U.S. Coal Industry Fails Tribal Communities Across American Southwest FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享NBC News:Over the last century, in particular, American settlers and institutions urged the Navajo into livestock ranching, land development and uranium mining, only to end or curtail those industries, leaving the tribe to manage the disastrous fallout.Now, history’s pendulum appears to have swung again. A coal business, dropped into the Navajo heartland a half century ago, is staggering. Electric utilities around America are converting to cheaper natural gas. And the world is turning to cleaner power sources, like wind and solar.The utility that operates the Navajo Generating Station announced at the start of 2017 that it would turn off the plant by December 2019. The shutdown would almost certainly drag down the power plant’s lone coal supplier, the Kayenta Mine, which has no other customers.News of those twin blows has rattled hundreds of Navajo workers who would lose their jobs, sent politicians from the Arizona state house to President Trump’s Interior Department scrambling for ways to keep the plant in business, and thrown the far-flung Navajo Nation and the neighboring Hopi Reservation into a tempest. Loved or hated, coal has been a mainstay of life here for decades, even as it has fouled the air and scarred the land that the tribe holds sacred.On one side, tribal supporters of the power plant and the vast open-pit coal mine that feeds it spent most of the last year fighting furiously to stave off the closure. They hired a top investment banking firm to search for new owners and lobbied in Washington — where coal’s self-proclaimed No. 1 fan occupies the Oval Office — for a political solution.On the other side, Navajo opponents cheered what they they saw as end times for an industry they say never delivered the economic bounty promised in Indian Country and was blamed for damaging the health and the environment of impoverished residents. The Navajo plant and others in the region laid a persistent haze from the Grand Canyon to Arches National Park in Utah to the Pine Mountain Wilderness in central Arizona. And coal operations siphoned away a vast amount of water in a region that desperately needs more to grow and diversify the economy.Peabody Energy, the giant multinational company that operates the mine, said it still expects to find a new power plant operator that will continue burning its coal. But the plant operators note that they soon must begin the engineering and planning to take NGS apart and seem to hold little hope the operation can keep going.The stakes are unusually high. The shutdown of the mine and the power plant — known by its acronym, NGS — would deprive the Navajo reservation of its two largest non-governmental employers. The 43-year-old generating station and its sister coal mine employ more than 700 people, many at salaries of more than $100,000 a year, a small fortune in the depressed economy of Northern Arizona. Another 2,300 jobs in the region are linked to the two major employers.The financial stimulus also enriches the Navajo Nation, with NGS lease payments and coal royalties contributing roughly one-fifth of the tribe’s general-fund budget. For the government of the Hopi reservation — entirely surrounded by the vast Navajo lands — reliance on coal is even greater. Nearly 87 percent of this year’s Hopi general budget of $14.6 million is expected to come from coal-related royalties and fees.“How much of that electric line goes to my people?” asked Russell Begaye, the president of the Navajo Nation. “Zero. We don’t get any power from this.”The loss of those funds is viewed as disruptive to the Navajo government and debilitating for the Hopi. Services ranging from police patrols, to food banks, to health care for the elderly could be slashed if the coal money disappears, tribal members predict. Those services help people already operating on the margins. Half of adult Navajos do not have a job. About 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.“Our leaders in the past saw this as something we would have for 100 years,” Navajo President Russell Begaye said of the coal money. “Now we see that is not the case.”More: Lighting the West, dividing a tribe
Your daily outdoor news bulletin for July 10, the day the Scopes “Monkey Trail” began in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925, because people used to still think they are too good to have evolved from apes:Invasion of the LionfishNorth Carolina has a problem. No, North Carolina has a BIG problem, and so does the rest of the East Coast of the United States. That problem comes in the form of a fairly beautiful fish, which is also part of said problem. The lionfish is an invasive species native to the tropic waters of the Indo-Pacific, but took hold off the North Carolina coast around 2000. They have no natural predators, reproduce like aquatic rabbits on Viagra, and crush the competition, reducing native fish populations by as much as 70 percent. And, now, according to a piece on Slate.com, they are becoming obese, meaning they are eating beyond when they are full – which is a characteristic not usually found in the animal kingdom, only in the human kingdom. This is very bad news. The article focuses on the eating habits of the lionfish, but the science and data behind the invasion are stunning to say the least.Tennessee Wild Receives Patagonia GrantClothing manufacturer and philanthropic entity Patagonia recently awarded a $25,000 grant to Wild South and the Tennessee Wild Campaign to “protect headwaters, recreation, beauty, and intrinsic values of wild places in the Cherokee National Forest” of Tennessee. The grant will go toward lobbying to pass the Tennessee Wilderness Act that would expand protection for nearly 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest, giving that acreage the more robust security of a Wilderness designation as oppose to National Forest.Read more on the Wild South website.Chesapeake Bay Foundation Doing WorkIn a mash-up of the the Dirt’s first two stories is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) doing the work that will preserve our waters for the foreseeable future. First comes a post from Orvis.com that toots its own horn (which is fine with us when spreading the conservation gospel, and Orvis does a lot of this so kudos to them) about a grant it gave the CBF to work with agricultural landowners in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania) to plant streamside forests and increase the riparian borders on their working farms. These programs will decrease the amount of agricultural runoff – which is the largest source of pollution to the bay – seeping into the streams and running into the bay. Not only will this help the Chesapeake, it will also help any fish that could have been effected along the way.Second comes in a column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch by CBF Executive Director Ann Jennings and Virginia Conservation Network policy manager Jacob Powell that grades the state of Virginia on how they are progressing with promises made in 2010 to clean up the watershed dubbed the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The plan includes the programs listed above. Is the state flunking? No. Is the state acing? No, again. Jennings and Powell say Virginia is making progress, but still has a ways to go.
