Meanderthals is a series of trail reports for many of the best hikes in Western North Carolina. Jeff Clark is the founder of Internet Brothers, producer of this blog, and passionate about hiking. He has been sharing experiences hiking the forests and mountains of western North Carolina with trail descriptions, trip reports, maps and photos.
A new study finds that wind power and solar photovoltaics could by themselves meet 80 percent of all U.S. electricity demand.
It’s especially encouraging for two additional reasons. First, the price of solar and wind have been dropping rapidly.
Second, the study only examined how wind and solar could power the grid. In doing so, it found these two sources alone could provide 80 percent of the power. This still leaves 20 percent that could be provided by a variety of alternative types of carbon-free power.
For this latest study, scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science, UCI, and CalTech looked at 36 years of hourly U.S. weather data “to understand the fundamental geophysical barriers to supplying electricity with only solar and wind energy.”
The key to achieving 80 percent penetration of just solar and wind power is “a continental-scale transmission network or facilities that could store 12 hours’ worth of the nation’s electricity demand.”
Fortunately, costs for battery storage have plummeted in recent years so fast that in Colorado, building new renewable power plus battery storage is now cheaper than running old coal plants.
Launched in 2015, the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative seeks local consensus on the future of 42 BLM wilderness study areas and three Forest Service study areas located in 13 Wyoming counties. There are eight committees in nine participating counties, a participant said. The initiative sought to address more than 750,000 acres of federal wilderness-study lands in the state, recommending whether they should be released for multiple use, classified as non-motorized wilderness areas, or have some in-between designation.
Once lauded as an innovative, nonpartisan, locally driven solution to federal land management gridlock, the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is in danger of eleventh-hour collapse as new developments reveal deep divisions.
Conservation-oriented participants in the Wyoming County Commissioners Association’s program complain of changed rules, incomplete participation, reduced bargaining options and unanticipated deadlines as they seek to preserve wilderness qualities on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land.
Counties have unfairly altered the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative charter, they say. Public critics claim that a boycott by two key counties also disadvantages conservationists. Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney has disrupted the initiative’s timeline and the goal of fashioning a single federal bill to resolve the fate of wilderness study areas by injecting herself into the mix mid-process, participants on both side of the debate say.
A new hotel that’s hoping to attract hikers to the Italian hills in South Tyrol has been built to seamlessly blend into the surrounding countryside. The Hotel Bühelwirt in South Tyrol, Italy has recently been reconstructed with a beautiful dark exterior and large windows offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and forest.
Every one of the 20 rooms in the hotel features panoramic views and were designed with the purpose of keeping guests connected to the alpine landscape. The dark wooden exterior belies the bright spacious rooms inside, that start from a reasonable £50 ($69) per night.
Pedevilla Architects designers of the hotel upgraded it from a traditional hiking hotel. “The hiking hotel is located on the “Bühel”, a small elevation right next to the village church, at 1200m above sea level.”
“The green shade of the blackened wooden facade is influenced by the dark-green, or often black forest tinge, which seem to blend nature and topography with the building. The larch wood from the surrounding forests provides a sense of comfort.”
Specially selected and locally sourced materials generate a familiar and cozy atmosphere according to the designers, and with that in mind every room is simple in layout, each having a window seat to admire the view, and a handcrafted copper lamp from a local artist along with curtains in a natural material made in a nearby factory.
Five miles into his 2,200-mile hike, Tom Abel was welcomed to the Appalachian Trail by pelting quarter-inch pellets of hail. The 15-minute storm of stinging ice missiles would not be all that Mother Nature had in store for the 68-year old during his six-month journey from the summit of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine, to the summit of Springer Mountain in Georgia. As he quickly discovered, hiking through hail, high water, heat waves, and snow would all be required to reach his long-held goal of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.
Thousands of hikers endeavor to complete the demanding expedition each year. Only one in four succeeds. As it happens, Abel completed the thru-hike on his first attempt. Having thought about hiking the entire trail since his post Air Force college days, the retired geologist’s opportunity finally came, a few years after retirement.
On May 31, Abel and his wife, Becky, flew to Maine. The next day, Abel began the hike that would take him almost six months to complete. Although Abel admits that his best training actually happened on the trail, where he spent entire days after days hiking, he had devoted the months prior to his venture by preparing his body for the anticipated terrain.
“I went to the gym three days a week and used the stair climber and treadmill at maximum incline. I also went to Carter Road Park once or twice per week and hiked the trails with my loaded backpack. In May of last year, my eldest daughter and I hiked into the Grand Canyon from the rim to the Colorado River, where we camped one night, then hiked out the next day. Also last year, I hiked up Mount Katahdin, Hump Mountain in Tennessee and North Carolina, Springer Mountain via the Amicalola Falls State Park approach trail, Clingman’s Dome in the Smoky Mountains National Park, and Pico El Yunque in Puerto Rico,” Abel said.
His disciplined training was wise considering his intended completion of 10 miles per day, atop varied terrain, through diverse weather conditions, and while carrying a 25 to 30-pound backpack.
The U.S. Forest Service hopes to double the workload of its volunteer helpers as it attacks a backlog of trail maintenance largely in Montana.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex’s 3,200 miles of trail arrived No. 1 on a Forest Service priority list for trail work. So did the Continental Divide Scenic Trail; its largest segment passes through Montana. And the Central Idaho Wilderness Complex listing includes a chunk of the Bitterroot National Forest slopping across the Montana-Idaho border.
But no money was attached to any of these priority areas. Instead, the Forest Service is following the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016, which commands the agency “to increase trail maintenance by volunteers and partners by 100 percent” within five years of enactment.
