Year in Review
2016…what a year. More than any other, it’s been 365 days marked by some weekly event that makes you feel just a little bit worse. Whether it’s been politics, celebrity deaths, or the loss of a beloved gorilla (#NeverForgetHarambe) it’s just been one sucker punch after another. The Panthers haven’t played well, GoLite went out of business, and on a personal level the loss of my grandfather tainted everything this year had to offer. Instead of writing off the entire calendar though, I decided to dig a bit and find the good in it.
Wildfires have burned some 120,000 acres and are still uncontained, so by the time you’re reading these words there are probably a few hundred or thousand more acres blacked and crispy. While many of these fires were set by arsonists, I’m going to try and look on the bright side to this huge disaster. First off, wildfires are part of the natural cycle to help clean out bracken, dead leaves, and other debris that clog up the understory, preventing other plants from growing. Hopefully that means more meadows full of wildflowers in the spring, but in the short term it also makes for hikes with wide open views. Table Rock, South Mountain, Caesars Head, and Sassafras Mountain have all been closed down due to the burning taking place, but once the trails open back up you’ll be getting a different perspective than ever before. Hiking through a burned out forest is going to be like South Carolina’s small-scale Mount St. Helens, and something that you may not experience ever again. So once the ashes are completely soaked, lace up your boots and hit the trail.
After 7 years of litigation, Duke Energy finally received approval for their 40 year relicensing agreement for use of 13 hydropower dams down the Catawba River. What that meant for us this year is that Duke Power is finally beginning the process of upgrading and creating access points all down the river for everyone to enjoy using. This includes the typically dry Mountain Island channels in Great Falls, which when they have water flowing through them, create some of the best whitewater kayaking waves anywhere in the south east. Nearly 12 years ago I helped run logistical safety (e.g. I schlepped boats) for the actual flow study participants and remember not being able to pick my jaw off the ground from seeing 6’+ standing waves and massive holes that could swallow a VW bug. If that sounds too extreme for you, the good news is that is the short channel; the long channel is a tamer Class II/III which is perfect for the beginning whitewater kayaker. The relicensing also guarantees minimum flow levels for weekend paddling on the much more popular section from Lake Wylie Dam to Landsford Canal State Parks; this is only when there is not a drought or water restrictions in place though.
Love or hate his politics, one thing President Obama has done that I appreciate is that he has protected more land for future enjoyment by the American people than any other president in history. In 2016 he added 1.8 million acres of California desert, 443 million square miles of Pacific Ocean and islands, and there’s talk that he will further expand protection before leaving office. Even if I never get the chance to visit any of those places, it’s always an odd comfort in knowing there’s a place that will stay mostly the same as long as the United States of America lasts; thanks Obama.
As always, the Katawba Valley Land Trust has been working in 2016 to protect local lands through easements, education, and buying land outright to save it from being developed, making headway on projects started in 2015 on the Beaver Creek property in Kershaw as well as the Pettus Greenway in Lancaster. For our waterways, the Catawba Riverkeepers has done a tremendous job of monitoring coal ash runoff as well as sewage and garbage to make sure it’s stopped at the source. Several cleanup days also hauled thousands of pounds of garbage out of nature, and there will be plenty more days in 2017 to help.
For me, 2016 was spent filling in the blank spots on the map for North Carolina and South Carolina. Boone and the surrounding area had escaped my notice for years, but 2 separate trips helped me cover areas I had somehow missed before. Elk Knob State Park is a fairly recent addition to the NC State Park system, but in terms of views it’s one of the best there is. The Watauga River as it winds towards the Tennessee State line is home to some great paddling and even more great trout. Valle Crucis has something for everyone, whether it’s shopping at the Mast General Store, fishing the river that runs through the valley, or enjoying the local park and it’s walking trails. How I avoided Boone and the surrounding area I have no idea, but it will be a place I’m returning to in 2017 for sure.
For once I also ticked off most of my list of resolutions that I wrote out in January: taking my wife on her first backpacking trip to Shining Rock, meeting a friend on the AT for 35 miles, picking up hitch-hiking AT hikers, hiking in the Everglades, and visiting the Florida Keys. I got back in shape, competed again in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the first time in 6 years, traveled way too much for work, and completed projects around the house. More than anything though, I spent 2016 with family and friends and if you’ve read more than 2 articles this year it’s a theme I’ve come back to again and again. The first 6 months was spent trying to wring every last minute I had left with my grandfather and the next 6 months were spent trying to live and enjoy all of the minutes I have left to me.
Friends and family are the makers of memories that stay with you longer than any sunset or snowfall. This Christmas, go for a hike with them. Take them on a paddle down the Catawba (it’s South Carolina…it’ll be in the 80s one weekend). If nothing else, hang out on a Friday night in front of a campfire, eating smores and sipping on something warm. Because without friends and family, there is nothing wonderful about any year.
From the Shook Family to you, Merry Christmas. I hope to see you on the trail in 2017.