Wednesday, January 30, 2008

'Toilet paper flowers' a problem in Blue Ridge Mountains

According to an email from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, visitors to Graveyard Fields, the "most popular visitor destination south of Asheville, have created a phenomenon of "Charminus floribundum," or toilet paper flowers.

As such, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Parkway Foundation have begun a water quality study.

"Visitation to this destination has compromised water quality due to lack of facilities and poor sanitation practices," says the email. "A task force of planning professionals and park managers are working together to address this and other identified issues that are compromising the natural loveliness of the area."

Click here for a website for the project.

'Sir Robin (Clay Aiken) bravely ran away'

Clay Aiken has admitted recently that he thought Monty Python was a person, not the legendary British comedic troup.

Aiken has been forgiven, apparently. After all, he has scored the role of "brave" Sir Robin in Broadway's "Monty Python's Spamalot," the play based on the great movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

"One of the reasons that it intrigued me was that it was so different," Aiken told the Associated Press. "Nobody I think would have expected me to show up in 'Spamalot.'"

Aiken, 29, has taken over the role of Sir Robin, the cowardly knight that [Eric] Idle once played on film and David Hyde Pierce originated when the Tony Award-winning musical debuted in 2005.

"I think I'm probably just like the character -- kind of chicken, afraid of everything and likes to sing. This particular character becomes a knight because he really just wants to sing and dance. He's so surprised when he finds out there's fighting involved. That kind of silly stupidity? -- yeah, that's me."...

Associate director Peter Lawrence says Aiken has been no idle diva; the singer asked to be treated like any other company member and has been surprisingly fearless.

"Clay really surprised me. When you meet him, he's this sweet kid from North Carolina with an accent. And you think there's no way he can do Cambridge material. And then he does," says Lawrence. ...

Aiken, who got a degree in special education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was teaching grade school kids with autism before he tried out for "Idol" in Atlanta. He was a former member of the Raleigh Boys Choir, and occasionally sang at weddings and at church.

"There's not really a market in North Carolina to sing for a living. There's not that career path for people. So I never really assumed or had any dreams or aspirations to sing," he says.

That changed in the seventh grade when his mother took him and a friend to a local production of the musical "Big River," starring Martin Moran as Huckleberry Finn.

"It was the first time ever that I looked on stage and saw people -- you know, adults -- singing. And I thought, 'Wow, wait a second. You can actually sing for a living?' " he recalls. "From that point on, I kind of allowed music to be a part of my what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up scenario." ...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A high-tech search for the 'Lost Colony'

From The Virginian-Pilot (via the Greensboro News & Record):

"... In the quest for the Lost Colony, the vanished 1587 English settlement on Roanoke Island, archaeologists have conducted numerous explorations in Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, digging and surveying and scanning and scoping.

"But they've never used high-tech radar tomography that can produce 3-D images out of data collected from 6 feet, more or less, under ground.

"The refined technology, which can also use sound and light waves, gained early fame when inventor Alan Witten used it to help locate fossils from a 120-foot-long dinosaur — called 'seismosaurus' — in the late 1980s in New Mexico. The find was fictionalized in Michael Crichton's 'Jurassic Park.'

" 'This is fantastic, cutting-edge technology,' said Eric Klingelhofer, vice president of the First Colony Foundation, in a telephone interview. 'I am eager to see the findings and then compare them with what we know of the archaeology of the site.' ..."

As am I. Any North Carolinian educated in its public schools knows the story of the "Lost Colony." The N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh recently completed an incredible look at the story, mostly from the point of view of John White's magnificent water colors.

Just what happened to the colony will probably never be decided, no matter what kind of technology we now have. But it is quite a mystery. Were the colonists just simply killed? Did they assimilate into Native American culture (and become the Lumbees or perhaps the inhabitants of Crusoe Island?) One legend has it that Virginia Dare, the first European child born in the New World and the namesake of this group, became a white deer.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The 'Dawson's Creek' effect

I'll fess up: I watched "Dawson's Creek."

Apparently, I wasn't alone. During it's run, the show about four angst- and hormone-filled youths from Capeside, Massachusetts, became the WB's signature TV show. And though the show's been off the air for several years now, fans still descend on Wilmington, N.C., the place where the show was actually filmed.

"I call it the 'Dawson's Creek' phenomenon," Connie Nelson of the Cape Fear Convention Center and Visitors Bureau told the Wilmington Star-News.

Over spring break in 1999, "we got hundreds of calls from people who wanted to know where Mollye's Market was, where Dawson's house was," she said. The visitors bureau soon published a Frequently Asked Questions sheet for the show. "We still put it out and people still pick it up," Nelson said.

