin down," writes Currents.

"She remains, of course, Indiana's greatest literary light since Kurt Vonnegut, having immortalized her Hoosier girlhood in the best-sellers A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch.

"For most of the past decade, though, she's lived in the Durham area, where she served a literary apprenticeship under Lee Smith at N.C. State, and her fiction often seems closer to Flannery O'Connor or Eudora Welty than to the great Midwesterners.

"This is especially true of her latest novel The Used World. Although set in Indiana, it's stuffed with literary props of the Gothic tradition, and it's as "Christ-haunted" (to borrow Flannery O'Connor's famous phrase for the South) as anything O'Connor ever wrote. ..."

Studio head Frank Capra Jr. dies
"Frank Capra Jr., the son of 'It's A Wonderful Life' director Frank Capra who followed his father into the movie business and helped build the largest television and movie studio on the East Coast, has died. He was 73," says the Associated Press.

"Capra Jr. died Wednesday night at a hospital in Philadelphia, said Bill Vassar, the executive vice president of Wilmington-based EUE Screen Gems Studios, of which Capra was president. Vassar said Capra died following a long fight with prostate cancer, which had spread over the past several months.

" 'With his Hollywood pedigree and extensive experience as a producer, Frank was the perfect ambassador to Hollywood,' Chris Cooney, chief operating officer of EUE Screen Gems, said in a statement. 'He will be missed as a friend and a colleague.'

"Under Capra's leadership, EUE Screen Gems' credits include several major motion pictures, including '28 Days,' 'The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,' 'Domestic Disturbance,' 'Black Knight' and 'A Walk to Remember.'

"... He discovered North Carolina in 1983 when searching for a home to burn down for the filming of 'Firestarter,' the Stephen King horror movie starring a young Drew Barrymore. The scene was shot at the Orton Plantation in Winnabow, and afterward Capra persuaded executive producer Dino De Laurentiis to build a studio facility in Wilmington.

"De Laurentiis eventually sold the facility, which again changed hands in 1997, when the Cooney family bought the studios and installed Capra as president. The studio has since grown into the nation's largest film production center east of California.

" 'He brings a certain cachet to the studio that would not be there and wasn't there before he came,' said Bill Arnold, the former director of the N.C. Film Office, said in an interview earlier this year. 'When Frank came on, I think it assumed a larger profile just because of Frank's name.' ..."

Monday, December 17, 2007

In 12 seconds, they changed the world

(I can't do better than this, so I'll just use it.)

"Most great breakthroughs were made on days long forgotten," writes the News & Observer.

"But there is something about the image of Orville and Wilbur Wright on the windswept sands of Kitty Hawk, coaxing an awkward mechanical bird off the sand -- and, with the shortest of flights, allowing humans the hope that they would not be forever confined to the ground.

"It was 104 years ago today that the Wright brothers achieved the world's first powered flight of a heavier-than-air craft, and the anniversary will not be ignored. ...

"But it's not just the Wrights' achievement that keeps people coming to the Outer Banks every December, said Darrell Collins, the memorial's historian. After all, the automobile, the telephone and penicillin also shaped modern life.

"Collins said it is the story of two brothers, working together with few resources other than their own hope and determination, that draws people to the memorial.

" 'In less than a minute,' he said, 'they changed the world.' ..."

The state of national champions

Congratulations to the Appalachian (that would be "App-uh-latch-ian," not "App-uh-laytchian") State University Mountaineers on their third straight Division I football championship. Jerry Moore has built the most consistent football program in the state in Boone, but the entire state of North Carolina should e proud.

The 'Neers now can ride into the history books.

Also, congratulations to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons men's soccer team, which won its first NCAA title on Sunday in Cary by beating Ohio State, 2-1. The game was at a sold out SAS Soccer Park, which says alot about the interest in the sport in the Triangle. (Perhaps if the RailHawks continue to do well, then MLS may look to the area for another expansion team?)

Three with Tar Heel ties up for Golden Globes

According to published reports, three thespians with North Carolina ties are up for Golden Globe Awards (in the TV categories).

Michael C. Hall, who grew up in Raleigh and graduated from Ravenscroft School, was nominated for best actor in a TV drama for his role as the serial-killer police investigator in Showtime's "Dexter."

Kinston native Jaime Pressly received a supporting TV actress nomination as the sassy Joy on "My Name Is Earl." She won her first Emmy Award for the part earlier this year.

And Mary-Louise Parker, a graduate of the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, was nominated as best actress in a TV comedy for her turn as a marijuana-dealing suburban mother in Showtime's "Weeds."

Also nominated in the category for best comedy or musical film was "Across the Universe," which starred Raleigh native Evan Rachel Wood.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dunn, N.C., and the Rock Hall of Fame connection

I knew my hometown of Dunn, N.C., was famous for a couple of reasons. One was native son General William C. Lee, the "Father of the Airborne." (We even have a yearly celebration to honor this "other" General Lee.)

I was somewhat surprised years later to realize that Jack Kerouac name-dropped Dunn in "On The Road."

But I was floored when I found out -- years after I had left the city -- that one of the founding fathers of rock and roll was a Dunn native. Link Wray, the man responsible for the power chord, is from my hometown. Wow.

The power chord, for better or worse, revolutionized rock music. And while Wray is not in the Rock Hall of Fame, his surf music contemporaries The Ventures were just announced as new inductees. The Ventures even covered some Wray songs back in the day.

It should also be noted that the Rock Hall of Fame website has a list of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.

Making the list? "Rumble," by Dunn's own Link Wray.

Here's to you, Mr. Wray.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Charlotte awarded with ACC football championship game

According to published reports, Charlotte will host the 2010 and 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference football championship games, while Tampa will do the honors in 2008 and 2009.

"The decision was reached unanimously this morning in a conference call of the league's athletics directors and faculty athletics representatives, which ended a seven-month bid and selection process, a conference statement said," says the News & Observer.

"We are extremely excited about the future of the ACC Football Championship game at these sites," Commissioner John Swofford said. "Both Tampa Bay and Charlotte are tremendous destinations in terms of their football venue, community support and partnership with the Atlantic Coast Conference."

The games in Charlotte will take place on Dec. 4, 2010, and Dec. 3, 2011, at Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers and the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The first three ACC title games have been in Jacksonville, Fla.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quick hits: Grammy nominations for memorable N.C. music and grants for memorable N.C. vistas

Grammy nominees include some N.C. faces
" ...North Carolina 'American Idol' alumnus Chris Daughtry heads up a large group of nominees with four each, a pack that includes Akon, Bruce Springsteen and Feist," writes the News & Observer's David Menconi. "Daughtry's nominations include a nod for best rock album, but he was snubbed in the best-new-artist category.

"Also on the North Carolina 'American Idol' tip, High Point's Fantasia picked up a nod for best contemporary R&B album.

"Durham-based Merge Records earned its second-ever nomination, for Arcade Fire for best alternative album. Former Chapel Hill resident James Taylor's 'At Christmas' picked up a nod for best traditional pop vocal album. ..."

Grant will help protect scenic vistas
"There's good news on the horizon for motorists who like to take the long way occasionally, just to enjoy the gorgeous Tar Heel landscape," writes the Greensboro News & Record.

"The Conservation Trust of North Carolina recently was awarded a grant of $252,000 from federal highway officials for coordinating efforts to preserve scenic vistas along such routes as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherohala Skyway and Grassy Island Crossing.

"The statewide conservation group and nine local land trusts will use the money from the Federal Highway Administration to 'identify, map and prioritize key parcels' along 560 miles of scenic byways. ..."

Friday, December 07, 2007

N.C. Zoo looks, plans for the future


The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro has some grand ideas for its future. Here's to hoping they come to fruition.