This Saturday, get both your brain and your body moving at the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. This unconventionally scenic race brings a new twist to your workout by adding a history lesson to this top physical challenge as the course winds through the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park stands in honor of the Civil War battles fought in the name of Chattanooga, “the Gateway to the Deep South”. These battles served as a major turning point for the Union army, opening the door to the heart of the Confederacy, and mark some of the deadliest conflicts of the Civil War. Maybe you’ll even meet some ghosts along your way…But besides being a little spooky, the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon offers a beautiful and insightful look at this important piece of history. The course includes two loops of the park, beginning and finishing at the 6th Cavalry Museum, and takes place on a paved road through the battlefield.The event will also feature a Half-Marathon, 5K and Kids Junior Marathon. The Half-Marathon will occupy one loop of the full Marathon course, while the 5K moves North of both races. The Junior Marathon, a long-term project in which participants log 25.2 miles over the course of several months up until the race, will run through the last mile of the full course and represent the culmination of this more accessible take on the marathon challenge.Registration for the half and full Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon has closed, but there are still limited spots open for the 5K race! Interested runners may register on-site for the 5K, depending on availability. The race also welcomes spectators and supporters, so come cheer on your friends and family while you enjoy the sights from the sidelines. Join the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon fun for a new take on American history!
The internet is an uproar after a Minnesotan dentist shot and killed a well-known lion during an illegal hunt just outside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.Since the story broke a few days ago, Walter Palmer—the midwesterner accused of shooting and beheading “Cecil the Lion” after his paid guides lured the animal from the safe confines of the national park—has become a household name around the globe and the target of extreme outrage.Palmer maintains that he had no prior knowledge of the animal’s status as a Zimbabwean national symbol at the time of the shooting and insists that his guides, whom he paid more than $50,000 to orchestrate the hunt, procured all the proper permits before baiting the animal out of its national park home.“I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”Authorities in Zimbabwe are singing a different tune.Palmer is believed to be back in the United States now, but the two Zimbabwean guides who helped him hunt down and ultimately kill Cecil have been charged with poaching, and, according to the BBC, could face up to 15 years if convicted.Conservationist say Cecil’s cubs now face a significant risk of infanticide as competing male lion’s within Cecil’s pride attempt to gain control of his former territory.
If he hadn’t started climbing, veteran Stacy Bare doubts he’d be alive today.As a captain in the U.S. Army, Bare spent a year in Iraq working to rebuild cities, a mild description that doesn’t adequately convey the raw realities of war he endured. During his service, he witnessed an Iraqi man being cut in half by gunfire, and he fought to stop the bleeding of a soldier whose legs had been blown off. While working to re-establish peace, he lost battle buddies in combat who left behind families and kids. General David Petraeus recognized Bare for excellence in working with local Iraqis in part to decrease violence as they collaborated to create communities, but upon his return home in 2007, Bare found himself consumed with bitterness toward an oblivious American public that couldn’t grasp the cost of freedom.An unfortunate consequence of war is the fallout that happens at home once members of the military are released from their service and return to civilian life. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has conducted studies on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it found the risk of suicide was up to 61 percent higher among recent veterans than the general U.S. population.However, there is hope, and it can be found in nature. In “Stacy’s Story,” a short film produced by The North Face, Bare describes his post-service battles with alcohol, cocaine, and suicidal thoughts that seemed to offer the only ways to move past the traumas he witnessed in Iraq. While struggling to work things out, he called a friend who served with him in Baghdad, who invited him out climbing. The experience transformed Bare’s life.“I went on the first Flatiron [in Boulder, Colorado], and I didn’t think about feeling guilty because I hadn’t seen enough to feel the way I was. I didn’t feel like I had to be anything other than just a scared first-time climber,” he remembers. “Then we get to the top, and all that trauma and all the years of trying to suppress it came flooding back through the Flatiron, up into my toes and into my hands, and I’m just shaking. All the fear and all the anger and all the confusion and all the not feeling like I fit in, and all the suicidal thoughts and everything else like that, it all came rushing up through the rock, and I get down to the bottom and I collapse, and just relief floods through me. As we’re walking down, I realize: If it’s this good for me, how good can it be for others?”Today, several organizations offer wilderness programs specifically for veterans struggling to transition to life beyond the military. After Bare’s epiphany in the Flatiron, he and former Army Ranger Nick Watson founded Veterans Expeditions, a nonprofit organization that uses outdoor experiences to empower veterans to overcome challenges associated with military service and train for outdoor employment opportunities.In 2011, Bare moved on to the Sierra Club, where he worked as a military and veterans affairs coordinator before taking on his current role as director of Sierra Club Outdoors. Among other programs, he now oversees the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program, which offers a variety of free or low-cost adventure experiences for veterans ranging from backpacking and fly fishing trips in West Virginia to raft guide training trips in Colorado to Wilderness First Aid courses in Western North Carolina.Additionally, programs like Outward Bound, Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, Summit for Soldiers, the Heroes Project, and Wounded Warrior Ascents offer multi-day outdoor adventure trips that aim to help veterans realize their potential outside the military and provide a safe space where they can work out their difficulties with others who get it.Navy veteran Justin Haug certainly understands these challenges. Haug shipped out to boot camp straight from high school and completed four overseas deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, with one spent working at a Joint Forces Command in the Horn of Africa. There, he witnessed babies being left on the side of the road outside the military compound and people he came to care about struggling for the very basics of survival. Haug spent a lot of time there volunteering in orphanages and teaching English to teenagers, and when his time was up, he felt like he had abandoned people who had become family.