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A Glimpse of Asheville

DSC00004Located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, lays the beautiful city of Asheville. Whether you come here in the fall to see the leaves change color on the parkway, a spring visit to the Biltmore House to see the flowers bloom, or for a summer vacation to enjoy all the outdoor activities you can imagine, Asheville is the perfect place to visit any time of the year.  

This small city is a great place to be if you’re traveling here with your family, by yourself, or with your significant other. The adventure of Asheville begins as soon as you step foot in downtown. Here you will find some of the best restaurant and small shops. You will not want to miss a trip to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge! Call us here at Wilcox Travel and we would love to set you up a tour of downtown Asheville so that you can learn the history of the wonderful town. While you are downtown make a trip down to the River Arts District to enjoy multiple art studios and experience the culture of Asheville. If you are a fan of the night scene then you will love some of the bars there are, including Aloft hotel where you can go on the roof and see all of the city under the stars.

Just ten minutes from downtown Asheville located in Biltmore Forest sits The Biltmore Estate. The house is one of the biggest private homes in the US and the estate is one of the largest that is still privately owned. Don’t forget to get your tickets at the front gate because you will not want to miss out on the walk through tours they offer of the home. A visit to the Biltmore Estate can last all day and will still leave you wanting more. Surrounding the house are the estates gardens, a pond, and many walking trails, including one that line the French Broad River. Not to mention the many dining options they have from snacks to completely formal, which is great for celebrations and special occasions. You can enjoy a free tour of the winery and if you are of age, free wine testing when the tour is complete! The options at The Biltmore Estate are endless.

After you have enjoyed two of the most famous places in Asheville you will want to continue your adventure outdoors! Surrounding Asheville are many hiking trails, waterfalls, places to zip line, a tubing experience down the river, a drive down the parkway, and much more. The hiking trails range from very easy, something the whole family can do and then there are strenuous ones for the most adventure seeking outdoor lovers! While on your hike or outdoor adventure there will be plenty of opportunities to view the wildlife. There are also great places to horseback ride, or play golf in the valley of the mountains.

If you love to shop there is something for you too! Besides the many shops in downtown Asheville and Biltmore Forest, an outlet mall recently opened up fifteen minutes down the road with plenty of stores for all different tastes.

There are so many activities to do you will want to spend as much time in Asheville that you can! Enjoy your adventures and come see us here in these beautiful mountains we call home. Contact Wilcox Travel so we can help you plan the perfect trip to Asheville, NC.

Asheville’s Southside

Asheville’s Southside

Asheville Southside 1960'sA note attached to one photo of a home on Asheville’s southside in early 1960 calls it an “illegal gambling/whiskey house,” or illegal bar.

“We really have to get beyond the nostalgia to say what was there, what was life really like,” Mathews said.


Many, many more structures in Asheville’s southside housed legitimate businesses.

“Many people who grew up here remember (Southside) and being as vital, if not more vital, a commercial district than The Block,” Mathews said, referring to the historic African-American business district around the intersection of Eagle and South Market streets near City Hall.

Mathews shows photo after photo of Asheville's southside auto repair shops, restaurants, service stations, beauty parlors and hotels, including one where James Brown and

Asheville's Southside once hosted Aretha Franklin

Cover of Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin once played in an upstairs auditorium.

Some homes were small, but many had distinctive architectural features people would treasure today.

“The preservationist in me is saying I could have done something with these buildings,” Mathews says.

And while a family’s home might — or might not — have been humble, it might have also been three doors down from an aunt, a block away from a grandfather or next door to a neighbor who would keep an eye on the kids.

In urban renewal, “A lot of the webs of interconnection that kept those families together were removed,” Mathews said.

He says those in charge of urban renewal did not do a good job of deciding what should be saved and what should not, did not do enough to help people with the transition to new homes and gave Southside residents little say in the whole process.

Many people who were told they would be able to build new homes on cheap Southside lots could not get financing or found other obstacles, Ndiaye said.

There were “a lot of hurt people, a feeling of being injured,” she said. “They were told that something would happen, and it didn’t.”

Some observers, Mathews said, see what happened to the people of Southside as a continuation of Jim Crow laws from the 19th century.

Asheville Southside 1930'sMany changes to Southside cannot be reversed. Ndiaye said she hopes, though, that remembering its history can help heal wounds.

“I’m just happy to know that this conversation is going on, that we are acknowledging the fact that certain things happened in this city and it impacted people,” she said.

Sierra Nevada gets closer to rolling out beer and opening

While there still is more work to do before full-scale production commences, Sierra Nevada has achieved a spot-on flavor match between its two top-selling brands produced in Mills River and at the company's Chico, Calif. brewery.

