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first_imgBetween the low rolling hills of the Piedmont and the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Escarpment lies the isolated mountain range of the South Mountains in North Carolina, a range of mountains often forgotten to its bigger neighbors to the north and west. The South Mountains include many clear mountain streams, beautiful waterfalls, scenic vistas, and elevations that rise up to 3,000 ft.  And almost half of the range is protected from development as either State Park or Game Lands, encompassing nearly 40,000 acres of the highest peaks and headwaters of the mountain range.I have been running in South Mountains State Park for years. Due to its relatively close proximity to my work and home in the Catawba Valley, I have been a frequent user of the state park and its near 40 mile trail system in the park’s eastern side. That being said though, a recent western addition to the park has nearly brought the park’s boundaries to my doorstep and countless others’ in nearby Morganton, N.C. Nearly all of this land is just a short drive of 10-15 minutes from Morganton, unlike the current entrance which is almost 30-40 minutes away. The only problem with this, though, is that there is currently limited access into this section of the park and little to no trails in its near 9,000 acres, which is almost half of the park’s size.Every year in January I am reminded of this lack of recreational opportunity in the western half of the South Mountains when I join fellow adventurers and friends for the running of the Sultan 50K, which is a joyous “fun run” celebration of birthdays including red velvet cake and fuzzy crowns. The run starts in the western end of the park along Roper Hollow Road and continues into the eastern end of the park and its developed trail system. This road straddles the boundary of the State Park and the State Game Lands and follows it for nearly 10 extremely scenic miles. In my opinion, this gravel/dirt road might be the most scenic of all paths in the South Mountains. It is also the main gateway to explore the western end of the park and the surrounding Game Lands.After this year’s running of the Sultan 50K, I decided to return to Roper Hollow Road with some friends and explore more of what the area had to offer. I had noticed many paths leading into the Game Lands off the road during the Sultan 50K and we decided to explore those first. To our surprise, we soon entered into a ridgeline wildlife field and witnessed one of the most spectacular views of the Blue Ridge I had ever seen (along with a rare bobcat sighting). Not only could we see the surrounding peaks of the South Mountains, but the view stretched from the highest ridges of the Hickory Nut Gorge all the way past the northernmost peak of the towering Black Mountain Range. The Game Lands are riddled with many of these trails, but there is currently no public map of where they all lead. This, coupled with the fact that hunters do frequent the area, has probably kept curious adventurers from exploring this gem of land, that offers much more recreational opportunity other than just hunting.After being in awe of the views we had just experienced, our group next set our sights onto Buzzards Roost, the highest peak within South Mountains State Park, which sits at just under 3,000 ft in elevation and towers 1,900 ft above the surrounding valley. Surprisingly, there is no trail to this iconic peak of the South Mountains.   Therefore, it was time for some bushwhacking. After a short mile and half bushwhack to the summit, we headed just down slope to a cliff and we were rewarded with another breathtaking view of the mountains of North Carolina. Our view now stretched from the Craggies in the south all the way past Grandfather Mountain in the north. The view also afforded us a look right into the heart of the Linville Gorge. The lack of a trail to this location just seemed odd to me.As we returned from our wanderlust into the western end of the South Mountains, I was perplexed by the lack of recreational opportunity that lied there, but also excited to explore it even more. I have spoken with the rangers of the park on many occasions about the lack of recreation on the western side and they too expressed my desire to open the western end up with more trails and other recreational opportunities, but currently there is a lack of allocated funding to make that happen. It would be great to see a ground swell of support for the further development of recreational opportunities in the western end of the park, but I doubt many folks even realize the potential that lies within its borders. Maybe with the mass support of the outdoor community, we can all see the untapped potential of the South Mountains become a reality to more than just the ambitious adventurer.last_img read more

first_imgSign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been frustrated in its efforts to pursue hundreds of cases of water pollution—repeatedly tied up in legal fights about exactly what bodies of water it has the authority to monitor and protect. Efforts in Congress to clarify the EPA’s powers have been defeated. And two Supreme Court decisions have done little to decide the question.Most recently, in April, the EPA itself declared what waters were subject to its oversight—developing a joint rule with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that sought to end the debate and empower the EPA to press hundreds of enforcements actions against alleged polluters across the country.The new rule, for instance, explicitly defines several terms—tributary, floodplain and wetland—and makes clear that those waters are subject to its authority.But the EPA’s effort has been met with immense opposition from farmers who say the agency is overreaching. An expansive online campaign organized and financed by the American Farm Bureau Federation has asserted that the new rule will give the EPA jurisdiction over farmers’ irrigation ditches, watering ponds and even puddles of rain.The American Farm Bureau Federation’s president, Bob Stallman, said the proposed rule was the “the biggest federal land grab—in terms of power over land use—that we’ve seen to date.”In an effort to address the concerns of farmers, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in recent weeks has been touring states in the Midwest.