“I allowed it all to fester,” remembers Haug, who went through a period of alcoholism, philandering, and regular fights as he struggled to escape his demons. A friend he served with recognized his unhealthy mental state and invited him to California while they both had leave, and Haug suggested they visit Yosemite National Park. On a trail there, he found himself so overwhelmed by the beauty of the surrounding nature that he committed the rest of his life to helping others find similar experiences.“For the first time in my life, I felt free,” he recalls. “I just remember walking up a trail, and my mind was open and heart was open, and I felt connected to something larger in the universe. At the time, I didn’t even believe in any spiritual anything, but I felt connected to something larger, free and open, free of the negativity.”Reenergized and focused on a new goal, Haug completed his service in July 2010 and began working on his bachelor’s degree in recreation, park, and tourism management at Penn State University the following month. During the summers of his college years, he worked as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service with a group of all veterans and then as a seasonal interpretive park ranger at Grand Teton National Park’s Jenny Lake Visitor Center. In spring 2013, he joined a veterans’ Outward Bound whitewater rafting trip down the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers in Canyonlands National Park.“Everyone on the trip was struggling,” Haug says. “Some people had seen a battle buddy get blown up, that kind of thing. We could get together and support each other and let the other veterans know what baggage and garbage we were hanging onto.” The experience only solidified his commitment to sharing the outdoors with others. That fall, he began a master’s degree in recreation, park and tourism sciences at Texas A&M University, which he completed this May, and he just returned to Grand Teton National Park for his fourth summer as an interpretive park ranger at Jenny Lake Visitors’ Center. He’s set his sights on a long career with the National Park Service, hoping to help as many people as possible find the benefits of nature.In addition to his work with the Sierra Club, Bare is also working to climb or ski in every country where he served in the military as part of a personal project called “Make Adventure, Not War.” He and his wife, Makenzie, also welcomed their first child in January, a dream Bare never would have considered possible when he first fought to push up from rock bottom. Appropriately, they named her Wilder.“Climbing saved my life, and skiing sustains it,” Bare says. “There’s something deeply universal about time in the outdoors. Specific to individuals, veterans or not, who have suffered trauma, I think it’s recognizing beauty, feeling awe that is all so powerful, getting out of your own head and focusing in on the now, realizing there’s so much of the world to live for and amazing things can be in front of you, and [for veterans] beginning to feel and experience the physical country you fought to defend.”[divider]Outdoor Opportunities for Veterans[/divider]The following groups offer outdoor recreation programs specifically geared toward current and former members of the military.Sierra Club Military Outdoorssierraclub.org/outings/militaryOver the past decade, the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program has helped equip more than 50,000 service members, veterans, and their families with the skills and confidence to enjoy the outdoors. It also works to provide veterans with marketable job skills they can use in the outdoor industry, with three raft guide training trips in North Carolina and Utah this spring.Veterans Expeditionsvetexpeditions.comThis veteran-led nonprofit runs multiple trips each month to empower veterans to overcome challenges associated with military service through outdoor training and leadership. For the second half of 2016, trips include mountaineering, climbing, and mountain biking.Outward Bound for Veteransoutwardbound.org/[email protected] Outward Bound for Veterans program seeks to help returning service members readjust to civilian life via teamwork- and challenge-focused wilderness programs. Veteran courses often range a week or more at no cost and include sea kayaking, rafting, canoeing, backpacking, and climbing.Combat Wounded Veteran Challengecombatwounded.orgThis organization pairs rehabilitation with research and data collection to help current and future wounded veterans learn to cope with the loss of limbs, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injuries through adventure challenges around the world. Challenges for 2016 and beyond include mountaineering, SCUBA diving, and equestrian rides in environments ranging from the Amazon rainforest to Antarctic peaks.Wounded Warrior Projectwoundedwarriorproject.org/programsWWP’s Soldier Ride program is a four-day experience that introduces veterans to the sport of cycling and uses a 25- or 50-mile bike ride to empower veterans and help them make connections with other injured service members.Trout Unlimited Veterans Service Partnershiptu.org/conservation/outreach-educationTrout Unlimited’s Veterans Service Partnership works to bring the healing power of the water to veterans interested in learning the sport of angling. With over 400 chapters and 150,000 members nationwide, this grassroots effort helps TU volunteers serve as teachers and guides on a veteran’s first exposure to fishing.Summit for [email protected] Summit for Soldiers specifically aims to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress following military service and reduce the number of military and veteran suicides through mentorship and the therapeutic benefits of adventure and outdoor activities. Currently the organizers are working to bring a flag bearing the name of their brothers and sisters who lost their fight to the top of the highest summit on each continent.Heroes Projecttheheroesproject.orgA main mission of the Heroes Project is to put injured veterans on some of the highest summits in the world to prove that war-related injuries don’t mean the end of ability and provide inspiration and encouragement to veterans with all levels of injuries.Wounded Warrior Ascentswoundedwarriorascents.orgWWA seeks to raise awareness of the sacrifices America’s severely injured service members and their families make in defense of our freedom and connects injured veterans with resources that can help them recover. The organization offers adaptive mountaineering programs and endurance sports opportunities to disabled veterans on peaks including Denali and Aconcagua.Project Healing Watersprojecthealingwaters.orgProject Healing Waters helps veterans recover physically and emotionally through fly fishing. Events, tournaments, and festivals bring participants together for support and camaraderie.
