My dog is a bit of a brute. At 100 pounds and more athletic than most humans could ever dream to be, Rodney the Weimaraner has a ripped physique and an impressive bark to match. He runs on heel or pulls on command, a hook-up for power on skis in the wintertime and a running partner by my side all year ’round.Living and getting out daily with a “fitness dog” like Rodney necessitates specialized equipment, and over the years I have acquired custom canine gear, fleece doggie jackets, and even fashionable items for workaday walks when I want my dog to stand out from the proverbial pack.The latest “fashion piece” for Rodney is a collar called the Kahuna. Made by Stunt Puppy, a Minnesota dog-gear brand, the oversize collar uses webbing that’s 1.5 inches wide and comes with funky patterns as well as stout construction for the big dogs it’s built to adorn.The Kahuna, which costs $25, is a collaboration with Croakies, a company most known for its sunglasses straps. Stunt Puppy worked with Croakies for its expertise in making high-strength nylon webbing that looks good, and the thick collar is offered in six colorful prints.On the performance side, once the snow falls you’ll find Rodney showing off his X-Back Dog Harness from Skijor Now LLC. The company requires you to perform multiple measurements of your dog’s body before it custom-stitches the X-Back, a harness built for pulling humans around on skis.I got the X-Back five years ago and it has endured many miles of Rodney’s worst. We fly on skis, and he never grimaces because the harness’ padded straps align to his anatomy like a glove. At $39.99, the Skijor Now harness is a bargain for any dog put into the pulling position on snow.Dog park visits see Rodney wearing a collar with a built-in retractable leash. The Release N Run collar has a thin cord that serves as the leash — it pulls out of a slim compartment on the collar. A reeling mechanism retracts the cord instantly back into its hidden place when you let go.For dog parks and wild areas where you rarely need a leash, the Release N Run collar, at $32.95, is a great option. The retracting cord is four feet long, and it is fine for casual walks when you’d rather leave your primary leash behind.Toys keep Rodney entertained at home when he can’t be running. This summer, the Orbee Ball from Planet Dog has been a favorite. Touted as the “world’s best dog ball,” these rubbery spheres come in four sizes and cost $7 and up.The Orbee Balls are nearly indestructible for chewers. They bounce and are somewhat soft for safety while tossing. Best part? The balls float, letting Rodney and I play by water and not worry about his favorite new toy sinking in the creek where he swims. –Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.
Our picks for the best in resort gear will have you enjoying the mountain and looking damn good this season.1. K2 SlaybladeTough, stable, and rockered like a surfboard, the Slayblade is the type of board that will give you confidence anywhere on the mountain. Built with bamboo and featuring an “ollie board” for extra pop, it’s light and snappy—ideal for improvising while bombing down the mountain. But it’s not just for groomed terrain. This freerider floats in the soft stuff and smashes crud. $575; k2snowboarding.com 2. Rossignol Experience 83 TPXBig-mountain powder skis use rockers— curved-up surfboard shapes—to attain flotation in deep powder. But here’s a dirty secret: that shape also makes it easier to initiate turns and ideal for hitting hardpack and even bumps. The Southern skier will relish this rockered board that has enough slice and dice to handle manmade snow, but can still levitate when it does snow (or when you travel West). $500; rossignol.com 3. Nikwax BaseFreshYeah you stink. But this stuff will wash that smell out of the base layer that claimed to be stink-proof, then turned out to eventually hold onto your own personal funk. It works well on workout clothes and yoga mats too. $7.50 (300 ml); nikwax.com4. OR Incandescent HoodieYou could get overwhelmed with the sheer number of puffies on the market these days, but Outdoor Research got creative here by using a quilting pattern that doesn’t just look different but also puts the down where its insulation is most effective. Even better, the light Pertex fabric on the outside allows those goose feathers to loft and hold more warm air. It weighs a mere 17.9 ounces and easily stuffs into a pack. $325; outdoorresearch.com 5. Powderhorn PowderridePowderhorn worked with Gore-Tex to create a four-way waterproof/breathable stretch fabric for this baby—the first use of the material in the U.S. The result is an athletic soft shell with all the protection of a hard shell.$475; powderhornworld.com6. Liberty Retro Light Bamboo PoleLiberty combined pliable bamboo with a carbon core here, making for a light pole that looks stylish yet can handle some abuse. $118; libertyskis.com 7. Zeal Ion HD Camera GoggleYep, nothing beats homemade ski porn (or so we are told) and no helmet cam can compete with these goggles when it comes to keeping a low profile on the hill. The camera is impressive, shooting full 170º wide angle 1080p video and 11 megapixel still photos. $399; zealoptics.com 8. POC FornixThe purpose of a helmet is of course to protect your skull and the Fornix does that better than most thanks to POC’s Aramid Bridge System—which combines outer shell and inner foam to keep the helmet both quite light and to ensure that it stays in one piece during the multiple impacts of a serious fall. Beyond that, it looks damn stylish and features six vents to keep things cool. $160; pocsports.com9. Teva Lifty Chair 5Built with the long, cold, thankless days of lifties in mind but good for everything from winter hiking to getting you to the mountain, these soft boots are stuffed with 3M Thinsulate LiteLoft insulation and wrapped in a waterproof shell. Best of all, they compress down easily for travel. $170; teva.com
