Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wind power catching on at N.C.'s coast

There's rarely a lack for wind along North Carolina's coast. And so some smart folks are trying to tap that for energy reasons, according to

The National Park Service is using a wind turbine to generate electricity for the Coquina Beach bathhouse just south of Nags Head.

“You’re looking at 15 to 20 years on the payback. But if you’re planning to be there awhile, the investment makes sense,” said Jeff Brooks, of N.C. GreenPower.

The 2.5-kilowatt wind turbine produces enough power to operate the bathhouse, and any leftover power is released on to the local power grid. Officials said the power generated is small, but the implications are tremendous.

“I think the Coquina wind turbine, while small in capacity, is a huge step forward for wind power in North Carolina,” Brooks said. ...

At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the idea is catching on. George Barnes, superintendent of the park, said the idea just makes sense.

“Jockey’s Ridge was formed by the wind. You can tell today the wind is blowing ... the winds are never not blowing out here,” he said.

Within a year, Barnes hopes to be operating at least one wind turbine to help generate power for the visitors center. He said the center gets 1.2 million visitors a year, and he hopes that project will help spread the word about wind power.

“It’s bound to reach some of ‘em,” he said. “Get people thinking.”

Of course, some people are concerned that there would be hundreds -- if not thousands -- of turbines blocking people's views of the oceans. But a few sound like a great start.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Quick hits: Park news galore

Water park, resort to open near Charlotte
"A Wisconsin developer confirmed Tuesday it intends to build an indoor water park and resort hotel in the Charlotte area this year, costing around $100 million and bringing about 400 jobs," according to the Charlotte Observer.

"Great Wolf Resorts' project would be the first of its kind in the Charlotte region and only the second in the Carolinas, an industry expert said.

"The company said it had not made a final decision on where its Great Wolf Lodge will go. But one place under review is in Concord between Lowe's Motor Speedway and Concord Mills mall. Another is in Fort Mill, S.C.

"Public incentives have been used to lure Great Wolf to other cities. A package worth more than $5 million, for example, helped attract it to a site outside Fort Worth, Texas. But it's too early to say what incentives, if any, the company will seek here, Great Wolf spokeswoman Jennifer Beranek said. ..."

Chimney Rock Park may be renamed
"With the state's $24 million purchase of Chimney Rock Park on Monday, the General Assembly is considering changing the name of the planned Hickory Nut Gorge State Park," according to the Hendersonville Times-News.

"The new name as specified in Senate Bill 773: Chimney Rock State Park.

" 'Typically all our state parks are traditionally named in recognition of their significant natural features,' State Parks Director Lewis Ledford said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

"So Chimney Rock, with its iconic, flag-topped spire jutting from the side of Hickory Nut Gorge, will join the other monumental North Carolina land forms with state parks named after them -- Mt. Mitchell, Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock.

" 'I've heard it described as one of the top five most recognized landmarks on the East Coast,' Ledford said. 'I don't know what the other four are, perhaps Stone Mountain, Georgia, Grandfather Mountain. I think we all recognize that rock formation with the flag.' ..."

Carl Sandburg historic site expansion gets OK from House
"A 115-acre expansion of the Carl Sandburg Home Historic Site was approved Wednesday by the House," according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, easily passed 268-150 after several Republican House members attempted to delay or pare down the expansion.

"The state’s Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr have introduced a companion bill, which is pending in the Senate. The Bush administration has expressed support for the idea.

" 'Carl Sandburg was a national treasure,' Shuler said of the famous poet during House debate. 'We in North Carolina are proud to claim him as one of our own.' ..."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Quick hits: Of Pumpkins, pork and a Parkway musical

Smashing Pumpkins Asheville shows sell out ... in five minutes
"They're gone.

"Tickets for a stretch of shows by alt-rock band Smashing Pumpkins at The Orange Peel sold out in just five minutes Monday night," according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"There were 8,478 tickets sold for the Pumpkins' nine-night engagement at the Peel, club spokeswoman Liz Whalen said.

"The club first tried to sell the tickets Sunday afternoon using the TicketWeb online service, but demand was so overwhelming they crashed the system, leaving many fans frustrated.