An enlarged elephant and rhino exhibit is on tap for next spring, according to the Asheboro Courier-Tribune.
"The new exhibits will feature the state zoo’s expanded herds of nine rhinoceros and seven elephants, the most ever, and improve the ability to breed both pachyderm species. The elephants are part of one of the largest African elephant collections in the United States," said the paper.

The zoo has other projects, dependent on public and private funding over the next several years, on the horizon. Among them are an enlarged exhibit to house more polar bears, including youngsters; a third continent, Asia; and the Children’s Discovery Center. ...

“The keeping of bears is the next big thing after elephants[, said N.C. Zoo Director Dr. David Jones]. They need land space, more than originally thought.”

Enlarged exhibits are needed for the zoo’s polar, grizzly and black bears.

Jones noted that the design for the present polar bear exhibit, which opened in 1994, “was state of the art at the time.”

The current plan for the Rocky Coast exhibit is to provide new holding facilities — capable of housing five or six polar bears, including youngsters — and three times the present exhibit space. Estimated cost is $6.2 million.

The next project would be doubling the enclosure size for grizzly bears and making modifications to the black bear exhibit. Estimated cost is $2.5 million.

Jones said that early planning work is already under way for the Asian continent, which would be constructed on a 100-acre area between the parking lots for Africa and North America. ...

The new continent would focus on Asian animals, plants and habitats.

Featured animals in the first phase would include the Great One-Horned Indian Rhino and the zoo’s most requested species, tigers.

The second phase could bring in Giant Pandas and other species, like snow leopards, from the foothills and high mountain tops of the Eastern Himalayas, themed around China’s largest panda sanctuary, “Wolong.” Orangutans and Malayan tapirs would be included in the third phase. Estimated cost is $43.5 million. ...

We are fortunate here in North Carolina have such a world-class zoo. And we are even more fortunate that its leaders want to keep forging ahead, making it better and better.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Three-squared honored with highest civilian award in the state

I must admit: I've always thought the Order of the Long Leaf Pine was the highest civilian honor a North Carolinian could recieve, but according to this article, the North Carolina Award is such.

Nonetheless, nine folks were honored with the North Carolina Award on Tuesday. More than 200 North Carolinians have been selected as recipients since the award was first issued in 1964.

Gov. Mike Easley presented the awards for service in fine arts, literature, public service and science.

Here is a summary of the winners, from the N&O. (For more, click on the link above.)

SCIENCE: VINEY P. ANEJA
He has developed a research program in agricultural air quality that is recognized worldwide. In 2001, he was also appointed professor of environmental technology in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.

PUBLIC SERVICE: JERRY C. CASHION
From 1974 to 2000, Cashion was research branch supervisor of what is now the Office of Archives and History in the state Department of Cultural Resources.

FINE ARTS: JAN DAVIDSON
Davidson has served as director of the John C. Campbell Folk School since 1992. Founded in 1925 at Brasstown in Clay County in the southwestern corner of the state, the school offers about 850 classes to more than 3,000 students in art forms such as blacksmithing, basketry, weaving, music, storytelling and writing.

FINE ARTS: ROSEMARY HARRIS EHLE
Ehle has supported the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem since 1967, and she serves on its board of visitors. Born in Ashby, Suffolk, England, Ehle grew up in India and was educated in England.
Ehle made her London debut in 1952 in "The Seven Year Itch." Her stage career included roles opposite Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole and Laurence Olivier. She received a Tony Award for her role as Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter," a Golden Globe for her role in the television miniseries "Holocaust" and an Emmy for her role in "Notorious Woman." Most recently, Ehle has enjoyed popular acclaim as Aunt May in three Spider-Man movies. (Emphasis mine; who knew?)

PUBLIC SERVICE: HENRY E. FRYE
After graduating from law school at UNC-CH, Frye became the first African-American elected to the N.C. General Assembly in the 20th century. He served in the House of Representatives until 1980, when he was elected to the state Senate. In 1983, Frye was appointed to the state Supreme Court. His appointment as chief justice in 1999 made him the first African-American to lead the state's court system.

LITERATURE: WILLIAM E. LEUCHTENBURG
The author of more than a dozen books on 20th-century American history, Leuchtenburg is known for his scholarship on Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Leuchtenburg lives with his wife, Jean Anne, in Chapel Hill.

PUBLIC SERVICE: BURLEY B. MITCHELL JR.
In 1982, Mitchell was elected associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, where he later was named chief justice and served in that capacity for four years.
Mitchell remains in his hometown of Raleigh with his wife, the former Mary Lou Willet.

PUBLIC SERVICE: CHARLIE ROSE
In 1974, Rose began a long affiliation with Bill Moyers, collaborating on a number of PBS programs. A short stint in Dallas-Fort Worth led to a talk show in Washington, as well as acclaim for his interviewing skills. In 1983, CBS hired Rose to serve as host of "Nightwatch." "The Charlie Rose Show" premiered in 1991 with national distribution two years later. He kept his own show while also serving as a correspondent on "60 Minutes II."

SCIENCE: DARREL W. STAFFORD
Notable in his long career is Stafford's work that has enabled doctors to better regulate how patients respond to blood-clotting medications.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Port ... of Elkin?

The Associated Press is reporting that officials are studying the possibility of building an inland port ... in the North Carolina mountains.

"Legislators have appropriated $100,000 for a study in which researchers from Western Carolina University will determine the feasibility of a shipping hub for distributing freight to be transported by truck, rail or even air," says the AP.

“It has nothing to do with water,” said Alan Thornburg, a senior policy fellow at Western Carolina. “It’s an inland intermodal facility for the transfer of goods.”

The idea of moving freight inland by truck or rail is being considered in part, to take pressure off traditional seaports as the principal place where freight is transferred because those ports can’t handle the volume.

“Seaports are - this sounds really bad - swamped,” said Michael Smith, a WCU business professor involved with the study. “We’re overwhelming the seaports in a lot of ways.”

In 1970, about 1 million containers a year moved to and from U.S. seaports, said Scott Hercik of the Appalachian Regional Commission. By 2000, that number had grown to about 20 million. By 2020, it is expected to be 50 million.

The commission, which is looking at possibilities for an Appalachian network of inland ports, sees in them a potential economic boon.

An area in northern Virginia surrounding an inland port in Front Royal, the first of its kind, has added more than 7,000 jobs since its creation in the 1980s, said Hercik, a commission adviser. ...

Read the rest of the article here. (Oh, and I just randomly picked Elkin.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Quick hits: One tourist mainstay is restored, while another says goodbye

Wright Brothers memorial sees inner beauty restored
"Towering 151 feet above the rest of Wright Brothers National Memorial, the granite Wright monument is a glittering landmark from afar; up close, it's a mighty sculpted artwork that well represents the feat of flight.

"Inside, it's dark and empty and dank. Niches in the granite walls where busts of Orville and Wilbur Wright and a model of the Wright Flyer were once displayed are bare. The steel map marking aviation breakthroughs has been removed. White buckets are positioned on the floor to catch water drips," says the Virginian-Pilot.

"Because it's so woefully unpresentable, few people have seen the interior of the Wright monument.

"But a restoration project set to start next month will include cleaning and restoring the interior and exterior. Mortar will be chipped out and replaced. Wiring and lighting will be redone. A new air conditioning unit will be installed.

"When the project is completed in 120 days, weather permitting, the Wright brothers monument will be nearly as perfect as it was when it was dedicated 75 years ago. ..."

