Wednesday, May 4, 2016

St. Francis Community Garden

It’s that time of year again, when in other parts of the US our friends are getting snowed on, but here in Greenville we are harvesting peas, radish, lettuce and strawberries, not to mention drowning in kale. Our work with the student garden at Lauris’s school and in our backyard is taking us on some urban farm adventures, most recently the Bon Secours St. Francis Community Garden.


We were invited to dig up some plants in a bed surrounding the garden that were slated to be replaced with a cut flower garden. Since beginning work on a butterfly garden at the school early this spring we’ve been on the lookout for native flowers that can tolerate the hot and dry summers, and several of the hardy perennials they were looking to remove fit the bill perfectly. We transplanted some lyre-leaf sage, a bit of bee balm, pink yarrow and even some lemon balm, and in the coming month we’ve got some big plans for our space – stay tuned for more on that later this month.


Not only were the folks at the St. Francis Community Garden kind enough to share their surplus with us, but we also got a great look at the garden, taking away not just plants for the butterfly garden, but also knowledge and ideas – all things that only get bigger when shared…


Developed in the spring of 2009, the garden is a partnership between St. Francis and Leadership Greenville’s Class 35. This community garden on the corner of Andrews St. and Highway 123 is almost 1,000 square feet, with 16 plots averaging about 50 square feet. In addition to the raised beds, members have access to a tool shed, compost bins, a work table, potting shed, running water and irrigation. The garden is fenced in, and parking is available adjacent to the garden. On our visit the garden was a hum of activity as members worked on their plots, and volunteers helped clear the beds and ready the garden for spring planting.


For more information on the St. Francis Community Garden here are a few websites:
The Gardening for Good website listing
The Bon Secours St. Francis website


Monday, May 2, 2016

Bib's World at TCMU

Bib’s World has opened at The Children’s Museum of the Upstate! The new permanent exhibit is named after Michelin's mascot Bibendum, as it is a gift from the Michelin Corporate Foundation. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Friday morning, and we were able to explore the two-story cityscape on Sunday.


Utilizing tires and other sustainable materials, Bib’s World incorporates the former “Trike Track” into the futuristic city located behind the museum. Accessible from the first floor, the giant mural on the wall near the entrance features the artwork of 600 local children including Mikus and Vilis – but we have yet to find their drawings. Emerging into the outdoor exhibit there are informational placards and a giant tire-climber to the right. The play structure as well as the sandbox are covered to provide shade, a necessary feature for the hot sunny days ahead.


A wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round is in the center of the exhibit, and the “interactive cityscape” beyond. With slides, climbers, rollers, wheels and gadgets of every type, there is plenty to keep the kids occupied. The climbing structure even features a mini replica of the Liberty Bridge.


The ladybug-mosaic wall has found a new home at the entrance to the museum, but the cob wall entrance built by an artist-in-residence just last year sadly had to be demolished. The trikes from the previous exhibit will be put to use on the new ‘roads,’ the signage another nod to Michelin and its heritage; the Michelin brothers helped develop the very first road signs in France.


The day was full of other surprises, including a baguette et le fromage snack for the boys along with storytime - en français, and there were all sorts of activities to commemorate the opening of the exhibit: face painting, tire-track art, coloring maps of France and Lego racecars. Of course the boys wanted to explore some of the regular exhibits as well, and with all the art activities and play it was a really full day.



We’ll be returning to more fully explore the new exhibit on a day when it’s not so busy, although it has yet to be seen how well the shade sails work in the summer heat – I can imagine Bib’s World will be a welcome change of pace on our visits to the museum, but that we’ll only spend an hour outside before returning to the air conditioning on extremely hot days. However, it is refreshing to see such an captivating exhibit join the list of attractions at TCMU, and it’s really no wonder The Children’s Museum of the Upstate is the first children’s museum to become a Smithsonian Affiliate. I hope you get the chance to explore Bib’s World for yourself!


Friday, April 29, 2016

Big changes at the Roper Mountain Science Center

In addition to the changes that spring has brought to one of our favorite places in Greenville, Roper Mountain Science Center, it is hard to miss some of the larger changes to the popular children’s science center. One our most recent visit RMSC was gearing up for HOG day (Hands on Greenville, the largest volunteer day in the state of SC), but the noticeable differences were not of the fresh mulch and planted flowers variety. Instead, large areas of the educational center have been cut of their trees and the pond next to the butterfly garden drained.


It’s not time to get worried just yet, however. The pond was drained for maintenance; after 30 years, the pipes were finally due to be replaced. After relocating fish and some of the smaller turtles to the pond in the farm, the water was pumped out and repairs begun. Staff have reported seeing the giant snapping turtle, who dug into the mud until initial repairs finished and the water level raised. When the bridge connecting the butterfly garden with the arboretum is finished, the pond’s water level will be raised back to normal. In addition to returning some of the fish and turtles from the farm, Greenville’s Cabella’s is partnering with RMSC to stock the pond.


Adjacent to the pond is a denuded area, a portion of the old pine plantation that needed thinning. 2-3 foot stumps were purposefully left for kids to play on. On a previous visit the kids spent a good 30 minutes jumping the stumps, so I would say it was a good idea.


Between the Harrison Hall of Natural Science and the amphitheater is a picnic area, but that will soon change. The new environmental science and sustainability building will be located on this side of the campus, but no word yet on when construction is due to begin.