"Club management spent much of Monday working on a new plan to sell the tickets, this time using the much larger Ticketmaster system. ..."

Two kinds of 'cue to tango in Raleigh
"The state's oldest, fiercest, most fattening rivalry will end peacefully this October, slathered in Texas Pete," writes the News & Observer.

"Organizers announced plans Monday for the Tar Heel Barbecue Classic in downtown Raleigh, lining both sides of newly opened Fayetteville Street and drawing as many as 75,000 people and pork of both eastern and western persuasion.

"For too long, organizers said, the state has let eastern and western rivalries dominate barbecue culture while Memphis, Kansas City or Texas lays claim to the title of world barbecue capital. Raleigh is the fitting spot as the neutral ground between two traditions, they said, and for an end to the eternal vinegar- versus tomato-base squabbling.

" 'We're not here to perpetuate a war,' said Jim Early, founder of the N.C. Barbecue Society. 'We're here to perform a wedding. We've been shooting ourselves in the foot with this eastern-western thing. No other states fight within the state. Let's stop that. Let's fight somebody else if we have to fight. Let's unite as kin.' ..."

Blue Ridge Parkway-based drama premiers next week
"Next week, the musical drama 'Moses Cone: The Denim King' will debut in its world premiere in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

"To celebrate the world premiere, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is collaborating with the Blowing Rock Historical Society, the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum and Appalachian State University (ASU) to host one gala performance 'Denim and Cider' on Saturday, June 2. Tickets ($40 per person) are needed to join the evening's festivities, which include a reception catered by Café Portofino in Boone, music by jazz guitarist Andy Page from ASU, hard cider from Foggy Ridge Cider in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, and an exhibit by the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum.

"Tickets for the gala evening can be purchased through the Foundation's office at (336)721-0260 or online. ..."

Ghost Town re-opens this Friday

As mentioned before, some of my favorite childhood memories involve the chronically quirky mountain theme parks Tweetsie Railroad and, to a lesser extent, Ghost Town in the Sky. It appears that both parks -- recently on the cusp of extinction -- have received reprieves. Tweetsie now has a life of at least a few more years. And good things appear to be in store for Ghost Town.

"Hard times closed [Ghost Town] in 2001, and it instantly went from an average seasonal attendance of 163,500 tourists, to one lonely security guard," writes the Charlotte Observer.

Several buyers presented themselves in that five years, but park creator R.B. Coburn refused one after the other. "I preferred to sell it to someone who would keep it a park, not tear it down for houses," says Coburn, 87.

On Friday, his stubbornness pays off. Ghost Town in the Sky will be back in business, with new owners and $7 million in renovations. Tourists longing for the romance of the Wild West will once again ride chairlifts to the peak of Buck Mountain and see saloon doors swing open, outlaws gunned down in the dust, and cancan girls flipping their skirts and kicking their legs.

Even better for the valley: These played-out fantasies are expected to draw 200,000 in the first season. That's an economic bull's-eye.

"A lot of people didn't realize how important the park was till it closed," says Louise Price, a 30-year park employee who was recently re-hired. "Since it has been gone, motels closed and were torn down, restaurants went under. It was bad."

Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ticket sales brisk for Theater of the American South

Ticket sales have been phenomenal for Wilson's Theater of the American South, according to the Wilson Daily Times.

"Although he doesn't have exact figures, [Wilson Arts Council Executive Director Barry] Page said ticket sales for the three-week event, which starts tonight and running through June 3, have been up compared to last year, and calls from people outside of Wilson have doubled.

"People in Raleigh, Greenville and Rocky Mount have been calling the Arts Council, eager to see 'Driving Miss Daisy' and 'Oldest Living Confederate Widow: Her Confession' at the Boykin Center, and the cooking demonstrations being held at local residents' homes, he said. ...

"Although there are no sellout performances yet, Page said he wouldn't be surprised if that changes. He watched a rehearsal this week and was impressed with the dedication the actors gave to their parts. ..."

The Theater of the American South festival runs through June 3. The performances are at the Boykin Center in downtown Wilson. Tickets are available online at

1-year deadline on beach sandbags

Coastal counties in North Carolina have one year to remove sandbags from beaches, according to new rules by the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission (CRC).

