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Rushing Waters in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cradled by the half-million-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tenn., can be a perfect, if not also eco-luxurious, base camp, a cornucopia of discoveries for the arts and craft crowd, or a wacky diversionary stop on the way to or from an entrance to the most visited national parks in the United States.

Rushing rivers cut through Gatlinburg; streams traverse the downtown as frequently as you come upon taffy candy stores and more recently, whisky distilleries.  During the spring, summer and fall, there always seems to be something in bloom.

A backdrop of the Smoky Mountains is a constant, with photo-worthy vistas but an open-air chairlift on Gatlinburg Sky Lift or Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway journey from downtown.

Due to its accessibility to millions of people living in the major cities in surrounding states and the appeal as one of the most richly biodiverse areas of the United States, the national park and Gatlinburg have long been the waypoint for the nature lovers and arts-and-craft seekers alike. Another big draw are the black bears themselves — about two for every square mile.

Sure, there are plenty of touristy attractions in Gatlinburg, like put-put golf.  Hillbilly Golf, for example, is perched so precariously up the side of a mountain that you need a funicular train (custom-made from an old elevator) to access the course.

“We have to sometimes chase the bears off the green,” says manager Jim Howard, who makes sure generations of his golfers can play in peace. But with the city bordered by the park and a thriving arts-and-crafts scene, you’re but a few minutes’ drive away from solitude of the forests or folksy charm of artists’ workshops or studios.

This is a first of a two-part article featuring both the natural splendor and Appalachian craft celebrated in Gatlinburg as well as some foodie finds and eco-retreats I discovered with my wife, Lisa Kivirist, and son during a springtime escape after the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina.

With the Fairs being regularly held in nearby Asheville every spring, Gatlinburg can make a green travel stop before or after.

Hiking with A Walk in the Woods 

High Adventure

“This is pretty much my dream job,” says Jamie Matzko, our guide with A Walk in the Woods, the area’s premier nature guide service since 1998.

“I get ‘Warbler neck’ from too much birding,” she adds with a laugh, now in her sixth season as a guide.  The company’s guided trips cover a wide range of topics, including natural history, local human history covering the Cherokee and early settlers, wild animals and habitat, and medicinal and edible uses of wild plants and mushrooms.

By the end of our 4-hour hike in the mountains, our group of nine tasted black birch, chewed on sassafras, spotted Lady slippers, trillium, little brown jug and stitchwort wildflowers, added to our bird lists with a Blue-headed Vireo, traversed a wooden bridge over a rushing stream and surprised a salamander, among other things.

Salamanders, as it turns out, are the most feared predators in the park, eating more combined weight of their prey than any other species in the park, including the black bears. 

“There are more than 100 species of trees in the park, more species than all of Northern Europe,” explains Jamie, before bending down to talk about another wildflower in bloom she spotted along our gently sloping trail. Our group meandered along an old path used by early homesteaders in the Greenbrier section of the park; our final destination, before returning back down, was the Fern Branch Waterfalls.

A brief drive outside Gatlinburg and adjacent to the park boundary, Climb Works offers a birds-eye view of the park as I soared above and through the treetops on a total of nine zip line runs that go by such names like Majestic, Wobbly Pine, Pirate’s Plank and Trickline. The fifth zip was the longest, at 1,200 feet, followed by the sixth zip, the highest, at 200 feet up in the air.

When asked how we stop at the end of each zip, “Fairy dust and unicorns,” laughs Nick Wagner, one of our two guides who could easily pass for a bearded and burly moonshine runner back in the day.

As the “receiver” at the end of our zip run, he explained Climb Works’ proprietary Kinetic Energy Absorber, or KEA for short, used to slow us down near the end of our ride. We just had to hold on.Zip lining adventure with Climb Works

Our other guide (the “sender”), Stone Spann, provided measured encouragement and a safety check, putting our group at ease atop the trees. Because we didn’t need to fuss with breaking ourselves, we just held onto the handle connected to the lines and enjoyed the views with the wind in our face and adrenalin rush of being suspended hundreds of feet off the ground. Three sky bridges connected us to several zip lines.

The final experience of the roughly three-hour trip was a forty-foot repel to the ground. Our group of nine included a couple sets of honeymooners plus a couple and sisters, half of which had never zipped before.

For the equally adventurous, Climb Works also offers a two-mile mountain bike trail crafted into the hillsides, complete with bridges, logs, berms and rollers.