Famous Cherokee booster dead at 72
"Henry 'Chief Henry' Lambert, who became the iconic image of the Cherokee Indian during five decades posing with tourists at his roadside tepee, died Tuesday of lung cancer. He was 72.
Lambert started 'chiefing' in 1951 to support his family," writes the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"His striking features, flowing headdress and enjoyment of the crowds brought generations of families back year after year to have their pictures made with him. His image still appears on postcards sold in Cherokee.

"Lambert never denied that the character he created was taken from Hollywood expectations of what an Indian should look like. He never promised to be authentic, only entertaining.

" 'I wouldn’t do anything else,' he said in a 1995 interview with The Associated Press. 'Meeting people from all walks of life. Kids. Kids love seeing an Indian.”' ..."

N.C. as the center of the universe -- '07 edition

We wrote last year that, if you think about it, North Carolina plays such an important part on the holiday season.

"I've always found it somewhat fascinating that beginning with Thanskgiving, millions of Americans will indulge in goods that are dominated by the state of North Carolina," yours truly wrote almost a year ago today.

At that time, the state was the second-largest turkey-producing state after Minnesota. (And probably is still.)

And then there are the sweet potatoes.

North Carolina has been the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, according to the Department of Agriculture. "Today more than 40% of the natinal [sic] supply of sweet potatoes comes from North Carolina."

And, finally, the holiday season closes out with Christmas trees.

"The North Carolina Christmas Tree Industry is ranked second in the nation in number of trees harvested and first in the nation in terms of dollars made per tree," according to the N.C. Christmas Tree Association.

"The North Carolina Fraser fir has been judged the Nation's best through a contest sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association and chosen for the official White House Christmas tree nine times (more than any other species) 1971, 1973, 1982, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2005, and 2007."

A 20-foot Fraser was chosen this year for W's house.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A big night for Daughtry

Chris Daughtry had quite the night on Sunday at the American Music Awards. The McLeansville native earned pop/rock album of year (for "Daughtry"), breakthrough artist of the year and adult contemporary artist of the year honors.

"Wow," Daughtry he said. "I can't believe we're in the category with Justin Timberlake and Linkin Park. It's pretty awesome."

Now in its 35th year, the American Music Awards honor nominees based on national sales and radio play.

For the first time in show history, winners were chosen by public votes cast online.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Despite drought, N.C. Christmas trees in good shape

According to this press release from N.C. State, North Carolina's Christmas tree crop will be just as good as last year's.

"The state will harvest and distribute around 5.5 million trees at a total value of about $130 million to stores and lots across North Carolina and the Southeast," says the release.

"The recent rains came just in time to give most N.C. Fraser fir growers a much-needed reprieve from the drought."

"The six to nine inches of rain we had in late October replenished the moisture in the trees before harvest started," said Jeff Owen, an NCSU area extension forestry specialist who works with Christmas tree growers across the N.C. mountains. "While the rain didn't come in time to save many Christmas tree seedlings planted in 2007, it was just what the doctor ordered for our market trees."

Bill Leslie on the Hometown Opry

WRAL stalwart Bill Leslie writes about North Wilkesboro's "Hometown Opry" on his Carolina Conversations blog.

"Doc Watson has played there. So has Ricky Skaggs and many others. If you're into bluegrass music I would suggest a trip to North Wilkesboro some Friday morning to Minton Pawn & Music Company downtown," writes Leslie.

"Every Friday morning at 7:00 A.M. pickers and grinners gather for a two hour back porch bluegrass session. It's free and tons of fun."

There's even a multimedia, black-and-white slideshow of the opry here. Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Redundant Whitewater Center costing an arm and a leg

The redundantly-named U.S. National Whitewater Center for rafting in Charlotte has lost $1.7 million in its first year in existence. According to the Associated Press, the center will ask local governments to cover the loss.

"Center officials told the Charlotte City Council they thought more rafters would use the facility. More people visited the center than expected, but not as many paid to raft. Entrance to the facility is free," says the AP.

Six area governments in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties had already pledged up to $12 million to cover losses for the first seven years.

The center opened to the public in the fall of 2006. Along with its whitewater rapids, center attractions include a climbing tower, a restaurant, bike trails and a conference center.

The center, which cost $35 million and took nearly six years to build, was this country’s answer to an elite, Olympic training center for whitewater athletes. The hope was to put them on equal footing with the dominant European teams, which all train on artificial courses.


Not all is bad news in the Queen City. After all, it is the place to go for a "Mancation."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The state's best football rivalry

Let's face it: North Carolina is a state of mediocre football. Heck, even the Panthers aren't very good anymore.

Bad football or not, blood still boils when State and Carolina kick it off each year. This Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, you'll be able to feel the intensity in the stands, let alone on the field. The fans of the respective schools love to give and take, and there should be plenty of that before, during and after Saturday.

Coaches Tom O'Brien (NCSU) and Butch Davis (UNC) are not leading their alma maters, like their predecessors Chuck Amato and John Bunting did. In fact, the two newbies actually get along quite well.

But don't expect the importance of this game to sneak past them.

“I’ve got an idea (what’s ahead),” O’Brien told reporters on Monday. “I don’t think any one game is any more important when you play 12 games. If there is a sense that one (game) approaches that, this has to be it because of who and what we are.”

O’Brien is confident that he has had the best training possible to contend with the rivalry’s demands [writes the Winston-Salem Journal's Bill Cole]. He attended the Naval Academy and played in the Army-Navy game for four seasons. He coached in the game for seven seasons as a Navy assistant.

And to O’Brien, there is no rivalry that can surpass Army-Navy.

“From 28 June, 1967, the day I reported, the first three words I learned were, ‘Beat Army, Sir.’ ” O’Brien said. “From the first day you’re there to the day your plebe year (first year) is over, that’s all you do. Everything there is to beat Army. Nothing else is important as far as athletics.”

Sounds familiar.

Film festival hopes to shine focus on Western N.C., Asheville

Wilmington may get most of the hype when it comes to North Carolina's viability as a film-making destination, but Western North Carolina more than holds its own. Just think about the films that have been filmed (or partly filmed) in our state's mountains: "Dirty Dancing," "Last of the Mohicans," "Forrest Gump" and also "Nell," among many.

A film festival in Asheville hopes to take advantage of this history.

"Asheville is rich in filmmakers who, because of inexpensive, powerful equipment and a fast Internet connection, can live here as easily as the media metros of Los Angeles and New York," says the Citizen-Times. "Asheville visionaries are trying to make the city a center of digital arts — an effort that gets no small boost this week with the opening of the Asheville Film Festival.

"The festival features a variety of independent films, including features, documentaries, shorts and animation, as well as a student film competition. There are industry panel discussions, studio tours, parties and galas, and free professional development courses. The Asheville Film Festival, now in its fifth year, adds hundreds of people to downtown’s already busy sidewalks, amping up the excitement of pre-holiday season shoppers, art gallery aficionados, and lovers of fine food and drink. Last year’s festival attracted some 8,500 visitors, with a quarter of the people coming from outside the area. Each year, three-quarters of the films sell out. ...

"Festival promoters hope the film festival helps the city make a smooth transition into the lucrative digital arts.

"They already are pretty valuable. The nonprofit arts and culture industry in Buncombe County generates $65 million and 2,192 jobs annually, according to a study by Americans for the Arts, the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. The Asheville Hub Project, an ambitious plan to create economies on existing strengths, contends the arts are already one of major engines driving moneymaking in the area.

"The film and video production industry spent about $5 million last year in Western North Carolina — up from $3.5 million the year before, according to Mary Trimarco, director of the WNC Film Commission. Locally last year, crews shot the feature films 'Don’t Fade Away,' 'A Dance for Bethany' and 'Ghost Town: The Movie.' Several film and video production companies have moved or opened in the area in recent years, including 2 Bruce Studio and See No Evil Films, both of Asheville. ..."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Quick hits: Good news, bad news and 'More good news

Emerald Isle plans new pier
"A year after its bid to buy the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier fell through, the town of Emerald Isle is working with the N.C. Aquariums for a new structure at the site of a pier wiped out by storms in 1996," writes the News & Observer.

