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Archive for November, 2010

Last month the 6th grade class from Owen Middle School (a public school located in nearby Swannanoa) visited us. Over the course of their 3 day program, 150 students were able to experience the Alpine Tower and Swing, Mountain Stream Discovery, and Crafts programming.

In honor of the beautiful fall season, each student was able to make a leaf out of clay in our Craft Room. The students used real leaves from Blue Ridge grounds to cut out shapes in clay. After firing the leaves in our kiln,  they will serve as a keepsake reminder of the student’s time on the mountain. Here is just a small sampling of their creations:

Can you identify the types of leaves they made? Maple, Red oak, White Oak, Tulip Poplar, and Sassafras, just to name a few.

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In true Blue Ridge tradition, our three Family Lodges have officially been renamed. Previously named “Lodge I”, “Lodge II”, and “Lodge III”, the new names reflect families of longtime supporters of Blue Ridge Assembly.

All of our Family Lodges are available year-round and offer modern comforts and amenities, along with a more isolated, peaceful experience and beautiful views of the Craggy Mountains. Lodges I & II have fully equipped kitchens and dining rooms, large common areas with beautiful stone fireplaces, and spacious covered porches.The Family Lodges are perfect for family reunions, school groups, or conference groups wishing to create a sense of family or community in their conference or retreat.

For detailed floor plans of all three lodges, please visit our website.

Barnhardt Lodge

Family Lodge I, completed in March 2004, was recently named “Barnhardt Lodge” to honor and recognize the long-time leadership and support of William M. “Bill” Barnhardt and his wife, Harriet Bangle Barnhardt. Bill Barnhardt was Blue Ridge board president from 1969 to 1973, chairman of the trustees from 1983 to 1986, and just recently retired as investment committee chairman. Bill has also served on the National YMCA board for 10 years.  The Barnhardt family established an endowment fund that is used to support operations, activities and programs of the Assembly, particularly for the collegiate staff and YMCA conferences. Barnhardt Lodge can accommodate around 62 people. Each of the 9 private bathrooms and 16 bedrooms are named after native tree species (Buckeye, Hickory, Cedar, Oak, etc).

McCarty Lodge

Family Lodge II, completed in February 2007, has the highest elevation of any building on Blue Ridge grounds.  Lodge II has been renamed “McCarty Lodge” to honor and recognize the fine leadership and support of Mary Ann McCarty and family. Mary Ann was a Blue Ridge collegiate staff member in 1942, began her Blue Ridge board service in 1977, served as board president from 1985 to 1987 and currently serves as a Blue Ridge trustee. An endowment fund is named in honor of Mary Ann’s late husband, Hyman F. “Mac” McCarty, whom was also a Blue Ridge collegiate staff.  The income from this memorial fund supports programs for international staff members as directed by the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly Board of Trustees. McCarty Lodge’s 9 private baths and 17 bedrooms are named after local peaks (Mt. Pisgah, High Top, Pinnacle and can accommodate up to 60 people.

Hibbard Hall

Lodge III, completed in 2009, was constructed in the site of the old George and Martha Washington Halls.   It has been renamed “Hibbard Hall” in honor of C. Roger Hibbard, Blue Ridge Assembly Administration Director for 9 years and Executive Director for 24 years. Last spring the calla lilly bulbs that decorated tables at Rogers’s retirement Tribute Dinner were planted in front of the Lodge to honor Roger’s legacy of service to YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. This lodge has 23 bedrooms with private baths, capable of hosting approximatly 92 youth and adults. There are ample common areas but this Lodge lacks a full kitchen, as it was specifically designed with youth groups in mind. This Lodge is also unique because it was the first of Blue Ridge’s buildings that was constructed with “green” elements such as rooftop solar paneling.

The Assembly would like to thank the Barnhardt, McCarty and Hibbard families’ commitment, leadership and support to Blue Ridge. Through these Family Lodges and other quality facilities, services, and programs, we look forward to impacting more lives and  helping to build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities!