Among the locations made famous:
— Hell's Kitchen, 118 Princess St.
— Water Street Restaurant, 5 S. Water St.
No "Dawson's Creek" pilgrimage is complete without a stop by the fish house Dawson's family owned, Leery's Fresh Fish. The building still looks just like it did when all the characters stopped by for a bite to eat after their high school classes. Water Street Restaurant can be spotted often through the show's early seasons.
— University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 S. College Road
— Hewlett's Creek
So where, exactly is Dawson's Creek? Well, there's no such place. All those beautiful sunset shots of Dawson standing on his dock among the marsh grass were actually filmed along Hewlett's Creek, best viewed from Pine Grove Road between Masonboro Loop Road and Holly Tree Drive. Dawson's house was an actual private residence along the water. But it's not open for tours.
— Dockside Restaurant, 1308 Airlie Road, Wrightsville Beach
When Dawson and friends go to The Icehouse for a few beers, they are sitting inside a downtown bar called The Icehouse. But when the cameras pan from the bar to the outside where blue water sparkles and boats pass, you're actually looking at a view from Dockside Restaurant at Wrightsville Beach. The water is the Intracoastal Waterway.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quick hits: 'Journeys' for N.C. schoolchildren, women

Textbook series aims to take N.C. students on captivating 'Journeys'
"A new series of social studies textbooks involving North Carolina State University faculty members aims to take elementary and middle-school students on a journey to explore their state, nation and world," according to a news release from N.C. State.

"North Carolina Journeys is a textbook series designed for fourth- through seventh-grade students developed by faculty members from N.C. State's College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS), as well as other scholars and educators from across the state. The series also includes an eighth-grade text written by North Carolina scholar Pamela Grundy. The series takes students on a literal journey across North Carolina and beyond by highlighting key people, places and events in the state's history, while emphasizing North Carolina's connections to the global world.

" 'The series is custom-built for North Carolina,' says Dr. Jim Clark, professor emeritus of English at N.C. State, who was involved in the textbook project. 'It emphasizes reading and assessment – especially the end-of-grade tests and the North Carolina writing assessments. It also addresses the needs of students who are not native English-speakers.' ..."

Blue Ridge Mountains among best quick, affordable vacations for women
"From yoga retreats in Mexico to grand tours of India, dozens of women-only travel companies have made it possible for women to be in their own element while exploring the world. Not every woman has weeks of vacation time at her disposal or the money to travel overseas, though. Luckily, there are plenty of short, affordable women-only tours in the U.S. that promise empowerment, relaxation, and adventure for a fraction of the cost—and time commitment—that other more far-flung trips require," writes USA Today. ...

"After falling in love with backpacking during her six-month journey along the Appalachian Trail in 1996, Melody Blaney started leading wilderness trips for both men and women. In 2001, however, she came to the conclusion that many of her female clients had better experiences in women-only groups, so she co-founded Wildside Adventures for Women with fellow outdoorswoman Patti Landovek.

" 'It was amazing to me the difference between the dynamics on the co-ed trips and the women-only trips,' says Blaney. 'Women were much more relaxed and would take risks or challenge themselves in ways they wouldn't do if men were present.'

"The company now annually runs about 30 two- to five-day backpacking, kayaking, and biking trips around the U.S. designed to help women become comfortable in the outdoors without having to spend a lot of money. ..."

North Carolinians could stand to be healthier

Perhaps it's the state's historic ties to tobacco. Or maybe it's because of the barbecue, hush puppies and gallons of sweet tea. But for whatever reason, too many North Carolinians still use tobacco and remain far too inactive and fat, according to a report card grading health and prevention measures.

The report was released recently by N.C. Prevention Partners. It stated that the state's overall grades were unchanged from the last report card, issued in 2005.

"Despite some improvement in cutting smoking, the overall numbers did not change enough to raise the state above a 'C' grade in that subject," said the News & Observer. "And the news was worse in diet and nutrition, areas that again each garnered 'D' grades."

The good news is that tobacco use among middle and high school students is way down, and most of the state's hospitals are tobacco free. The bad news is that the "percentage of adults who are obese or overweight increased, and senior citizens and high school students showed no improvement. And there are few signs of change. Fruit and vegetable consumption among youths was actually down, despite unprecedented public attention to healthy diet in recent years. 'We're at the bottom, and unfortunately the trend is worsening,' said Meg Molloy, executive director of N.C. Prevention Partners. ..."

Click here for the complete article.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

North Carolina basketball report

Rankings (results through Tuesday’s games)
RPI rankings, team (overall record, record vs. North Carolina teams)

4. North Carolina (18-1, 3-0)
beat Davidson, UNC Asheville, N.C. State

Tyler Hansbrough, who is 22 years old, was born in 1985. Other players born in 1985: Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith.

