DOE comments show little support for FirstEnergy bailout request FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):Most stakeholders weighing in on FirstEnergy Solutions Corp.’s plea in March for federal intervention to support its financially struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants in the PJM Interconnection were opposed to the request, according to documents obtained from the U.S. Department of Energy.Out of 152 responses on the request the DOE received through May 24, the vast majority urged the department not to grant FirstEnergy Solutions’, or FES’s, application, according to documents S&P Global Market Intelligence received through a Freedom of Information Act request. The DOE has yet to announce a decision on the company’s petition or other agency efforts to prop up vulnerable coal and nuclear units.The DOE did not open a formal comment period on the request but said in April that it would accept stakeholder input on the agency’s ability to declare an emergency under FPA 202(c), including in response to the FES application. The DOE has invoked its 202(c) authority sparingly in the past, mostly in response to temporary energy shortfalls following hurricanes and other emergency events.As a result, several gas and power industry groups said the statute should not be used to provide the market relief FES sought in its 202(c) application. More fundamentally, most stakeholders backed PJM’s assertion that no grid emergency existed in the region to justify subsidizing FES’s at-risk plants.“The proposed actions would tilt the table and not only undermine, but potentially destroy, new private competitive investment, and perhaps more importantly, substantially add to the cost of power to consumers in the region,” independent power producer Calpine Corp. said in comments to the DOE.More ($): DOE heard mostly criticism of FirstEnergy Solutions’ coal, nuclear relief plan
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):In the hours after TerraForm Power Inc.’s Jan. 13 announcement that it received a takeover bid valued at nearly $4 billion, shares in the renewable energy company jumped 10%. That spike was in keeping with the kind of strong performance that continues to propel investment in the clean energy sector and highlights a sharp contrast between renewable and fossil fuel investments.The 10% uptick built on gains of 38% in 2019 for TerraForm, and even that performance paled next to other companies in an index of renewable energy companies tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence. TerraForm Power’s majority shareholder, Brookfield Renewable Partners LP, which offered to pay an 11% premium for the rest of the company’s shares, was the group’s top performer in 2019 with gains of 69%.The proposal from Brookfield Partners — and the outperformance of renewable energy stocks generally — reflects a divergence with what has happened in the fossil fuel market, where deals for oil and gas producers offer low premiums as companies continue to lose investors’ money. A basket of renewable energy stocks gained 49% in 2019, outperforming the S&P 500 by 20 percentage points, while the S&P Oil & Gas Exploration and Production index’s 59 stocks in oil and gas drillers lost nearly 11% for the year.“A week does not go by without a prominent story on the financial failures of fracking, the stumblings of oil majors and other tales of woe during this volatile downcycle,” Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, wrote in a Jan. 9 analysis. The institute is focused on moving the energy space away from fossil fuels.“Yet almost all heavy institutional investors…remain wedded to these companies, in spite of each quarter bringing new evidence of weak revenues, distressed transactions and a negative outlook,” Sanzillo said. “Most mutter about passive indexes and diversification, or feign a commitment of accountability to their clients, who apparently are crying out for stakes in an underperforming industry.”The sectors’ diverging fortunes are being driven by three structural trends, according to Raymond James & Associates analyst Pavel Molchanov: improving economics of low-carbon energy; regulatory and political tailwinds driving adoption of “clean” technologies; and growing investor concern with environmental, social and governance issues.[Michael Copley, Bill Holland]More ($): Renewables handily beat oil and gas stocks in 2019 Renewable sector handily tops oil and gas index in 2019 U.S. stock market results
S&P analysis finds ESG-focused investments outperforming broader market in current downturn FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):Some of the biggest investment funds set up with environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are outperforming the broader market during the coronavirus crisis.S&P Global Market Intelligence analyzed 17 exchange-traded and mutual funds with more than $250 million in assets under management that select stocks for investment based in part on ESG criteria. Of those funds, 12 have lost less value so far this year than the S&P 500. The top performer in the analysis, the Brown Advisory Sustainable Growth Fund, had a negative 5.4% price change in the year through market close April 9, compared to a 13.7% decline in the S&P 500.Critics of ESG investing often question whether the strategy can deliver premium returns. ESG fund managers said their focus on nontraditional risks led to portfolios of companies that so far have been resilient during the COVID-19 downturn.“For us, sustainability is not an end in and of itself; it is a means by which we turn over more rocks, look at more information, and add a complementary lens in order to gain conviction on a company’s strategy, operations, and prospects for growth,” said Karina Funk, a portfolio manager at Brown Advisory Inc. and the firm’s head of sustainable investing, in an emailed statement.Another sustainability-focused fund, Calvert Research & Management’s U.S. Large-Cap Core Responsible Index Fund, is down 12.1% this year. The fund held equity assets valued at about $1.9 billion as of April 9, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. On a call with reporters April 7, Calvert CEO John Streur attributed the firm’s relatively strong performance to its “very limited exposure to the entire fossil fuel value chain,” as well as investments in companies with historically strong ESG characteristics.[Esther Whieldon, Michael Copley, Robert Clark]More ($): Major ESG investment funds outperforming S&P 500 during COVID-19
