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Outdoors

Great Smoky Mountains Association is looking toward the sky for both its member events in February, one each in North Carolina and Tennessee.

“Heads Up for Hunters of the Sky” is first on the calendar Thursday, Feb. 6, and will be held at 2 p.m. in the Oconaluftee Multipurpose Room near Cherokee, N.C. Michael Skinner, executive director of the Balsam Mountain Trust near Sylva, N.C., will present this program on bird-of-prey populations and biology in a hands-on lively discussion that showcases non-releasable birds. Participants may meet Freedom the American bald eagle, Rasta the screech owl, Rusty and Chayton the kestrels, Zeus the aerial hawk, and other gorgeous species of regional raptors.

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Last summer while on a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), backpackers were able to continue to keep their food and packs out of reach of bears, protecting both themselves and the bears. For a third year the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has made backpacker safety and wildlife health a priority, providing $1,110 from its specialty license plate funds to help reduce black bear access to backpacker food along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The A.T. is a national park unit spanning from Georgia to Maine with more than 70 miles in GSMNP.

“Both groups share an interest in safe backcountry experiences, keeping wildlife wild, and working with partners,” said Stephen Woody, treasurer for the Friends of the Smokies Board of Directors. “Plus, with a backpacker on the A.T. plate and a black bear on the Smokies plate, it’s hard to think of a better project for us to work together on.”

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Dear EarthTalk: Will I really be able to save money and energy in the long run by shelling out hundreds of dollars now for a so-called “smart” thermostat? — Bill Cone, Aptos, Calif.

Spending $200 or more to replace that older, still functioning thermostat with a new whizbang “smart” variety might seem like a waste of money, but it can be one of the best small investments a homeowner can make, given the potential for energy and cost savings.

The coolest of the bunch of new smart thermostats, the Nest, was created by former Apple employees who had been instrumental in designing the original iPod and iPhone years earlier. This simple looking round thermostat is reminiscent of old-school thermostats that one would manually adjust by turning the temperature dial. But the auto-awake feature that turns on the bright blue digital display when someone walks nearby gives the Nest away as an ultra-modern piece of high tech gadgetry.

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Starting January 1, visitors to Grandfather Mountain will notice an increase in admission costs. Admission for adults (ages 13-59) will be $20, seniors (ages 60+) $18 and children (ages 4-12) $9 each. Children under the age of four are always free.

This increase in admission cost comes after a decision from the North Carolina State Legislature to expand the state sales tax to include ticket sales at nonprofit attractions throughout the state. Based on visitation during 2013, Grandfather Mountain’s sales tax bill in 2014 is likely to increase by $200,000 or more.

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published: 10/18/2013
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