It’s 7:30 Tuesday morning. The marina at Summersville Lake is already packed. Pontoon boats jostle against the deck as nearly 100 people file on board with their coolers and cameras and SUPs. The mood is light. Everyone’s in bikinis and board shorts despite the brisk mountain morning. Professional climbers like Daniel Woods and Alex Johnson mingle in the parking lot. Someone procures a pan full of breakfast burritos, and amid the bustle, the singular, satisfying crack of a can opening.Water Stone Outdoors co-owner Gene Kistler shakes my hand before folding me in an embrace. His red baseball cap reads “Make Climbing Great Again.”This is Psicoroc, the United States’ first outdoor deep water soloing competition. Gene guides us to a small boat at the end of the dock. Fitz is our captain for the day. His sun-bleached hair is short on the sides, long on the top, pulled neatly into a bun. A cigarette hangs loosely from the corner of his mouth. After a few introductions, he eases the media boat away from the marina and points the bow toward Long Point.Someone’s already raising the American flag for the anthem when we arrive. As we idle beside the cliff, the full scale of the entire production hits me. In addition to our little media boat, there’s a boat for the judges, one for the video team, a few for the climbers. A fleet from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lingers at the perimeter. Two jetskis taxi latecomers back and forth from the marina. There’s a rumbling above. I crane my head back just in time to see the tail of a helicopter on standby, passing overhead. A closer whirling, like a swarm of bees, signals the launch of a drone. Around the corner from Long Point at the Houseboy area, climbers already have ropes and rappel stations fixed to lower soloists who successfully top out.Everything is in place. The stage is set.“I had no idea what I was signing up for,” Fitz mutters. “I have never seen anything like this.”Truth be told, nor have I. Climbers from as far west as California and as far north as Canada have journeyed here, to this little pocket of southern West Virginia, for the first-ever outdoor deep water soloing competition on U.S. soil. Representatives from big name brands like Mammut, La Sportiva, Scarpa, and Black Diamond are all in attendance. It’s an event of historic proportions, but one that may not ever happen again. Per a decision made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Huntington District on May 5, 2007, cliff jumping, and consequently deep water soloing, has been banned for the past decade in as many as 19 Army Corps-operated lakes throughout Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio. The ban, at least in Summersville Lake, has been somewhat of a gray area—according to Army Corps personnel, deliberate cliff jumpers received 100 citations one year while countless more climbers, who “fell” from the cliff while deep water soloing, went fine-free.“The Army Corps here has always been flexible with climbers,” says Fayetteville-based climber Zak Roper. “They’ve been watching from a distance and letting us get away with [deep water soloing].”Roper moved to the Fayetteville area seven years ago, specifically for the climbing. He says that during those years, and even prior to it, climbers had been working hard to develop a good rapport with the Army Corps through trail maintenance projects with the New River Alliance of Climbers.“They love climbers,” he says. “We build trails, we clean up, we’re friendly. They’re working with us.”“We cause them virtually no trouble,” adds Water Stone Outdoors co-owner Maura Kistler. “[The Army Corps] has always considered climbers to be a great user group because they give back and they follow the rules and they respect the resource.” Which is why U.S. Army Corps Natural Resource Specialist Kevin Brown was open to the idea of incorporating a deep water soloing competition into Summersville Dam’s 50th anniversary. The celebration, which officially kicked off on August 19th, took the better part of a year to organize.“We wouldn’t have entertained the idea of doing it had it not been for the New River Alliance of Climbers,” Brown says. “I’ve been with the Army Corps for 20 years and we’ve had a good relationship with them since that time.”The event marks an exciting opportunity to dote upon the first-class recreational resource that is Summersville Lake. Still, he says, deep water soloing will remain an unsanctioned activity, at least for now.“At this time there is no interest by the Corps of Engineers to have a future event or allow deep water soloing.”Back at the cliffs, the 16 competing climbers are finishing up their second round of burns. The day is perfect—warm, but not humid, the sky painted with wispy clouds. A slight breeze ripples the otherwise still water. Brown’s eyes scan the line of pontoons anchored in front of The Movie Screen area. The crowd erupts in cheers as Roper peels 30 feet off the cliff, plunging into the lake feet first (only after rotating into a backflip). Scoring here at Psicoroc includes categories like “style,” after all. Behind Brown’s spectacles, I catch a glimmer of something more than a sense of duty or responsibility. It looks a lot like hope.“Recreation at Summersville Lake has become more diversified and it’s branching from the traditional boating, skin diving, fishing, swimming, into the other sports that are maybe not quite as resource intensive,” he concludes.With that, I return to the party à la jetski taxi service. Psicobloc deep water solo champion Michaela Kiersch is cheering on her fellow competitors, shouting beta from the boat. Kiersch has never been to West Virginia before, let alone gone deep water soloing on natural rock. Having just come off of the high stakes, high-pressure scene at Psicobloc in Park City, Utah, she says Psicoroc here in Summersville is a breath of fresh air. “I couldn’t imagine a better setting to have this event,” she says. “It’s beautiful. It’s so much fun being in the South and having this experience because I love the southern mentality of hospitality. Everyone is having fun and coming together and I think that goes really well with climbing communities.”Couple that feel-good vibe with quality sandstone, crystal-clear water, and crowd-free cliffs, and you have what many consider one of the best deep water soloing resources in the world. Unlike other deep water soloing destinations such as Majorca, Spain and Halong Bay, Vietnam, Summersville Lake in West Virginia is affordable, accessible, and enjoyable year-round. When water levels drop during the fall and winter months, sport and trad routes become 40—60 feet taller, boulders emerge, and a whole world of adventure opens up. If deep water soloing were to become officially sanctioned and publicly marketed, many locals feel that it would only bolster the ever-growing recreation tourism scene here.But for now, the precedent set by Psicoroc will do. The day closes with a high note—on the very last climb, eight-time World Champion Sean McColl takes the first ascent and overall win. The worst injuries, short of sunburn, are a slight concussion and a few bruises.Despite the Army Corps’ attempts to keep the event “spectator free” (which is why you haven’t heard about it), by the time McColl topped out more than 40 feet above, our initial floatilla was far from alone—locals in pontoon boats and inner tubes, kayaks and SUPs, showed up to witness and support the momentous occasion. And it is this, says Maura Kistler, that truly demonstrates how a little West Virginia town made the impossible possible, if only for a day—community.“We all feel like we cashed in every karma chip we ever earned in our whole entire lives to get this day,” says Kistler. “We couldn’t have done this if our community weren’t so well-developed.”
