Monday, November 3, 2014

Fall Trail Camera Update

As is usual, the animals have been pretty active this fall, meaning we've seen plenty on our trail camera. I have it set up near a big oak tree with plenty of acorns. I have enjoyed this thing so much, it's one of my favorite Christmas presents ever!

This fox came through almost every night.

A doe enjoying the acorns.

A lone turkey

A bobcat on the left, behind the tree.

The bobcat again in the middle of the picture, walking away from the camera.

The first bear of the season!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Raised Garden Update

Here's a little update on the raised bed Ben built. I'm happy to say that it's coming along. We've got tomatoes, cabbage, beans, carrots, basil, lavender, cilantro, and spearmint- to name a few! I'm amazed by what we were able to fit into this small space. Unfortunately, our cats dug up our hopes of lettuce and onion this year (literally).  That's OK because up the hill our cherry trees are having us dreaming of cherry pies. 

Check out the little trellis I whipped up for our pole beans. It cost us $free.99, as we like to say.

I am most excited about the tomatoes and all the homemade salsa I'm going to can.  I'm also going to try my hand at making pesto. This is making me hungry... If things go well I'll be posting photos of big juicy tomatoes in no time. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fracking - Bad News for WNC


This quote by Ansel Adams sums up my feelings on the idea of hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking) in Western North Carolina. I normally shy away from controversial or political themes in this blog, but this one hit me right at home last week while watching the local news. The North Carolina senate is moving ahead with legislation to lift the 2012 ban on fracking in the state. Click here to read the law in its entirety.

If you are unfamiliar with the process (or didn't click the link above), fracking is a way of extracting natural gas from rock formations by injecting, at high pressure, a mixture of water, sand and other chemicals in such a way that the rock formations holding the gas break, allowing the natural gas to be collected. Problems stemming from these wells include earthquakes - as has been seen in Ohio - and contaminated drinking water. As if that wasn't enough, imagine the sight of drilling pads, roads, and heavy duty construction trucks cruising through some of your favorite backcountry locations. (Check out this great post about fracking impacts on national parks out west)

Now here is where I will get political. A lot of the potential natural gas deposits are found in the Eastern part of North Carolina, under the counties of Durham, Wake and Lee. More is found north of Winston-Salem near the Dan River basin. However, these areas are some of the most populated in North Carolina, meaning there are plenty of people there to raise a fuss about these wells. Western North Carolina is rural, forested and covered with national forests as well as state and national parks. Add this to a high unemployment rate and given the chance, which area (and people) will be more appealing for a mining company to exploit?

That brings me to another point - jobs. It is true that North Carolina, and especially Western NC, has a very high unemployment rate (we can debate the cause/effect of recent cuts to corporate taxes and unemployment benefits another time). Natural gas companies will tout that their industry creates a lot of jobs (how many will be available in NC is still up for debate). Consider this point though - wouldn't it be easier for the mining companies to bring in their own previously trained and proven workers than to hire and train new workers? But even if 5,000 jobs were created across the state over the next ten years, at what cost? Those jobs will pack up and leave when the gas runs dry. And besides, North Carolina has hundreds of thousands that are unemployed. Will the mining company take their new workers with them? What about the environmental impact left behind when they pull out, leaving empty drilling pads and unused roads cut into our beautiful mountains?

This brings me to my next couple of points - environmental impact and property rights. The version of the fracking bill passed by the NC Senate makes it a felony - A FELONY! - for a person to disclose what a mining company uses in their fracking fluid. So the idea is that to protect the competition between the companies, they can use any secret mixture of chemicals they feel like. Sure, this mix is supposed to be treated after the well is dismantled, but can we guarantee that it was completely removed? This is not even diving into the possibility of natural gas leaking into groundwater supplies - rendering the water completely undrinkable (something the gas companies would be liable for only if it occurred within 2500 feet of a drill pad).