“The fundamental problem is the Forest Service is underfunded,” said Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation Director Carol Treadwell. “They’re probably frustrated too by an act passed by Congress outside of their advice, and now they need to implement it when what they need is funding to fill the gaps. Instead they get mandate from Congress to find more volunteers out there.”
BMWF does exactly that, providing volunteers for about 40 backcountry repair projects a year for the past 20 years.
Ed. note: the same is true of national forests all across the country. If you value your favorite hiking trails on national forest public lands, look for your nearest “Friends” group and volunteer to help out. It is very rewarding.
Federal authorities at Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are moving forward to create new plans for managing the area, despite several legal challenges to the monument’s boundaries. Conservationists say they are concerned about a rush to create new plans before the courts weigh in on the boundaries.
President Donald Trump last year announced he would shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.9 million acres to 1 million, dividing the Clinton-era monument into three distinct units. Trump’s proclamation stated that certain natural and archeological resources did not need protection because they were not unique to the area.
Several environmental groups and tribal nations immediately filed suit to overturn the proposed changes to Grand Staircase-Escalante, as well as to Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, which Trump said he wanted to reduce by 85 percent from an Obama administration designation.
Legal experts say Trump’s reduction of the monuments is unlikely to survive scrutiny in the courts. Nevertheless, the BLM appears to be moving ahead with management plans on an expedited timeframe. At Grand Staircase, three of the BLM’s new plans correspond to Trump’s new units, called Kaiparowits, Grand Staircase and Escalante Canyon.
A fourth plan will cover BLM acreage that had been a part of the Clinton designation and was removed from the monument. The Bureau of Land Management began accepting public comments in January related to the new plans; after public comment closes, the agency will produce draft plans. The public will have a chance to weigh in on those plans, once complete.
A Port aux Basques, Newfoundland man continues to combine his love of the outdoors with his respect for fallen soldiers.
Colin Seymour is ready to place 158 yellow ribbons – one for each Canadian soldier who lost their life in the war in Afghanistan – along the hiking trail leading to Mark Rock Mountain, just outside South Branch, where a monument honors Sgt. Craig Gillam of that community. Gillam died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2006. He was 40 years old.
When Seymour, his wife Cindy and family friend Donna Stuckless tried to hike the trail and visit the monument in August 2015, they found it had grown in so much they couldn’t get near the top of the mountain.
Seymour returned to the trail alone, determined to make his way to the monument. It would be his first of many trips.
“I picked my way up through the woods… originally, they’d put out (over 140) yellow ribbons to mark the trail,” he said, referring to the ribbons commemorating soldiers who had lost their lives in Afghanistan when the monument was first erected in Gillam’s memory. Remnants of those ribbons are still there, he said.
With the permission of Gillam’s family, Seymour has made a new wooden cross for the monument to replace the original one that had withered with time.
For more than 40 years, visitors to the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park have walked among the ghosts of history over seven miles of trails through the park’s historic village and interpretive sites.
The park now is seeking public input for plans to expand the current trails to create a comprehensive, site-wide trail system. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park Superintendent Robin Snyder said plans are to add about two miles to the existing system, which serves about 75,000 visitors annually.
“The whole purpose is to provide better visitor access in the park,” she explained. “We have great stories, and this would enable people to get out to areas they haven’t seen before.”
Many of these important anecdotes are not part of the current trail system, so they may be unknown to visitors, according to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park Natural Resource Manager Brian Eick. Some of these accounts include the last fighting on the morning of the surrender and the site where Hannah Reynolds, an enslaved woman and the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Appomattox Court House, was wounded.
The park, which is located in Appomattox County, Virginia, covers 1,770 acres around the site where the Confederate Army surrendered to the Union Army in April 1865, effectively ending the Civil War.
Rewilding has the potential to help address the current global biodiversity crisis, but its impact will be limited unless agreed definitions can be reached, backed by further scientific research and helped by a policy backdrop that enables greater integration with current environmental legislation.
Rewilding – a philosophy that aims to encourage greater diversity of wildlife through practices including land abandonment and reintroducing native species – has become increasingly fashionable among conservation commentators and policymakers in recent years.
Scientists are now calling for key pieces of legislation concerning biodiversity, land-use, and conservation to be reshaped to make it easier for innovative ideas like rewilding to be included.
However, the extent of global environmental change is now driving some ecosystems beyond their limits, meaning that for these systems restoration is no longer an option.
Rewilding provides a fresh perspective on the way forward for conservation in these situations, with its emphasis on minimal human interventions rather than sustained involvement, and focus on natural processes and functions.
In the face of the current loss of biodiversity, rewilding urgently needs to be added to our arsenal of solutions – but for this to happen, governments around the world need to revise existing legislation to facilitate its inclusion.
Beech trees are dominating the woodlands of the northeastern United States as the climate changes, and that could be bad news for the forests and people who work in them, according to a group of scientists.
The scientists say the move toward beech-heavy forests is associated with higher temperatures and precipitation. They say their 30-year study, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Ecology, is one of the first to look at such broad changes over a long time period in the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada.
The changes could have major negative ramifications for forest ecosystems and industries that rely on them, said Dr. Aaron Weiskittel, a University of Maine associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling and one of the authors.
Beech, often used for firewood, is of much less commercial value than some species of birch and maple trees that can be used to make furniture and flooring.
The authors of the study, who are from the University of Maine and Purdue University, used U.S. Forest Service data from 1983 to 2014 from the states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont to track trends in forest composition. They found that abundance of American beech increased substantially, while species including sugar maple, red maple and birch all decreased.
That’s a problem not only because of beech’s lower value, but because of the spread of beech bark disease, which causes the trees to die young and be replaced by newer trees that succumb to the same disease.