As mountain biking continues to explode in popularity, so does the next evolution of the sport called bikepacking. In a nutshell, bikepacking is the fusion of mountain biking and minimalist backpacking. You’ve probably heard the term. Bikepacking allows riders to have the freedom to enjoy backcountry camping, but with the range and excitement of riding a mountain bike. Over the weekend we joined forces with Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, Bluestone Bike & Run, and Stokesville Lodge & Campground to host a beginner friendly tour. In this particular scenario, we were the beginners.It’s no secret that mountain biking isn’t our strongest sport. We jumped on the bandwagon a little late in the game. Lucky for us we were teamed up with some serious experts to lead the way. Jess Daddio, the travel writer for Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, and Adam Ritter from Bluestone Bike & Run promised a beginner friendly and informative bikepacking mission from the Bluestone shop in Harrisonburg to the Stokesville Campground and back. It was our first time bikepacking and we’re glad we did it.Since we are total beginners at the sport we needed to track down some gear. Jess and Adam hooked us up with a couple of upcycled Green Guru bags that we could attach to our bikes that would ultimately carry all of our gear. The idea with bikepacking is to let your bike do most of the work. The more gear that your bike holds, the less gear that your body needs to hold. We were able to fit the essentials: a Sea To Summit sleeping bag and pad, a camp stove, dinner for the night, and a lightweight tent. We shuttled the van to the Stokesville Campground so we had some goodies for us and all of the participants waiting in a nice shaded camp spot next to some killer singletrack.Our route was as wonderful as the weather. A few minutes after leaving the shop on a beautiful late-April afternoon we found ourselves in the rolling farmland of Virginia, heading to the George Washington National Forest. We rode over a mixture of paved roads, gravel roads, and some really nice singletrack. Our planned route was 30 miles in and thirty miles out the next day. Roxy and I took our time because it was our first ride since last fall, and Jess and Adam took their time because they are nice and wanted to wait for us.As the day went on we turned left onto the home stretch, a quiet gravel road in the National Forest that, in the right lighting, really reminded us of being back home in Colorado. We rolled up to our campsite just as the sun was dipping behind the trees. We lit a fire, had a celebratory drink and crashed early. Honestly, the ride wasn’t easy for us. But the quality time with good friends, in a beautiful place made it all worth it. We picked up some new skills and from here on out, it’ll only get easier. Our next event is the Cheat River Festival in Albright, West Virginia. If you’re in the area stop by and say hi! We’re hosting a Backpacking 101 workshop, where we’ll be sharing stories, tips and free gear from our sponsors, finally something we’re experts on!There is one way for this tour to be a reality, our sponsors! Sending a thank you shout out to our title sponsor Nite Ize, and all of our other awesome sponsors like Crazy Creek, National Geographic, Sea to Summit, Mountain House, Lowe Alpine, Old Town, Leki, HydraPak, UCO Gear and Wenzel. If you like the gear that keeps us groovin’ click here to enter for a chance to win our Grand Gear Giveaway!
There are several hiking trails that range from easy to challenging within our region. The most popular is the Mount Nittany blue and white trails that are a short five-minute drive from downtown State College with the trailhead in the neighboring town of Lemont. The most photographed overlook is the Mike Lynch Overlook, which gives a beautiful view of the Penn State campus and downtown State College. The region is also one of the world’s best destinations for fly fishing. Spring Creek might be the most popular location for fly fishermen in the area and it just a short 15 minute drive from downtown State College. Other popular locations to cast your line include Fishermen’s Paradise, Bald Eagle Creek and Big Poe Creek. If you aren’t quite confident to go out on your own there are some guided trips from local companies such as The Feathered Hook and TCO Outdoors. Rothrock State Forest is the go-to spot for experienced mountain bikers looking for some challenging trails. In fact, the site is also home to the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic (May 23rd-27th) that welcomes both professional and amateur bikers alike. Many of these riders come back year after year not only for the great trails they encounter, but also the friends they make throughout the week. State College, Pennsylvania is a hub of outdoor activities for those looking to getaway. Known by the locals as Happy Valley, the region has long been a destination for visitors wanting to combine hitting the trails by day and relaxing with a beverage from the Central PA Tasting Trail by evening. The added bonus of no additional cost for parking, hotel WiFi or resort fees makes the region attractive for a budget sensitive traveler. For those who aren’t quite into roughing it, the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle is a gorgeous lodging property, literally just steps away from hiking trails and boating. Recently, the Nature Inn was awarded the distinction of the nation’s top eco-friendly resort. In fact it is has been awarded a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. If a guided tour is more of your speed you should link up with Tussey Mountain Outfitters for one of their guided kayak or canoe trips down some of our scenic creeks. There are several trips available that vary in length. All equipment and transportation is included in the reservations, which makes it easy. For more information or to request a visitor guide head to www.visitpennstate.org Wrap up your day by heading downtown State College for a bite to eat at a surprisingly strong restaurant scene. Longtime favorites including the Tavern, Corner Room and Deli have been Penn State alumni favorites across generations, but new favorites such as Spats at the Grill, Liberty Craft House, Local Whiskey and Champs Downtown will also fill the bill.