Playing in the Water

Fly fishing with Smoky Mountain Anglers

While many hikes follow the cold rushing rivers in the park, we opted to try our hand as anglers with Smoky Mountain Angler, the oldest fly shop in Gatlinburg.

“We can catch fish anywhere,” proclaimed our guide, Chad Williams. He’s been leading some of the 500 guided half-day trips they lead every year on the roughly five hundred miles of fishable waters inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“It’s not where you’re going, but how to read the water,” explains Chad, driving us to the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. “You don’t have to cast to catch up here.  Ya know what I mean?”

Chad pulled off to the side of the road in what appeared to be no particularly special place and set each of us up with a five-weight, seven-foot-long fly rod and pheasant tale nymph fly bait with bobber. We fanned out and waded into the water as he pointed out the open patches of water where we should cast, letting our bait and bobber float downstream with the current.

While having fished the salt waters of the Florida Keys, casting around “structure or food,” fly fishing in the Smokies demanded a new approach that we quickly learned as the icy cold water pressed our waders close to our skin. We struggled to keep our footing against the swift current while casting.

“The first cast is the money — ya know what I mean,” coached Chad. Translated: our first cast offered the best chance to get a bite on the line, and, in the old days before the national park, dinner.

The trick, as it turns out for us newbies was to feel or see the slight tug, or jiggle of the bobber, to gently ease back to set the hook.  A jerk on the line would send our hook and bait into a tree branch — where he had to untangle us (on more than one occasion). Amazingly, within a half hour of our first cast, each us hooked a brown or rainbow trout which we later released back into the clear waters.

 Grotto Falls Hike

We couldn’t visit the park without hiking to one of its many waterfalls. The trailhead for the popular Grotto Falls can be accessed off the fun, curvy and rugged Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail picked up just outside Gatlinburg.

Be prepared for smoking-hot break pads by the time you get off this one-way road on the way out.  After a mile hike in through old-growth forest filled with towering hemlocks, we took turns walking behind the 25-foot high waterfall to cool down. 

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


After a week fraught with hatred, violence, sadness, and wondering where on earth society might be heading and before a week that promises to be at the very least full of jaw-dropping wonder at the diversity that can occur among a single species (let the conventions begin — along with the next Village Council meeting), I had a very special, lovely, wonderful day.

It began with my daily weeding while communing with the wildlife. I dearly love my early morning, meditative sessions. While I’m still much better at identifying our birds by sight, I love hearing so many different voices singing as I work. Many I can easily identify — cardinals, catbirds, woodpeckers, finches, and robins — but, there are still several I need to suss out and learn so I know who I’m chirping back to.

Garden Visitors

As I took a break on one of the newly reclaimed Sacred Fire Circle benches, camera in hand in case I might grab a photo of some of those birds, I noticed what seemed to me to be a baby hummingbird supping at the bee balm. I had already missed an opportunity to capture a decent shot of one of my goldfinch pairs so I was determined to try to grab a photo of this wee one.

I slowly got up and approached the monarda (bee balm), watching the animal continuously hovering at each flower around the blossom. The closer I moved, the more I could discern that it had characteristics more consistent with a moth than a bird. I noted antennae, sets of legs, and the lack of an obvious eye. It’s times like these that I have to restrain my excitement so that I don’t scare away the object of my learning. I snapped as many photos as I could before it moved away to another patch of nourishment.

I then headed inside to see about firming up plans to fetch some pacapoo (alpaca dung) from a nearby farm. A friend and neighbor had noticed the offer on Facebook and alerted me knowing I would probably be interested. Oh heck yeah, was I ever! I’ll almost always say yes to manure from local sources. In fact, I’d been eyeing a large pile of composted cow manure recently on one of my regularly traveled routes.

After putting the address in my phone, I loaded my truck (aka Gracie, my minivan) with buckets, gloves, a shovel, my ancient pitchfork, and off I went on another adventure with high hopes of adding a couple of buckets to my compost pile. I figured I would at least enjoy a brief country drive on roads I had yet to discover.

Alpaca Dung

My phone was flawless in its directions and I arrived at the farm 15 minutes later. Though there was no road sign, the street address matched up so I bravely drove up the driveway and parked. As I got out of my van, a woman emerged from the house. Her response to my query about whether this was the place with the alpaca composted manure posted on Facebook was a definite yes.

The next half hour was absolutely delightful. As Stephanie and her husband Scott helped me fill my buckets with both composted manure and some lovely fresh droppings, we chatted. What fun it was to discover that they also create their own cider, cyser, kraut, grow hops, and have an affinity and love for natural approaches to landscaping and living with the land.

