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Quick Hits: March 2020

Great Smoky Mountains National Park breaks visitor record in 2019

The country’s most visited national park keeps getting more popular. In 2019, Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw record visitation numbers, welcoming 12,547,743 visitors. That’s up from a record-breaking year in 2018, which saw 11,421,203 visitors.

Blue Ridge native wins Gold at 2020 X Games

Twenty-year-old snowboarder Zeb Powell won gold in Wendy’s Snowboard Knuckle Huck at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado in late January. According to Powell’s Red Bull athlete profile, he grew up skiing at Cataloochee Ski Area where he learned to ride with “creativity, flow and style.” His signature blend, states the website, is “of a super-smooth rail game with shifty spins and tweaked-out grabs.” 

North Carolina County Bans Bottled Water Purchased with Taxpayer Money

In a move to reduce the use of single-use plastic water bottles, Durham County has become the first in North Carolina to ban plastic water bottles purchased with county funds. All five commissioners on the Durham County Board of Commissioners voted for the ban. In their place, Durham County departments will use reusable, paper, or biodegradable cups and water pitchers or urns. The new rule specifies all new and replacement drinking fountains must have reusable bottle filling capabilities. The new rule goes into effect July 1—with exceptions only for bottled water needed during emergency situations. 

Hiker Attacked on Appalachian Trail Plans to Finish Thru-Hike

Kirby Morril, the hiker who was attacked by a man with a knife while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail last year, revealed that she plans to return to the trail this month. Last May, Morril was camping with three other thru-hikers when she and another hiker, Ron Sanchez, were beaten and stabbed by James Jordan, a hiker with known mental health issues. 

Sanchez died from his injuries. Morril managed to escape the attacker, hiking three hours to safety. She suffered nine stab wounds and 40 lacerations and has been recovering at her home in New Brunswick, Canada, since the attack. 

Morril says she plans to head back to Georgia in March to start the Appalachian Trail over again. She told Canada’s CTV News: “I always wanted to do the whole trail from end to end, and I didn’t get to do it.” 

Skiing’s Freeride World Tour Announces Equal Pay for Men and Women

The Freeride World Tour (FWT), which hosts the best freeskiers and snowboard freeriders competing for the title of World Champion, announced that male and female athletes will now compete for the same cash prize, providing equal pay to all athletes regardless of gender. On their website, the tour says that “it’s a progressive step forward for female freeriding, and the FWT hopes it will elevate the next generation of freeriders.”

Get in Gear Fest 

Outdoor Gear Builders (OGB), the first gear builder association of its kind, will hold their sixth annual Get in Gear Fest on March 21 in North Carolina. The festival includes gear demos, new gear sneak peeks, opportunities to meet gear makers in person, and a customer appreciation sale; plus music, food trucks, beer, and more. In addition to the activities, the event will host a raffle for OGB member gear prizes to raise money for Pisgah Conservancy. 

The free, family-friendly festival takes place from 12-5 at the Salvage Station in Asheville. More information:

Eastern Indigo Snake

First Wild Eastern Indigo Snake in 60 Years Spotted in Alabama

The first wild Eastern indigo snake in 60 years was documented in Alabama in late January. “This is a monumental benchmark in conservation for Alabama and the southeast region for this species,” said Traci Wood, the Habitat and Species Conservation Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.

Eastern indigo snakes are the longest native snake species in the U.S. Alabama has worked to reintroduce captive snakes into the wild, and the recently spotted hatchling-sized snake is proof that the conservation efforts have paid off. The species is listed as threatened in Florida and Georgia and, until recently, officials in Alabama believed the snake was locally extinct.  

English Adventurer Becomes Youngest Woman to ski solo from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole

A 29-year-old adventurer and motivational speaker, Mollie Hughes, set a world record on January 10, when she arrived at the south pole after skiing 702 miles. Her accomplishment makes her the youngest woman in the world to ski solo from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. Hughes battled severe weather, including a whiteout for eight days in a row, as she pulled a sled weighing over 230 pounds and skied alone between 10 and 12 hours per day.

Land Purchase Will Prevent Drilling in Florida Everglades

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that the state will buy 20,000 acres of land and spend as much as $18 million to prevent drilling in the Everglades. The land will be purchased from Kanter Real Estate LLC, which had obtained approval for exploratory oil wells in the Everglades, reports Gazette Extra. 

“We will permanently save this land,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “It will be the largest wetlands acquisition in a decade.” 

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