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The fall season is upon us. That means cooler temperatures, shorter days, and more…BEARS?!

Photo taken at Blue Ridge Assembly

Black bears are an important part of the mountain experience of Blue Ridge, and bear sightings by staff or guests are a regular occurrence, especially in the summer and fall months. It is also not uncommon to see evidence of them around grounds, in the form of droppings, tracks, and turned-over trashcans.

There have been numerous (sometimes weekly!) black bear sightings around the Assembly in the past few months. Bears are most active this time of year because they are preparing for hibernation. It is essential they consume lots of high-fat foods such as acorns and other nuts in order to sustain them through winter months. Once they have built up a sufficient fat layer on their bodies, they will enter their dens. In North Carolina, denning occur as early as the end of November or as late as the beginning of January and most bears will not emerge from their dens until March or early April, depending on the weather and food availability.

Unlike some animals, black bears are not true hibernators. However, they do become significantly less active and go into a dormant state during the winter months. This is sometimes referred to as “seasonal lethargy” or “torpor”. Instead of a dramatic change in body temperature there is simply a very long period of inactivity (as much as 6 months). During this time they exhibit some amazing physiological responses to decreased temperatures and food intake: the bear is in a deep sleep-like state, and has the ability to store and actually USE the waste in its body for protein and hydration.

Blue Ridge is a high-quality bear habitat with plentiful food sources, so it is no wonder that bears continue to frequent our grounds. The prevalence of oak, walnut, and hickory trees (and delicious-smelling garbage cans) are key factors in attracting bears. The staples of a black bear’s diet include nuts, insects, larvae, berries, fungi, roots, honey, worms, buds, leaves, fruit, twigs, fish, and small mammals. They must eat between 11 and 18 pounds of food each day to stay healthy and this number nearly doubles itself in the fall in order to prepare for hibernation. (They consume 3,000- 8,000 calories a day in summer and spring, but need as much as 20,000 a day in winter!)

Although adult bears are generally solitary, many of the sightings around Blue Ridge are of groups (called “sleuths”) of 4 or more, likely to be a female with her juvenile cubs. They seem to have an affinity for areas around the Lake and just below Blue Ridge Center, especially near the playground and Weatherford’s gravesite.

The Bear Facts

Here are some more interesting facts about black bears:

  • The black bear (Ursus americanus) is North Carolina’s largest land animal! Today, in North Carolina two-thirds live in the eastern coastal region, and the remaining third live here in the western mountains.
  • Bears generally have poor eyesight but can see patterns and movement well.  They are known for their great sense of smell and can locate food up to a mile away just on scent alone. Bears also have very long memories. They often find reliable food sources by following other animal paths, or by remembering a location that their mother showed them when they were young. Mother bears even breathe on their young to teach them what to eat!
  • Adult females usually weight between 100-300 lbs, while adult males can reach up to 700 lbs. The current World Record black bear came from Craven County, North Carolina and weighed 880 lbs!
  • The average lifespan of a black bear in the wild is 10-15 years, though they can exceed 20 years in an ideal habitat.
  • Male bears are called “boars”, females are called “sows”, and young bears are called “cubs”.
  • Black bears are surprisingly agile and dexterous. They climb trees not only to escape a threat but also to rest, sleep, play, nurse, obtain food, or seek shelter. They are adept at swimming, digging, and running and have been clocked at speeds of 35 mph over short distances!
  • Black bears are considered opportunistic omnivores.  They have teeth of carnivores, but have the ability to eat almost anything.  In North Carolina, black bears are 95% herbivorous.
  • Bears den in cavities of live trees, hollow logs, caves, rock outcroppings, holes in the ground, or simply nests in a thicket. Usually they will construct nests of leaves, sticks, and grass.
  • Bears mate in summer but practice delayed implantation, where the egg is fertilized but does not become implanted or develop further until just before hibernation. Males mate with several females, and females usually breed every other year. Litter size is typically 2 or 3 cubs, born about 8 weeks after implantation occurs. Bear cubs usually stay with their mother through their first winter and spring, while yearling siblings may stay together for a full year afterwards.
  • Black bear “scratching posts”, marked trees or sign posts are common features in bear habitat. The bears will stand erect against or straddle a tree and scent-mark, lick, rub, bite, or scratch it. It is likely that this tree-marking serves to communicate identity, status, and gender, and assert territory among bears.
  • The black bear is an important part of North Carolina’s cultural, historical, and natural heritage. Native Americans depended on bears for survival- relying on their meat and fat for food, and hides to make clothing. When European settlers came to America, black bears were perceived as threats to their livestock and crops, and this resulted in intense persecution. This widespread unregulated killing combined with severe habitat destruction, and the American chestnut blight, caused bear populations to suffer dramatically during the early 20th century.
  • While black bears are remarkably adaptable, their population has made a comeback in the last 30-40 years mostly due to a change in human perceptions and public attitude. Better law enforcement and regulation, and better understanding of the species have helped restore numbers in the last century. The NC wildlife commission has set up wildlife corridors under highways. Scientists work closely with hunters and local universities to study bears and many trapping and handling techniques have been established to research the species.
  • Bear hunting, a longstanding tradition in the state of North Carolina, continues to be a sport of choice for local outdoorsman who use specially bred hound dogs to sniff out, chase and “tree” the bear. Although it is often controversial, farmers are legally allowed to shoot bears; whereas normal hunters have much more strict regulations and a limited hunting season.