The CRC, on Thursday, "showcased some real frustration over sandbags," according to the Wilmington Star-News.

"Sentiment ranged from making the bags biodegradable, which would limit how long they'd stay on the beach, to completely outlawing them."

Under North Carolina law, sandbags are supposed to be temporary erosion-control measures to buy time for property owners until a longer-term solution such as relocating threatened homes or a beach nourishment can take place.

But in many cases the "temporary" nature of the fabric bags, which were supposed to be limited to two years in the ground, has been lost.

Case in point is The Riggings in Kure Beach, where sandbags have protected the condominium complex from the encroaching ocean for more than two decades.

Now a deadline of May 2008 is looming for most of North Carolina's sandbags to be pulled.

Few expect a mass removal of the protective structures next summer, especially considering the amount of coastal property that could be put at risk.

State regulators agree that there are aesthetic issues with the sandbags, though the main problem is they don't solve the erosion problem "but simply shift it to another spot along the beach."

While any policy change or push to have bags removed is likely leading to a tussle with the General Assembly, which has overruled unpopular CRC decisions in the past, [CRC Chairman Courtney] Hackney said the sandbag issue is really a fundamental question of what North Carolina wants for its coast.

"We have been treating sandbags as hardened structures in everything but name," he said. "So the real question is, 'Do we want seawalls or beach?'

"And if the state wants beach, then we're going to have to come up with money to renourish the beaches. It's that simple."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bridges could connect northern OBX

State officials are looking at ways to connect people to and from the northern Outer Banks via two bridge projects, according to a special report by NBC 17.

The first project, according to the report, is exploration of building a "Mid-Currituck Bridge." The bridge would be a seven-mile toll road over the Currituck Sound, from the mainland to Corolla in the northern Outer Banks.

The pricetag would be roughly $500 million and would open by 2013.

"The time savings is expected to be up to an hour, and that's a huge savings on peak season," David Joyner, North Carolina Turnpike Authority, told NBC 17. "What we're looking at is a three-lane bridge, with one reversible lane on high traffic weekends."

The other project is the Bonner Bridge project, which links NC 12 between Bodie Island and Pea Island over Oregon Inlet.

"The state will spend $43 million over the next six years just to keep the crumbling span open while a new bridge is built," said the report.

Quick hits: Cherokee celebration and slope bill may go deeper

A couple of Western N.C. bytes from the Asheville Citizen-Times ...

Cherokee culture has grand celebration in June
"Tens of thousands of visitors are expected in Cherokee next month for what is being billed as the largest tourism weekend on the Qualla Boundary since the opening of the casino.

"Three days of events during the first weekend in June offer a look at the past of the Cherokee people through photography, theater, literature, dancing and art.

"The first re-enactment of the Trail of Tears is planned and the second rewrite of the outdoor drama 'Unto These Hills … a Retelling' will debut.

"The second annual Southeastern Tribes Cultural Arts Celebration will bring five tribes to Cherokee. And, for the first time, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will walk the streets in traditional clothes offering visitors cultural information and answering questions.

"The weekend, organizers say, is an example of the growing importance of cultural tourism on the boundary. Cherokee, for the last 10 years, has become well-known for its video gambling operation, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. The business is one of the largest private employers in Western North Carolina and brings in an estimated $280 million a year. ..."

Slope bill may go steeper
"A lawmaker trying to require local governments to regulate mountainside development has signaled willingness to compromise with builders.

"Rep. Ray Rapp intends to revise his bill on steep-slope construction to raise the threshold at which local rules would be required, he said Wednesday in a meeting with other Western North Carolina lawmakers — some of them allies who questioned yielding ground.

"The suggested change follows several meetings between Rapp and developers, the Madison County lawmaker said. 'I’m trying to get as many people to the table as possible who knee-jerk oppose this,' he said.

"Rapp says the bill is needed to avoid landslides. He now wants to require regulation for all slopes of 40 percent and greater, along with those deemed by geologists to be at risk for slides. ..."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

N.C.: Sixth-top state for tourism

North Carolina is now No. 6 among U.S. states in terms of tourism, according to News 14 Carolina.