Sierra Nevada Pale AleSierra Nevada Pale Ale and Torpedo Extra IPA — the No. 2-selling craft beer in the U.S. and top-selling IPA in the country, respectively — are now being brewed and bottled at the Mills River plant, but company spokesman Ryan Arnold said they are “still probably a couple of months out before we're really pushing things out the door.”

Sierra Nevada's quality-control process is a rigorous one, with up to 150 checks conducted in its high-tech research and development lab. The company says it tests everything from raw ingredients and water chemistry to full-spectrum molecular analysis to determine if its beer “has a potential for off-flavors before it ever makes it out of the kettle or fermenter.” The company also is splitting shipments of malt and hops between Mills River and Chico to eliminate variability from batch to batch and ensure consistency between the two breweries.

In addition, Arnold said, a Sierra Nevada team of professionals with “highly developed sensory capabilities” taste-tests fermenter samples and packaged beer three times a week for final approval. Samples of Mills River beer are shipped overnight to Chico, and then analyzed and discussed via video conference by panels on both coasts before final approval is given.

“We have hit one or two home runs with some of the batches of Pale Ale and Torpedo, but we're extremely quality-driven, so one or two home runs isn't quite enough; we're looking for a home run on every swing,” Arnold said. “So it is going to take some more time and some more test brewing, and that's just two brands.”

Sierra Nevada, the country's second-largest craft beer maker that was named one of the top 100 breweries in the world this month by the consumer-rating website, also will be brewing several other year-round and seasonal beers in Mills River, including some of its High Altitude Series brews.

“We also need time to nail some of those other brands,” Arnold said. “So while we can kind of celebrate and appreciate that we're nailing it with some of these test batches of Pale Ale and Torpedo, it's still an exercise in patience to being able to ship beer out of there.”

Sierra Nevada's Mills River NC PlantThe company also is busy testing and refining procedures for the Mills River plant to serve as a new distribution hub by sending Chico-brewed beer to Mills River, storing it in a refrigerated warehouse and then shipping orders to regional distributors.

“That, too, is going to take a little time to work out any kinks so that we'll be able to cover the majority of the East Coast,” Arnold said, adding that a rail spur similar to the one in Chico has been set up to limit travel for delivery trucks to within a couple miles of the brewery.

Brewery eyes August opening

Meanwhile, Western North Carolina residents and officials are gearing up for the opening the brewery to the public later this year. The $100 million facility on the French Broad River is expected to be among the most technologically advanced, aesthetically impressive and visitor-friendly breweries in the world, with a focus on alternative energy, environmentally conscious construction, reforestation and river quality monitoring and protection.

The company announced this month that installation of its parking lot solar array, featuring nearly 200 individual panels, had recently been completed and will complement a much larger rooftop array.

Beth Cardin, executive director of the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority, said that while her department is monitoring the Sierra Nevada project before highlighting the brewery in printed literature, officials are promoting it verbally in the Visitors Center. And, according to Cardin, the next installment of the Hendersonville Vacation Planner also will dedicate an editorial page to the growing beer and wine industries in the area.

“We're expecting it to impact our tourism tremendously this year — the last half of the year, anyway,” she said of the impending Sierra Nevada opening. “We think it's going to be an overnight success; we don't think it's going to take long to let people know that they're up and running.”

Arnold said the company hopes to open its doors by August, aiming for a grand opening that would coincide with the culmination of Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp Across America tour this summer.

“The whole process has been a whirlwind,” Arnold said. “We're trying to build a world-class facility rather quickly, when it comes down to it. August is probably an ambitious goal, but that's what we're hoping — where we can have a pub and tour team and other pieces of the brewery experience all complete so we can welcome folks in.”

The Beer Camp Across America project will also feature a first-of-its-kind, variety 12-pack of beers that will be produced in collaboration with a dozen of the country's most acclaimed breweries at both Sierra Nevada breweries. Representatives from those breweries, including Oskar Blues and the Asheville Brewers Alliance consortium, have been traveling to Chico the past couple months designing and brewing the test pilot batches of their respective brews.

Sierra Nevada's progress in Mills River comes as the company has unleashed a bevy of new, innovative products to the national market, while initial reports of craft beer's 2013 performance last week suggest continued growth for the industry.

According to a report in USA Today, craft beer production grew by 9.6 percent last year, from 178 million cases to 195 million. This despite total U.S. beer sales receding by 1.4 percent — including a 3.5 percent decrease in light beer and 2.4 percent drop in overall mainstream domestic beer volume — as American consumers thirst for fuller-flavored, locally made brews.

Another report by the Beer Institute released last week said that 2013 saw a record 3,700 breweries nationwide as permitted by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (which includes breweries that are not yet operational). That includes 114 breweries in North Carolina — or 32 more than in 2012 — which ranks the Tar Heel State No. 10 in the country.