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享PV Tech:Driven by increased investor interest and a growing project pipeline, utility-scale floating solar installations are set to take off globally over the next few years, a report from Fitch Solutions says. The consultancy estimates that nearly 10GW of new floating solar capacity will be installed in the next five years, with Asian markets such as China, South Korea, India, Thailand and Vietnam expected to outperform.While floating PV has been available for more than a decade, the report notes that a lack of knowledge and standards, in areas such as environmental impacts and regulations, have made projects relatively high risk. The technology is said to have remained under utilised, with less than 3GW installed globally by year-end 2019 – less than 1% of installed solar capacity around the world.However, falling costs, a range of successful pilot projects and a better understanding of the benefits are leading to a growing interest and use of the technology.When installed on reservoirs, Fitch highlights floating PV’s potential to reduce water evaporation and limit algae growth, while the water can have a cooling effect on the panels, increasing energy yield at some sites. Meanwhile, the co-location of floating solar farms with hydropower projects means that transmission and distribution infrastructure is already in place, removing some construction costs related to connecting to the grid.A Fitch database of floating solar parks over 50MW contains 16 projects, totaling more than 11GW of additional solar capacity, that are either in the planning stages or under construction. Asia dominates the technology’s project pipeline, with the region accounting for 14 of the 16 projects.The continent is home to the world’s current largest floating PV facility, the 320MW Cixi plant in China, while construction of a 2.1GW project in South Korea is underway. Activity is also picking up in India, where power companies Damodar Valley Corporation and NTPC are both looking to develop extensive floating PV portfolios.[Jules Scully]More: Nearly 10GW of additional floating solar to be installed globally by 2025 – Fitch Fitch: 10GW of new floating solar possible by 2025
Australia’s main grid tops 30 percent renewable electricity for second month in a row FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Renew Economy:Australia’s National Electricity Market has delivered its second month in a row of more than 30 per cent renewable energy, with October following up on the milestone achievement set in September. As Renew Economy reported, September 2020 went down in history as the first month on Australia’s NEM with a more than 30% share of electricity coming from renewables.New OpenNEM data shared on Twitter on Monday illustrates that the September achievement was not a once-off but could be the new benchmark for a grid adding thousands of megawatts of new large-scale solar and wind each year.Wind energy was the biggest source of renewables, with a 10.8 per cent share in the month, followed by rooftop solar (8.3 per cent), hydro (7..4 per cent) and utility scale solar (3.9 per cent).The October NEM data was revealed at the same time as the Open NEM crew revealed it had extended its reach to include Western Australia’s South West Interconnected System, or SWIS, which is that state’s main grid, and is completely separate from the NEM.The Open NEM W.A. network monitoring coincides with that state’s own milestone event, with the combined output of wind and solar and other renewable energy sources overtaking coal and gas for the first time in the month of October.[Sophie Vorrath]More: Renewables supply more than 30pct of NEM for second month in a row
More than a dozen bills are under consideration in Congress that seek to open up more public lands to development, resource extraction and destructive recreational activity, including permitting motorbikes, snowmobiles and ATVs into millions of wild acres now protected against the noise and emissions from such vehicles. Photo Cred: iStockPhoto/Thinkstock Dear EarthTalk: I understand that there are a number of bills before Congress right now that seek to turn over public lands to destructive commercial and recreational activity. What can be done to stop this assault on the land that belongs to all the people?– Astrid Cameron, New York, NYYes, more than a dozen bills are under consideration in Congress right now that seek to open up more of our public lands to development and resource extraction. Ranging from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to mining in the Grand Canyon to reversing the 2001 “Roadless rule,” they amount to what the Wilderness Society is calling an “unprecedented siege on America’s wild places.”Probably the most offensive bill is the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, proposed by California Republican Kevin McCarthy in the House (H.R. 1581) and Wyoming Republican John Barrasso in the Senate (S. 1087). It calls for releasing tens of millions of acres across the American West and beyond from development restrictions instituted by the Clinton administration’s 2001 Roadless Area Conservation initiative (the “Roadless rule”) that set aside almost 60 million acres of public land as untouchable.The bill aims to release areas deemed not suitable for wilderness designations—including some “Wilderness Study Areas” on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property and many still inaccessible areas within National Forests—from restrictions set forth under the Roadless rule. It directs these areas to be managed instead according to principles set forth under a 1960’s Multiple Use/Sustained Yield Act that allows for development and resource extraction on lands that don’t have significant conservation or scenic value.The Wilderness Society is fighting hard against the new legislation, which it calls “The Great Outdoors Giveaway.” The group claims the bill would undermine decades of land protection work supported by the vast majority of Americans. “It gives polluters and developers, who already have access to 76 percent of all national forests and BLM lands, access to even more of America’s vanishing wilderness,” reports the group. “This bill is a blank check for polluters to ruin the air we breathe and water we drink.”Some similar bills now before Congress include the Border Patrol Takeover Act, which aims to end clean air and water protections in natural or wilderness areas on or near U.S. borders; the Motorize Our Wilderness Areas Act, which would allow motorbikes, snowmobiles and ATVs into millions of wild acres now protected against the noise and emissions from such vehicles; and the End the National Monuments Act, a call to strip the President of his authority to designate new national monuments by executive order.Conservationists aren’t the only ones opposed to opening up more public lands to the axe and drill. The 2012 Conservation in the West Poll conducted by researchers at Colorado College found that upwards of 85 percent of voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming support conservation and oppose more development on their public lands. No matter their political leanings, most voters polled believe that conservation helps create and protect jobs in their states and that private companies shouldn’t be allowed to develop public lands if public enjoyment or access is compromised.CONTACTS: The Wilderness Society, www.wilderness.org; Conservation in the West Poll, www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/conservationinthewestsurvey_e.html.EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: [email protected] Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.