Your outdoor news bulletin for June 10, the day Benjamin Franklin’s kite was struck by lightning:Teen Attempts A.T. RecordLike many others, Neva Warren of Florida has a 35-pound pack, a trail name (Chipmunk), and is attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from South to North. Unlike other thru-hikers tackling the trail this summer, Warren is only 14-years old, and if she completes her journey she will become the youngest solo thru-hiker in the history of the trail. WDBJ7 caught up with the youngster on her way through Craig County, Virginia, roughly a third of the way through the 2,100 mile trek. Inspired by a family trip to Shenandoah National Park, Warren says she trained mainly on flat ground, but has been steadily racking up more and more miles as the hike has progressed. Her family has been meeting her at trailheads although she has spent a few extended stretches in the backcountry. Favorite part of the trail: the wild ponies of the Grayson Highlands of course.You can read more about Chipmunk’s quest on her blog.Man Airlifted Off Trail in Pa.Speaking of the Appalachian Trail, a man was rescued off the trail outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, after falling nearly 100 feet down an embankment. A man described to be in his early 20s was airlifted to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries following a coordinated rescue effort from multiple agencies in the area. The trail is apparently heavily traveled and injuries are not uncommon according to officials. The man had been hiking with friends when he fell around 9 p.m. Be careful out there, especially when hiking near 100 foot banks at night.Climate Record BrokenAnd speaking of breaking records, the global carbon dioxide emissions from energy rose to a record high in 2012. A report from the International Energy Alliance says the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions ros 1.4 percent in 2012, to a record high of 31.6 billion tons. Perennial Pollution Powerhouse China saw the biggest jump from 2011 to 2012, although the acceleration of emissions has slowed. The United States and Europe both posted falling carbon emissions from 2011 to 2012, so kudos to us. This is still bad news for the country and world though as IEA found the world to be on track for a 6-10 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, higher than the maximum 3.6 degree rise deemed sustainable.
I first met Jesse Cobb a number of years ago, when he was playing mandolin with The Infamous Stringdusters. I remember being struck by Jesse’s aggressive playing; his mandolin work was distinctive, his solo runs both melodic and furious. I’ll never forget the first time I heard “No More To Leave You Behind,” from the ‘Dusters’ first record. The timing, tone, and precision mystified me.Jesse’s story is an intriguing one. A native of Wisconsin, he is one of four musical brothers. Brothers Matt and Shad are both mean fiddlers, with Shad being one of the most sought after players in Nashville, and brother Jed is one hell of a clawhammer banjo player. The three of them spent much time on the road during their formative years, picking bluegrass in The Cobb Brothers Family Band. Later, Jesse spent time logging timber, running sled dogs, doing construction, and working on the railroad.A move to Nashville in 2000 brought Jesse back to music. Jesse was a founding member of The Infamous Stringdusters in 2006, spending five years recording and touring with the genre-bending ‘grassers before leaving the band in 2011. These days, Jesse calls the Ontario area home, where he lives with wife Nicole and their daughters Kayla and Mackenzie. I caught up with Jesse to chat about where his musical career has taken him recently. BRO – How was recording this record – a solo project – different from your previous recording experiences? JC – I went into my buddy Mark Lalama’s Sumbler House Studios with no intention of making an album. This started as an idea for teaching mandolin camps and workshops, just to show my style of improvisation that could be dissected with a class. It wasn’t until months later, when working on another project at Mark’s, that we came up with the idea to let this be a stand along project. In most recording situations, especially band sessions, there are very thought out arrangements and lots of opinions to consider. In this case, I wanted a raw, live, improvisational feel, so there was very little planning. I just went straight to playing.BRO – We are featuring “Solitude,” the title track of your record, on Trail Mix this month. The song is an instrumental, but there still has to be a story behind it.JC – I’ve been traveling pretty much my whole life, starting with moving back and forth between the West Coast and Midwest three or four times when I was a small child. I played with my family band when I was in my teens, worked on the railroad in my early twenties, and was a musician again after that. During all that time crisscrossing the country, I have always loved sitting in the back of a van or truck, late at night, playing my mandolin when most folks are asleep. This tune was written in one of those situations, somewhere in Wyoming, I believe. Everyone, no matter how busy, needs some solitude.Finish this thought . . . “Playing