While we were chatting, I happened to mention the odd little insect animal I’d just seen at home. Stephanie suggested that I check out hummingbird bees. I did just that later in the day. It turns out my newly classified family member is a Snowberry Clearwing Moth (aka hummingbird bee or hummingbird moth). You can be assured I’ll be looking more closely at my flowers from now on. I’ll also be researching this animal further since I have no doubt that it pupates in my honeysuckle. I’m curious to see if I come across the evidence. I always relocate my praying mantis egg sacks when I accidentally prune the limb they’re on, so I’ll want to be just as mindful if I run across these critters in other states of being.

I drove happily away from my morning adventure, sated and looking forward to getting better acquainted in the future while sharing recipes and more learning opportunities. For example, they have bees, and I want to learn more about bees. I would love to offer the bees who work my garden more shelter. I would absolutely adore it if I could use their honey in my mead-making. It would be such a wonderful circle—I plant the flowers, the bees drink the nectar and then produce the honey, I harvest the honey and create the mead, we put the waste from making the mead into the compost and drink the mead, the compost enhances the flowers that nourish the bees, and the circle is complete.

After unloading my 23 buckets of pacapoo and putting away my tools, I went inside for the day as it was already well on its way to a heat index in the high nineties. I don’t do outside work in the heat if at all possible.

The rest of my day was spent completing a healing doll for a dear friend dealing with some health issues. Look for an upcoming how-to blog post about creating healing dolls in the Native American tradition. As I worked, I shared time with my sweetie with a short break for eating and a phone call from our daughter.

Overall, what a great day it was! Working on the land, seeing one of my elusive goldfinch couples, discovering a new-to-me wildlife friend, having a mini-adventure and meeting new like-minded people, weaving together my healing energy work and arting, and sharing time with family. I’ll take it… any day of the week.

Blythe Pelham is an artist who aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Collection of grass inhabitants

For more information on natural landscaping and municipal ordinance compliance, read this previous blog post

I can tell you very distinctly how much better it feels to be doing away with my beautiful long grasses this year versus 2 years ago, because I feel it so deeply in my heart and soul. While I still heartily hope for a time when my grasses can stand tall and wave freely in the breeze, I am glad to have had a chance to move more slowly and deliberately without the physical assault of mowing.

On one level, it feels good to be proceeding intentionally with as much purpose and choice as I can muster given a leisurely 5 weeks of action. The hurry-up-to-comply in less than 2 weeks that we had to endure last time kept both my husband and me in a state of fear and anxiety. My mistake then was in actually assuming that presenting the Council with my ideas and vision would seem reasonable enough for them to be persuaded. Because we know the process this go-round, I chose to give my outdoor family members their best chance of survival.

Truly the deepest and most important piece to me as we worked toward compliance this year has to do with the thousands of critters I hoped not to kill as I significantly altered their habitats. I cannot begin to tell you how much better I felt as I crept along, sending all the hopes and energies I could muster for my wildlife to scurry off to safety. I spoke both silently and aloud as so many wee ones scrambled across the cardboard I laid down upon the life-giving grasses.

The photos above show just a hint of the diversity and variety of wildlife living in my mini meadows. Most of our cohabitants move much more quickly than my camera or I can function, so I apologize for the limited collection. I witnessed hundreds of critters during this process and I have no doubt that there were countless others far more interested in hiding than becoming an easy-pickings bird meal atop the plain brown surface covering their former homes.

I worked just as hard to mentally let go of the anger that I had for having to destroy such a life-giving habitat. Someday I want to be allowed to maintain native grasses that must seem like beautiful stands of forested land to my outdoor family members. Those that survived have either escaped to some other open feeling space or are living in what must feel much more like a cave. I know that many of the spiders have moved into the straw since I can see their webs in the early morning dew.

forest vs cave

As I worked, I saw mostly arachnids and insects. I listened very carefully for baby birds and mammals, but heard none. I did find one abandoned mouse nest, though I saw no mice. I have no doubt that the hundreds of living creatures I did see only touched the surface of what lay beneath. I actually lost count of the juvenile mantids I relocated after numbering30 or so. I admit to killing the Japanese bean beetle who surprised me with his presence. There are very few animals I kill intentionally — bean and potato beetles are among those. If I had chickens, the beetles would at least be nourishing someone directly.