"State and local officials Thursday announced a joint effort to build a 1,000-foot concrete pier that eventually would be one of three state-operated piers along the coast. Plans call for the $12.2 million project to be completed in five years.

"The town had tried to buy the existing pier near Bogue Inlet last year, but the deal fell through, Town Manager Frank Rush Jr. said. ..."

Hollywood strike could script trouble for Wilmington
"It's the ultimate game of 'hurry up and wait' for local filmmakers," wrote the Wilmington Star-News.

"Today is the final day of negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the group that signs its members' checks, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The two groups have until midnight to work out a new deal covering, among other things, residual pay for films and TV shows sold through iTunes and other nontraditional media outlets. If, as expected, no settlement is reached, the WGA membership has authorized a strike.

"Threat of work stoppage has temperatures running high in Hollywood, but workers in Wilmington's production community are playing it cool. ..."

Biltmore Estate among top destinations for 'alternative' Thanksgivings
"You can celebrate Thanksgiving with a horse and carriage ride at the landmark Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., which will already by decorated for Christmas by then," writes the Associated Press. "For meals, you have a choice of venues—Bistro, Deerpark or Stable Cafe, or, if you're staying at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, you can have your turkey at The Dining Room. Three-night packages at the Inn start at $1,760 for two; details at http://www.biltmore.com."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Favorite N.C. ghost stories

I loved "library day" as a kid in elementary school. I would immediately rush for the section on ghosts -- particularly North Carolina ghosts. I was always amazed at the number of ghoulish stories in our fair state. (And I must say thank you to author Nancy Roberts for compiling all of these for little minds like mine to read.)

So, on this Halloween 2007, I've been reminiscing on some of these fantastic stories that fascinated me as a child. Here are some of my favorites (with links, if possible). Please feel free to share your own.

-Devil's Tramping Ground, Chatham County. Old Beelzebub himself apparently does his nightly planning here by walking in a circle. (A circle that never disappears!!!) I've never had the nerve to try to camp out there. (Good friend Chris Daniel has a vlog about it here.)
-The Bath footprints, Bath. A horse race between a brash young man and the Devil ended up deadly when the horse got spooked and threw the young rider. The horse hoof prints never disappear!!!
-Maco Light, near Wilmington. My mother swears she saw this as a child. I've heard of late that because of the re-routing of trains or somesuch that the light no longer exists.
-The Little Red Man, Salem. An old cobbler was killed a couple hundred years ago at Old Salem. He was known for wearing a red jacket, I believe, and he was seen over the years being mischievious.
-The ferry crosses, throughout Western North Carolina. I've seen these tiny, stone crosses as the county museum in Murphy has a nice display of them.
-Lydia trying to get back home, near Greensboro. A young girl hitches a ride home from the prom. Unfortunately, she's been dead for a long time, killed in a car wreck -- on PROM NIGHT!!!!
-The bloody rock of Peter Dromgoole (sp?), Chapel Hill. At Ghimghoul Castle is the rock upon which Peter died after dueling for his love. The blood will never wash away!!!!

And perhaps my favorite of all, the Brown Mountain Lights.


In the western hills of North Carolina stands a mountain that is not particularly striking, or even high, but it plays host to perhaps the strangest mystery in the state. The mountain is called Brown Mountain and it lies in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and for many years, it has attracted the attention of people all over the nation and even the attention of the United States government as two separate investigations have been conducted by the US Geological survey into the strange anomalies of this mountain.

The strange events that are occur here have been called the Brown Mountain Lights for more years than most can remember. They appear along the ridges of this mountain on a regular basis and are faithful enough that in clear weather, you can see them just about any night that you care to.

Friday, October 26, 2007

More basketball 'Tobaccolades': What is this, the 1980s?

A panel of 31 Division I college basketball coaches have dished out their votes on the preseason Top 25, and the North Carolina Tar Heels lead the way.

Carolina edged out UCLA and Memphis for the top spot in the country despite, ESPN.com writes, "the fact that the Bruins had two more first-place votes (12) than the Tar Heels (10). North Carolina had 739 points in the poll, followed by No. 2 UCLA with 734 and No. 3 Memphis with 731 points and 8 first-place votes."

Kansas and Georgetown round out the top five. The next five are Louisville, Tennessee, Michigan State, Indiana and Washington State.

The Duke Blue Devils come in at No. 11, followed by Marquette, Oregon, and then Gonzaga and Texas A&M, which both tied at No. 14.

Rick Barnes' Texas Longhorns claim No. 16, followed by Arizona, USC, Arkansas and Pittsburgh.

Stanford, Kentucky, Southern Illinois, N.C. State and Villanova complete the Top 25.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quick hits: Bluegrass pioneer honored, as is Biltmore's Inn

Bluegrass great low-key about N.C. Heritage Award
"George Shuffler is the first to admit he doesn't move as fast as he used to. But he still gets around his farm pretty well, even though he has to lean on a cane," writes our good friend David Menconi of the News & Observer.

" 'My hips are just about wore out,' Shuffler says, showing a visitor around the farm. He has lived on this Burke County spread 180 miles west of Raleigh for all of his 82 years -- except for the decades he spent on the road playing guitar behind the Stanley Brothers, Don Reno and other legends of bluegrass. ...

"Standing in the bright autumn sunshine, lamenting a farmer's hardships, Shuffler could be any other old-timer. For long stretches of his life, that's who he has been. A visitor would likely never guess that Shuffler is one of the most influential bluegrass guitarists to ever hoist a pick.

"That will be discussed at some length today in Raleigh, where Shuffler will be feted with an N.C. Heritage Award.

"He'll attend the ceremony, and he'll probably enjoy it. But like another famous Tar Heel guitarist, Doc Watson, Shuffler isn't entirely comfortable with people making a fuss. ..."

The Inn on Biltmore Estate one of the Top 10 resorts for parents & kids
The readers of Travel + Leisure have voted for the Top Resorts for Parents & Kids. Making the list - which includes properties from the U.S., excluding the states Hawaii and Florida -- is Asheville's Inn on Biltmore Estate.

Writes the publication: "Some grounds! 8,000 acres of field and stream surround George Vanderbilt's 1895 Biltmore mansion. Kid magnet: the on-site River Bend Farm, which re-creates rural life in the 1890's."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Quick hits: Food accolades and fall goings-on

N.C. eateries honored
"... For the second year, the N.C. Department of Agriculture sponsored the 'Best Dish in NC' contest for restaurants that serve products from North Carolina farms, markets and companies," writes the News & Observer. "Last week, before the Paula Deen show at the N.C. State Fair, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Deen handed out the awards to the winners. ..."

Welcome to fall in North Carolina
"Fall is the perfect time to visit North Carolina," says VisitNC.com. "Come for our brilliant fall foliage. Enjoy the refreshing outdoor climate and linger at a scenic overlook with breathtaking views along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Experience the abundant fall fishing at the coast or camp at one of our magnificent state parks.

"Enjoy our unique fall events, from woolly worm races to NASCAR . To help you plan your visit, catch the weekly reports from our leaf watchers across the state bringing you the latest updates on when our leaves are at their most spectacular. Discover unique ways to see the fall color, from a balloon adventure to a rafting trip on the Nantahala.

"The governor has proclaimed October as 'North Carolina Wine and Grape Appreciation Month' so relax and enjoy autumn with a plate of signature NC food and a glass of our delicious NC wine. ..."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fall color on the way

From the Charlotte Observer ...

