Wednesday, April 30, 2008

N.C. Symphony to travel to smaller communities

I remember in I believe third grade cramming the entire elementary school enrollment into a musty, humid gymnasium in Harnett County to hear the N.C. Symphony perform. Although the experience didn't turn me into a young classical music fan, I obviously remembered the event. (Of course, it was an "assembly," which meant time away from class.)

Now the N.C. Symphony, which reportedly visits 30-40 counties in the state a year, is looking to bring their music to the more rural and remote areas of the state.

"The new project will send soloists and small ensembles to local community colleges and public schools to offer performance and instruction, depending on how interested people there are," says the News & Observer.

"The initiative, which [was] publicly announced Wednesday, is a partnership between the symphony and the state's community colleges. It will be paid for with about $170,000 in U.S. Department of Education money, which is expected to cover costs for one year. ...

"The symphony hopes that new pockets of classical music fans might be unearthed in areas that have not had large enough audiences to support performances of the full 69-member orchestra, and also new benefactors might step forward to make those concerts possible. ..."

Experts: Smokies could be 'hub' of eco-tourism

A regional conference on sustainable tourism recently stated that the Great Smoky Mountains National park could be the "engine to propel new eco-friendly tourism for gateway communities in Tennessee and North Carolina," according to the Associated Press.

That's both an opportunity and a challenge for such communities as Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Cherokee, N.C., and for the country's most-visited national park itself.

A National Geographic Traveler survey of "sustainable destinations" ranked the Smokies second to last among 55 national parks in the U.S. and Canada in 2005, citing "terrible traffic, vista-choking haze, invasive species and crowded trails." Some 9.2 million visitors come to the Smokies annually. ...

U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne told a news conference before addressing the conference Monday that record new federal spending has been authorized for the national parks, including the Smokies, that will help with routine operations and special projects.

That includes a $1.5 million boost for the Smokies that will provide, beyond pay increases and the like, some 55 new seasonal rangers. In addition, new federal money to match private donations will provide $340,000 to the Smokies for exhibits for a new visitors center in Cherokee, preservation funds for historic cottages in the Elkmont district and podcasts aimed at tech-savvy young people, some of the first in the park system.

"Americans love their parks. They realize there are certain things that governments should do - (such as) provide for ongoing maintenance to the operations. That is the expectation," Kempthrone said. "But they realize that government cannot do all things. And so here is this opportunity where the government is saying, 'We would like to partner with our citizens.' "

Click here for the rest of the article.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Submarine 'North Carolina' arrives in Wilmington

The new nuclear-powered submarine "North Carolina" arrived at the state port in Wilmington on Monday, "beginning a week’s worth of special events leading up to its commissioning Saturday," writes the Star-News. "After that event, the 377-foot vessel will officially carry the same name as the battleship that sits across the Cape Fear River from downtown Wilmington – USS North Carolina."

The submarine "North Carolina" cost a mere $2.5 billion to construct.

Click here for a photo gallery.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Asheville an 'easy spring getaway'

Asheville has been listed by ShermanTravels as one of 10 easy spring getaways, "guaranteed to put some spring in your step, whether winter has left you craving sun or snow."

"Nestled in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains region, Asheville is showing up on travelers' radars thanks to its dynamic downtown area, lively cultural offerings, thriving arts scene, New Age nuances, and breathtaking mountain scenery," says Shermans. "Architecture buffs delight in the town's Art Deco-influenced buildings, as well as the Biltmore Estate, modeled after a French castle, that ranks as the largest private residence in North America. Shoppers can scoop up fine arts and crafts at local artisan galleries, while nature enthusiasts can foray into the surrounding mountain preserves that burst with colorful wildflowers come spring. ..."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quick hits: Catawba River is the most endangered and jazz legend loved Charlotte

(Sorry for all the 'Quick hits' of late. Just too much going on.)

Catawba River called 'most endangered'
"The Catawba River, beset by growing water demand, drought and what critics say are failed policies to protect it, is the nation's most endangered river, an environmental group says.

"American Rivers, a Washington-based advocacy group that has turned out most-endangered lists since 1986, put the Catawba at the top of its 2008 list to be released today," according to the News & Observer.

"The group accused Carolinas decision-makers of 'sucking their rivers dry' to continue development as a historic drought lingers over the Catawba basin. Neither state, it said, has a long-term water plan to ensure the river survives future growth.

"But public officials say the Catawba, the subject of detailed studies and the beneficiary of new conservation efforts, has been far from ignored.

"The amount of water pulled from the Catawba is projected to more than double over the next 50 years, one of those studies shows. Charlotte's chief water supply, Mountain Island Lake, could struggle to meet demand during a severe drought by 2048. ..."