“There are issues we need to discuss and clarify to get this rule right,” she said. “We have important work to do. All the silly contentions being brought up—that we intend to regulate dry ground or stock ponds or mud puddles after a rain—all that does is get in the way of our being able to have those serious discussions.”The Clean Water Act of 1972 authorized the EPA to protect the “waters of the United States” from dangerous and or illegal pollution. But that term has been the subject of controversy and dispute virtually from the time the act was signed into law. Regulators and industry representatives are generally in agreement that the law applies to some of the nation’s larger rivers. At issue, however, are the streams that flow intermittently and the wetlands adjacent to these streams that dry up during the summer.Legal fights over those streams and wetlands, current and former EPA officials say, have cost the agency time, money and effectiveness in the face of real environmental threats. Indeed, in recent years the EPA has allowed hundreds of cases of water pollution to go unpunished because it currently lacks the confidence that it can prevail in court.Granta Nakayama, who served as the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the EPA until 2009, found that between July 2006 and March 2008 the agency had decided not to pursue formal enforcement in 304 cases because of jurisdictional uncertainty.In 2008, in an internal memo, Nakayama wrote that the uncertainty “results in delays in enforcement and increases the resources needed to bring enforcement cases.”And so in 2007, when an oil company discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Titus County, Texas, the EPA did not issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require clean up. Similarly, after a farming operation dumped manure into tributaries that fed Lake Blackshear in Georgia, the EPA did not seek to hold the polluting company responsible—despite the fact that tests showed unsafe levels of bacteria and viruses in the lake, which was regularly used for waterskiing and other recreation.“The proposed rule will improve the process for making jurisdictional determinations for the Clean Water Act by minimizing delays and costs, and will improve the predictability and consistency of the permit and enforcement process for landowners,” an EPA spokesperson said.The EPA expects that improving efficiency in jurisdictional determinations will also save the businesses that they regulate time and money.“Protecting water is important to the long-term health of the economy,” the EPA spokesperson said. “Streams and wetlands are economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing.”Two Supreme Court decisions in the last 15 years have been the cause of much of the uncertainty.In a 5-4 ruling in 2001, the Court held that the Army Corps of Engineers could not require permits for waters based on their use as a habitat by migratory birds. The Court ruling also included language that seemed to assert that only wetlands with a “significant nexus” to traditional navigable waterways would be protected under the Clean Water Act. The Court did not make clear the meaning of the term “significant nexus.”And in 2006, the Court, asked to determine whether a wetland needed to be adjacent to a traditional navigable waterway in order to be protected, wound up split, and reached no majority decision.By the EPA’s own estimates, 2 million stream miles outside of Alaska are regarded as “intermittent,” and 20 percent of roughly 110 million acres of wetlands are considered “isolated.” As a result of the inability of the government to clarify the EPA’s jurisdiction over the last 15 years, these water bodies are currently unprotected.“At some level this is a very frustrating debate to be having because water is all connected at some level,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney in the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “What the Supreme Court’s decisions do is throw into significant doubt what is protected.”As a result, in cases where a polluted waterway isn’t clearly under the EPA’s jurisdiction, the agency has sometimes spent thousands of dollars to model water flow and conduct studies to show that it is hydrologically connected to larger water bodies that are protected.“It just causes an incredible waste of resources and rewards those who don’t really worry about compliance and punishes those who do,” said Nakayama, now an environmental lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington.In past years, federal legislators have tried to introduce bills that address the ambiguity in the Clean Water Act’s language, but none have passed both the House and Senate.In 2011, when Congress was considering a bill that made many of the changes that EPA’s current rule would, the American Farm Bureau Federation, as part of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, used a similar media strategy to kill the bill. The Coalition was made up of different industry groups that would be affected by the bill including mining associations and homebuilders.The New York Times reported than an unnamed member of the Coalition said, “The game plan is to emphasize the scary possibilities. If you can get Glenn Beck to say that government storm troopers are going to invade your property, farmers in the Midwest will light up their congressmen’s switchboards.”This time around, the pushback by farmers and others—called the “Ditch the Rule” campaign—has mainly taken place online. The Farm Bureau organization has created a separate website for the campaign and created shareable videos and infographics. The organization has also been effective in recruiting state farming associations to join the campaign. It has resulted in a blitz of social media posts and a steady stream of local coverage often favoring the farmers’ point of view.