the mandolin is better than logging work because…”JC – …the mortal danger in playing mandolin is considerably lower, unless, of course, you get involved in the “what is bluegrass?” discussion.BRO – You and your brother, Shad, have spent some time on the road doing some duo shows lately. Are you guys more like the brothers Everly or Robinson? JC – I’d say the influence of both can likely be heard, although I am pretty sure Shad doesn’t know who The Black Crowes are! That’s one of the best things about playing with Shad. He has a very deep respect for the older sounds, and I’d say we are more influenced by the Louvin Brothers that either of those two. We are open to more modern influences from the jam and modern rock worlds I’ve been exposed to over the years, though our vocal styles are very much in the vein of the Everlys.BRO – You recently spent some time on the road with a bad ass band. Tell me about that project.JC – Bad ass indeed! I was on the road with Noam Pikelny, Bryan Sutton, Barry Bales, and Luke Bulla. I was fortunate to do 15 shows with these guys over about three weeks. We had an absolute blast. These guys are both amazing musicians and great friends on the road. Noam always finds the best food, Barry is the best late night bluegrass DJ I’ve ever heard, Bryan is a great influence, both musically and personally, and Luke is one of the best singers I know and his advice and encouragement were priceless. Things came together pretty quickly as far as getting our set list locked in. Everyone was given the opportunity to show off their various chops and it was so fun to play music we rarely get to play with our other projects. I also need to get a shout out to Dan Foldes, our road manager, sound guy, roommate, and all around good dude. He made us sound good every night. I hope we get to do some more of this next year.——————————————————-You can find out more about Jesse Cobb and his brand new record, Solitude, by surfing over to www.mandocobb.com. Also, be sure to check out the title track from the record on this month’s Trail Mix.
Your daily news update for February 5th, the day the largest Jell-O (9,246 gallons) was made in Brisbane.Land Preservation in WNCAnother major win for outdoor enthusiasts was announced this Tuesday in Transylvania County.The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, The Conservation Fund, and the U.S. Forest Service issued a statement declaring plans to conserve nearly 8,000 acres along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the area. In 2013, more than 3,200 acres of working forestland and a large portion of the headwaters of French Broad River’s east fork were obtained and protected by the North Carolina Forest Service. A grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, along with state and private funding, made this acquisition possible.Located on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, the newly-protected acreage will become part of the prospective Headwaters State Forest. The area sits adjacent to 100,000 acres of existing conservation lands in both states, providing habitat for endangered plant and animal species.Ranked 7th on the 2013 national Forest Legacy Program priority list, the State and The Conservation Fund utilized a $3 million grant to purchase 711 acres of land. Additional private and state funding of $5.4 million allowed for the protection of another 1,186 acres. Additional acquisitions are expected to made in 2014.The N.C. Forest Service plans to create a multi-use management plan for the land, allowing sustainably managed timber production alongside a variety of public recreational uses, including hunting and hiking.Coal Ash Spill in NCDuke Energy reported Monday that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash (enough to fill 20-32 Olympic-sized swimming pools) spilled into the Dan River from an unlined pond at its retired power plant in Eden.A 48-inch stormwater pipe beneath the unlined ash pond broke on Sunday afternoon, draining water and ash from the 27-acre pond into the pipe. A team of specialists from Appalachian Voices remains on-site to sample the water for toxics such as arsenic, as well as other contaminants. Yesterday, two members of the team were on the water in canoes, scouting the river from the point of discharge at the retired power plant to a few miles downstream. Their reports show signs of discolored water and ash that stretches close to 20 miles downstream.Environmental groups have previously filed lawsuits in an attempt to force Duke and other utility services to remove ash stored near waterways faster and more consciously. Greenpeace in particular has stepped to the forefront of the spill aftermath, forcing Duke Energy to answer accusations and questions on drinking water safety.This is the second incident this year where hazardous materials leaked into a waterway and threatened the local drinking water. Residents in West Virginia are still without clean water due to the chemicals that spilled into the Elk River last month.Freedom to Float Bill Defeated in the SenateVirginia paddlers were turned upstream on Friday when the Freedom to Float bill was defeated in the Senate 10 to 30.The American Canoe Association believes this bill was a reasonable approach for non-motorized vessels to use non-tidal rivers, streams, and creeks for recreational purposes. Paddlers would have been allowed to float on drainage areas of at least seven square miles without being held liable for civil or criminal trespass.For more information on the issue of river access, check out this story by BRO contributor Beau Beasley.