After I finished covering most of the mini meadows with cardboard and straw, I treated myself to 7.5 hours of hard labor overhauling the Sacred Fire Circle. Imagine my glee upon finding a lovely little garter snake huddled between some of the pavers temporarily parked there (see photo below). I quickly identified her before relocating her to a much safer spot. Since this was obviously a young snake, I had fun imagining her siblings living around the rest of our garden.

Aside from a thoroughly peaceful state of being that I feel when walking the pathways between my mini meadows, it gives me such pleasure to see the abundant life that lives within them. There are likely thousands of beings coexisting in these tall, living forests. Many of them use the tops of the grasses, especially the fireflies in summertime. I also love that bees, birds, and insects find nourishment in the flowers and seeds. I mourn that they are having to adjust to the loss — as am I.

Maybe it’s because I walk so in one with nature that I feel such connection with all the inhabitants of my garden—plant and animal. I can only hope that more and more people come to realize the great balance there is to see and experience. The insects nourish themselves on the plant life (and one another), the birds nourish themselves on the abundant seeds (and insect life), the plants are nourished by the dung from so many of the insects, and we are nourished by the fruits of the garden. Truly seeing the circle of life in action gives me such pleasure.

juvenile garter snake

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find Blythe online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Yosemite National Park Sequoia Trees

Tall forest of sequoias in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Stephen Moehle

In November, almost all the countries of the world agreed to what seems like an ambitious plan — to slow the global warming juggernaut. I have been practicing forestry for more than 20 years, and it is clear to me that a critical piece of the global-cooling equation is not being addressed and will not be addressed unless the public is educated.

Global Warming, Then and Now

Al Gore's film in 2006 rang the alarm bells loudest about the threat. In February, he updated his message with a 20-minute Ted Talk that covered the same scary ground but ended on a positive note.

Mr. Gore highlighted the exponential growth of solar and wind energy and how they are now close to matching traditional energy sources in cost. He believes the continuing drop in cost will accelerate the conversion away from fossil fuels and be a major part of the solution.

Mr. Gore focuses on human technology and does not address the two largest natural carbon sink technologies: the oceans and forests.

Wood is mostly compromised of carbon, and forests are enormous reservoirs of carbon. They are the original global-cooling technology and can have a huge impact in terms of carbon sequestration if managed differently.

How Did We Get Here?

A comprehensive UN report published in 2000 (Global Forest Resource Assessment, page 14) on the state of the earth's forests breaks down the amount of forest cover the earth had before the ascent of mankind beginning 8,000 years ago. The report concludes that 50% of the land mass was forested then and that it had diminished to 30% by 2000 (40% decline).

At face value, you can conclude that earth today retains 60% of the original forest cover and you would be partially correct.

Yes, we still have 30% of the land mass of the earth forested, but, more importantly, the great majority of the remaining forestlands have a lot less wood volume per acre (think carbon).

Most forests are working forests. They are cut regularly for lumber production and other uses. Only 12.7% of the earth's forests are protected (Global Forest Resource Assessment 2000, executive summary page xxv).

The majority, the remaining 87.3%, is maintained in a state of relatively fast growth and low volume for maximum wood production.

Although we still have magnificent expanses of protected or uncut forestlands worldwide, most of the earth’s forests are young forests that average a small fraction of the volume they could have or that they had prior to the ascent of man. For example, in our local Redwood forest region, the working forests amount to nearly 80% of the acreage and have on average less than 25% of their original stand volumes. This is not atypical worldwide.

Sunset In Redwood Tree Forest

Setting sun in the redwood forest. Photo by Open Heart Designs

You can quibble with the numbers a bit, but the conclusion is the same: the largest natural technology at our disposal to quickly sequester enormous amounts of carbon has given up most of its carbon reserves and there is no plan to truly reverse this.

Efficient Global-Cooling Technology

Today, an opportunity exists to accelerate forest sequestration because of the billions of dollars in carbon credits being developed. As these credits are defined, a central theme is being ignored.

The credits are not focused on permanent volume and inventory growth per acre of trees but rather on agreements to protect the forests from further degradation. Minor improvements in habitat, riparian issues and other forestry concerns are often part of the mix, but the primary issue of significantly increasing the volume of standing wood is largely ignored.

I manage forestland in Northern California’s Redwood forest. In terms of scale, our company is a guppy in the forest industry surrounded by big fish that own tens and hundreds of thousands of acres around us.