Bears and Humans

The true nature of bears is often misunderstood due to misconceptions created by movies, cartoons, and children’s stories, which portray them either as dangerous animals or cuddly pets.  In reality bears are very shy and usually avoid humans. Unfortunately, do to dramatic increases in both human and bear populations over the last 50 years, our habitats inevitably overlap sometimes. Bears are often unfairly labeled as pests or nuisances in communities that fail to take responsibility for their actions, avoiding the necessary steps to prevent bear-human interactions.

Typically bears only visit residential, human-populated areas in search of food. They are naturally curious and resourceful, taking advantage of whatever food is available in their home range (an area that may be anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 acres in size!).  Out of convenience this food source is sometimes in the form of garbage cans, compost bins, gardens, bird feeders, and pet food. Humans must completely eliminate the food source that is attracting the bear in order for the bear to leave permanently.

There is quite a bit of danger in allowing bears to forage for food near humans. As bears begin to associate the presence of human beings with food, serious problems may result. When a bears find a reliable human-supplied food source, they quickly learn new behaviors, returning to that source again and again to repeat those behaviors.  They become “spoiled” as a result. Eventually as they lose their fear of humans,  they may become more bold, and even aggressive in their actions. Aggressive bears are a threat to human safety and must be relocated, or in most cases, killed.

Bear enjoying a walnut tree on Blue Ridge grounds

Blue Ridge Assembly strives to coexist peacefully with our native flora and fauna. We embrace bears as part of our natural environment, but also strive to show a healthy respect for them and enjoy them from a distance. We have taken the necessary precautions to keep bears away from our facilities and guests, but it is still important to follow a few simple precautions in order to prevent any serious problems in the future.

Some general guidelines for visiting “bear country” at Blue Ridge Assembly:

  • NEVER feed or approach a bear. Most injuries associated with bear/human encounters are the result of people feeding bears or when bears are interrupted while feeding on human sources of food.
  • Do not litter. Properly dispose of food and food containers in designated trash bins, some of them bear-proof, on grounds. Remember, “A fed bear is a dead bear”. Help keep bears wild and safe!
  • When visiting the trails around Blue Ridge Assembly, try to hike in groups of 3 or more.  If you encounter a bear, stand close together to make yourself appear large. Make lots of noise.
  • If you are alone and see a bear, make loud noises, slowly back away and do not make eye contact.  If you attempt to frighten them and they do not respond, do not continue to taunt them or corner them, as they might feel provoked and become aggressive.
  • If, in the extreme case, physical contact occurs and a bear attacks, then fight back! Throw rocks or sticks or protect yourself by laying face down on the ground, limbs tucked, and covering the back of your neck.
  • It is important to remember that you are more likely to die from a bee sting or be struck by lightning then to die from a black bear attack! As a general rule bears only become aggressive when extremely hungry or when they are protecting their young, so do be very aware of mother and cubs.