"The warm, arid weather sweeping the state has delayed the start of most vibrant leaf colors in the mountains and the Piedmont.

"The peak in the western part of the state is now expected to be around Nov. 1 and some areas may be brighter than others. The higher you go, the better it will be.

"The brightest reds, yellows and oranges are starting to be found at elevations above 4,000 feet, like parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway and along back country roads in Ashe and Watauga counties, said Gary Walker, a biology professor at Appalachian State University. ..."

Tobacco Road rules ACC (preseason) hoops

It's been a long time since N.C. State has been mentioned in the same breath as its Tobacco Road neighbors Duke and North Carolina when one is talking preseason Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. Sure, anything can happen with the first ball is tossed up, but it's still fun to see the Wolfpack is such company -- even in mid-October.

"The three schools located within 30 miles of each other have combined to win nine NCAA championships and make 32 trips to the Final Four, but nearly two decades have passed since they've been this good at the same time," writes the Associated Press.

"Picked 1-2-3 in the league's preseason poll, the Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Wolfpack are bracing to spend much of the season bunched near the top of the ACC race.

" 'It speaks volumes for the three schools,' Duke captain DeMarcus Nelson said Sunday during the league's annual media day.

"The schools in the Research Triangle area seem positioned to take advantage of a conference that returns only five of the 15 players named to the league's first, second and third teams after last season. The key returnees include preseason league player of the year Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina and fellow all-ACC picks Sean Singletary of Virginia, Brandon Costner of N.C. State and Tyrese Rice of Boston College.

"Still, it's been nearly 20 years since the last time Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State claimed the top three spots - in any order - in the final conference standings. In 1988, the Tar Heels won and were followed by the Wolfpack and Blue Devils. ..."

"I think State winning last year will kind of add to the rivalry," UNC's Tyler Hansbrough told the AP. "Duke and Carolina, they've always been big. Especially when (all three) are at the top, it's going to be really, really big."

But on the eve of a season in which supremacy in the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area could lead to the top spot in the conference race and a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament, Nelson is approaching those goals in a different order.

"When we think about what we want to do, we say we want to be the best team in the country. We say we want to be ACC champions, national champions," Nelson
said. "Those are the type of goals that we set. If we are those things, then we'll be the best team in the Triangle."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pack vs. Pirates: Good rivalry or an excuse to hate on each other?

Let me come right out and say that as a lifelong N.C. State fan and graduate, I don't believe the Wolfpack gains a whole lot from playing East Carolina in football.

Having said that, I acknowledge that the game is great for football in the state of North Carolina. We may act like we don't care about the Pirates (which is different than not caring for them), but us Wolfpackers want nothing more than to beat ECU on Saturday in Greenville. And it's not just because we don't want to hear their bragging for the next couple of years. Come Saturday, we will really hate ECU.

Without going much into details, suffice it to say that this rivalry game has had its share of less-than-pretty moments. It's been two decades since the great "riot" at Carter-Finley following a Pirate win. Things got WAY out of hand when Pirate fans stormed the field (something they would do again years later at C-F), but those close to both programs state that that game fueled the rivarly. (By the way, the Greenville Daily Reflector has posted State and ECU jokes. Be warned: They're all very lame.)

New State coach Tom O'Brien says he understands how important this game is; however, current ECU coach Skip Holtz acknowledges that a win over State -- ONE-AND-FIVE State -- would do wonders for his program.

This is probably ECU's biggest game on its schedule this year, while State still is looking ahead to its No. 1 rival, North Carolina. Nonetheless, one writer believes the Pack and the Pirates should duke it out for their own unique trophy.

Pinehurst voted best golf resort -- in the world

The readers of Travel + Leisure magazine have named Pinehurst the top golf resort in the world. The resort even finds itself on the magazine's cover.

"Maybe it’s something in the renowned tradition of the pristine golf courses. Maybe it’s something in the serenity of the Sandhills pines," writes the Fayetteville Observer.

"Whatever it is, Pinehurst has a knack for invigorating people ... in a way that keeps them coming back for more."

“This is about what (Pinehurst) provides and how Pinehurst inspires the people that come here,” John Atwood, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, told the Observer.

Atwood acknowledged that while the golf experience was the primary consideration, other features such as staff courtesy and spa quality factored in.

This marks the second time in three years that Pinehurst has received the magazine’s top honor, no small feat considering some of the renowned competition — Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Pebble Beach in California, Kapalua on the island of Maui in Hawaii, just to name a few.

Don Padgett II, the president of Pinehurst, said he believes there’s something to be said for the quality of his resort in besting so many other wonderful venues.

“When you think about it, we don’t have any mountains. We don’t have the ocean,” Padgett said. “But what we do have is a tremendous golf facility and a lot of great people who create a special atmosphere that a lot of people want to be part of.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Here come the Yankees!

Probably not exactly breaking news, but New Jerseyans really want to live elsewhere ... and a lot of them look to move to North Carolina.

About 1 out of every 2 N.J. residents want to live somewhere else, "with most citing high living costs as the reason, a newspaper poll found," according to UPI. "Just over half of those who said they want to move expect to follow through on it, Gannet News Service reported."

Frederick Huffenus, a retired police officer, said he plans to move to North Carolina as soon as he gets a heart transplant. He has one son already there and hopes his two children still in New Jersey will also make the move. ...

Fifteen percent of those polled picked Florida as their destination, while 14 percent would like to go to North Carolina. [Emphasis mine.] A total of 21 percent would like to make a short move to nearby Pennsylvania, Delaware or Maryland. ...

Mr. Teach's cannon?

Admittedly, it looks "more like a concrete ditch pipe than a cannon," but the 2,500-pound relic of the sea near Beaufort Inlet may be a cannon from Blackbeard's flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge.

"This is really special to us because it has a lot of things attached to it," Mark Wilde-Ramsing, director of the state's Queen Anne's Revenge project, told the News & Observer.

He said researchers will carefully remove a pewter plate, wood and other items for further study. The cast-iron cannon, which was retrieved from the water Monday, will soon go into treatment process to halt corrosion. After three to five years, the cannon will be black and shiny and ready for display.

Researchers put the encrusted cannon on display Wednesday at the N.C. Maritime Museum expansion site on Gallants Channel. ...

The shipwreck site was located in November 1996 by Intersal, Inc., a private company. State archaeologists say research over 11 years supports the wreck's identity as the Queen Anne's Revenge. The ship ran aground in June 1718. About 2,000 relics have been recovered from the site just off Atlantic Beach.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Daughtry big at the AMAs

McLeansville native Chris Daughtry's eponymous band is up for three awards at the upcoming American Music Awards.

"That puts Daughtry in a four-way tie with Beyonce Knowles, Justin Timberlake and Linkin Park," writes the Associated Press.

Daughtry is slated to perform at the show.

Nominees were initially chosen based on record sales. Ballots were then sent to a national sampling of 15,000 people, and the top three vote-getters in each category became nominees. For the first time, members of the public will be able to vote for nominated artists online. Daughtry was nominated in three categories:

ALBUM: The self-named album "Daughtry" will compete with "Minutes To Midnight" by Linkin Park and "FutureSex/LoveSounds" by Justin Timberlake.

ADULT CONTEMPORARY: Daughtry faces Norah Jones and John Mayer.

NEW ARTIST: Daughtry is up against Plain White T's and Robin Thicke.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Get your eat on in MC

One of North Carolina's best-known festivals (and my personal favorite) takes place this weekend: the North Carolina Seafood Festival in Morehead City.

This is the 21st year of the seafood festival.

"The festival kicks off tonight with the start of musical performances and other entertainment and continues Saturday and Sunday with entertainment on several stages, children's activities, rides, arts and crafts vendors, Coastal Yesterday and Today exhibits and lots of seafood," says the Jacksonville Daily News.