We are not alone in the restoration game, and what can be practiced on hundreds of acres can be practiced on millions. If a huge carrot is carefully crafted, most forestland owners will convert to a more conservative approach, because it is in their interest to do so.

Since 1994, our company, Forever Redwood, has continued to harvest a conservative amount of lumber from our lands while allowing the forest to increase in volume decade by decade. We specialize in custom-made pavilions and pergola kits as well as a wide range of patio furniture.

Beyond harvesting Redwood and crafting furniture, we also do soil-building work, thinning of the stand for species composition, and overall tree quality improvement. But, the most important point in our restoration efforts is to permanently limit the rate of cut below 20% in any 15-year period.

Wood Volume = Amount of Carbon Sequestered

When we began managing our heavily cut-over lands, the volume per acre was under 7,000 board feet (bf), on average. Today, despite at least one harvest on all our parcels, the average volume per acre doubled to 14,000 board feet per acre and will again double to 28,000 bf per acre before the year 2050.

Logs Harvested From Sanctuary Forest

Logs harvested from Sanctuary Forest. Photo by Forever Redwood

Most foresters will tell you that if you limit the rate of cut and do some stand improvement work, you can accomplish dramatic volume increases and improvements in overall tree quality for almost any natural forest stand anywhere.

At Forever Redwood, we use the limited amount of wood harvested to make a value-added line of products that pays for the forestry work. Our model works, but for industrial-scale forestlands, this is not viable. They are in a commodity business where they sell logs or lumber at thin margins and must cut substantial volume to survive.

The enormous carbon credit market being formed is an opportunity to change this industrial model permanently.

If the carbon credits are tied to pledges that significantly increase and maintain much greater standing timber volumes, then quick progress will be made to sequester carbon on an enormous scale as a major part of the global warming solution.

As the example of our small holdings show, it took us 22 years to double volume and another 35 years to double it again. And, while these figures will vary according to local conditions, the basic principle applies worldwide.

To do this does not require a preservationist plan where the forests are left alone. On the contrary, forests that have already been cut in most cases should continue to be worked to produce employment, improve stand quality and good-quality lumber in perpetuity.

The key is to tie carbon credits almost exclusively to verifiable and retained volume increases and to limit or eliminate credits for projects that do not.

The Carbon Credit Market is Throwing Away Billions

The carbon-credit market is not being developed to double or triple the amount of carbon sequestered in coming decades. Instead, only relatively small volume increases are being agreed to and the focus is on secondary, beneficial projects that avoid the main point that needs to be addressed.

The credits are developed in conversation with or by industry. It is a short-term financial sacrifice to leave the wood in the forests. Most forest interests will not do so unless they cannot access the huge carbon credit market without it.

Log Harvester In Forest

The harvester working in a forest. Photo by Kletr

It is a dream to think most forestland owners will craft carbon credit programs that insist a portion of future harvests be left in the woods by scaling back the rate of cut. Yet, from our experience, doing so increases the quality of the wood harvested (and its market value) and eventually results in higher revenues.

But, it takes a few decades to accomplish this. The carbon credits should be used partially to help bridge that difficult financial gap.

If used as an incentive to lower the rate of cut, forestland owners can still make money and make huge contributions to global cooling during the transition to higher-quality, lower-volume forestry. But, they will not do this on their own.

Increased Public Understanding is Needed

Do not be fooled by secondary issues. Wood is carbon. Carbon volumes sequestered in the woods need to multiply to significantly contribute to global cooling. Without this, the carbon credit market is mostly wasted as a tool for significant global cooling.

Delve into the carbon credit debate. You will only see tangential references to volume. No commitments to permanent, huge-volume increases. The main point is being obfuscated and set aside and this not by accident.

We have the technology. It was developed hundreds of millions of years ago: Photosynthesis. Carbon credits tied to volume increases maintained in perpetuity is a win-win for all. Huge fines need to be part of the equation for those that violate the agreements. Billions of dollars are on the table and the minor issue of global cooling is also.

Once the credit market matures and is commodified, the game is set and will not be altered. This opportunity is likely to not come again, but the bright side is that we still have time to save our forests.

Raul D. Hernandez founded Forever Redwood in 1995 by purchasing 41 acres of logged forestland to focus on hands-on restoration. He incorporated the business in 1999, serves as its CEO, and wrote the manual "Old-Growth Again: Restoring Logged Forests One Tree at a Time." Raul spends his time between the Redwood forests of Annapolis, Ca., and the Forever Redwood woodworking shop in Ensenada, Baja California. Connect with him on the Forever Redwood Blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


We live in a consumer’s society. We buy more, use more, produce more and eventually – throw away and dispose of more. The unwanted stuff, the undesired byproduct of our daily consumption, needs to be disposed of, taken away from our eyesight, our immediate environment and our comfort zones.