Ok, the last point I will make is about property rights and self-governance. These are perhaps the most appalling of all the impacts from this bill. Fracking employs a technique called horizontal drilling, which helps maximize the amount of gas removed. The version of the bill that the senate has passed would allow drilling adjacent to private property to move horizontally onto that private landowner's property - with no consequence for the consequences such as contaminated ground water. It also allows the mining company to access private property at will, as long as the land owner is contacted (not asked for permission, simply contacted). Furthermore, this bill expressly prohibits any local governmental agency from creating a law to ban fracking in their town/county/municipality. It seems that those all-important property rights and will of the people go out the window when the all mighty dollar comes to play.

Once the beauty of nature is destroyed, it cannot be repurchased at any price. We are living on this planet like we have another one to go to. The mountains of Western North Carolina are where I call home. My wife, my daughter, my family and everyone and everything that I know and love is here. The mountains have always been an anchor in my life; they calm my very soul. The idea of ripping them apart for a few dollars digs straight to soul and infuriates me to no end. There is no place on earth like the mountains of WNC - don't sell them out.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

DIY Raised Beds

For the past week, I have been forgoing my other outdoor hobbies to work on a project here at home. I have been working to build a raised flower bed/herb garden out of old pallets. With the addition of our little one, we are going to take a break from a big garden and focus on a smaller area at home where we can teach her as she goes. We still plan to get fresh produce from family members and local farmers markets and can most of what we get for the winter.

I thought it would be great to share some pictures and a bit of a tutorial. These beds weren't difficult - taking the pallets apart and removing the nails was the most time-consuming part.

I started with very sturdy, high-quality pallets. Am's mom had gotten these for cheap a few months back and just had them laying around. The top boards were like decking, which made for great, strong side slats. If you have the option, ask around and try to get the best you can find. Since a flower bed will be filled with dirt, I wanted something that would last several years rather than rotting after just a few months.

Starting out - quality pallets.

From there, I began taking them apart and pulling nails. There is no secret, it's just elbow grease and a sledge hammer. After two pallets, though, I realized that there were only four slats on the bottom and seven on the top so I turned them over, removed the bottom slats and then the 2x4 supports and blew through the rest pretty quickly. Pounding out the nails from the bottom was pretty tedious, but we worked together and it wasn't so bad.

Broken-down pallets.

I started to lay out the bed by measuring where I wanted my corner braces to go. These were the 2x4 supports, cut into a point and driven into the ground (I actually used a post hole digger for the first 8 - 10 inches). Then I had to figure out where to drive in the other supports. My slats were 44 inches, meaning I had to do some measuring to figure out where to place the posts so that they would meet in the middle of the 2x4. Another challenge was making sure the supports were all the same distance from the house, so I started with the two ends and ran a string from one to the next to guide my positioning.

Almost finished.

After I got all the holes dug and the supports driven in, I began to measure and cut the side slats. As you can see, the yard has a natural slope and I had to account for that, so I started with the shorter end. Once those top two were flush and level, it was pretty easy to just continue the line and add pieces below. I came along later and dug a trench for a few of the bottom pieces to account for the slope.

Stained, trimmed and finished...just needs dirt and flowers!

Once everything was nice and tidy, we added some trim - leftover from another project - to the front to hide all the joints. I trimmed off the top of the supports with a circular saw and stained it to match the deck. I also stapled some 2 mil plastic around the inside of the wood, just to help lengthen thee life of the beds. I calculated the interior volume and picked up some dirt and we're in the gardening business! I'm hoping this little project will last for quite a while and help us pass on our hobby of gardening on to our little girl.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bass Fishing in Lake Santeetlah


A couple of days ago, my friend Earl took me bass fishing on Lake Santeetlah in Graham County. Earl is working on getting his qualifications together to become a fishing guide, so I am helping him by testing out his guiding skills. Like me, Earl is a teacher by day, but would love to make a living in the outdoor recreation industry.

Earl and I have fished the creeks of Western North Carolina together for years and have similar skills there, but lake fishing is a whole new ballgame for me. I estimate that he spends more than 100 days on the water in any given year, so he knows how to find fish. 