Music legend held Charlotte close to his heart
"When George Butler was a boy, sports often stood in the way of his piano lessons. It got him into trouble only once: During a piano recital, he forgot the notes to a Scarlatti sonata, and launched into some boogie-woogie.

"What a scolding he got from his parents and teacher," writes the Charlotte Observer.

"As it turns out, the Charlotte native was playing the right music.

"He became a legendary record producer, the brains behind the careers of such jazz greats as Harry Connick Jr., Earl Klugh, Terence Blanchard and the Marsalis brothers, Wynton and Branford.

"On April 9, George Butler Jr., who grew up on Charlotte's Beatties Ford Road, died in a California hospital after a long illness with Alzheimer's disease. He was 76. ..."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Quick hits: Bobcats should stick around a while. Young smokers? Maybe not

Contract binds Bobcats to Charlotte
"Bob Johnson may be disappointed by Charlotte's lukewarm reception to his basketball team, but the Bobcats and the city appear stuck with each other for some time," says the Charlotte Observer.

"Johnson complained this week that Charlotte's corporate community isn't buying enough of his most expensive club seats and suites, and that he's losing money on the four-year-old NBA team.

"But Johnson, the team's majority owner, said he won't sell or move the team -- and acknowledged that his arena deal with the city makes leaving virtually impossible.

"Details of the controversial arena contract suggest that Johnson received one of the best deals in the NBA, but he also is anchored to Charlotte for years. ..."

N.C. teen smoking rates hit all-time low
"Teen smoking rates in the Tar Heel State are at all-time lows. Recently released results from the 2007 North Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey show smoking among middle school and high school students is down significantly since 2003," says News 14 Carolina.

"... It is a movement that is spreading across the state. According to survey figures, the number of teen smokers in North Carolina has dropped by 34,000 in the last four years.

"More than 7,500 middle school and high school students took part in this year's survey. They came from 191 schools from more than 70 school districts across the state. ..."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Quick hits: School wants a new name, Parkway needs help

Arts school wants a new name
"The N.C. School of the Arts wants a name change.

"The residential arts school in Winston-Salem, a member of the UNC system, wants to be known as the University of North Carolina School of the Arts," said the News & Observer.

"The school, which trains artists for careers in filmmaking, music, dance, design and production and drama, is often confused with magnet schools, and some people think it is a high school, school officials say. Its students range from middle school to graduate school level.

"The name change, which will be considered in May by the UNC system Board of Governors, would change nothing about the way the school operates or how it is funded.

"The last UNC system campus to change its name was UNC-Pembroke several years ago, formerly Pembroke State University. ..."

Parkway needs funds, staff
"Between pavement and people, managing the Blue Ridge Parkway can be a juggling act, according to Superintendent Philip Francis. What the federal government gives, the forces of nature can take away.

"With the official opening today of the new $9 million Blue Ridge Parkway Destination Center, the nation’s most-visited national park unit will have its most sophisticated visitors center, complete with auditorium, film, interactive exhibits and information to guide the more than 20 million visitors who use the parkway each year," says the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"But away from the gleaming new center, the parkway is showing signs of age and neglect, problems exacerbated by tight budgets and slim staff.

" 'Taking care of a mountain road is a challenge, with the moisture, the freezing and thawing and the laws of gravity constantly at work,' Francis said. ..."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Quick hits: New fountain for Pack Square, homecoming for Portsmouth

Pack Square fountain gets modern touch with new design
"The Pack Square Conservancy has unveiled the design for a new fountain to be installed as part of the park’s reconstruction.

"Consisting of a massive bronze ring encircling huge boulders, the design was conceived and will be executed by Asheville metal artist Hoss Haley," according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"Haley will begin work on the fountain soon and should be finished late this year, the conservancy said.

"Renovations to the square are to be completed by the end of this year, and the entire Pack Square Park project should be finished by summer of 2009, said Donna Clark, spokeswoman for the conservancy.

"The fountain, about 4 feet tall and 20 feet across, will cost $188,980 and will be paid for through a combination of foundation money, private donations and public funds, conservancy Executive Director Marilyn Geiselman said.

"The new artwork will be the latest in a series of fountains that have graced the square since the 1800s. ..."

Outer Banks village homecoming set

"No one has lived year-round in the island village of Portsmouth for decades, but Outer Banks history buffs don't consider it a ghost town," says the News & Observer.

" 'That upsets a lot of people,' said Ed Burgess, head of The Friends of Portsmouth Island. 'It's not a ghost village. It has been restored.'

"The village that once clung to a remote island in Carteret County will be bustling again during a homecoming April 19. As many as 400 people, some of them descendants of former residents, are expected to trek to the island for a day of singing and storytelling, and a re-enactment of a life-saving drill at the village's historic life-saving station.