But we want to be more “green," so we recycle, compost, buy sustainable, eco-friendly, local, organic, and all natural products, but at the end of the day, we are all producers of sludge, aka "biosolids."

Population Growth and Waste

And there are more and more of us. The growth of human population is unsustainable. Like a bacterial colony on the petri dish, we continue to multiply, eating through the finite amount of “stuff” available to us until we deplete all the available resources and produce enough waste that the whole colony will collapse. The question then of what to do with the waste becomes the question of survival.

What do we do with the waste produced by the population growing at the increasingly rapid pace, consuming more and more resources, and producing increasing amount of hazardous waste?

World population growth

What are Biosolids?

Biosolids is a toxic, hazardous substance. EPA considered it a hazardous material before it was rebranded as a “natural fertilizer," (see my blog post on that subject).  It’s the major byproduct of wastewater treatment: Solids removed during the primary sedimentation process and “stabilized” by drying, dewatering and then digesting or heat treatment. Sewage sludge that underwent this treatment is called "biosolids" by the waste industry and is regulated under the Title 40 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 503. Biosolids are disposed of in landfills and incineration facilities, but the majority of them are land applied as “natural fertilizer”.

But let’s put the definitions aside and talk about why we consider it a waste and what the consequences are of this perception. Despite the enthusiastic assurances by the waste management industry of biosolids being a valuable and beneficial resource, this byproduct of our society is treated like a waste in need of the disposal. That should be accomplished in the least expensive way. Hence, at least 65% of US industrial and municipal sludge is land-applied as Class B biosolids.

The cliché "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade" strangely fits the point I want to make today. If we (and I mean “we” in a broad term; the society) continue to produce more sludge and then continue to dispose of it in the least expensive way, we will continue to create the sludge bubble, so to speak. It will burst one day, and it will not be pretty. It is time to change the perception from liability and a burden to resource and asset.

Quantifying the Value of Sludge

In a recent study, the scientists at Arizona State University evaluated different metals present in the sewage sludge and estimated the net worth of the sludge fraction. They reported the findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology: there is as much as $13 million worth of metals in the sludge produced each year by a city of million people, that includes $2.6 million in gold and silver.

The city of Suwa in Nagano Prefecture in Japan is already recovering gold from sewage sludge — nearly 2 kilograms of gold recovered from every metric ton of ash left from burning sludge.

Another approach to turn the sludge into an asset is it’s potential as an energy producer. Wastewater treatment accounts for about 3% of the U.S. energy load and the process of stabilizing the sewage sludge to produce biosolids is where the demand for energy is the highest. If the biogas produced during the anaerobic digestion is captured and re-used, the wastewater treatment could become an energy producer rather than the energy consumer.

Anaerobic reactors are already in use throughout the world, producing sludge-derived methane that can be combusted on site for heat or electricity generation, it can be cleaned and sold to local gas providers or it could be used as a biofuel for vehicles.

Potential energy could also be gained from the thermal heat contained in wastewater for the use in heat pumps to heat residential buildings, as is already done in some countries with cold climates in Europe, such as Sweden.

Making Biodiesel from Sludge

Yet another economically feasible option to turn the sludge into an asset is the biodiesel production. A group of scientists from South Korea published the results of their study in 2012, where they demonstrated that production of biodiesel from sludge could be a profitable option due to the remarkably high yield of oil and low cost of the feedstock.

The scientists argued that the production of fuel from sewage sludge is superior to those from algae or soybean oils. The technology involves transforming lipids extracted from sewage sludge into the biodiesel via the thermochemical process under ambient pressure in a continuous flow system.

Our goal to achieve sustainability requires that we begin to look at our sanitation systems as a resource recovery rather than waste management systems. The subject of sustainability is a hot-button topic in today’s society, and as it applies to the issue of biosolids management, it should be evaluated not just from the economical and performance position. An evaluation of environmental, public health, and societal impact needs to be considered, conclusions should be drawn based on the most recent scientific and technological advancements rather than economical and legal ramifications.

By shifting today’s paradigm from how to quickly and profitably dispose of the waste to a new paradigm focusing on reduction of waste and what can be recovered from it, we could be able to escape from the increasingly toxic petri dish filling up quickly with the “beneficial” biosolids.