6. Duke (15-1, 2-0)
beat N.C. Central, Davidson

Mike Krzyzewski, with no player taller than 6-foot-8 averaging more than 15 minutes, is using the Phoenix Suns’ fun-and-gun offense. One of Krzyzewski’s assistants with USA Basketball: Suns coach Mike D’Antoni.

36. N.C. State (12-5, 3-2)
beat Davidson, Western Carolina, N.C. Central
lost to East Carolina, North Carolina

Les Robinson fact: Robinson was 5-7 against North Carolina, his second-best record against any ACC school. He was 6-7 vs. Clemson.

69. Wake Forest (12-6, 2-1)
beat N.C. Central, Winston-Salem State
lost to UNC Charlotte

79. UNC Asheville (10-4, 4-1)
beat Campbell (2), Western Carolina, High Point
lost to North Carolina

83. UNC Charlotte (11-6, 5-0)
beat High Point, Appalachian State, Wake Forest, Davidson, Gardner-Webb

92. Appalachian State (10-6, 2-2)
beat Campbell, UNC Greensboro
lost to Charlotte, Davidson

99. Davidson (10-6, 5-4)
beat N.C. Central, Appalachian State, Western Carolina (2), Elon
lost to North Carolina, Duke, Charlotte, N.C. State

126. UNC Greensboro (10-6, 2-1)
beat UNC Wilmington, Elon
lost to Appalachian State

149. N.C. A&T (4-9, 0-0)

182. UNC Wilmington (11-8, 2-1)
beat N.C. Central, East Carolina
lost to UNC Greensboro

198. East Carolina (5-8, 2-1)
beat N.C. State, N.C. Central
lost to UNC Wilmington

246. High Point (5-8, 0-3)
lost to Charlotte, Gardner-Webb, UNC Asheville

252. Gardner-Webb (7-11, 1-2)
beat High Point
lost to UNC Charlotte, Campbell

258. Elon (6-10, 1-2)
beat Western Carolina
lost to Davidson, UNC Greensboro

276. Campbell (7-9, 1-4)
beat Gardner-Webb
lost to UNC Asheville (2), Appalachian State

310. N.C. Central (1-21, 0-7)
lost to Duke, Wake Forest, Davidson, Western Carolina, UNC Wilmington, East Carolina, N.C. State

313. Western Carolina (4-12, 1-5)
beat N.C. Central
lost to UNC Asheville, Elon, N.C. State, Davidson

317. Winston-Salem State (5-9, 0-1)
lost to Wake Forest

Marsalis, N.C. Symphony to record together

It was announced on Tuesday that the N.C. Symphony and saxophonist (and Durham resident) Branford Marsalis will go "into the studio" together, so to speak.

Marsalis will be featured on the first of two CDs the orchestra will release, said the News & Observer.

"The second disc, as previously announced, will be recorded with young acclaimed pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, who is in town for concerts with the orchestra this weekend. The recordings will begin next week in closed sessions with the artists at Meymandi Concert Hall," said the paper.

The Marsalis disc, which is expected to be released in about a year, will feature American composers, including world-premiere recordings of three works. Among them will be “Escapades” by John Williams, who re-crafted the piece for Marsalis from music he wrote for the Steven Spielberg film “Catch Me If You Can.”

Marsalis performed “Escapades” in his first appearance with the orchestra in February 2006. At the time, Marsalis told The News & Observer that he was increasingly branching out from his jazz career into symphonic music as a challenge to his skills.

The saxophonist, who has lived in Durham for several years, performed again with the orchestra last year, and in June he joined the symphony’s board of trustees. He recorded classical albums in 1986 and 2001.

The Sudbin CD is expected to be released in two years. Russian-born Sudbin, 28, will record piano concertos by Russian composers. The Daily Telegraph of London has called Sudbin “potentially one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century.” He has an exclusive recording contract with BIS Records, which will produce these two discs. ...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Quick hits: Rail in N.C.'s future, but sandbags are not

N.C.'s future rides on trains
"Just a few weeks ago Congress, for the first time in 32 years, increased vehicle fuel economy standards.

"Just a few weeks ago in Mecklenburg County, residents voted overwhelmingly to keep a tax to help pay for improved mass transit.

"And just a few weeks ago, the Association of American Railroads released a report that 2007 was the U.S. railroads' second best year ever for total volume, intermodal traffic and revenue -- and oil hit $100 a barrel.

"People and businesses in this country and North Carolina are beginning to think differently about our transportation future," writes Scott Saylor of the North Carolina Railroad Company in a special piece to the Charlotte Observer. "Travel and shipping delays caused by crowded, dangerous highways, environmental pollution from exhausts, and soaring energy costs are weighing on public opinion and the political process. ..."

Sandbags no longer to hold back ocean along N.C. coast
"A state decision to enforce a coastal regulation requires property owners along the North Carolina coast to remove sandbags from land threatened by the creeping Atlantic Ocean," says WRAL's Bill Leslie.