We set out from Massey Branch boat ramp south of Robbinsville and headed down the lake toward the mouth of one of the many creeks that flow into Lake Santeetlah, called West Buffalo. We were soon trolling a cove and throwing sinking worms against the bank. Earl explained that this time if year, the water temperature is just right and the bass will start spawning. During this time, you can usually coax a bite from a fish that feels like you're getting too close to the nest. 

It wasn't long before I had by first large mouth! I ended up catching three for the day, but missed at least three times that. Since I wasn't a paying client, Earl fished along with me and ended up with at least eight fish, a combination of largemouth and smallmouth bass.

My first largemouth bass - weighed in just over a pound.

In our conversation, he pointed out that the bass in Santeetlah are small compared to other regional lakes. In response to this, there is no limit to the number of fish under 14 inches that you can keep I a day. The biologists hope that this will help to thin the population, resulting in fewer but healthier fish. 

I also learned that the NCWRC has released grass carp into the lake in the hopes of controlling some of the weeds that are crowding out the banks. A few years ago as part of the relicensing agreement for Santeetlah dam, the decision was made not to draw the lake down in the winter like many other regional lakes. This has led to grass and weeds taking over the banks because they don't die off in the winter like they used to.

Santeetlah is one of the most beautiful lakes you will ever find, in any state. It has become a draw for people all over North Carolina and the southeast. This is mainly due to the large proportion of undeveloped lakeshore. At least 70 percent of the lake shore is Forest service land or national forest and will not be developed. Compared to lakes such as Lake Burton in north Georgia, this is practically uninhabited. Lake houses (when they become available) sell for $500,000 or more as people discover what an treasure Lake Santeetlah is. Fishing, skiing and kayaking are all activities easily enjoyed on the wide open waters of Lake Santeetlah.

We wrapped up the day with a picture-perfect sunset over Funnel Top (a landmark for all on Santeetlah) and just one more cast...


If you're in the market for an amazing day on the water surrounded by gorgeous mountains and solitude, let me know and I'll pass you along to my buddy Earl.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Mountain Biking Trail Opens in Graham County

This past Saturday, April 12, the USFS held the grand opening for a new mountain biking trail in Graham County. This collaboration between the US Forest Service and the local revitalization group GREAT has brought the first new trails to Graham County in years.

The 9 miles of trails will be open to both bikes and horses and will use a combination of current and old forest service roads connected by some areas of single track. Most of the trail will follow the shore for beautiful Santeetlah lake, giving some awesome views as you overlook the lake. 

To get to the trailhead, follow state road 143 (Massey Branch Road) north out of Robbinsville toward the Cherohala Skyway. Turn right when the road dead ends and the trailhead parking area will be about 2 miles on the right, at the intersection of 143 and Snowbird road. An alternate parking area is at Long Hungry road, further down 143 near the Carver Cemetary.

Two maps can be found below, one with the topography shown, another showing the two loops that make up the trail system. I haven't gotten the chance to ride this trail, but when I do I will certainly share some pictures and advice. Happy riding!

Trail map (no topo): http://www.grahamcountytravel.com/wp-content/uploads/SanteetlahBikeTrail-1.pdf

Trail map (topo): http://spokeyjoe.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/santeetlahlaketrail_portrait.pdf

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WNC Fishing Report - March 12, 2014

March is usually a pretty slow month for fishing in western North Carolina due to most streams being closed for their annual stocking. However, all delayed harvest streams are open as well as all native trout-designated waters, including all of the Great Smoky National Park streams.

Here are a couple of fish that my dad caught on one of these 70 degree afternoons earlier in the month. They are both big, fat stocked brookies from the delayed harvest section of Big Snowbird creek in Graham County. He and my uncle caught over 50 fish both on spinners and fly fishing for the afternoon!







I follow several different local fly shops on Facebook and Instagram (such as Hooker's fly shop in Sylva and Fontana Guides from Bryson City)  and there are reports of 150+ fish days on the delayed harvest section of the Tuckaseegee and Raven's Fork in Cherokee. R&R Fly Fishing in Tennessee is reporting an increase in dry fly action in the park and plenty of native trout on nymphs. If you get a chance, get out and play on some of these awesome rivers!