The most obvious tree removal occurred next to the Hooper Planetarium right alongside the road. RMSC still has not finalized plans for this zone, but there is talk of a water feature…


Finally, below the observatory will be a low-ropes course; we’re excited to see what exactly that entails. Now, when will the remaining treehouses be built???


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bearwallow Mountain

Jack-in-the-pulpit

In the 10 years (or thereabouts) that we’ve lived in Greenville, we’ve yet to exhaust the list of hiking trails in a 1-hour drive from the city. Not only are we constantly discovering new areas through friends and various groups, but trails are being established in newly-established conservancies and preserves through the efforts of groups like the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC).


CMLC acquired a conservation easement on the summit of Bearwallow Mountain in 2009, built the trail in 2011, and added an additional 85 acres between the summit and trailhead in 2012. At 4,232 ft. this is the highest peak in the Bearwallow Highlands range that straddles the Eastern Continental Divide. The mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge, and views from the summit extend to Mt. Mitchell in the Black Mountains and Mt. Pisgah in the Great Balsams.

view north, with Mt. Mitchell

We took Poinsett Highway out of the city and then jumped on I-25 to cross into North Carolina. I had a momentary lapse of memory and thought I had forgotten our lunch on the counter, justifying a stop at one of the many roadside stands to buy a bucket of freshly-picked strawberries. In another couple of months it’ll be peaches and apples… can’t wait! Jumping on I-26 towards Hendersonville, we took exit 49A for US Hwy. 64 east. For further instructions see the CMLC website, but be aware that there’s a fork in the road that intuitively leads you off on N Bearwallow Rd. when you want to stay on Bearwallow Mountain Rd….

trillium

The trailhead is at the crest of Bearwallow Mountain Rd. (Bearwallow Gap) where the pavement turns to gravel (the gravel rd. continues on over 2 miles to the town of Gerton, NC). Parking is along the shoulder, and the trail begins beyond the old, rusted gate. You’ll see the trail kiosk on the right, marking the beginning of a steep, 1 mile ascent up to the summit. The gravel road that heads off to the left meets the trail at the summit and continues on to the historic fire lookout tower and modern telephone towers. The fire tower was built in 1937 and was used until it was decommissioned in 1994; plans to restore it and make it accessible to visitors are in the works.

the view south, firetower visible on left

Be prepared for switchbacks and rocky stairs almost the entire way. Rhododendron and trillium distracted us from the steep climb, but poison ivy kept us on the trail. This forest is home to stunted old-growth trees approaching 300 years of age. As we neared the top we passed several rocky outcrops, then emerged into a grassy meadow which has nearly a 360 degree view of the surrounding area.

an ancient knot in an ancient tree

CMLC constructed the Bearwallow Mountain trail with the help of the Carolina Mountain Club, REI and community volunteers, and the hope is that eventually it will be incorporated into the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail, a loop that will link Bearwallow Mountain to CMLC’s Florence Preserve and the conserved summit of Ferguson Peak. CMLC is working toward the total conservation of more than 480 acres at Bearwallow Mountain as evidenced by the brand new trail that heads in the other direction from Bearwallow Gap – Trombatore Trail, a 2.7 mile continental divide trail to Blue Ridge Pastures that was finished in 2014. Like I said, for every trail we check off our Greenville/vicinity list, another one takes its place!

Canada mayflower

* Our Bearwallow hike was through the Hike it Baby Greenville branch, a parents group dedicated to getting families with babies and small children out into nature. For more info on the free group, see the Hike it Baby website.




Monday, April 25, 2016

Dinosaur World gets an A+ from the kids


You might miss the giant T-Rex standing guard beside I-65 near the Cave City exit on your way north, but you’ll have a harder time ignoring the triceratops and pterodactyl once you get off the highway on the way to Mammoth Cave National Park. A string of yellow flags along with the giant reptiles give this attraction maximum visibility, the location and hype needed in this tourist town filled with competing enterprises with names like “Historic Diamond Caverns,” “Kentucky Action Park” and “Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo.”


The boys’ curiosity grew on every trip past the giant gates. They really had asked for so little on our Big South Fork/Mammoth Cave trip, and so we promised to take a look online and entertain the possibility of stopping on our last day in Cave City. With the promise of “150 life size dinosaurs to see and discover” even dad was intrigued – and so it came about that we pulled into the parking lot with about two hours left until closing.


The attraction covers 20 acres. The entrance gift shop opens into a courtyard surrounded by activities: a museum, a playground, the fossil dig, “touch and tell,” the boneyard, a movie cave, a gem mine and the dinosaur walk, a path leading visitors through the woods past all the giant dinos. A 4 and 5-year-old’s dream!



We managed to do it all: mine gems, dig for fossils, glance at the movie, and of course walk the dinosaur walk. The boys were in paradise, as even the playground was dinosaur themed; we even made it out to the giant T-Rex that you can see from the highway. As far as touristy places go, this one isn’t bad: the facilities were clean, the dinosaurs of better quality than expected, and the staff were friendly enough. Our stop was entirely for the boys after their patience in the car and multiple hikes at Mammoth Cave, but we parents enjoyed it as well; it’s hard to begrudge a tourist trap that receives such an euphoric response from the boys!









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