"State officials argued that the implementation of the regulation only honored the intent for sandbags to be temporary guardians against the Atlantic. But homeowners said the loss of the protection of sandbags will ensure the destruction of their homes, many of which are retirement investments.

" 'This is going to be catastrophic for the homeowners, for the state, for everybody,' said Yogi Harper, the owner of both a beach house protected by sandbags and a business that installs them. ..."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New rules to protect coastal waters

New rules by the Environmental Management Commissioner will better protect North Carolina's coastal waters from pollutant-laden stormwater runoff.

The changes are an effort to strengthen a lax pollution-prevention program and keep waters open to shellfishing and swimming, according to the News & Observer.

Existing regulations allow subdivisions and businesses to be built so densely in coastal areas that they overwhelm the land's capacity to filter oil, mud, fertilizer and chemicals washed during heavy rains from roofs, roads and yards. As a result, the acreage of coastal waters closed to shellfishing has increased about 13 percent in the past two decades, state data show.

"It's become more and more apparent coastal stormwater is the biggest contributor to the degradation of water quality, and our rules have been inadequate," said Ernest Larkin, a member of the Environmental Management Commission.

The rule changes for the 20 coastal counties call for new developments to build wider buffers along waterways. The current requirement is 30 feet, and that is increased to 50 feet for new development. Buffers such as grass, shrubs and other vegetation slow runoff. The new rules also require more projects to go through a review process and builders to install well-designed stormwater controls.

"It's a major step forward to protecting coastal waters," said Jim Stephenson, a representative of the N.C. Coastal Federation, an environmental group that has pushed for the changes.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Three from the Old North State (two from Asheville) among T+L's 500 Best Hotels in the World list

The Inn on Biltmore Estate (Asheville), Richmond Hill Inn (also Asheville) and Fearrington House Country Inn (Pittsboro) are three of the top 500 hotels in the world, according to the "global team of reporters and editors" at Travel + Leisure magazine. This is the sixth year that the magazine has compiled such a list.

T+L "has culled the 500 highest-rated hotels from our World's Best survey, identified what differentiates them from their competitors, sussed out the best rooms to book—and determined what services, amenities, and perks not to miss. It's this year's definitive hotel guide, and it's just for you."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ashevile (kinda sorta) has its own flag

This is what I get for procrastinating.

A couple of months ago, some businesses in Asheville put together an unofficial Asheville flag contest. Oh, there were some doozies. But I'm having trouble finding the really good ones (and by "good" I mean "hilarious") since I rested on my laurels and didn't blog about it until today (AFTER the contest has ended, I might add).

Anyhoo, Jack Moon of Fairview designed the winning flag, seen here.

Moon's banner, "featuring a view of both the city’s skyline and mountains, wound up with the most votes in the contest, which was sponsored by Asheville Pizza and Brewing and radio station WWNC-AM/570," writes the Citizen-Times. "More than 27,000 online votes were cast in the contest to determine six finalists, with another 2,000 or so choosing the winner, Asheville Pizza co-owner Mike Rangel said.

"... Rangel plans to put the flag into production, and offer it for sale. He dreamed up the idea in hopes that area residents would raise the flag at out-of-town festivals and concerts to promote the city."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Quick hits: N.C. in good shape financially. Global TransPark ... that's another story

N.C. economy among the best in the nation
"Despite a turbulent economy nationwide, experts say North Carolina’s economy will grow in 2008," says News 14 Carolina's Tim Boyum. "The housing crisis will likely dominate headlines again this year according to those at the annual economic forecast forum in Research Triangle Park on Wednesday.

"If you're looking to sell a home in 2008, economists say you may want to wait six months or more.

" 'I am looking at a bottoming out sometime in the middle of the year and then some improvements in the second half,' said David Seiders, a member of the National Homebuilders Association. 'But as a year as a whole the numbers in total will be lower than 2007.' ..."

Tough picture drawn for TransPark
"While its revenues and tenants are gradually increasing, Kinston’s Global TransPark must make much greater progress to pay off its multimillion-dollar debt and avoid bankruptcy, according to a report released Wednesday by the State Auditor’s Office," writes the Jacksonville Daily News.

"The GTP’s governing body, the Global TransPark Authority, currently owes more than $32 million — including interest — to the North Carolina Escheat Fund. The loan’s 'maturity date' was extended to Oct. 1, 2009.

" 'The current amount of operating cash held by the Authority is not sufficient to pay the balance due to the North Carolina Escheat Fund and as such, substantial doubt about the Authority’s ability to continue as a going concern exists,' auditing firm Cherry, Bekaert and Holland LLP of Raleigh stated in its summary. ..."