1. "What is a Sludge? The US EPA Definition." Daniels Training Services. 2012.

2. Sludge/Biosolids as a Hazardous Waste

3. "We Don't Know Enough to Dump Sewage Sludge." The Province. 2016.

Lidia Epp is active with a local group of residents concerned about the agricultural application of biosolids, a dangerous practice that devastates farmland. She corroborates with local activists, politicians and scientists to bring public awareness to this issue and advocates for changes in state and federal regulations of biosolids land use. Read all of Lidia's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Two Coyotes In Winter

Understanding historical events, that have taken place on our American continent ever since our human species arrived, facilitates understanding of our perceptions and behavior of today. And one striking example of this is the dramatic change that took place in the life of our native wild dog: coyote.

In his newly published book, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History, author Dan Flores wrote that Native Americans called coyote “Medicine wolf,” and they held coyote “in reverential awe.” He added: “Across the last 10,000 years, Coyote has been America’s Universal Deity.”

Why this reverence and respect? Well, Coyotes lived alongside Native Peoples who had numerous opportunities to observe the intelligence, behavior, and survival skills of this wild canine. They observed them survive against all odds; they observed their resilience and delight in being alive.

Our Native Peoples somehow intuitively understood coyote’s unique ability as a wild canine to live alongside them and be at ease in doing so. Both were at ease in this relationship.

Then 500+ years ago, enter the Europeans, replete with their own world view. As Coyote is unique to the North American continent, the Europeans who first came upon them did not quite know what to make of them. But with the invasion of millions and millions of non-native cows and sheep, and the carnage of Coyote’s native prey, coyote’s survival skills, once so revered by our Native Peoples, came into play once more.

And so began a completely different relationship with our human species — a relationship that tragically continues today across the continent.

So, I believe that this newly published book should be a must read for all Americans, whether you are a farmer or rancher, a suburban or city folk. And I think that what is so important about this book is how the author links a perspective or worldview to the human behavior that flows from that. And he doesn’t write in generalities — over and over and over again he gives innumerable historical accounts of human perspectives and the resulting behavior.

There is such a need for our generation to take that wider, broader, more distant view if we are not to remain stuck in the 16th-Century perspective — and behavior. And that wider, broader view really “gets” that our coyotes today are just as capable, and at ease living alongside us as they were with our Native Peoples.

But are we at ease? What keeps us from being at ease? Fear….lack of understanding of who Coyotes really are… our just not knowing how to behave in their presence…or just not understanding our place on the landscape?

What do you want to pass down to your children and your children’s children? Fear, narrow views of who has a right to be on the land? Or respect and awe and wonder? What would your young child ask of you?

In closing, Dan Flores wrote of Adolph Murie, a biologist in the first half of the 20th Century who was one of the few who understood at that time how vital carnivores were to a healthy ecosystem.

During Adolph’s research of the coyotes in Yellowstone at that time he “had stood rapt, watching a coyote trot along a trail with a sprig of sagebrush in its mouth. At repeated intervals it had tossed the sprig joyously into the air, caught it, then trotted on. animal that took such pleasure of being alive in the world.” Close your eyes…and envision that happening.

Coyote America By Dan Flores

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


The Osthoff Resort on Elkhart Lake

What a difference a few miles makes. Just 33 miles northeast of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR held in West Bend, awaits one of Wisconsin’s natural treasures: Elkhart Lake.

There’s no surprise why the community is named after its pristine 292-acre Elkhart Lake, first settled by the Potawatomi tribe, naming the lake after they found it resembled the shape of an elk’s heart. By the 1880s, vacationers from Chicago and St. Louis arrived by train to be entranced by the tranquil and spring-fed azure waters.

The popular Osthoff Resort opened in 1886, with travelers arriving with steamer trunks in tow. Thanks to the preservation of the area’s Old World charm over the years, the Osthoff Resort and many other establishments continue to thrive to this day. At times, I felt as if I was on Mackinac Island with the white facades of the buildings and tidy gardens.

Don’t be fooled by the internationally renowned motor racing also found here. The road races used to snake right through town before being moved to the Road America racetrack southeast of the village. Outside of race times, though, this place is every bit the refuge for generations of families escaping the summertime heat.

So come early or linger for a few days after the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in West Bend and cool off at Elkhart Lake. Explore some of the spectacular natural areas, savor farm-to-table meals or relax at an eco-spa at the Osthoff Resort.

