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Outdoors

The Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Office and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine have teamed up to present the Dirty Dozen Wilderness Hike Challenge in celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act. As of January 2015, more than 400 hikers, representing 21 states, have registered to participate in the Dirty Dozen, and registration remains open. The challenge officially began in September 2014 and runs through September 2015.

“We’ve been amazed by the overwhelming interest in the challenge thus far,” said Brent Martin, Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. “The photos and hike descriptions we have received from hikers are inspiring and truly speak to the beauty and unique qualities of the designated wilderness areas within our region. We hope this will give participants an incentive to explore areas they might not otherwise have visited, and an appreciation for these natural treasures.”

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Dear EarthTalk:

I’ve heard that the price of getting solar panels installed on a home is lower than ever, but has it gotten to the point anywhere in the U.S. where it’s actually cheaper than traditional grid power yet? – Lester Milstein, Boston, Mass.

Rooftop solar panels have always been the province of well-to-do, eco-friendly folks willing to shell out extra bucks to be green, but that is all starting to change. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the cost of putting solar panels on a typical American house has fallen by some 70 percent over the last decade and a half. And a recent report from Deutsche Bank shows that solar has already achieved socalled “price parity” with fossil fuel-based grid power in 10 U.S. states. Deutsche Bank goes on to say that solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity- bill prices in all but three states by 2016—assuming, that is, that the federal government maintains the 30 percent solar investment tax credit it currently offers homeowners on installation and equipment costs.

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On Saturday, Jan. 3, 29 citizen-scientists showed up in rainy weather to count birds. It was Franklin’s third annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), sponsored by the Franklin Bird Club.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began 115 years ago. The count was in response to the popular holiday activity of seeing how many birds a person could shoot in one day. Beginning on Christmas in 1900, birder Frank Chapman proposed a new tradition of counting birds rather than hunting them. Today, birds are counted by thousands of birding enthusiasts throughout the Americas. According to the Audubon Society, “Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action.”

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With the new year, came new rains across Western North Carolina. Steady rainfall throughout Macon County last week added inches to the local rivers and lakes. As rainfall amounts began to stack up, the swiftness of local streams increased, providing a beautiful sight for those traveling between Franklin and Highlands.

Both Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls were visions with cascading waters pouring over their cliffs. Despite a few days of frigid rain, the beauty that resulted in Macon County's natural landmarks made the grey skies a little easier to brave.

 

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