Quick Hits: Outdoor News for August 2019

A bill to fix our national parks has bipartisan support and may pass

There are hundreds of national park sites with outstanding repair needs that are putting a strain on park resources and impacting the experience of visitors. But bipartisan support is building in Congress for legislation that would provide funding for deferred maintenance projects across the park system, estimated to total nearly $12 billion. 

Members of Congress have been touring parks to raise awareness of the issue. Since mid-February when a bi-partisan group of representatives and senators introduced bills H.R. 1225 and S. 500, one out of three senators and half of House members have signed on as co-sponsors. The Trump administration has also indicated they are supportive of the legislation.

Voters are, without a doubt, supportive of fixing the national parks. A Pew Charitable Trusts Foundation poll found that over 75 percent of voters indicated they are willing to provide up to $6.5 billion over five years.

Cross-Country Cyclist Perseveres for Cancer Awareness

In June, cyclist Brent Lee Bundy was spotted back in Pennsylvania, just 100 miles shy of completing his sixth cross-country cycling ride from his home state of Oregon to New York. Pennsylvania is the state where the 51-year-old cyclist’s latest ride had to be suspended back in January, when he was hit by a large slab of ice that fell from a car, causing a serious injury that ultimately required neck surgery. After recovery, Bundy was able to resume his two-wheeled cancer awareness mission this past spring. 

Always dressed in bright pink, he started his coast-to-coast pedaling journeys after his friend Gina died of breast cancer in 2004, and her name is found on signage attached to Bundy’s gear-stocked bike, encouraging others to get screened for the disease. Bundy stops in capital cities to talk to lawmakers about awareness and also visits hospitals on his routes to share his story and offer patients messages of encouragement. He told Allentown-based news channel WFMZ: “I just want people to find out, catch it early, especially breast cancer, any kind of cancer, just get tested.”

Free climber dies after falling in Linville Gorge

A man has died after falling 80 feet off of Shortoff Mountain in North Carolina’s Linville Gorge. Austin Howell, 31, originally of Texas, was free soloing without ropes or other safety devices when he fell from the face of the mountain on Sunday. 

Back in 2016, Howell was profiled in Blue Ridge Outdoors for his quirky climbing habits, including his decision to sometimes climb naked. Throughout his time as a climber he’d taken his fair share of spills, breaking his back and ankles, just to name a few. But Howell raved about the joys and benefits he received from climbing, including the deep sense of peace he experienced while on the rock, which helped him fight anxiety and depression. His mother told the Chicago Tribune that Howell will be remembered for the help he gave others who were coping with their own anxiety and depression and that he will be buried in Mississippi, where his extended family resides. 

Land swap could allow pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail

A land swap with the federal government could allow the Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. The U.S. Department of the Interior could allow the natural gas company to cross the Appalachian Trail at the top of Peters Mountain near the border of Virginia and West Virginia in exchange for land next to Jefferson National Forest owned by Mountain Valley.

Before the plan goes through, it would have to be approved by several federal agencies. The land swap would push the completion of the 303-mile pipeline to next year. 

Girl Scout Helps James River Become International Dark Sky Park

Thanks to Girl Scout Lora Callahan, James River State Park has been named an International Dark Sky Park, which means it has a strict outdoor lighting policy to allow the public to see stars more easily.

The state park, which lies south of Charlottesville, is only the second state park in Virginia with the title. It’s also the 44th Dark Sky Park in the U.S., and only the 64th park in the world.

Callahan, a Girl Scout from Lynchburg, took on the project for her Gold Award. The high school senior and her mother, Valerie, encouraged park managers to switch out lighting and helped spread the word about the stargazing program.

“Lora and Val Callahan are just as responsible as park staff for us receiving the designation,” said James River State Park Manager Andrew Philpot. “Working with park staff, Lora helped change light bulbs, helped make special light fixtures, and made posters to promote the dark sky program to our visitors. Lora and Val both worked tirelessly on the application, culminating two years of hard work.”

Nighttime light pollution comes with the territory on the densely populated East Coast, and stargazing is getting more difficult as development continues. James River State 

Park invested significant funds to preserve its night sky.

Fun Follow: Backpacker Comics

Last fall, after Evan Shaeffer summited Mt. Katahdin to complete his Appalachian Trail thru-hike, the Nashville, Tenn., resident wanted to document the experience. What he didn’t want to do, though, was write another memoir, which at this point is a been-there-done-that proposition in A.T. culture. Instead he started Backpacker Comics, offering illustrated, old-school newspaper-style briefs on the trail experience. He often pokes a little fun at geeky hiker minutiae, like the obsession lightweight gear junkies have with shedding ounces in a pack; but he also gets to the heart of a thru-hiker’s 2,200-mile journey with comics offering tips to help others considering the adventure and looks at the natural wonders observed along the way. 

In a post on thetrek.com, he explained the intention behind his comics series, which can be found at @Backpacker_Comics: “What began as a strategy to get me to the end of the Appalachian Trail—joking and laughing with my trail companions—has endured as a way of making sense of my thru-hiking experience.”

Pisgah View Ranch will become new N.C. state park

Chances are there’s a new state park coming to North Carolina. A plot of land owned by U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn Jr., the 1,600-acre Pisgah View Ranch in Candler, may soon become a North Carolina State Park. Cogburn’s family has owned the land since the late 1700’s, but if the House approves the bill and Governor Cooper signs it, Pisgah View Ranch will transfer into the hands of North Carolina and become the state’s newest state park. 

