Ecotourism in Asheville, Day 2: High Adventure

Reader Contribution by John D. Ivanko

If Day 1 on my ecotrip to Asheville, North Carolina, offered an immersion into the culture and natural beauty of this bustling and progressive town, Day 2 — captured in this blog — is about the eco-high adventures to be had, both in the trees on a zipline and when hiking to the Catawba Waterfalls.

Like my previous Asheville blog, I discovered, along with my wife and co-author, Lisa Kivirist, some distinctive farm-to-table dining diversions in a city resplendent with options.  While staying at the LEED Silver-certified Hilton Asheville at Biltmore Park, we could take a dip in a pool heated by the sun or plug in an electric car.

Talking for the Trees:  Soar Above Treetops on a Zipline

“Taco okay, burrito — no bueno,” explains Kevin Thompson, explaining how we’re to hold our hands over the cable to slow, and eventually, stop ourselves as we coast from tree stand to tree stand, high above the forest floor, on a zipline.  A spectator activity, ziplining is not.

As one of our two guides with Navitat Canopy Adventures, Kevin is there to help our group of six thrill seekers and nature lovers feel what its like to experience a forest peering down, like a flying squirrel. Unlike the squirrel, however, our harness is securely tethered through a series of clasps, lanyard and carabiners to two steel cables stretched between platforms up in trees.

As an emersion into nature, our three and half hour journey zigzagged through the forest canopy and floor, hopping from wooden platform to platform, each with a name, like Peace or Flying Squirrel. We were “one with the forest” like never before.  Between zips, Kevin talked for the trees, sharing the American chestnut story. He also pointed out medicinal plants used by the Cherokee people and reminded us that by the end of our adventure we’d be “landing on the platform like a falcon.”  Turns out, he was right.

Our group’s first zip line is a short, 120-foot one. It’s to practice — and for our guides to assess if we’re good enough and not overwhelmed by the aerial feat – to move up to longer and more spectacular runs, some lasting for more than 1,000 feet.  Putting us at ease, Jaime Barwick, our other guide, cracks a joke as she clips us onto the two lines, “We love redundancy, here.”  There’s two of everything for safety, except for our helmet.

Besides the feeling of exhilaration and the rush that comes with wind in our ears with each zipline run, our “Moody Cove Adventure” provided an opportunity to repel twice, traverse two sky-bridges and take several short interpretive hikes. 

For most of our group, this whole treetop and repelling thing was a first.  Despite the height involved, our sense of safety or comfort never felt in doubt, perhaps because we remained connected to the cables at all times. Less than an hour into the experience, I noticed myself embracing the distant views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and my immediate surroundings more as I became at ease with the process of ziplining. Nothing can compare to coasting through carefully trimmed “tree tunnels” or soaring two hundred feet in the air.

Depending on the run, your skill at forming yourself into a cannon ball, weight (the heavier the faster) and penchant for a thrilling ride, you may be sent flying as fast as forty miles an hour.

Hike to the Catawba Waterfalls

There’s nothing like a spectacular end destination when going on a hike.  Around Asheville, make that a waterfall, like the Catawba Waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest, about forty minutes out of town. 

We picked up the trail at the headwaters of the Catawba River and meandered upstream with Kathryn Grover, our guide. She’s with the Blue Ridge Hiking Company, founded by Jennifer Pharr Davis, famous for her speedy hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Her company now offers unique, private, half-day hikes to spots throughout the area, though speed is not a requirement.

After passing through the remains of an old dam, we continue our moderate ascent for the mile and an half hike to the falls, butterflies fluttering about.  We skipped on stones and logs to cross the river twice, staying dry. Slowly, the soothing gurgle of the stream grows louder and more pronounced until we emerge from the forest into a wide, boulder-strewn clearing around the river with the pounding water of Catawba Falls cascading down more than a hundred feet.

After a leisurely picnic of locally-made goat cheese and crackers — plus some pieces of chocolate, Fair Trade, of course – we turn back downstream.  Along the way, Kathryn shares her hiking stick with Lisa, who gets a little wobbly when navigating between stones to cross the riverbank.  Lisa bonded so quickly with her stick support that it quickly becomes her third arm, and inadvertently ends up in our car after the hike. Too bad carry-on luggage limited our souvenir treasure collecting. 

Hilton at Biltmore Park

Perhaps the greenest hotel in Asheville, with its solar thermal system on the roof, electric charging station and extensive use of repurposed building materials or energy efficient equipment, is the Hilton Asheville at Biltmore Park, owned by Biltmore Farms Hotels. There’s no roughing it here, though, with its luxurious furnishings, spacious rooms and convivial service.

Not to be missed, grab a leisurely breakfast at the hotel’s Roux restaurant, adjacent to the spacious lobby.  Farm-to-table means the goat cheese is from Three Graces Dairy, eggs from Cane Creek Valley Organics and your omelet is cooked to order right in front of you with the fresh ingredients you select. It’s exactly what we needed to start our day of high adventure.  Their commitment continues in the kitchen as food scraps are composted and their waste fryer oil gets turned into biodiesel.

A Spanish Tapas Feast

Our adventures continued that night at the Spanish-inspired Cúrate Tapas Bar, located right downtown. Tapas are small plates of various dishes that, taken together, make a meal.

We pulled up a chair at the long bar facing the open-restaurant design, mesmerized by the flurry of activity as each of the tapas is carefully assembled right in front of our eyes. We placed our first order for a classic Catalan dish prepared with local trout and a fried eggplant with local honey. Then we kept ordering, trying out a tasty assortment of traditional Spanish dishes, plated as if a work of art, until pleasantly full.

For Executive Chef Katie Button, co-owned with her husband and parents, farm-to-table can mean fresh salad greens from a local farm or traditional Spanish cured meats from a farm in Iberico, Spain. Between the show behind the counter, gregarious wait staff mixing cocktails while chatting about their favorite dish, or making a new friend adjacent to us at the bar, a culinary experience delights more than your palate here.  It’s slow, great food at its best.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authoredRural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuringand 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.

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