The incubation period is about 30days, which means there will hopefully be chicks sometime mid-May. What better way to spend these days at home than watching wildlife come into the world from your couch! Some may not realize when walking downtown that way up atop of the Riverfront Plaza building is a Peregrine Falcon couple that has hopefully found their forever home and is currently raising four eggs! You may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them flying overhead, but you can also tune in to the live 24/7 falcon cam and see them up close! Being a city with a major river like the James running through it, Richmond offers the unique experience of city life and wildlife coming together. Locals are no strangers to seeing birds like Great Blue Herons or Ospreys fly overhead, deer find their way into neighborhoods and parks, and even spot a pinesnake or painted turtle down by the river. See what the Richmond Falcons are up to HERE Updated May 13: FIRST CHICK CAN BE SEEN Screen grab from Virginia DGIF Falcon Cam after female laid her second egg The DGIF Falcon Cam follows the breeding season of the falcons each year if they choose to come back. This year is exciting because this is the first egg production from the Richmond falcons since 2017. It’s even more exciting because as of four days ago, the female just laid her fourth egg! You can find each moment of the eggs appearing on their website along with the live feed. Video of the moment the female (right) laid her second egg and the male (left) comes to visit On May 11 the DGIF reported the first pip to be seen on one of the eggs. On May 12th, a chick made it’s first appearance on camera! Click here to learn more about the hatching and feeding process of the Richmond couple’s newest chick.
Best Stretches: Foley is a big fan of El Horendo, a visibly impressive Class V rapid in the Gorge section. “It cascades into several drops over about 25 feet of verticality,” he said. “You have to make some moves in there. You have to actually maneuver and navigate through the rapid.” Beyond the challenging Class V whitewater, paddlers also experience the beauty of the high alpine forest of the Canaan Valley as the river drops into Blackwater Canyon, showing off the mountain laurel, rhododendron, and tannic water. Art Barket paddles the Blackwater every chance he gets. When it rains, he’s checking the levels, usually between 250-550 cfs, and putting his crew together. Bald Cypress swamps and island beaches characterize the scenery surrounding South Carolina’s Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. Bordered by national and state parks and forests, in addition to a few wildlife management areas, and connected by a canal, the lakes are surrounded by bald eagles, white-tailed deer, dense forests, and fields of aquatic flowers. As summer heats up, there’s no better way to cool down than exploring the waters of the Blue Ridge. With increased access to the outdoors hopefully on the horizon, we’ve rounded up some of the most exciting and unique paddling spots in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. From extreme whitewater rapids to calm and peaceful lakes, we’ve provided plenty of options to inspire your future water adventures. Paddle the Palisades on the Kentucky River “Counties and cities are not just thinking of the greenways and trails like back in the day,” said Deidre Hewitt, a regional program manager for the National Parks Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, which is supporting community-led conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the country. “[They’re saying] ‘We have a river. Can we bring people to the river? We have this great marsh system or creeks that have high water. Can we figure out if we can connect those?’” Best Stretches: Although there are a lot of memorable rapids on the Blackwater, Regan particularly enjoys My Nerves Are Shot And I Can’t Take It Anymore, a three-part Class V near the end of the Upper. “It’s where the river changes from a boulder, ledgy riverbed to bedrock,” he said. “It slides, it’s really fast, accelerates, and has a really good kicker launching into the second part of the slide. It’s super dynamic and a super pretty rapid up against the right wall.” Visitors shouldn’t let the idea of paddling with alligators scare them away from this gem. “Alligators are just like every other reptile,” Fonda said. “They don’t want anything to do with people. I’ve been there over 70 times and I’ve only seen an alligator twice. People have this misconception that it’s like south Florida.” Best Stretches: Stick to the front by the visitor’s center or follow the water trail through the woods. Take advantage of the campsites, including some paddle-in only sites, for an extended trip. Canoe rentals are available on site if you don’t want to haul a boat with you. Low Country Splendor on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie Barket said first timers, even experienced paddlers, should always go with someone who knows the river. “Many of the rapids have different pathways that lead to undercuts and sieves if you go the wrong way,” he said. “You need a good knowledge of the river. There are a lot of dangerous obstacles, but there are also clean lines through all the rapids.” “It’s beginning to become a big trend because not everybody can get to a lake,” Hewitt said. “I think that’s a great idea to show people in urban areas that would not think to go out in the woods to experience that. It’s something fun, quick, and it’s not like you have to be out all day on the water. I think those opportunities have gotten a lot more interest in drawing people to see their resources.” The Youghiogheny River snakes its way through West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, offering variety for paddlers of all levels in each of its sections. “The middle is laid-back, a lot more of a scenic tour out there,” said Andy Hiss, who’s been guiding on the river with Laurel Highlands since 1998. “The Lower Yough is a great step up. You get to start to run a lot of the moves you’re going to make on the Upper. Then the Upper Yough is everything whitewater.” Best Stretches: Paddlers hit the Yough for beloved rapids like National Falls, Dimple Rock, and Entrance Rapid. Stunning Scenery and Whitewater Variety on Tennessee’s Caney Fork The calm and shallow waters are perfect for beginner and casual paddlers looking for a new spot to explore. “Most of the places are four feet deep or less, which makes for a great paddling experience because you don’t have to deal with currents and waves,” Deal said. Whether you’re looking to park and play, run some Class II-IV rapids, or go for a peaceful extended paddle, the Caney Fork River has something for