"The tourism industry celebrated that fact [May 15] at the state legislature. The industry brings in billions of dollars and thousands of jobs across the state," said News 14's Tim Boyum in his report. Boyum noted that while most people think of the beaches or the mountains when it comes to N.C. tourism, "you might be surprised where most of those dollars are spent.

... Last year, tourists spent more than $15 billion, which is 8 percent more than 2005. The industry also employs nearly 200,000 people.

While you may think the beaches and mountains bring in a majority of the tourism dollars across the state, that is simply not the case. In fact, the state's biggest cities bring the biggest amount of money.

"Some might think the Biltmore house, the beaches, or Asheville could be the number one spots -- they are not," said Visit Charlotte's Molly Hendrick. "More tourists flock to Raleigh and Charlotte."

The article states that Mecklenburg, Wake and Guilford counties rank 1,2 & 3 when it comes to visitor spending.

"Our cities are getting so much more attention because we have so much more to offer, but visiting family and friends is the number one reason," Hendrick added.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Quick hits: Manteo as 'Mayberry' and great places for family reunions

The Making of Mayberry on the Outer Banks
"... Manteo has attracted second-home owners and retirees by recasting itself from a dying fishing village into a slice of small-town America, a place that its most famous resident, Andy Griffith, says is more like Mayberry than anywhere else," writes the New York Times.

"But with the success, it has had to wrestle with issues of gentrification, affordable housing and zoning while facing a wave of building and rising real estate prices. ..."

The Best Places to hold your Family Reunion
"... Summer is creeping closer, and that means the cousins are coming: It’s family reunion season," writes MSN Travel. "Sometimes the groups are small—perhaps just parents, children and grandchildren. Other times reunions become lavish affairs where hundreds celebrate their shared history. From mountain lodges to luxury cruises, your reunion can be as unique as your extended family. ...

"More vast than the campgrounds are the 390 sites overseen by the National Park Service. The most popular of the bunch is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which covers 800 square miles in Tennessee and North Carolina. About 9.3 million people go there a year, spokesman Bob Miller says. From the vistas (there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails) to the wildlife (bears, deer and elk are often spotted), this park is a good site for an inexpensive family reunion. Most visitors stay in nearby cities such as Bryson City, N.C., Gatlinburg, Tenn., or Townsend, Tenn., and picnic in the park’s large pavilions. There are no entrance fees and, Miller proudly proclaims, about a third of the U.S. population can drive to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a day. ..."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Outdoor drama is 'thriving'

One of North Carolina's great cultural treasures is "The Lost Colony." The outdoor drama -- the nation's oldest -- is celebrating 70 years this year. Audiences continue to flock to the show on Roanoke Island despite "bugs, summer heat and high-priced gas," according to the Charlotte Observer.

"The story is about 120 English men, women and children who tried to start a colony on the Outer Banks in 1587. The colony's disappearance remains one of history's great mysteries," says the paper.

"The two-act play -- set in England and Roanoke Island -- distilled the story of their struggles into a blend of music, song, dance and poetic dialogue. ..."

The article states that in 2006 there were 180 outdoor plays in 40 U.S. states, with North Carolina leading the way with 11, the most of any state.

"From the Appalachian tale 'Horn in the West' in Boone to Raleigh's 'The Amistad Saga: Reflections,' which dramatizes a slave ship mutiny in 1839, the plays cover wide historical ground. [Note: We recently lost Fred Cranford, a dear family friend and author of one of the longest-running outdoor plays in the state, "From This Day Forward."]

" 'The Lost Colony' came first. Written in 1937 by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, the play 'holds up the ideals of American democracy,' said Laurence Avery, a UNC Chapel Hill English professor. ...

"Green, who died in 1981, grew up on a Harnett County cotton farm. He taught philosophy and drama at UNC. He expected the show to run for one season. But it drew national attention. President Franklin Roosevelt saw the production. So did his wife, Eleanor, who became a champion. New York Times drama critic Brooks Atkinson gave it a glowing review. ..."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Go ahead, light up!

I've never been a smoker, but I've also mostly been of the opinion that smoking is one's perrogative -- just so long as it doesn't affect me.

I've also been someone who tends to value personal rights.