“The campaign has energized our grassroots to participate,” said Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Although the campaign does not have a large amount of money flowing into it, Parrish said it has really “struck a chord.”Lisa Garcia, a former administrator of environmental justice at the EPA, said the effort by the federation is chiefly one of misinformation.“The rule is not adding or expanding the scope of waters historically protected,” said Garcia, who is currently at Earth Justice, an environmental non-profit organization. She said the opposition she has seen fits “this pattern of just completely fighting against any new regulation.”Parrish disagrees. He said that the tensions that are playing out are because “the EPA is trying to create regulations that do an end run around the Supreme Court and Congress.”“[The EPA is] really reaching into areas that Congress clearly didn’t want the EPA to regulate. They did not intend to put EPA in the land use business,” he said.For more on the challenges facing the Clean Water Act, read our work on the water woes facing residents living close to gas drilling and our series on the BP oil spill disaster.last_img read more

first_imgView Gallery (2 Photos)Before Bo Ryan took the head coaching reins at Wisconsin, the Badgers had won 19 games just four times in 103 seasons.Under Ryan, UW has reached that mark – or higher – in each of his 10 years as head coach. Wisconsin also reached its fifth-consecutive 20-win season after Sunday’s victory over Penn State.With just six games remaining until the Big Ten Tournament, the Wisconsin Badgers (20-6, 10-4) like where they sit. But with a matchup against the Michigan Wolverines (17-11, 7-8) looming Wednesday night in Ann Arbor, Wisconsin is prepping itself for one of the nation’s hottest teams.“They’ve been playing really well lately,” forward Jon Leuer said of the Wolverines. “Obviously, we’re going to have to try to limit some of the stuff they do. They have, obviously, guys that are tough matchups with [Darius] Morris and a lot of other guys, too. [Zack] Novack’s been shooting the ball really well, and they have bigs inside that are physical.”After a January that saw only three Michigan victories, it might seem surprising to mention the Wolverines as one of the nation’s hottest teams, let alone ‘”hot” at all. In between its first and second January wins, Michigan struggled through a six-game losing streak. The first of those losses came Jan. 5 at Wisconsin, where the Badgers triumphed, 66-50.But with February seemingly much more friendly to the Wolverines – they’ve won four of six this month – a rematch with the Badgers surely won’t be as daunting.Consider UW warned.“They do a lot of different things with their offense, so they’re a tough to team to prepare for, definitely,” Leuer said. “We’re looking forward to that challenge.”Wisconsin, meanwhile, has enjoyed a relatively consistent season to date – except on the road. The Badgers are just 5-6 away from the Kohl Center, where they are a perfect 15-0. Most recently, Wisconsin fell on the road at Purdue Feb. 16 – just four days after upending previously undefeated Ohio State at home.“We like [playing on the road], but it’s hard to play on the road, even though you like it,” said point guard Jordan Taylor, placing extra emphasis on “hard.” “We like it, because it is a challenge. A lot of guys like relishing in that challenge.”Wednesday at the Crisler Arena, relishing the challenge should be a good start for the Badgers. Wisconsin rebounded from the Purdue loss against Penn State Sunday, led by 22 points each from Leuer and forward Keaton Nankivil. The latter, however, rolled his right ankle early in the first half and played with a slight limp for the remainder of the game.Nankivil sat out practice Monday with an air cast on the ankle. Nevertheless, he expressed no doubt about playing Wednesday against Michigan.“It’s nothing serious,” Nankivil said. “It’s definitely moving in the right direction, I probably had four or five hours of treatment time on it [Monday], so that’s a lot of time.”While Wisconsin was stellar offensively against Penn State, shooting 54.3 percent from the floor, the Badgers will have to carry that hot-shooting performance to Michigan. On the road, UW averages 11.7 fewer points on offense than it does at home. Wisconsin has essentially lived and died by the three-pointer this year, attempting 21.7 per game (third in the Big Ten) and making 37.9 percent (fourth).Yet, away from the Kohl Center, UW hits just 29.7 percent. Facing a Wolverines squad directly on the NCAA tournament bubble, the Badgers will likely have to convert more than just 30 percent of its three-point attempts.“They’re a confident team, and they’re also a team that is kind of on that verge of the tournament, where they want to be,” Nankivil said. “They definitely have the extra incentive – not that they’re not playing hard every game, but at this point in the season, those little things make a big difference. We’re expecting them to play hard, have a crowd that’s totally behind them and keep doing the stuff they’ve been doing.”last_img read more