Courtesy of exploreasheville.comThe ten sweetest summits for savoring Southern Appalachian foliage.For most of the year Mother Nature wields her paintbrush with broad strokes: light green in the spring, forest green in the summer, and (hopefully) white in the winter. Autumn, however, is when Mother Nature digs into her range of colors and lets loose like she was watching Bob Ross re-runs for 10 months. The Blue Ridge is the top spot in the United States to drink in the rich reds, yellows, and browns on display up and down the mountains.Luckily, Mrs. Nature has made it easy to get the best angle on her yearly masterpiece by dotting the Southern Appalachians with bald-topped mountains. These balds are something of a mystery, but one thing we know is they can provide unparalleled 360-degree vistas of the best scenery of the season. From the Alleghenies to the Smokies, there are enough high elevation views to satisfy even the most ardent leaf peeper. Here are 10 of our favorites.GRASSY RIDGERoan Highlands, North Carolina / TennesseeThe Roan Highlands contain one of the largest concentrations of balds in the Appalachians, and the cream of the crop is Grassy Ridge. At over 6,100 feet above sea level, Grassy Ridge is the third highest bald in the Southern Appalachians—only Black Balsam and Richland Balsam rise higher. What sets this mountain apart is the vastness of the open space at its summit. Grassy Ridge is the pinnacle of three major bald peaks in the Roan Highlands, which also include Round Bald and Jane Bald. Together, these three peaks form the South’s premier leaf peeping spot with several hundred acres of 360-degree, panoramic vistas.The Appalachian Trail runs along all three, and thru-hikers say this is the most scenic stretch of the entire trail.From the top of Grassy Ridge, look east to see Grandfather and Beech mountains and south to see Mount Mitchell and the rest of the Black Mountains. This grassy bald is home to several unique flora including rhododendron, azaleas, and the very rare Gray’s Lily.HIKE IT Grassy Ridge is easily accessed from the Carvers Gap parking area on Route 143, 12 miles south of the town of Roan Mountain, Tenn. On the opposite side of the road from the parking area, take the Appalachian Trail north, crossing Round Bald and Jane Bald. When the A.T. takes a sharp left, take the Grassy Ridge Trail right to the summit. After exploring the ridge and views, reverse course back to the car for a 5-mile round trip, gaining just over 1,000 feet in the process.BACKPACK IT Grassy Ridge spans seven miles and covers over 1,000 acres of highland plateau, perfect for camping under the biggest sky in the area. Hike the ridge in its entirety, and then pitch your tent just off the summit in established camping areas. Make sure you pack enough warm clothes and rain gear as the high elevation can cause extreme weather patterns.BUZZARD ROCKMount Rogers, VirginiaBuzzard Rock is labeled as its own mountain peak, but to the untrained eye it appears as just a ridge of Whitetop Mountain, the second highest peak in Virginia. The state’s highest point, Mount Rogers, lies just northeast of Whitetop’s summit, so one could say Buzzard Rock is the baby brother of this trio. At over 5,000 feet, however, this bald is still a formidable feat for any hiker. There is a gravel road that winds all the way to the summit of Whitetop, making it the easiest and highest peak you can drive to in Virginia. Views are somewhat obstructed at its summit, so a trek down to Buzzard Rock gives you the best vistas in this mini-mountain chain.Because this summit is accessible by automobile, it can become crowded during peak season. This is all the more reason to park the car at the bottom and take the A.T. to the summit. The actual Buzzard rock is made up of rhyolites, a unique volcanic rock thought to have hardened from lava ejected from Mount Rogers 700 million years ago. The Whitetop Mountain area also holds some of the most threatened highland plants in Virginia, so summiting is truly like stepping back in time.HIKE IT Park at the Elk Garden trailhead at the bottom of the mountain off Route 600. Take the A.T. south (same side of the road as the parking area) and follow the trail to Buzzard Rock at the 3.2-mile mark, gaining just over 1,000 feet along the way. The rocky formation is a great spot for a picnic.BIKE IT Take advantage of the gravel road leading to Whitetop Mountain’s summit by riding your bike to the top. From the Elk Garden parking area, head south on Route 600 for a short distance, then take a sharp right onto FS 89, the summit road. This 4-mile quad burner will test your endurance with its steep switchbacks near the top, but the views – and the downhill – are well worth it.MAX PATCH BALDNorth carolinaAt just over 4,600 feet, many other mountains in the immediate vicinity dwarf Max Patch, but what it lacks in height, it makes up in sheer baldness. This mountain summit was first cleared in the 1800s for cattle and sheep grazing and was even once used as a landing strip for aerial tours of the region. Today, the Forest Service maintains Max Patch with a mowing tractor; no easy task given the 350 acres of open space at the summit. The A.T. crosses here and many hikers consider this one of the trail highlights.So what is it about Max Patch? In short, it’s