everyone. Mack O’Rear, a self-described 19-year-old in a 72-year-old’s body, didn’t start paddling until he was in his 50s. After getting involved with the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club, he started making trips out to the Caney Fork at Rock Island State Park. Paddling Trails in the Blue Ridge As the river flows northwest through Tennessee, there is some excellent flatwater paddling behind the Center Hill Dam. Andrea White, the Tennessee State Director for the American Canoe Association, said the Caney Fork is more than a playboater’s paradise. “There’s a new access [point] at Big Bottom [in White County],” she said. “Just some gorgeous paddling back there if you just want a really casual, flatwater paddle that doesn’t really take any kind of experience or skill.” For further exploration of the area, try the watershed’s numerous other waterways, including the Congaree, Santee, and Cooper Rivers and Wadboo, Quinby, and Huger Creeks. Before you go: Watch the dam release schedule before you visit Rock Island. There’s a significant difference between 3,000 cfs and 12,000 cfs in how much water is processing past a single point. “They’ve had a number of swiftwater rescues there lately because there’s so much water,” White said. “I really encourage people to wear their lifejackets, even if it’s just a casual summer day.” Before You Go: All paddlers must register with the state park in case of emergency. Blackwater Falls is off limits and running the falls will jeopardize access for all paddlers. Before you go: Check the water levels before paddling the Russell Fork. “With the recent rains we’ve had, it’s running at 4,000 cfs, which is the upper end of what anybody has ever ran it,” said Foley. “It would be difficult to even get to a bank at this flow.” Hiss prefers the Yough to better known whitewater rivers like the Gauley in West Virginia because of the range of options. The lower section offers some good holes and waves to park and play. When water levels get low, it’s a great spot to practice your attaining, a reason it became the site for the annual Upstream World Championships. Before you go: When planning a long-distance paddling trip, make sure to research weather and water conditions before you go. Plot your camping spots and places you might need to portage. “Even though the Russell Fork has this reputation where folks should really watch themselves, there’s really more options out there,” he said. “The Russell Fork has different personalities at different levels.” Before you go: “Mind the etiquette out there,” Hiss said. “If you know people are racing down through and you’re taking your time, give them a moment while they pass by. And vice versa. If you’re racing, slow up or run a different line to not mess with the newbie that’s already overwhelmed with all of the different moves they’re expected to learn eventually.” “It’s a totally different environment,” said Kevin Fonda of Adventure Kayak Tours. “Instead of just being on a river traveling down, you kind of just wander around the forest. You can come around the corner and run into an alligator floating or whitetail deer out there in the middle of the millpond. All kinds of turtles, snakes, butterflies. It’s really pretty scenery, especially in the summer when it looks like a jungle or the fall when the leaves change over.” Rare Landscapes at North Carolina’s Merchants Millpond State Park Best Stretches: Ed Deal, owner and guide for Blueway Adventures, recommends Sparkleberry Swamp on the western end of Lake Marion. This 16,000-acre flooded forest is full of hidden creeks and wildlife in a remote wilderness. “The population here isn’t what the Charleston population is, so we don’t get the big crowds,” Deal said. “If you want some alone time, this is a good place to come.” The Yough: ‘A Creek Learner’s Paradise’ Winter and spring are the river’s high-level seasons for more experienced paddlers, but in the summer it caters to a broader range of skill levels, when water levels get significantly lower. The river’s different sections also have their own distinct features. The upper section starts in Virginia as a wild river with a dam on the other end. From there, the river runs through the Russell Fork Gorge and Breaks Canyon with some Class III and V sections. Meatgrinder (Class III+) on the Lower Russell Fork. Photo by Kentucky Whitewater, Kyle Koeberlein – Photo Landmark Raging Rivers Davis fell in love with the lake all over again when she and her husband picked up paddling. “The beauty of it is you just get in your boat and start paddling,” she said. “It’s very relaxing. For a day trip, you can’t beat it.” When kayakers first started paddling the Blackwater in the mid-80s, John Regan was one of the first down the river. “There were very few people paddling hard whitewater, let alone the Blackwater,” he said. “Back then it was a way different ballgame than it is nowadays. When I was first running the Blackwater, we were paddling boats we made out of fiberglass and composites.” “I was born in Tennessee, traveled through Tennessee, did a lot of outdoor stuff in Tennessee, and I’ve never seen anything quite like Rock Island,” he said. “It’s just phenomenal. It’s this beautiful river gorge, almost like the Grand Canyon through there. There’s this massive, unbelievable waterfall like something you’d see in Costa Rica and Hawaii.” Paddlers explore the Bonneau Beach section of Lake Moultrie. Photo by Deb Mims, Blueway Adventures “It’s an epic experience every time we go,” Barket said. “Right off the bat, it starts out intense. Right away, you have to make a ferry into 100 Yard Dash, which is one of the harder rapids on the run. You have those butterflies when you put on. After you get through that rapid, you can kind of calm down. The river eases for a while before it ramps up in the heart of it.” Big Water on West Virginia’s Blackwater River Raging Rapids on the Russell Fork The park includes hiking and biking trails, a zipline with views of the gorge, and rock climbing. If you’re looking for a calmer paddle, check out the pedal boat and canoe rentals on Lake Laurel. Best Stretches: Putting in at the Twin Falls Overlook, it’s less than a half-mile paddle to the play wave at the base of Twin Falls. “A lot of paddlers don’t appreciate it because they’re used to going on these four- or five-mile whitewater trips,” O’Rear said. “But there’s about a mile stretch of unbelievable waterfalls and gradients. Picture the most beautiful wave you’ve ever seen in Hawaii, and it never ends. It just runs constantly. Playboaters love it in their technical boats nowadays, doing spins, flips, tricks, and surfing that wave.” Relaxed Exploration on Philpott Lake Cover Photo: Rock Run in Ralston, Pennsylvania. Photo by