I’m not sure when pump tracks were “invented,” but I think I’ve always wanted one in my backyard. Like, before I ever had a backyard. Before I rode bikes. Maybe from birth. My desire for a pump track was more like a primal urge, akin to the drive to eat small animals and procreate.A dirty playground that I can ride in circles, in my own yard.And it only took me 10 years to convince my wife building a pump track was a good idea. Actually my son convinced her. He’s six and obsessed with bikes. Working together, we broke her down until finally she said okay. “But you’ll keep it small?” It was posed as a question but I knew from experience it was not a question. I could build a pump track, but it would be a tiny pump track. I think I started digging before she finished her pseudo question.Sometimes when you dream about something for so long, and then it finally happens, that thing cannot possibly live up to the anticipation and hype you’ve built up in your head. Like, I grew up as a red blooded American boy in the ’80s and ’90s, so I dreamt of two things and only two things: Elle Macpherson, and a Russian invasion that forced me and the rest of my soccer team to fight guerrilla style for freedom. What can I say? It was a simpler time.Now, I know that if Russia did invade or if I did get to take Elle Macpherson to the Olive Garden, it probably wouldn’t be that great.The pump track, on the other hand, is totally living up to its expectations. My son rides it constantly and has friends over to ride it too. This is great because instead of bothering me for snacks or Band-Aids, they ride bikes. In circles. On dirt.Speaking selfishly, the pump track has completely changed my life. The track itself is nothing outrageous, mind you—a couple of tight berms and some rollers in between—but it’s fun. During the day, I take work breaks and knock out 15-minute shred sessions. When the kids get home from school, we ride it together. I’ll knock out a couple of quick loops while I’m cooking on the grill, or taking the trash out. And it’s given me a whole new concept of “Happy Hour.” A small cooler of beer and a couple of buddies, and we have an hour of entertainment.My latest pump track session was enhanced by Missile IPA from Champion Brewing. This is my first beer from the Charlottesville-based Champion. You gotta respect a brewery that calls themselves “Champion” right out of the gate. Missile is a solid IPA, not as sweet and citrusy as some others in this category—it leans more on the pine side of things, and has a really nice drying effect when all is said and done. I’m excited to dig into more styles from this brewery. I have their Kolsch sitting in my beer fridge right now. My beer fridge that sits maybe 25 feet from my pump track. If that’s not the American Dream, I don’t know what is.