the views. Complete 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding area make this one of the most scenic spots in the Southern Appalachians, even on a hazy day. Look east to see the tallest peak this side of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell; the southern horizon is dominated by the Great Smoky Mountains. All that openness also provides a large star-gazing window, and the relative ease of access makes this a prime night hike destination.HIKE IT Max Patch is easily accessed from a dedicated parking area off Max Patch Road (HWY 1182). A short and moderate 2.6-mile loop around the bald intersects with the A.T. and will take you to the top. Many trails crisscross the summit, so don’t be afraid to explore, or try the short out and back to Roaring Fork Creek on the A.T.KITE IT With over 350 acres of meadow, Max Patch is the ideal place to spread out with a picnic, a dog, and a kite. Consistent winds make this bald an epic kiting location, so take advantage of the opportunity.MCAFEE KNOBVirginiaLocated just outside Roanoke, Va., McAfee Knob is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail, and one of the vistas favored by thru-hikers. This reputation means you will not be alone on this hike no matter when you do it, but the views from the knob more than make up for any lack of isolation. McAfee Knob is a rock structure that juts out from the mountain like a huge, prehistoric diving board hovering over the valley below. The exposed overhang gives those willing to brave the trek unobstructed 270-degree views of the Catawba Valley and Jefferson National Forest to the west, Tinker Cliffs to the North, and the Roanoke Valley to the east.Once atop McAfee Knob, explore up and down the ridgeline. There are several more overlooks and also huge boulder fields to use as your personal playground. These boulders and McAfee Knob itself could be the most perfect place to have a trail lunch in the Southeast. If you start early enough and time it right, you may have some quiet time at the top before the crowds show up.HIKE IT The most popular and easiest way to McAfee Knob is via the A.T. from the trailhead off State Route 311 (Catawba Valley Drive) just east of Catawba Creek. This 8.5-mile out and back climbs gradually and is well marked and maintained. Another option is connecting the Andy Layne Trail to the A.T. from the north, creating an 18-mile round trip backpacking excursion.BOULDER IT This area is full of huge boulders displaced when the continents were bumping and grinding during the beginning of time. Enter the Devil’s Kitchen, Mickey Mouse, or the Belly Boulder area for quality beginner to intermediate problems; all are only a short trek from the main path and most can be seen from the trail.SPRUCE KNOBWest VirginiaThere are plenty of places in wild, wonderful West Virginia to get an eyeball full of leaf-changing glory, but to get the full effect, get to the state’s highest point, Spruce Knob. Nestled just inside the Monongahela National Forest, Spruce Knob sits on the edge of a high plateau that drops steeply to the east nearly 2,000 feet to the North Fork Potomac below. With this dynamic landscape and elevated prominence, Spruce Knob is one of the most scenic areas in a very scenic state. A dirt road ascends nearly to its summit and a large observation tower at the top provides additional man-made elevation to the experience.The weather can get pretty nasty high atop Spruce Knob, especially during the shoulder seasons, so be prepared for high winds and rapidly changing weather patterns. This volatility also gives Spruce Knob, with wind twisted trees and large boulder fields, the look and feel of a high alpine forest more reminiscent of the Colorado Rockies or Western Canada than the mid-Atlantic. While you are up there, you may also catch a glimpse of one of the more unusual animals to make its home in the Appalachians: the Northern Virginia flying squirrel. Be sure to check the status of the forest service roads heading to the summit before departing, as they are not maintained in winter, and October and November snow is not unheard of in the area.HIKE IT From the parking area at the top of Spruce Knob, you can take the Whispering Spruce Trail on a half-mile loop around the southern slope, taking in even more vistas along the way. This area is full of well-marked, interconnected trails, so putting together loops of any length is possible.BIKE IT It wouldn’t be West Virginia without a little mountain biking and the Spruce Knob area is top notch. The International Mountain Bikers Association recently gave Spruce Knob Epic Trail status, so exploring the region by bike is probably the best option. Start at the Spruce Knob Lake Campground and make your way up FS 112 and 104 to the observation tower. From there take the Huckleberry Trail on a classic 5-mile descent before taking a left onto Judy Springs and then onto Bear Hunter Trail and Allegheny Mountain Trail before cruising back south on FS 112.COLD MOUNTAINVirginiaNo, not that Cold Mountain. This Cold Mountain is actually Cole Mountain, but its official name was lost in translation somewhere down the line, and is not the same mountain from the book. That Cold Mountain is in the Shining Rock Wilderness of North Carolina. It offers spectacular foliage views