Scott Martin With efforts additionally assisted by state and local partners to create maps, add signage, and develop camping spots for the route, a number of new projects are being developed, including the Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail, an 800-mile trail up the coast from Georgia to North Carolina through a series of connecting waterways; the Neuse River Blueway Plan, also an alternate route to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in North Carolina; and Tennessee RiverLine, a 652-mile continuous route along the Tennessee River for paddlers, hikers, and bikers. Flatwater Fun He also stressed boaters should be prepared before paddling the Blackwater. “It’s not a forgiving place,” Regan said. “There have been some deaths on the river, and the rescue squad has been called on multiple occasions. Respect the difficulty and the wilderness aspect of this run.” Philpott Lake is a 2,880-acre reservoir controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and power generation. Without any residential houses on the shoreline, it’s a peaceful escape about an hour outside of Roanoke that can be accessed by one of several boat ramps around the lake. For overnight trips, many campgrounds dot the Philpott shoreline, while a more primitive option is Deer Island, a paddle-in only campsite. Best Stretches: One of Davis’s favorite spots is Calico Rocks, a 200-foot cliff you can view from an inlet where cellphones don’t work. “It’s just beautiful, all the little coves you can go in and be off of the main channel,” Davis said. “There’s not a lot of traffic on it because people can’t live there. It’s preserved. You can go for however long you want to and maybe not even see anybody.” The river also passes by Breaks Interstate Park on the state border. “Breaks is probably one of the hidden gems as far as outdoor recreation and parks,” Foley said. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere and you have to really be making that your destination. It is such a beautiful place. I can’t even explain how great Breaks is.” Those looking for faster water can put in at the base of Philpott Dam and paddle the Smith River to Bassett or access more outdoor adventures at nearby Fairy Stone State Park. Before you go: This is a big lake with much to explore. Pack enough water and food to keep energy levels up while out in the sun, and also bring sunscreen to avoid a burn on the exposed sections. Merchants Millpond State Park holds one of North Carolina’s rarest landscapes, where paddlers can glide among towering Cypress and Gum trees covered in Spanish Moss. The Upper Blackwater starts below the falls at Blackwater Falls State Park. This two-mile run is chock full of Class IV and V rapids as the river drops 250 feet per mile. The Lower Blackwater starts at the North Fork Confluence where the river widens up. You’ll still see some big drops and solid whitewater for the next seven miles until the river peters out to Class II. Paddlers who regularly run the Blackwater recommend doing all nine miles together to avoid the painful straight uphill climb out of the river at the confluence. “The Upper Yough, with its flowing waters, is just a creek learner’s paradise,” Hiss said. “When it gets higher, it gets a little sketchy and gets your heart running a little bit. If you’ve got the Upper Yough dialed in, you’re good to go for a lot of creeks out there, like Big Sandy.” Having lived in Franklin County, Va., her entire life, Robin Davis has long considered Philpott Lake a local treasure. During the summer, her family would spend their days swimming in the lake and camping by the water. “We didn’t have fancy trips to the beach,” she said. “That was our go-to place on the weekend because we could be there within 45 minutes.” A growing number of paddling trails, like the 50-mile Swamp Fox Canoe & Camping Trail in South Carolina, are being developed in the Southeast. In November 1985, huge rainstorms and major flooding caused by remnants of Hurricane Juan swept through the Mid-Atlantic and changed the river forever. “Before the flood, the handful of folks that were on the river then were the only ones that ever paddled that river,” Regan said. “In that spring of 1986 when we went back, it was like exploring a whole new river again. It was in the same canyon and had the same gradient, but it definitely had different features.” The Kentucky River—a wide and scenic 260-mile tributary of the Ohio—offers calm and serene paddling options with consistent water throughout the summer. The river winds into remote sections of the mountains and the Daniel Boone National Forest, but it also meanders past Kentucky’s capitol with a stretch through downtown Frankfort. Before you go: Although it’s only a 750-acre millpond, it features a maze of forest, making it easy to get lost. Consider packing a GPS to help you navigate. Before you go: Contact Canoe Kentucky (canoeky.com) for more information on put-ins, guided trips, and boat rentals. And it tends to run at a consistent level. “The Caney is one of the only places in the summer that has a dam release river for casual paddlers,” White said. “When the other rivers dry up during the summer, it still has water.” The rugged Russell Fork River, located in the primitive country on the southwest Virginia/eastern Kentucky border, is best known among paddlers for the Class V craziness that comes via dam releases every October, culminating with the annual Lord of the Fork race. But Jason Foley, who’s been paddling the Russell Fork for almost two decades, first as a kayaker and later as the owner of Kentucky Whitewater, says the river isn’t just for experts. “A misconception of Rock Island is they think you’ve got to be Eric Jackson level, jump in at 3,500 cfs, and get your butt handed to you on a silver platter,” O’Rear said. “It’s sweet, gentle surf at 1,800, hardcore at 3,500, but it can go up to 50,000.” Paddlers looking for a multi-day trip can try the Swamp Fox Canoe & Camping Trail,whichruns 50 miles through both lakes. With five camping spots located on the route, you can get in a week of paddle-filled days and nights around the campfire. Longer paddling trails like this are becoming more popular across the Blue Ridge (see sidebar). Best Stretches: Stunning scenery awaits in the Kentucky Palisades, a majestic 100-mile section of the Kentucky River that features a meandering stretch of steep cliffs, deep gorges, limestone ledges, and tucked-away caves. Rock Island attracts boaters of all abilities, including world champion kayaker Eric Jackson and his family of pro paddlers, who established their home base near Rock Island. Depending on the number of generators running upstream at the dam, paddlers will see a variety of levels at the wave.