"The homecoming, sponsored by the Cape Lookout National Seashore and the friends support group, will provide a glimpse of bygone life in the village across Ocracoke Inlet from Ocracoke.

"Before the Civil War, Portsmouth was a thriving port with more than 500 residents and 109 dwellings. But the population dropped to about 14 by the 1950s and to three by the 1970s. Three women who were the last full-time residents reluctantly moved off the island in the early 1970s after a male caretaker died.

"Since 1976, the island has been part of the National Seashore, a 55-mile string of barrier islands. About two dozen buildings are intact. ..."

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Battle of the Furniture Markets

No one will ever confuse High Point, N.C., with Las Vegas, but that doesn't meant that there aren't some folks who prefer the former to the latter. Especially when it comes to the battling world furniture markets.

"When the World Market Center opened in Las Vegas three years ago, the furniture industry gasped: How could little ol' High Point compete with the bright lights of the Strip?" asks the Associated Press.

"But on Monday, when the High Point Market [opened] for its first show of the year, roughly 85,000 industry insiders will once again descend on the heart of North Carolina's furniture industry for the twice-annual home decor trade show that sets the table for what consumers will see in stores next season.

" 'Is Vegas good to have? Sure it is,' said Jerry Epperson, a furniture industry analyst with Richmond, Va.-based investment firm Mann, Armistead and Epperson. 'But I, like most people, don't go to a market to see Blue Man Group or Cirque Du Soleil, or heaven help us, a has-been singer.'

"Yet the owners of the market space in Las Vegas remain undeterred. They held their sixth furniture market in January and will have roughly 5 million square feet of showroom space by July. The group recently unveiled additional expansion plans — with the stated goal of replacing High Point as the home of the world's biggest furniture trade show by 2013. ...

" 'We've got to go where the business is,' said Alex Boyer, a spokesman for Furniture Classics Limited in Norfolk, Va. 'High Point still is, and for the very near future, will be the primary venue for us. But we had to look to Vegas. ... Some of our competitors are there.' ...

"The two cities couldn't be more different. Las Vegas is a convention haven: packed with tens of thousands of hotel rooms, restaurants, high-end shopping, casino gaming, golf courses and sunny weather. Life is a little slower in High Point, a city of roughly 85,000 where hotel and restaurant reservations are scarce during market season.

"While the Las Vegas market touts the city's amenities over High Point's more modest setting, vendors said it will ultimately succeed — and threaten High Point's place as the leading home decor trade show — only on the merits of the business.

" 'Vegas for us is still an unknown,' said Glenn Prillaman, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Virginia-based Stanley Furniture Co., which has 60,000 square feet of showroom space in High Point. 'What's unknown is if our retail distribution base is out there in the kinds of numbers that would drive us to be there.'

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The influence of North Carolinians

I came across a year-old-or-so issue of The Atlantic in our breakroom the other day, and I was immediately struck by the cover: a photo of Abraham Lincoln and the headline, "The 100 Most Influential Americans of All Time." After skimming it, I quickly realized that North Carolinians -- or even those with some (possibly tenuous) connection to the Old North State -- have been major players in influencing (a broad word, admittedly) the path of America.

You can view the entire list via the link above; below are how those with N.C. ties fared (and I may have missed a couple).

1. Abraham Lincoln (The Atlantic: "He saved the Union, freed the slaves, and presided over America’s second founding.") There is compelling evidence that Lincoln was not born in Kentucky, but in very western North Carolina (around Murphy, that is).

10. Woodrow Wilson ("He made the world safe for U.S. interventionism, if not for democracy.") Wilson spent a year at Davidson College and lived for a time in Wilmington.

13. James Madison ("He fathered the Constitution and wrote the Bill of Rights.") He also married North Carolina native Dolley Madison.

18. Andrew Jackson ("The first great populist: he found America a republic and left it a democracy.") No matter what the sandlappers say, Jackson was born in North Carolina.

23. Wright Brothers ("They got us all off the ground. ") Our license plates say it all.

50. James K. Polk ("This one-term president’s Mexican War landgrab gave us California, Texas, and the Southwest. ") Polk was born in the state and educated at UNC-Chapel Hill.

No. 2 on the list, George Washington, was an invester in the Great Dismal Swamp area of North Carolina, believing it to hold great development promise, even forming the Dismal Swamp Land Company in 1763. No. 31 on the list, Henry Clay, saw his presidential hopes plummet thanks to his "Raleigh Letter," written underneath a great oak in the City of Oaks. And George Herman "Babe" Ruth's first professional home run was hit in Fayetteville and he was known to fish and hunt in Eastern N.C.

The Atlantic also compiled a list of the Top Living Influentials; two Tar Heels made the list: Billy Graham (11) and Michael Jordan (14).