However, I was all for a proposed statewide ban on smoking in public places. Unfortunately, the vote in the N.C. House of Representatives failed on Wednesday as, the Charlotte Observer wrote, "tobacco territory Democrats sided with Republicans who called the measure an infringement on the rights of business owners."

"We gave it our best shot," Rep. Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, the bill's sponsor and lung cancer survivor, told the paper.

On the surface, I can live with the ban failing. But what is alarming is this part from the article: "House members voted 61-55 against the measure. More than a dozen Democrats from counties where tobacco is grown or manufactured opposed the ban.'

So, basically, the state is endorsing something that has no social value whatsoever, and is putting economic strength ahead of the health of the citizenry. I thought this kind of stuff only happened in movies (see "Blood Diamond").

"It's not about personal freedoms. It's not about business property rights," Holliman told the Observer. "This is a health issue bill. Cancer has probably impacted every family here in one way or another."

And it looks like it may just impact many more, thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Schoolkids, scientists croaking about state amphibian

From the News & Observer:

"The bullfrog's resonant croak echoes across North Carolina ponds all summer.

"Now its admirers are raising their voices at the General Assembly, asking lawmakers to make the king of frogs the state amphibian. A fourth-grade class at Pines Elementary in Plymouth wants the bullfrog to join the long list of officially sanctioned symbols, which range from the sweet potato to the Eastern box turtle to milk.

"But the state Herpetological Society has jumped in, suggesting other amphibians would be a better symbol. They consider the bullfrog a tad common -- especially for a state that boasts some of the nation's most diverse amphibian populations.

"Caught between schoolchildren and scientists, lawmakers must once again navigate the treacherous currents of symbolic politics. The bill has passed the House and is pending in a Senate committee. ..."

North Carolina has some great state symbols. Some of them make perfect sense (state bird: Cardinal; carnivorous plant: Venus flytrap; stone: Emerald; dance(s): the shag, clogging; flower: Dogwood; mammal: Eastern Gray Squirrel).

Some of them are head-scratchers (beverage: milk -- not Cheerwine or Pepsi?; insect: honey bee -- not mosquito?).

Others you have to assume got in as a rider (state boat: Shad boat?; saltwater fish: Channel bass?; Tartan: Carolina Tartan?).

Still, these are the things I had to learn as a fourth- and eighth-grader. And I'm glad I did.

Are there some symbols that should become state symbols?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

DNA may prove Spanish heritage

We've discussed before the majestic wild horses along North Carolina's coast. For years there have been theories on how they came to be. The most popular (and most plausible) is that they came ashore after a Spanish ship sank hundreds of years ago.

Now, further DNA test may prove that that is the case.

"An equine genetics specialist from Texas is collecting genetic material -- 60 strands of hair from horses in the herds on Shackleford Banks and around Corolla -- to analyze where these postcard-perfect icons of North Carolina originated," says the News & Observer.

"He expects the research will reinforce studies he conducted on the horses in the 1990s that indicated they have Spanish blood -- possibly descending from a lineage of horses brought by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Blood tests found a link, but they may not be as definitive as the DNA testing he is now conducting.

" 'I think we're looking at something historically significant,' said Gus Cothran, a professor at Texas A&M University. ..."

There's more to it than just solidifying the horses' heritage. According the article, having a "Colonial" pedigree may make the horses (which can outgrow their habitats) more "attractive to horse owners eager to adopt exotic breeds."

"Herds around Corolla and on Shackleford Banks remain the largest surviving groups of so-called Banker horses -- the unbridled breed smaller than the average horse that have long captivated Outer Banks visitors. Legends held that the animals descend from Spanish mounts brought to North American in the 1500s. And English ships that came later may also have carried Spanish horses.

"After inspections of the Corolla and Shackleford horses, the Horse of the Americas registry ruled this winter that, while not purebred, both herds are rare descendants of Colonial Spanish equines.

"Not only do they have the distinctive trots and canters common in the Spanish lines, they also have certain physical characteristics. Horse bones found north of Corolla show spinal columns with fused vertebrae -- a feature typical of the Spanish horses. Also, their hooves are large for their body size -- another Spanish trait."