"The main event is the shrimp, crab, fish and other seafood served up Saturday and Sunday by the school groups, churches, scout troops and civic clubs that line the waterfront streets. ...

"The Seafood Festival was started with a six-point mission that includes promotion of the seafood industry and boosting tourism in the non-summer months. Hotels, restaurants and shops benefit as visitors make their way to Carteret County for the event, said Carteret County Tourism Director Carol Lohr, who also helped start the event.

" 'It has grown to be the second largest festival in the state and it is definitely the largest economic factor in the fall in this area,' she said. ..."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

More growth for Chimney Rock

"The Nature Conservancy announced Wednesday the acquisition of land on Rumbling Bald Mountain that will provide public access to a popular winter climbing area.

"The conservation group plans to sell the land to the state for inclusion in the new Chimney Rock State Park," said the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"The Nature Conservancy bought the current tract of land from John Haywood Moore for $1.3 million. Horak said the inclusion of the 46-acre tract will help to protect rare plant species and increase outdoor recreation.

"The land will create a public access point to the mountain’s Cereal Wall, which can be reached now only through private land, said Sean Cobourn, past president of the Carolina Climbers Coalition. ..."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Quick hits: 'The Rock' and the 'Road to Nowhere'

North Carolina Speedway changes hands

"Eight bidders paced the grassy infield of the North Carolina Speedway on Tuesday, staring one another down.


"They cast their eyes about, trying to guess who were the bosses with the bucks behind the strangers holding auction paddles.


"Locals flanked the mysterious investors, swapping hugs and arm pats as if a loved one had died. Rocky, the stray cat who settled at the speedway after birthing a half-dozen litters, had vanished; the track's superintendent said the change afoot scared her," writes the News & Observer.


"A bluegrass band played ballads, and auction company officials tried to shepherd bidders toward a barbecue buffet. But not much can distract a man ready to take a multimillion-dollar chance on resurrecting an old-fashioned speedway that turned homegrown racers into NASCAR superstars.


"It took 10 minutes to seal the fate of the 'The Rock,' dormant since its owner shifted its remaining NASCAR race to a glitzier venue near Fort Worth, Texas. This summer, Bruton Smith, a Charlotte billionaire who owns a collection of speedways, decided to sell the property at auction. ..."


Feds favor Swain payout in 'Road to Nowhere' case
"The federal government has recommended a financial settlement to Swain County in lieu of building the North Shore Road, sometimes called 'the Road to Nowhere,' through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park," writes the Asheville Citizen-Times.


"The National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration released their final environmental impact statement Tuesday, saying the settlement would ensure the resources of the park for future generations.



"Park spokesman Bob Miller said so far the government has spent $10 million on the issue.



"The environmental impact statement will become the government’s official decision 30 days after the Environmental Protection Agency publishes its notice of availability in the Federal Register, which is expected in a few days. ..."



(Sign photo courtesy of Western NC Attractions.com)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Quick hits: Mayberry and maybe UNC medical in the mountains


Barney Fife's girlfriend moves to 'Mayberry'

"On the drive home from the Los Angeles airport, there was a particular billboard along La Cienega Boulevard that always gave Betty Lynn a chuckle. 'This Ain't Mayberry!' it declared.

"As if she needed a reminder of that fact, the West Hollywood home where Lynn had lived since 1950 was broken into twice last year," writes the Associated Press.

" 'That made it for me,' the 81-year-old actress says. 'I just was too frightened to stay. So I thought, I've got to find some place I feel SAFE.'

"When she reflected on what safe meant to her – and what 'home' meant, for that matter – one place stood out.

"And life imitated art.

"The woman who played Thelma Lou on 'The Andy Griffith Show' moved more than 2,100 miles to Mount Airy – Griffith's hometown and one of the inspirations for the fictional Mayberry. ..."

Western UNC med school proposed
"Officials say a proposal to create a branch campus of the UNC School of Medicine in Western North Carolina could bring more doctors, jobs and newcomers to the region," writes the AP.
"Mission Health and Hospitals, the Mountain Area Health Education Center and the Western North Carolina Health Network submitted a proposal for the medical branch campus.
"A similar branch campus proposal has also been submitted by Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. The medical school is considering the proposals along with increasing enrollment at Chapel Hill. ..."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fall color at your fingertips


We're getting close to fall foliage-seeking season, and sometimes it's hard to know where in the North Carolina mountains to go to see prime oranges, yellows and browns.

According to the Hendersonville Times-News, however, there are a plethora of websites out there designed to coach you on your fall foliage expeditions.

Among the suggestions is the state's tourism site, visitnc.com. "It has put together a comprehensive look at fall color in North Carolina," says the newspaper. "The site includes where to go, an easy to read chart of leaf color for each tree (tree, family, color, location and elevation), driving, hiking and biking trails. ...

"Visitnc.com offers a weekly foliage report and forecast, current road conditions, where to see the color, N.C. trees and their color, leaf lodging, leaf peep trips, fun fall events and color for kids."

Here are some other suggested sites, via the Times-News:
http://www.craftcreativitydesign.com/
http://www.biltmore.com/
http://www.theleaf.com/
http://www.exploreasheville.com/
http://www.historichendersonville.com/
http://www.greatsmokies.com/.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

N.C. symbol update: 'Here be suggestions'



We got some great responses in our quest to find a viable symbol for North Carolina. Among the suggestions:


-The shape of the state

-A cardinal

-A dogwood

-A Long Leaf Pine

-And, of course, a pig (you know, for barbecue).



But the one that is perhaps most intriguing was offered by David: Edward Teach's flag (above)



Teach, as most people know, was Blackbeard the Pirate, who ruled the waters of the Eastern coastline in the early 1700s. (Read more about Blackbeard here.)



An interesting symbol for the entire state, perhaps. But there is plenty of N.C.-related aspects to Teach:

-He lived in Bath, the state's oldest town.


-He hid out along the coves of the Carolina coast.


-He was given free reign by then-Governor Charles Eden.


-He was finally killed near Ocracoke.



One interesting aspect of Teach that I had never known until researching him: it's never been proven that he actually killed anyone. In fact, he "got by" with fear alone. A big part of that fear could've been his flag, which was, according to this site, "one of the more unusual flags flown by the pirates. His flag had a skeleton holding an hour glass in one hand to signify that your time was running out. A dagger in the other hand and the heart with three drops of blood signified that blood would be drawn if you did not surrender. Horns and cloven feet on the skeleton signified that he was in league with the devil."



Some other "neat" things about our good friend Mr. Teach: He thwarted the blockade of Charleston and was hunted by the Governor of Virginia. He may have been born in England, but he sounds like a rapscallion North Carolinian to me.


Plus, that flag would no doubt look cool on shirts, hats and belt buckles.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One more N.C. Emmy

Jaime Pressly ain't the only Tar Heel to win an Emmy recently.

Enfield's Katreese Barnes, co-composer of last year's "Saturday Night Live" Justin Timberlake sensation, "D--- in a Box," recently won a Creative Arts award.

"Thanks to her high-profile success, Barnes has recently been profiled in the New York Post, the New York Daily News, and People magazine, in which she talked about her breast cancer surgery in 2000. She has been cancer-free since 2002 -- thanks, she says, to alternative therapies," writes the News & Observer's Danny Hooley.

"Barnes -- who writes music for all of the show's song spoofs, including the 'Deep House Dish' songs -- says Timberlake was presented with a few other song concepts during a week of rehearsals, but didn't like any of them until he heard the slow pop-funk that would become 'Box' on Thursday. ...