through the trees, but its summit is choked with vegetation.This Virginia bald is located west of Lexington in the George Washington National Forest and stands just shy of 4,000 feet. This may seem shrimpy for this list, but 360-degree views from one of Virginia’s only bald summits cannot be ignored. From the high meadow of Cold Mountain you can see Mount Pleasant and Pompey Mountain, along with vast swaths of the George Washington National Forest.Like so many of the balds on this list, the A.T. traverses its top—those lucky thru-hikers! Get to the top of this mountain at the right time and you are sure to take in a landscape covered in the patchwork of reds, yellows, and browns, that make the region around the Blue Ridge Parkway so famous. This is also a great excursion to avoid the rubber-neckers on the BRP.HIKE IT Take Coffeytown Road from Route 60, then turn right onto Route 755 (Wiggins Spring Road) to get to the Mount Pleasant trailhead at Hog Camp Gap. Take a left at the Hotel Trail (blue blazes) where it meets the A.T. at about the 3.5 mile mark. Take a right and switchback up to the open summit. After taking in the views, cross the meadow on the A.T. and follow it back to the parking area. The hike totals around five miles with 1,500 feet of climbing.BACKPACK IT Alternately, you can link the Hotel Trail and A.T. with the Mount Pleasant Loop to create a 12-mile circuit, perfect for a casual backpacking trip.BRASSTOWN BALDGeorgiaWhat better way to see the fall foliage of the Peach State than from its highest point, Brasstown Bald. Brasstown has been a ritual climb for cyclists for years due to its agonizing grade – the Tour of Georgia’s 5th stage finished at its summit, challenging even the likes of Lance Armstrong. One can drive nearly to the top of Brasstown, a large parking lot a half mile from the summit provides easy access and there is even a shuttle to the very top that virtually eliminates the need to exert any energy to summit.Brasstown Bald is located about an hour and a half from Atlanta. Since it’s the highest point in Georgia, the summit gets a lot of traffic. It is no wonder since you can see four states and the skyscrapers of the big city from the lookout tower and visitor center that adorns the top. This also makes for amazing high elevation leaf peeping no matter how you get there. Also consider a night or pre-dawn trip as the stargazing is out of this world.HIKE IT Ditch the car crowds by taking one of the numerous footpaths that lead up the mountain. The most scenic of these is the Arkaquah Trail, your best bet for maximum color exposure. The trailhead is located off Trackrock Gap Road near the petroglyphs, about 3 miles south from its junction with US 76. This is a moderate to strenuous 11-mile round trip that starts steep but then traverses a high ridge, providing great vistas throughout.BIKE IT Charge it like the pros! This is one of the Southeast’s signature climbs on a road bike, turning many riders into walkers by the end, so be sure to get a few miles of flat land in to warm up those quads before tackling this behemoth. Twenty percent grades await those willing to challenge Route 180.WHITE ROCKSCumberland Gap, Virginia / TennesseeWhen Daniel Boone and his posse blazed a trail through Cumberland Gap in 1775, I doubt they had time to take in the amazing colors of the changing leaves. Lucky for us, he did the hard part and now we have leisure time for sightseeing in this beautiful part of the country. Located at the junction of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is the gateway to the West and holds some of the most dynamic geology in the Blue Ridge.From sheer cliffs and ridges to underground caves, Cumberland Gap’s outdoor diversity is unparalleled, and this makes for some extreme vistas.So, what’s the most scenic spot in this scenic spot? Avoid the crowds at the Pinnacle Overlook and visitor center at the southwestern end of the park and head for White Rocks at the northeastern end of the park. For over two centuries, this rocky bluff signaled to settlers crossing the gap that they were almost there; its white quartzite embedded in sandstone a beacon to the West. These days, White Rocks provides spectacular views of Virginia’s Powell Valley, Tennessee, and Kentucky for those willing to hoof it to the top. With unobstructed vistas of three states, standing on this rocky outcrop is a must-do adventure while passing through the gap.HIKE IT From the trailhead at Civic Park in Ewing, Va., take the Ewing Trail for a fairly steep 2.5 miles to the White Rocks Trail. A short half-mile scramble will get you to the White Rocks overlook for a 6.5-mile round trip. Be prepared for a workout as this trail climbs nearly 1,700 feet. You can also make a 9-mile loop by following the Ridge Trail to Sand Cave, a beautiful natural cave with a large overhanging rock and sandy floor reminiscent of the beach.BACKPACK IT For a longer backpacking trip, pick up the 21-mile ridge trail from the visitor center and take it along the length of the park to Ewing. Pick up a camping permit at the visitor center and pitch camp at one of five camping sites along the trail, including the historic Hensley Settlement.RICHLAND BALSAMNorth CarolinaThe peak of Richland Balsam marks the highest spot in North Carolina’s Great Balsam Mountains