When it comes to its rivers, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a special place. Some of its flowing waters are among the oldest in the entire world; they have patiently been eating away at the bedrock for eons. These rivers have also long served as a draw for settlers and visitors alike who continue to seek out the ample opportunities to fish and float among the rapids and eddies. Our rivers also offer some of the best whitewater paddling you can find anywhere—which explains why we see so many kayaks tied to the roofs of cars around our region.But the rivers here also deliver unique paddling opportunities to the less thrill-seeking among us. If a one- or two-day family-friendly float with the chance to stop along the way, pitch a tent, and spark a campfire sounds appealing to you, then read on. We have enlisted the help of three passionate advocates for our mountain rivers—Hartwell Carson, Mark Singleton, and Erin McCombs—who were willing to share some off-the-beaten-path stretches of river in the heart of the mountains that are not only easy to paddle and navigate, but also offer the chance to commune with an incredibly diverse range of aquatic wildlife. Depending on the season, you might even spy far more fish, fowl, and reptiles than you will other people. Well, as long as you don’t tell too many other folks about where you were.The French Broad RiverCarson Suggests:Oskar Blues Brewery /Pisgah Forest Access to Penrose Access AreaIf you happen to spot Hartwell Carson out on the French Broad River, it’s likely his trusted yellow lab mix Junebug is riding shotgun. Whether it’s monitoring the river for sources of pollution like a leaky sewage pipe or picking up trash, Carson spends at least a few days every week floating and paddling the river in his job as the French Broad’s Riverkeeper, which is part of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a national organization based in New York City dedicated to keeping our rivers, lakes, and stream clean. For ten years, Carson has been patrolling the 213-mile river from its headwaters in Pisgah National Forest to its confluence with the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tenn.Today, Carson is part of MountainTrue, an environmental advocacy group based in Asheville, which continues to play a role in the rebirth of the French Broad as a destination for not just kayakers and tubers out for a lazy afternoon, but also the return of native wildlife like the muskellunge, better known as Muskie.Carson moved to Asheville from Montana after earning a master’s degree in resource management and was immediately drawn to the wide river that cut through town. “Nobody would get into the river 10 or 11 years ago,” says Carson, who grew up in Georgia and visited Asheville in the summers. “But I’d like to credit our work for some of the cleaning up that we’ve seen in recent years.”Carson has also paddled the entire river, including one epic adventure where he and a friend floated the entire 213 miles, a trip that took 16 days and involved eating a lot of bologna. The section of the river that runs through Asheville has become particularly popular with locals and tourists alike as the growing number of outfitters has made it easy and convenient to float or paddle up through the city’s burgeoning River Arts District and up to the Bywater, a much frequented drinking establishment in the summer months. Traffic on the river should surge even more when New Belgium Brewing, which hugs the river, opens in 2015. There’s even momentum to build a whitewater park in the same area.For paddlers looking for a more serene experience on the river, Carson suggests heading south toward the river’s headwaters in Rosman, N.C. Unlike the Asheville section, which tends to be wide and relatively shallow, the upstream sections of the French Broad are more meandering and narrow, Carson says, with plenty of river birch and overhanging foliage to make it feel almost like you’re traveling through a tunnel at times.A great stretch Carson recommends for some stress-free flat-water paddling begins near the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard at the Pisgah Forest Access area on Wilson Rd., which has ample parking and a concrete ramp to help launch watercraft. You then paddle north as you snake past some farms and pasture land until the Davidson River joins the French Broad, which picks up some steam with the addition of all that fast-moving mountain water.This part of the river is also known as the “muskie mile” in honor of the giant prehistoric fish that lurk beneath the surface. The fish, which can reach three-feet-long and weigh more than 20 pounds each, now thrive in the river thanks to a fishery, the southernmost one dedicated to muskie in the U.S., which has helped rebuild the population of the species after it was wiped out by a chemical spill back in the 1940s. Though he’s tried countless times, Carson says he has yet to catch an elusive muskie. “They call them the fish of ten thousand casts,” he says.After paddling for another five miles or so you’ll float by the Little River Campsite, a primitive paddle-in-only site that kicks off the French Broad Paddle Trail, which is a series of six campsites along the river that Carson helped establish. Would-be paddle-campers can visit the site frenchbroadpaddle.com to make reservations and extend their river adventures into multi-day affairs.But if you’re interested in making more of a day trip of things, keep paddling for another mile or so until you reach the Penrose Access Area, a fairly new addition for the river that has a boat ramp, floating dock and plenty of space to keep the car you dropped off earlier that day.The Little TennesseeSingleton Suggests:Needmore Rd to U.S. 19., at Fontana LakeAs you’re entering the town of Franklin, NC, it can be easy to miss that you’ve crossed the Little Tennessee River, or “Little T” as locals know it. While there’s a fine greenway that stretches north along the river’s banks for a few miles, the river itself flows unimpeded for some 24 miles from town until eventually being swallowed by the waters of Fontana Lake, which is created by the Fontana Dam.Just a few miles north and downstream of town, the river enters some relatively remote and unpopulated territory that makes for some scintillating flat-water paddling on some of the cleanest and clearest water in the region. “This is a fun class II section, especially with kids,” says Mark Singleton, the director of American Whitewater, a non-profit dedicated to conserving and restoring America’s whitewater resources.Singleton lives in nearby Cullowhee where his wife is a teacher at Western Carolina University. He moved to the area back in the 1990s to work for the Nantahala Outdoor Center before eventually taking over the director’s role at American Whitewater, where he’s been for the past 10 years. Singleton says he has long been a conservationist and has worked to support recreational access to other nearby rivers like the Tuckasegee, Nantahala, and Cheoah.Singleton admits he prefers kayaking steeper whitewater or local Class III rapids. But when he’s up for something slower, he and his family truck over to the Little T for some relaxed summer floating.One advantage the Little T has over some of its neighbors like the Nantahala, Singleton says, is that it’s both less crowded and warmer. When you combine those factors with how clear the water is, it makes for prime snorkeling opportunities. While that might at first seem counterintuitive—You can snorkel in a river?