"Barnes, now in her 30s, grew up all over the United States as the daughter of an Army man before her family settled in Enfield, just north of Rocky Mount, when she was a teenager.
Katreese was awarded a music scholarship, and she finished her high school education at the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. ..."

Her parents still reside in Halifax County.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tar Heel Traveler

WRAL reporter Scott Mason has a pretty good gig going: Tar Heel Traveler.

Among the places Scott has been recently: Andy Barker's Love Valley (the smallest municipality in the state with a population of less than 50 -- but that's not the real story in Love Valley); "Mayberry"; "Shangri-La"; Wilmington; and Sunset Beach.

All of Scott's pieces come with slideshows. It's definitely worth checking out.

Quick hits: Water woes and water parks

Drought likely here until February
"Last week's rainfall and the soaking showers of Thursday haven't been enough to ease the statewide drought, meaning North Carolinians need to continue conservation measures, Gov. Mike Easley says," writes the News & Observer.

"In the face of plummeting water supplies from a drought expected to last until February, Easley warns that the worst might lie ahead.

" 'The rain last week certainly helped, but forecasters say we need several months of normal to above-normal rainfall before we see any improvement in the drought,' Easley said in a statement Thursday. 'We must do all we can to save water now so we do not face even more severe shortages this fall and winter.' ..."

Concord lands water park, resort
"Great Wolf Resorts has decided to make a $140.million splash in Concord," writes the Charlotte Observer.

"The company will announce today it plans to build its indoor water park and resort in the city, a Cabarrus economic development official said.

"The Wisconsin company also had been considering other sites for its Charlotte-area project, including Fort Mill, S.C., and Charlotte’s University City near where Ikea is being built.

"Great Wolf contacted the Cabarrus Economic Development Corp. Thursday and indicated the company would name Concord as the project site today, said John Cox, the EDC’s chief executive officer.

"The move is welcome news for Concord. The city has been hit hard by the pending loss of all 2,500 jobs at the Philip Morris U.S.A. plant and the purchase of CT Communications by Windstream Corp., which is slashing jobs and selling the local headquarters. ..."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tavern on the Green, The Lady and Sons, Emeril's ... and Bojangles?

To me, it's perfect tailgating food. For others, it's the quintessential Sunday morning hangover cure. For others still, it is a taste of home.

Believe it or not, Bojangles has become a "destination" restaurant. Heck, I know of friends who have moved away who upon coming back to the Carolinas have hit "the Bo" two or three times in a weekend.

"It started with a simple Cajun-style fried-chicken recipe. Now, 30 years later, Bojangles’ has new owners, a new chief executive and ambitious plans to face growing competition from other restaurants and chicken vendors," writes the Associated Press.

" 'To be a part of Bojangles’ now is exciting,' new chief executive Randy Kibler said. 'Bojangles’ is an incredibly strong brand and has a really good future.' ...

"Bojangles’ was founded by Jack Fulk and Richard Thomas in July 1977. The two men opened their first restaurant at the corner of West Boulevard and South Tryon Street in Charlotte. They saw an opportunity to develop a quick-service restaurant chain, offering made-from-scratch fare with Cajun spices.

"Now the private, Charlotte-based chain has 386 locations in 11 states, Honduras and Mexico, including 27 restaurants in Charlotte.

"It is unclear if the new leadership will maintain such elaborate plans. Executives say that expansion is still on, but they are more concerned about doing it right rather than fast. ...

"Smaller than competitors such as KFC, Chick-fil-A, Popeyes and Boston Market, Bojangles’ found its own niche serving familiar food - scratch-made biscuits, sweet tea and dirty rice - in the growing Southeast.

" 'People know us,' said Tom Lewison, Bojangles’ president and chief operating officer. 'They have come to trust the quality of our food and service.' ...

" 'We’ve become a destination restaurant,' said Chris Bailey, Bojangles’ director of franchise development. 'We need to stay attractive to our customers.' ..."

Cajun-fried chicken. Dirty rice. Boberry Biscuits. And that oh-so-sweet tea. Sounds pretty attractive to me.

Is it lunch time yet?

Monday, September 17, 2007

An Emmy for 'Joy'

Congrats to Kinston's Jaime Pressly on winning an Emmy for her work as Joy "My Name Is Earl." Pressly won for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lost items at 'The Lost Colony'

Thankfully, the show must go on ...

"Sorrow mixed with relief as staff from the outdoor drama 'The Lost Colony' gathered Tuesday to figure out what was destroyed -- and what was fortuitously saved -- when a fire ripped through the historic Waterside Theatre early Tuesday," writes the News & Observer.

"The blaze was reported at 12:35 a.m. by a resident. It gutted one of the production's most valuable resources, the costume shop containing 70 years of new and vintage costumes, fabrics, designs and memorabilia. Two equipment sheds were also destroyed.

"But the amphitheater and sets were spared, production designer William Ivey Long said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. And some of the most valuable costumes were at other sites. ...

" 'I'm still in the stunned stage,' said Long, a Broadway designer and five-time Tony Award-winner who has worked with the drama for almost 40 years. ..."

Click here for more.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Quick hits: Junior Johnson's running 'shine again; Seagrove potters feeling the pinch

Selling shine!
"Junior Johnson rode into Davidson County on Friday with moonshine in the trunk," writes the Lexington Dispatch.

"Some things never change.

"But this time the former whiskey runner and winning NASCAR driver and team owner was riding shotgun in a loaned late-model Mercedes instead of driving a souped-up 1939 or '40 Ford, and the liquor he was pedaling was legal.

"Johnson visited ABC stores in Lexington and Thomasville to promote Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon, a new product by Piedmont Distillers of Madison.

"'It's my dad's old recipe - we just refined it a little bit,' Johnson said, referring to the moonshine his father, Robert Glen Johnson Sr., made in the hills of Wilkes County. Unlike Midnight Moon, which is 80 proof, the original was 100 proof. ..."

Potters feeling the pinch
"In the beginning, there was just the clay, some of the best clay in America as far as potters are concerned," writes the Greensboro News & Record.

"For more than two centuries, this tiny settlement in southern Randolph County has been known for its pottery and the potters who produce it.

"Each year, thousands of tourists from North Carolina and beyond arrive to buy pottery, browse the shops that line the main street or view artisans at work during the town's fall Pottery Festival.

"It all puts money in the potters' pockets, and more than a few dollars fall to local government.

"But times are lean for Randolph County government, and the commissioners this year excised funds to help foster pottery events. ..."

Joyeux anniversaire, Lafayette

George Washington thought of him almost like a son, and enough Americans thought enough of the passionate Frenchman to name (or re-name) their towns after him. Fayetteville, N.C., was the first town in America to honor the Marquis de Lafayette in this way.

This year marks Lafayette's 250th birthday.

"An outpouring of emotion swept a young nation in 1824 and 1825 when the Marquis de Lafayette toured America as the nation's guest," writes the Associated Press.

"In an age when news traveled by the fastest horse, people hungered for reports of Lafayette's visit and the elaborate celebrations in honor of the Frenchman who fought for America in the Revolutionary War.

"Two centuries later, a touch of Lafayette fever is back. Cities and towns across the country are celebrating his 250th birthday."

Fayetteville is "commemorating Lafayette's visit on March 4, 1825, a whirlwind 24 hours of banquets, military drills and reunions with former comrades such as Isham Blake, Lafayette's fifer and bodyguard at Yorktown.

"It's a birthday party for a man who once said, 'Serving America is to my heart an inexpressible happiness.'

Read here for more about Fayetteville's events.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Parkway among the best scenic fall drives

As we get closer and closer to autumn, one would expect to see more and more "best [fill the in the blank here] to do in the fall" lists. And you can bet that the North Carolina mountains will get plenty of ink in these lists.