at 6,410 feet and marks the split between the Nantahala National Forest on the east and Pisgah National Forest on the west. The Blue Ridge Parkway also crosses its highest point as it traverses the western slope of the mountain at 6,053 feet. With all that elevation, it is easy to see why Richland Balsam is a happening place during the peak leaf peeping season. The Richland Balsam Overlook and nearby Haywood-Jackson Overlook can get pretty crowded in the late summer and fall, so try to get there early to avoid the throng of Blue Ridge Parkway drivers.Unfortunately, there is no avoiding the overlook parking areas as the actual peak of Richland Balsam is covered and views are limited. However, the mountain holds a very rare stand of spruce-fir forest, along with a treasure trove of other high elevation fauna. A 1.5-mile self-guided nature loop from the Haywood-Jackson overlook is full of wildflowers, lichens, and other native maple and ash trees. The trail loops across the summit and is relatively un-crowded because most won’t climb the extra 700 feet to top out.BIKE IT Since Richland Balsam is on the BRP, the best way to get there under human power is on a bicycle. One of the best rides starts from the Pisgah Inn, just south of Mount Pisgah, and heads south to Richland Balsam. This relatively easy 50-mile out and back gains just over 2,000 feet in a steady climb.BUSHWHACK IT The summit trail is literally a walk in the park, so try this more adventurous peak-bagging route. Just to the south of Richland Balsam lies another 6,000 foot peak, Reinhart Knob, with no trail to its summit, which is only about a half mile off the BRP. A brutal bushwhack through blackberry bushes will get you to the rocky outcrop that marks the summit. Head down the backside and pick up the Mountains to Sea Trail heading north, then bushwhack again up to the Richland Balsam Overlook. This is not for the faint of heart; peak-baggers only need apply.STRATTON BALDNorth CarolinaStratton Bald is a naturally occurring bald on the edge of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness in Nantahala National Forest near the North Carolina border with Tennessee. This wilderness area is home to one of the only remaining tracts of virgin hardwoods in the Southern Appalachians, some 450 years old. Huge tulip-poplars stand 100 feet high and 20 feet around, and this old-growth forest supports a huge range of plants, from low-lying ferns and underbrush to gorgeous wildflowers. Walking into this wilderness is like walking into the land before time, or at least the land before loggers.There are over 60 miles of trail inside the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, most of which intersect at some point, so there are several ways to attack this bald. Everything from short day hikes to multi-day, backcountry camping trips are on the table. One thing for certain is that this area is known both for black bear activity and black bear hunting activity during the fall, so be sure to wear blaze orange if hiking during the season. The bears are drawn to these mountains’ dense vegetation and numerous stands of berry plants, so don’t get between a bear and this tasty snack.HIKE IT For a scenic, although slightly strenuous, day hike, set out from the Wolf Laurel Trailhead at the end of Wolf Laurel Road, 4.8 miles from FS 81. Begin on the Wolf Laurel Trail, then take the Stratton Bald Trail at the intersection to the open meadow. If views are obstructed due to overgrowth, head for the Hangover via the Haoe Lead Trail for panoramic vistas of Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests.BACKPACK IT If you are in the mood for an epic adventure, try the 21-mile Slickrock Creek Trail loop, considered by some to be the toughest hike in the Southern Appalachians. The trail climbs almost 4,200 feet from its trailhead to the top of the bald, where campsites are numerous, then back down the Haoe Lead and Ike Branch trails. •Crest ConundrumHow the Southern Appalachian balds were formed and how they maintained their openness through the centuries has been giving scientists fits for years. The summits are not above tree line, like in the West and Northeast, nor are they completely barren of vegetation. Of the two types of subalpine balds—grassy and heath—both support diverse ecosystems of grasses and shrubs, often directly adjacent to vast forests of hardwoods. Adding to the confusion are examples of bordering peaks, one bald and one forested. So why are they here? Did aliens clear them as landing spots for their saucers? Were they the home of spirits like the Cherokee legend of the “Great Rabbit” that lived on top of Gregory Bald?Probably not. Most theories point to a combination of a retreating ice age combined with wild animal and livestock grazing. Native Americans may have maintained the balds with fire as lookouts and hunting grounds. No one knows for sure, and that is creating some controversy. Since a lot of these summits lie inside public parks and forests, widespread grazing is now limited and forests are beginning to reclaim them. Some are now maintained by the forest service with goats and mowers to keep their baldness, but some say we should let nature run its course. Either way, manually maintaining a bald is near-impossible, so get out there while you still can.