Recreation and Restoration

Thanks to the beautiful glacier-sculpted countryside, there’s more than one way to take it all in. You might hike part of the Kettle Morraine State Park, bicycle the 17-mile Old Plank Road Trail, or ply the calm waters of the lake in a canoe, kayak or on a stand up paddleboard.

Start your exploration of the 30,000 acres of the Kettle Moraine State Park at the Ice Age Visitor's Center. Naturalists there can help you figure out which of the 100 trails might be best for you after you learn about how the glaciers transformed the area. A section of the Age Age Trail in the LaBudde Creek State Fishery Area is but few minutes drive from the village.

 Aspira Spa's meditation room

After exploring the outdoors, leave some time to restore yourself and become “infused with spirit.” That’s the name given to the Osthoff Resort’s acclaimed Aspira Spa. Aspira’s holistic approach to the spa experience — with massages that go by the names of Sacred Waters, Moroccan Hot Oil, Cedars and Chakra Balancing — is perfectly balanced by the soothing feng shui design of the facility itself.

Capturing the healing wisdom from indigenous peoples from around the world, many of the personalized massages and other treatments available also draw from local flora or the lake water.

Start or finish your spa experience in the Meditation Sanctuary, in one of the lounges or the shared lounge with whirlpool. Right down to the provided robes and slippers made with organic cotton, women’s and men’s relaxation rooms and yoga classes, every detail helps achieve inner peace, relaxation and bliss. My deep-tissue therapeutic massage session was just the beginning to my four-hour experience at Aspira. (Spa guests can stay as long as they wish prior to or after their massage or treatment.)

Lodging and Farm-to-Table Cuisine

Overlooking Elkhart Lake, the stunningly remodeled and Travel Green Wisconsin-certified Osthoff Resort provides luxurious all-suite rooms, complete with a kitchen. The resort has taken numerous steps to be energy efficient and reduce waste. Most noteworthy is the on-premise growing fields that supply the resort’s restaurants — and L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School — with fresh produce and herbs.

Besides swimming along the shoreline, kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and other watercraft are for rent. There’s even scheduled bonfires through the week, s’mores included.

Cooking School at The Osthoff Resort 

If learning a new skill in the kitchen while savoring the dishes you create sounds like fun, don’t miss Executive Chef Scott Baker’s 5-hour course on French Cuisine where you’ll be making a roux like never before. The lively course is both hands-on and delicious, where the attentive chef and assistants coach you through the preparation of a delicious meal you share together after the preparations are done.

Despite being a small town of just over 1,000 year-round residents, Elkhart Lake is a tour de force in culinary experiences, perhaps owing this honor to both the generations of families and auto race fans who return every year during the summertime months.

One farm-to-table restaurant not to miss is Chef Lynn Chisholm’s Paddock Club, featuring a seasonal menu seeped in European culinary traditions. Dishes include handmade spaghetti bolognese, Paddock burger sliders topped with short ribs braised in red wine and frizzled onions. Dessert might include a snickerdoodle crème brulee.

Paddock Club's signature burger 

“We buy local produce and stick to the seasons,” explains Chisholm, who has been operating the Paddock Club with some of her family members since 2007.  “We let the ingredients speak for themselves.” They sing, actually, thanks to Chisholm’s abilities as a “culinary translator.” With an open kitchen design for the restaurant, you can watch the action from the bar.

Another solid dining back-up is the lively Lake Street Café, offering creative and fresh California bistro-style fare all made from scratch. You can dine formal with white linen and candles or join the more casual bustle in the bar. John and Lynn Shovan pride themselves both on the quality of their cuisine and the depth and breadth of their wine selections. “Our focus is not on the chef, but the recipes and cooking from scratch,” says Lynn Shovan.

Getting around the historic village of Elkhart Lake can be easily done on foot, where you can browse the gift or antique shops, or pick up a bottle of wine.  Award-winning sommelier and Vintage Elkhart Lake owner, Jaclyn Stuart, can guide your selection of that perfect bottle of wine or some of the many other regionally-made products she sells.

For organic provisions for a picnic, head to SainRx Organic Juice Bar for made-to-order juices, fresh, seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs for sandwiches, or grab-and-go salads.  Finally, the newly restored Gessert’s Ice Cream and Confectionary can help keep you cool with an old fashioned ice cream soda when you’re not splashing about in the lake, just as it has done for nearly a century of summer vacationers.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to MOTHER EART NEWS, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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