The unique piece of property sits in the shadows of Mount Pisgah and has more than two miles of ridgeline, a headwaters and its own watershed. It also serves as a wildlife corridor for animals like bear and deer. North Carolina currently has 39 state parks, but Buncombe County does not yet have one. 

Woman riding horseback along the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline route

A Virginia woman is riding her horse 600 miles along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to protest and bring attention to it. Sarah Murphy, 34, lives just eight miles from the pipeline in Afton, Virginia. She began her journey last year with her horse, Rob Roy, at the start of the pipeline in West Virginia. They traveled for three months before taking a winter break. Murphy is now just a few counties away from where the pipeline, and her journey, will end.

Though Murphy is riding to protest the pipeline, she has met and stayed with folks on both sides of the fence, from pipeline employees to families who have been negatively impacted by the pipeline. Murphy says that she has learned a lot and has been saddened to see some of the destruction to the land that she grew up on and loves. She has been keeping a blog about her journey: acponhorseback.tumblr.com.

The first outdoor business accelerator in the Eastern U.S. is coming to Western north carolina

Mountain BizWorks and the Outdoor Gear Builders, along with several other partners, are launching the Waypoint Accelerator, the first outdoor business accelerator program in the east and just the third of its kind nationally. 

The Waypoint Accelerator will provide support and resources to entrepreneurs who launch outdoor-focused startups, including gear makers and experience providers. Participants will complete a 10-session intensive and have access to mentorship from the region’s existing outdoor industry. Participants will also have access to connections that may provide capital without having to give up any equity in their business.

There is no cost for the first year of the program, which is accepting applications now through August 11. The program is focused on those based in WNC or who are interested in moving to the area. More details and an application form can be found at waypointaccelerator.com. 

you ingest a credit card’s worth of plastic every week

Hungry? How about some plastic? A new study out of Australia has found that, whether you want a serving of plastic for lunch or not, you’re getting it. The study, conducted by the University of Newcastle, suggests that the average person could be ingesting about 5 grams of microplastic per week, the equivalent of a credit card’s worth of plastic. 

Researchers found that most of that microplastic is being ingested through the food and beverages we consume, such as shellfish, salt and beer. The largest source of plastic ingestion is drinking water, from which humans consume as many as 1,769 particles of plastic each week. While the long-term effects of plastic ingestion is not yet known, some plastics are made with toxic chemicals and additives that have been shown to influence sexual function, reproduction, and cause cancer. 

73-year-old California hiker rescued after missing for 7 days in the forest

A 73-year-old man who became separated from his hiking group has survived after being lost in the forest for seven days without food. Eugene Jo disappeared in the Angeles National Forest and survived by snuggling up against hot rocks to stave off the cold of night and drinking water from the riverbed. Eleven search teams scoured the area for Jo before he was rescued on Saturday. Jo says he heard the voices of those searching for him and mustered all of his remaining energy to yell for help.

Jo’s family released a statement informing the public that he had been released from the hospital and was “pretty much his old self.” The statement goes on to explain that the family is “still barely comprehending the extent of this miracle and appreciate privacy at this time.” 

The Chesapeake Bay dead zone could be the largest in decades

Ecologists from the University of Maryland have predicted that the dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay this year could extend 2.1 cubic miles, making it one of the largest dead zones in 20 years. A dead zone is an area of water with little or no oxygen. Scientists worry that if the Chesapeake Bay dead zone is as large as they predict it could impact animals that live in the bay and have a negative effect on the seafood industry.

Dead zones are caused by excess nutrient pollution from agriculture and wastewater runoff. The extra nutrients cause algae to grow. When the algae sinks and decomposes it creates low oxygen levels. This year’s dead zone is expected to be large because of the high levels of rainfall the bay has seen since last fall.

Water tests reveal staggering levels of E. coli in waterways

Lab tests conducted last week of E. coli levels in waterways around Western North Carolina show extremely high levels of E. coli in creeks, lakes and rivers popular with swimmers, tubers and paddlers. E. coli is a bacteria that makes its way into our waterways from animal and human fecal matter. Coming into contact with the bacteria can cause vomiting, diarrhea and skin infections.

According to the EPA, safe E. coli levels are below 235 cfus per millimeter and 23 cfus to swim. Water samples taken at 28 sites in Western North Carolina found only two sites with safe levels of E. coli. In samples taken of the French Broad River at Hot Springs, E. coli levels were 47 times the EPA recommended levels (10,935 cfu) and samples from the French Broad River at Bent Creek sowed E. coli levels of 8,900 cfu. The DEQ points out that high bacteria levels are expected after high flow events like storms. No swim advisories have been issued. 

Campers recovering after being struck by lightning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Two people were transported to the hospital after being struck by lightning while camping at Balsam Mountain Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Family members of the injured say that District Court Judge Roy Wijewickrama and an unnamed woman were struck by lightning around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, when an isolated thunderstorm rolled through the area, striking two cars in the campground parking lot. The four people inside of the cars were uninjured, but Wijewickrama and the unnamed woman were outside of the cars and knocked to the ground. Both are expected to recover. Wijewickrama’s wife, Julie, told News 13 WLOS that he is in “stable condition and progressing daily.” 

In Quotes | “If you stay with me, I’ll stay with you.”

—A pledge made between Laura Mazur and Jessica Robertson, two of the final finishers of the Pittsburgh Marathon back on May 5. A photo of the two runners, who met for the first time on the course at mile 14, went viral on social media, as they were holding hands in support of each other, persevering towards the finish line. Both finished a bit past the race’s seven-hour cut-off time, but aid workers and cheer station volunteers stuck around to make sure the pair received support and encouragement.  

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