My history with cycling correlates closely to my dating life. In high school, my boyfriend never tried to earn a driver’s license but opted instead to ride his bike everywhere. After we broke up, I threw my heartache into learning how to ride a bike, and that summer found me completing my first century. Fast forward a few years to college and a summer fling convinces me to sell my car and go car-free—something that lasted the remaining three years I spent in Atlanta—and which I still practice for my work commute.Now, many moons later, I found myself at the top of a trail staring down at the left banked turn 15 feet below. Riding uphill wasn’t the hard part, going down was.But how did I find myself at the first dip of the Songbird Trail at Carvin’s Cove? A boyfriend, mostly, whose fear of sharing the road with cars was (somewhat) greater than mine of bears on a trail. This wasn’t my first attempt at mountain biking—in college I’d completed a few cross country races—but the steep, technical north Georgia trails weren’t my cup of tea. I sold my Specialized Rockhopper shortly after Supermanning towards a thick white oak’s trunk, flapping my arms in the air as if I were a bird who could alter my course, and hadn’t looked back since.This spring, though, I decided I need to try my legs at the sport again, and I’ve learned a few things since those afternoons when I hopped on a mountain bike hoping I could snag a bike shop boy if I was hardcore enough to hang with them on the singletrack.First things first, I needed to ditch the gears. I’m not advocating that everyone go singlespeed, but in college as a beginner on the trail, I found it hard to assess the trail for the three R’s—roots, rocks, and ruts—and calculate which gear I needed to be in to make it to the top of a hill. On a road bike, most mountains I’ve ridden are gradual—I can slowly flip my way through the gears until I find a happy point and spin until I reach the top.Mountain biking is more explosive. While there are plenty of 1000-foot climbs up the ridges here in southwest Virginia—more often than not, it’s a quick 15-20 feet pump up hill. And I’m horrible at gauging what gear I need to be in. I’ve never been as happy on a mountain bike as I have on my Redline Monocog 29er, throwing my legs into the climbs (and walking when I can’t).Secondly, I just needed to take a few deep breaths and stop thinking about the trail so much, find the zen. Maybe some of that was simply growing up, but now, instead of hyperventilating or panicking as soon as my back wheel fishtails in the mud, I put a foot down (if need be), take a deep breath, and get back on the bike and pedal. Learning to scan the trail 10 feet in front of me and to not focus on the ground directly beneath my wheels also did wonders for learning how to ride tight curves.The other key thing I’ve learned this year is that I need to take the time to actually look around me. It’s so easy to get caught up in the obstacles of the trail and forget that I’m surrounded by mountains—the reason I want to be on the trail in the first place—the breathtaking wildness of the region.I’m still riding with platform pedals, but soon I’ll upgrade to clipless. I have found myself covered in mud after skidding out of a curve and hitting a pile of dried leaves. If there had been anyone around to watch, I’m sure they would have found it just as hilarious as I did—and that’s the key, grinning like a maniac even if I look like a fool.Learning to ride a singlespeed has left me covered in mud, skidding out of curves and crashing into things. It has also made me less concerned about speed and more interested in the experience, less concerned about attainment and more interested in the journey.
The first time I found a bike shop with its own bar, I finally understood what everyone was talking about when they talk about heaven.That sublime combination of shiny bikes and craft beer (on draft!) is about as close as I’ll ever get to seeing 70 virgins in the afterlife. The fact that that particular bike shop/bar was on the edge of Pisgah National Forest, with hauntingly beautiful road rides and world-class singletrack out the front door, was just icing on the 70-virgin cake. And there’s a barbecue joint next door.I’m talking about The Hub, of course, that trail-blazing bike shop in Brevard that first had the idea to put a bar in their mechanic’s pit (first in the South, at least). Fast forward a few years and you can’t find a bike shop in the area that doesn’t serve craft beer in one form or another. Okay, that’s a bit hyperbolic. You can still find plenty of bike shops that just sell bikes and bike stuff, but craft beer has become ubiquitous.Case in point, I give you Black Dome. Black Dome (named for the highest peak east of the Mississippi before it was called Mount Mitchell), is one of the most well-respected gear shops in Western North Carolina. If you want solid climbing gear, you go to Black Dome. If you want a new tent, camping gear, maps, disc golf paraphernalia…you go to Black Dome.A few months back, they put in a bar. I’m sure they’d been planning the addition for a while, but to me, it seemed like it was overnight. One day there were tents set up for a display, the next, there’s a legit bar with six taps, half a dozen bar stools and a comfy couch. You know, for lounging.When I first heard about the bar, I tried to get one of my drinking/biking buddies to go, but he balked. “No. No more craft beer tasting rooms. I want a bar. With