One such list already describes the best scenic autumn drives; the Blue Ridge Parkway gets mentioned.

"Fall is the nicest season for rolling down the car windows, taking a drive and enjoying the scenery," writes the Associated Press' Beth J. Harpaz. "Stop along the way to pick pumpkins, visit a winery, or stroll a woodsy trail sparkling with reds and golds. ...

"The Blue Ridge Parkway runs 469 miles from Virginia through the Blue Ridge Mountains to North Carolina, ending at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Take a week to explore the entire parkway, or pick a section for a day trip or an overnight. Highlights include Mount Mitchell State Park, home to the highest peak in the East; scenic Linville Gorge; Roan Mountain; Mount Pisgah; Shining Rock Wilderness Area, and the town of Cherokee, where you'll find the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Oconaluftee Village. The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area in North Carolina is offering a new multi-attraction pass this season called The Go Blue Ridge Card, which provides discounts and special offers at 35 merchants, attractions and restaurants from the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville to Chimney Rock Park, Rockhouse Vineyards and the Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain. The online card price for adults is $79 for two days."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

App makes all of N.C. proud

Sure, we were all quite excited for Appalachian State University when its football team won its first I-AA national championship a couple of years ago. The second one (the very next year) was even more special.

But nothing beats what the Mountaineers did on Saturday. Against Michigan. Fifth-ranked Michigan. In the Big House.

"Even if you’re not a sports fan, you have to feel good for the 'little' school in Boone and what its football team managed to accomplish," writes Winston-Salem Journal columnist Scott Sexton.

"The summer’s sporting news has been filled with headlines and stories that made stomachs turn. ...

"Then along comes the feel-good story of Appalachian beating the 5th-ranked team in college football in one of the most impressive venues in sports. (I know; I once spent a Saturday afternoon in the Big House wedged between a pair of 240-pound, beer-and-brat Midwestern types during a Michigan-Wisconsin game.)

"About the best that even the most rabid ASU alum could hope for was a respectable defeat.

"Yet when the sports ticker crawling across the bottom of ESPN kept showing that Appalachian was putting the wood on Michigan, a funny thing happened. My phone started ringing with updates and people at a Pop Warner midget football game headed to their cars to see if they could find the game on the radio. ...

"When the horn sounded, ASU put Boone squarely on the map for a lot of people.

" 'Nobody knew where Appalachian is. The fans up there couldn’t even pronounce Appalachian right,' [alum] Elizabeth Witt said. 'They kept saying App-a-lay-chian’with the long a instead of App-a-lachian with the short a like it’s supposed to be.'

"It’s a sure bet that the maize-and-blue crowd does now. And it’s equally certain that ASU will bank a lot of name recognition that even back-to-back Division I-AA football championships couldn’t generate."

And ESPN.com's Pat Forde writes, "hats off to Appalachian State, which completed a week like none in school history.

"First came word via 'The Today Show' of a recruiting coup for the little school in the North Carolina mountains. Caitlin Upton, the freshly famous Miss Teen South Carolina, whose dingbat answer to a beauty pageant question became an instant YouTube classic, told Matt Lauer she planned to attend Appalachian State. This might not have dazzled the academic folks on campus, but I guarantee the male students are stoked. ...

"This wasn't a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 -- that would be an insult to the two-time champions of the Division Formerly Known As I-AA. More than anything else, Appalachian State proved Saturday that the best of the little fellers can play exceptional football. That they must be accorded respect. That they are not as far behind the big boys as we've always assumed.

"But given the difference in stature between the two programs, this is still a Buster Douglas-beats-Mike Tyson upset. It's a 15 beating a 2, at least. ..."

Friday, August 31, 2007

A sad, shameful and despicable chapter in our fair state's history

"The looks on their faces were somber as they listened to recordings of the stories of those who were forcibly sterilized under North Carolina’s eugenics program," writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

"About 300 people came to Winston-Salem State University yesterday for an opening reception and to see the state’s new exhibit explaining the program.

" 'Look at the ages, 13, 14,' said Johnetta Huntley, a counselor at Parkland High School. 'They’re all young.

" 'Our children need to be exposed to this so they won’t let something of this nature happen again.' ..."

Undoubtedly.

North Carolina has much to be proud of as a state. The sterilization program, which lasted from 1929 until the 1970s, is not one of them.

"A five-member board made decisions to sterilize young and poor women and men, many of them against their will. More than 7,600 people were sterilized," wrote the Journal.

"People who viewed the exhibit said they were shocked that states endorsed and carried out such programs. ...

" 'This is something that you would expect in Nazi Germany,'" said Bobbie Linville of Winston-Salem.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blowing Rock to honor 'Mitford'




"Not a day at work goes by that a stranger doesn’t approach Bill Stroh with questions as he clips and snips the flowers or buffs the wooden floors at St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church.

"Stroh is the sexton at the 89-year-old stone church in Blowing Rock, but to fans of Jan Karon’s books (photo courtesy of Amazon.com), he is working at the fictional Lord’s Chapel in the village of Mitford.

“Sometimes people knock on the door late at night and say they just have to see it,” he said. “I get a lot of people wanting to photograph me because they think I’m the sexton in the book, and I say, 'No, I took his place.'”


The books revolve around the life of an Episcopal priest at a church in the fictional town of Mitford, which is set in the foothills along the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The town of Mitford was inspired by Blowing Rock, where Karon lived in the 1990s.

The steady stream of people who visit Blowing Rock to see the inspiration for Mitford is about to become a wave of devotees. Organizers expect up to 18,000 people during the first Mitford Days in Blowing Rock. The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce is getting 50 phone calls daily about the festival, officials said.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The majestic N.C. mountains

OK, so these are a few weeks later than I originally noted, but here are some photos from the Boone/Blowing Rock area taken in mid July.

The first is, obviously, Grandfather Mountain. Even at 32 years young, I was quite nervous about crossing it. (I don't remember being so nervous the first time I did it -- some 20 years ago.)
Next are more Grandfather photos, including the attention-seeking bears, the freedom-seeking Bald Eagle and a water-seeking panther/cougar.




















Next are some photos from a couple of hikes we took while along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'm embarrassed to say that I do not remember what they are all called, but suffice to say they weren't too far from the Linn Cove Viaduct or the Parkway itself. So there. Now go find them with those kinds of hints. (Warning: I went a little Ansel Adams/B&W crazy here.)



































Monday, August 27, 2007

D.G. Martin on our mountain 'lighthouses'


One of North Carolina's greatest ambassadors, D.G. Martin, has penned a wonderful column on North Carolina's mountain "lighthouses."

"Our mountains, beautiful as their rolling, forested peaks are, provide few landmarks as dramatic as Grandfather," he writes. "Even Mount Mitchell is masked by other nearby high peaks in the Black Mountain range.

"However, a few other North Carolina mountains or outcroppings stand out from their surroundings in ways that leave their viewers in awe.

"Stone Mountain (near North Wilkesboro), Pilot Mountain (near Winston Salem), Crowders Mountain (near Gastonia), and Chimney Rock (near Asheville), along with Grandfather, are among my favorites. Like the lighthouses that are symbols of our coast, these outcroppings are my mountain icons. ...

"Like our lighthouses, each of these mountain icons has its special story. 'Exploring the Geology of the Carolinas: A Field Guide to Favorite Places from Chimney Rock to Charleston,' by UNC-Chapel Hill professor Kevin G. Stewart and Mary-Russell Roberson, persuades its readers that the geological story of the creation of each of these landmarks is almost as compelling asits visual impression. ..."

Hugh Morton's photo of the Charlotte skyline from Grandfather Mountain courtesy of Blue Ridge blog.