—the Little T offers Caribbean-like opportunities to spot multi-colored fish (especially during spawning season) of a startling variety such as largemouth bass, rock bass, perch, walleye, red-horse sucker, bream, bluegill, catfish, as well as many species of minnow. If you’re patient, you may even spy a giant salamander called a hellbender, which can grow up to 2.5 feet long. All that wildlife helps explain why the Little T will soon be designated a Native Fish Conservation Area. You might even see Native American fish weirs along the river as you paddle.While you could float the entire 24-mile stretch from Franklin to Fontana Lake, Singleton recommends the six-mile section that begins along Needmore Road, about 13 miles north of Franklin, as a great day trip.Drive up Rt. 28, Bryson City Rd., and then turn left over the bridge on Tellico Road to the gravel section of Needmore Rd. along the river, where you’ll find a series of excellent put ins as you travel downstream.One feature to look for is the suspension bridge that spans the river, which was originally built to allow farm kids to catch the school bus in the days before quality roads existed on both sides of the river.Your paddling adventure continues until you reach the take out at the bridge under U.S. 19, which involves a bit of a rocky climb to get from the river to your dropped car. You could also continue on into the lake itself.Along the way you will see plenty of wildlife, forest, and farmland, but very few homes. There are also ample camping and picnicking opportunities along both banks of the river—as well as on several of the islands that have dug themselves in midstream.One drawback of the Little T is that it can get shallow, especially during the summer when there hasn’t been a lot of rain. Singleton suggests checking out the U.S. Geological Survey gauges available online before heading to the river and waiting for a measurement of at least 1,000 cfs to ensure enough clearance over the river’s pebbly bottom.The only hazard on the river is a set of potentially nasty rapids that sit midstream right before you reach the takeout. But, if you’ve picked a day where the water is running high enough, “you might not even know you’ve run them,” Singleton says.The New RiverMcCombs Suggests:New River State Park in North Carolina to Rte. 93 on the Virginia State LineDid you know that some of the oldest rivers in the entire world are right here in the Appalachians? The most ancient of them all just might be the New River, which geologists believe could have begun flowing some 360 million years ago. The New gets it start by meandering through the town of Boone, N.C. as it continues flowing some 320 miles north into Virginia and West Virginia, where, near the town of Fayetteville, it spills over into the New River Gorge. Every summer, thousands of eager rafters and kayakers flock to the Gorge to tackle its series of challenging Class III and V rapids.But the New River offers more than just whitewater thrills, says Erin McCombs, the associate conservation director for American Rivers, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to protecting and restoring our nation’s rivers. In particular, McCombs focuses on the potential for dam removal projects in the Southern Appalachian region.McCombs, who grew up near the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn., studied biology at Appalachian State University in Boone where she first fell in love with our region’s wide-ranging biodiversity. “I continue to be in awe of the different species and habitats we have here,” she says. While she had dreamed of becoming a marine biologist growing up, McCombs increasingly became fascinated by the life teeming in the region’s multitude of rivers. As part of her master’s degree, she studied under Dr. Michael Gangloff, a malacologist, or expert on mollusks, who has been tracking the progress of how freshwater mussels on the New River are making a comeback. “Freshwater mussels are like environmental sentinels,” says McCombs. “Since they are filter feeders and need clean water free of pollution like sediment, freshwater mussels are a good indicator of the quality of the stream.”A wide variety of fish now thrive in the cleaner waters of the river, including smallmouth bass—known as black bass—as well as muskie, flathead catfish, and even walleye. The New River is also home to plenty of wildlife that live above the waterline as well, including a wide variety of songbirds, wood ducks, kingfishers, and red-winged blackbirds.A great place to start a journey on the river, says McCombs, is at the New River State Park, which is about an hour or so north of Boone near the town of Jefferson. The park is a beautiful wedge of land bordering the river that could be a camping, hiking, and picnicking destination all on its own. You can also pick up helpful maps and tips at the park’s ranger station to help you plan your journey. Put your boat in at the ramp at Wagoner Access point where the water gets lit up by the dappled sunlight that sneaks through the abundant trees and foliage bordering the river.The river runs unimpeded from the park all the way up to the Virginia border, a stretch of some 27 miles that was designated a National Scenic River in 1976. There are multiple takeout points along the way you can use to build-your-own daytrip. You’ll also have to portage around a low bridge a few miles downstream from the park.If you have the time, McCombs recommends making it an overnight trip by taking advantage of a couple of different camping options you’ll find along the way such as the paddle-in campgrounds available at U.S. 221 and later at the Alleghany County Access near the Virginia border. There’s also a commercial camping site available just south of Route 93 in Virginia.McCombs remembers fondly paddling and camping on this very route just a few years ago, and talking about it made her excited to return and do it all over again. “It’s a nice rural escape and it felt like we had the river to ourselves for miles and miles,” she says.