women. And liquor.”He’s becoming a curmudgeon in his old age, but I could see where he’s coming from. At what point does craft beer “jump the shark” so to speak? If every bike shop, cupcake shop, and bookstore in the land has a bar with five rotating local taps, doesn’t that accessibility ruin the novelty of getting a good beer in a place where you normally wouldn’t be allowed to drink a good beer?Look, there’s a Shell Gas Station down the street from me that has a craft beer tap room and legit beer garden complete with cornhole. Does the world need another craft beer tap room with cornhole? Isn’t all this craft goodness just so…common…now?It’s something I pondered while in Black Dome recently. I was in there looking for a certain map of Pisgah, but I decided to pull up a stool too. They had Hi-Wire, one of Asheville’s newest breweries, on tap, so I indulged in a mid-shopping pint.While sipping my tasty beer and casually looking over the racks of performance layers and approach shoes behind me, I kept wondering, “Is this bar really necessary?” Do we really need to have a beer while we shop for wicking underwear and a headlamp?The answer I kept coming up with, was a resounding “yes.” The bar in Black Dome is necessary. If not necessary, then it’s welcome at the very least. Because beer is good and more beer in more places is gooder. It may not be novel anymore, but so what. I say put a tap in every gear shop across the land. The mall could use more craft beer taps. So could your favorite trailhead. And the bus stop around the corner. And the DMV. And your office…
Like what you see in this post? Check out the portable and easy-to-use LifeStraw Go Water Bottle, apparel and shoes from La Sportiva, the Damascus Elite hiker sock from Farm to Feet, the always comfortable Crazy Creek chair, and the most useful GPS made, the DeLorme InReach Explorer. Have you ever dreamt of a place where clear, blue skies are accented by pristine lakes and snow-covered mountains? Perhaps a place where crisp, mountain air pours down from 12,000 feet to cool off a hot summer day? Imagine wetland bogs above 9,000 feet harnessing abundant wildlife and groves of aspen trees that darken the forest floor. The early morning air is chilly, but quickly warmed by the rising sun. If you have been searching for such a place, look no further. Frisco, Colo., is the answer. PlayNo matter what means of recreation you wish to pursue, Frisco has it. Frisco is surrounded by National Forest lands on three sides and Summit County is comprised of 75 percent public lands! You can flatwater SUP on Dillon Lake, mountain bike the Peaks Trail, and access the high country in the same day.The Peaks Trail is truly a gem of the region and can literally be accessed from downtown Frisco. By following the Peaks Trail you can hike, bike, or run to Breckenridge in 9 miles and then, either, ride or run back for a total of 18 miles or catch the bus in Breck, and head back to Frisco. The Peaks Trail also runs congruently with the Colorado Trail (CT) and Continental Divide Trail (CDT) for about a mile. Break off of the Peaks Trail in either direction on the CT/CDT and the possibilities are endless.A popular trek on foot or by bike would be to leave Frisco, hike or ride about 4 miles on the Peaks Trail until the CT/CDT breaks off towards Copper Mountain. Follow the CT/CDT for another 9 miles up and over the Ten Mile Range between Peaks 5 and 6 for outstanding views of Copper Peak and the heart of the Rockies. The last 4 miles are a steep descent to Copper Mountain Ski Resort. You can catch either take the concrete path from Copper back to Frisco, turn around and do what you just did again, or catch the bus from Copper back to Frisco. StaySince we don’t typically stay at motel/hotel type accommodations, we can only list them as any Google search would. We’ll leave that to you to research. However, if you are interested in primitive camping down a long bumpy dirt road then you’ve come to the right place. About 5 miles outside of Frisco sits CR 1000, one of the prettiest, most comfortable nights of sleep you could ever bargain for. And actually, they’ll be no bargaining required because the primitive sights are free!You can easily access CR 1000 from Summit Blvd. Be cautious at first because the first mile shares a paved bike path before breaking off to the left taking you up closer to Rainbow Lake. From the Rainbow Lake trailhead primitive camping spots are littered through out the road. It’s important to remember the further up the road you go, the steeper and more unforgiving the travelling becomes. There are sites that are easy to access and enjoy. Please be respectful of the place, pack out all trash, and remember that it’s because of proper camping ethics that we all have the privilege to stay here. Oh, and another thing. The Peaks Trail runs right along CR 1000 for about 1.5 miles for easy access to some of Colorado’s most beautiful backcountry access. EatThere are tons of places to eat in Frisco. We would have to highly recommend finding eats on Main Street for the sure beauty you will find there. One could start their day by heading to Rocky Mountain Coffee Roasters. Great coffee and, of course, Wi-Fi to use. Vinny’s Restaurant has a fine mix of farm-fresh ingredients and pub food served in a relaxing environment. Looking for wood-fired pizza after a stout ride or run? Head to Boatyard American Grill and sit out on the patio. The patio is right on Main Street and the food is awesome.