Source: The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Photo credits: Amanda May, YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly Program Facilities Manager

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On October 13-15, 2010 we hosted the 91st annual Blue Ridge Conference on Leadership. BRCL, a partnership between Auburn University and several prominent corporations in the Southeast provides a challenging, motivational and inspirational Management Leadership Development experience for top executives, employees, and representatives of leading businesses in our region.

BRCL was founded in 1919 by Reuben B. Robertson, president of Champion Paper, and E.G Wilson, a career veteran of the YMCA. The two founders were able to use their experience and backgrounds to establish BRCL with a strong industrial and spiritual foundation early on.  Today the BRCL (formerly named the Southern Industrial Relations Conference) is  governed by a Board of Directors from ten southeastern states.

The theme of this year’s Conference was  “Getting and Keeping Your Players in the Game: The Power of Full Engagement”. The three day event  included many workshops, presentations, keynote speakers, and team-building to promote leadership and positive human relations.

The speakers, which include business leaders, coaches, educators, lawyers,  and representatives from industry, the clergy and government, offer participants a wealth of innovative management techniques and share many secrets to business success that can help them maintain a competitive edge in today’s worldwide market place. Conference attendees gain a greater awareness of:

  • Management skills
  • Human relations expertise
  • Individual motivation
  • Company support
  • Employee rapport

The  Blue Ridge Conference on Leadership offers a unique combination of work and play. It offers a time to reflect upon and reassess one’s leadership and human relations skills, as well as a place to enjoy relaxation, renewal, and recreation  in the peaceful, retreat-like setting of Blue Ridge Assembly.

Each year the BRCL gives out several awards. This year, our very own C. Roger Hibbard was the recipient of the George D. Heaton Award, the highest recognition by BRCL. Roger Hibbard, who retired early this year, served 9 years as Administrative Director and 24 years as Executive Director at Blue Ridge Assembly. He  oversaw many facility improvements and dramatically increased endowments over his 33 years of service at Blue Ridge.

The Heaton Award recognizes those who exemplify good human relations in their positions as leaders.   It is presented to those who, through their effective leadership and supervision of others, best exemplify the philosophy and principles of the Blue Ridge Conference on Leadership.

On October 14, Ken Bonifay, Past Chairman and Executive Director for the  Board of Directors, led the awards presentation in Heaton Hall, formerly called “College Hall”.  The hall was renamed to honor Dr. George Heaton, a nationally known  Presbyterian minister and college professor who began attenting BRCL in 1939.

Heaton Hall

Congratulations to Roger on this wonderful achievement!

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In other news…


Last month we also received word that we have been selected to receive a grant through the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly is part of a southern region cohort which recently received financial support from LIVESTRONG as part of the Y’s commitment to healthy living and Activate America.

Research has indicated that physical activity after cancer treatments helps to reduce fatigue, improve mood, and increase muscle strength and physical endurance. In 2007, LIVESTRONG and YMCA of the USA joined forces to create LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a 4 year program to support people affected by cancer reach their health and well-being goals. The YMCA is the perfect collaborator because of its national reach, commitment to meeting the needs of all community members, and history of program innovation in support of health and wellness.

The Y’s in this collaborative will  serve as a leading resource for cancer survivors in the community, and assist in improving cancer survivors’ quality of life during treatment and beyond.  Blue Ridge is honored to be selected and to work with YMCA’s from 11 associations in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia on this wonderful mission with LIVESTRONG!

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