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Outdoors

Shed those winter layers and get on the trail with Friends of the Smokies for the first Classic Hike of the season and discover Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On Tuesday, March 10, hike the Smokemont Loop Trail led by hiking guide and author Danny Bernstein.

The Smokemont Loop Trail is 6.2 miles in length with a total elevation gain of 1,400 feet and is moderately difficult. Hikers will visit the historic Lufty Baptist Church and the secluded Bradley Cemetery named after a family that settled in the region in the early 19th century.

 

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The impact of successful festivals and events on the economy of the 26 westernmost counties of North Carolina will be the subject of a daylong tourism industry conference Tuesday, April 21, presented by the Western Carolina University College of Business.

Titled LEAD:Tourism, the conference is expected to attract elected and appointed government officials, representatives of tourism and economic development organizations and chambers of commerce, and owners and operators of private sector businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry.

The focus on planning festivals and events designed to lure visitors to Western North Carolina arose during last year’s inaugural tourism conference, said Steve Morse, director of WCU’s Hospitality and Tourism Program.

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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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