This short film by bikepacking enthusiast and bicycle branding pioneer Dwayne Burgess chronicles a five-day backpacking trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Burgess began chronicling his backpacking adventures on his website Manual Pedal after biking from New York to San Francisco.“There were’t too many specific plans that we put into place for this trip,” Burgess says in the film. “We just knew we’d spend five days on the Blue Ridge Parkway heading south. I think we both wanted to ride our bikes to explore and sequester ourselves in the mountains.”
This month we’re handing the reins of our Instagram account over to J Smilanic, a Colorado native living in Asheville, North Carolina. J prefers to spend his time hiking and exploring any mountains but particularly those near his home base in Western North Carolina.“I was born and raised in Palmer Lake, Colorado,” J says, “but I really love it here in Asheville. Mostly it’s the people, followed closely by the mountains, food, beer and the weather.”One look at J’s Instagram reveals a plethora of top notch landscape photography from Western North Carolina and few images from out West.He says his favorite area to explore close to home is the Roan Highlands but hopes to spend some time shooting in the Pacific Northwest as soon as possible. “I feel very drawn to the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “I have not visited but I would gladly spend the rest of my life exploring out there.”Sunset over Lake Jocassee in upstate SC, as seen from Jump Off Rock.Stay tuned to the Blue Ridge Outdoors Instagram account this week as we share more of J’s stunning photos!
No fines for 90 percent of natural gas pipeline explosionsSince the beginning of 2010, interstate natural gas transmission pipelines have exploded or caught fire 137 times and in 90% of the cases the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has not issued a fine. According to an analysis conducted by E&E News, a news organization focusing on energy and the environment, since 2010 penalties were sought in only 13 cases. Fines in those cases totaled $5.4 million, less than a day’s profits for TransCanada Corp., the company that owns the Keystone XL pipeline. PHMSA is a unit of the Department of Transportation and tasked with keeping the pipelines safe. In a speech to members of oil and gas trade groups this year, PHMSA Administrator Howard “Skip” Elliott said that he did not think increased penalties against pipeline companies would increase safety. In many cases, pipeline explosions have led to bystander injury and death. 11 deaths in Great Smoky Mountains National Park this yearWhen the body of missing hiker Mitzie Sue “Susan” Clements was found in October it marked the 11thconfirmed death in Great Smoky Mountains National Park this year. Clements was hiking on the Forney Ridge Trail near Clingmans Dome in foggy conditions when she failed to meet her daughter, who hiked ahead of her, in the parking lot. After a week of searching, Clements body was found in thick vegetation about 2 miles west of the Clingmans Dome parking lot. The official cause of death is still under investigation but no foul play is expected. Clements was an experienced hiker but park officials say it would have been easy for Clements to miss a trail intersection or parking lot spur trail in the less-than-ideal conditions. There were 7 deaths in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2017 and 16 deaths in the park in 2016. The most common cause of death in the Smokies is motor vehicle accident. ZAP athlete Aaron Nelson to race in Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving DayZAP Fitness Foundation, a training center for long distance running Olympic hopefuls in Blowing Rock, N.C., will send athlete Aaron Nelson to compete in the Manchester Road Race in Manchester, CT on Thanksgiving Day. The Manchester Road Race is the preeminent Turkey Trot in the country and Nelson’s participation marks the 17thyear a ZAP athlete has competed in the world-class road race. Nelson is coming off a strong debut season, placing 3rdat the VCU Health 8k (4.97 miles) in Richmond, VA with a time of 23:02, clocking a brisk 4:38 per mile pace.