Premier Distributor of Outdoor Recreation Products Locates in Asheville

In conjunction with the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County (EDC) and Venture Asheville, Sport Hansa LLC, a premier importer and distributor of European outdoor product brands, today announced its relocation to Asheville.  The firm’s expanded distribution center will allow for continued growth and expansion of product lines that today include Helle knives of Norway, Kupilka camping dishware of Finland, Montane technical outerwear and Terra Nova tents of the United Kingdom, as well as Wetterlings Axe Works of Sweden.  The three-year-old company will locate at 10 Business Park Circle in Arden.

“As we continued to expand our customer base and add further European brands, we looked for a location that offered key attributes such as a business friendly environment and a cluster of other important players in the outdoor industry. After an extensive search, Asheville continually came up at the top of our list,” stated Matt Huff, Managing Director of Sport Hansa. The company is relocating its headquarters and distribution operations from Longmont, Colorado.

Additionally, the firm announced the appointment of a new Director of Marketing and Inside Sales. Formerly with North Carolina based Diamond Brand Outdoors, John Stephens will be tasked with designing and implementing programs to better support the company’s 220 outdoor retail customers in the USA and Canada.

“The arrival of Sport Hansa fulfills two strategic goals of the Asheville 5×5 and Venture Asheville initiatives,” said EDC Chairman Paul Szurek. “The company will create sustainable jobs and investment in the outdoor products sector, while becoming another effective participant in our entrepreneurial community. Both groups are advantageous for long-term job growth.”

“We’re proud to welcome the Huff family and Sport Hansa to Asheville,” said David Gantt, Chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. “These products have a reputation for quality and craftsmanship in the outdoor recreation arena and are a great fit for Buncombe County.”

Loran Evans, President and Owner of Asheville-based Rightline Gear, also welcomed the company and the growth of the outdoor products industry. “This announcement is great news for the growing outdoor gear community in Asheville. Our city is the perfect spot for Sport Hansa to grow its business.”

The move also coincides with the announcement of two new manufacturer representatives. Summit Sales and Campbell Sports will represent Helle Norwegian knives and Wetterlings Swedish axes in the Southeast and Mountain regions respectively. For more information on Sport Hansa and product sales, please visit

The EDC for Asheville-Buncombe County is a public-private partnership committed to: creating and retaining high quality jobs, community leadership, and being a resource for better business decisions. The EDC accomplishes this mission through its four core services: business retention and expansion, small business and entrepreneurship, research, and marketing and recruitment. The EDC is funded by Buncombe County, the City of Asheville, the Town of Weaverville, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the AVL 5×5 Campaign.

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce is a member organization with over 1,800 member businesses and organizations. Chamber members collaborate with community organizations and coalitions to support the community and each other with the mission of building community through business. The Chamber is home to a 4,000 square foot Visitor Center which welcomes over 195,000 visitors per year.

Wildlife spectacle lies just over Smokies

The four of us met in Asheville that morning bound for the wildlife spectacle along the Hiwassee River in southwestern Tennessee. Many of the local lakes were still frozen, so the largest concentration of sandhill cranes in the Southeastern United States (outside Florida) was not in the wildlife refuge but along the shores off the Hiwassee River.

The cranes, along with thousands of ducks, were standing around on the sand bars or feeding along the semi-frozen shoreline.

Hundreds were also feeding in the nearby fields among the cattle — a quite amazing sight really. Not quite the African savanna, but almost. Small flocks of American pipits also fed in the fields, and large flocks of red-winged blackbirds wheeled and landed amongst the unconcerned livestock.

A new visitor center had been built down on the end of Blyth’s Ferry Road honoring the Cherokee removal along the Trail of Tears, which was a peaceful site to spend a little time before heading to the new overlook high on a bluff over the Hiwassee River. The cranes were still distant, so we looked for a closer vantage point on the other side of the river (another part of Blyth’s Ferry Road).

The rest of the late afternoon was spent watching evening flights of ducks, as well as enjoying and photographing flock after flock of sandhill cranes en route to their evening roost — probably also on one of the river islands.

Black-crowned-night-heronAn adult black-crowned night heron (rare at this season) flew in to feed, and a winter wren sat bobbing on the rocks seemingly oblivious to our presence.

At the end of a long day out birding, it’s always nice to retire to a good hotel and have a good meal. Our hotel in Chattanooga was barely three months old — a very smart, modern hotel with a sleek modern look — and dinner was at a locally owned and operated restaurant, always a good find in our increasingly homogeneous world.

Brainerd Levee, which is part of the greenway system that goes through a large part of Chattanooga, is always a great birding spot. Despite the sunshine and rapidly warming temperatures, most of the water was still frozen and the ducks were all elsewhere, but several still flew by maybe checking on the status of the water and included gadwall, American wigeon, northern shoveler and green-winged teal.

By the time we turned toward the parking lot, the ice had receded a little and about 25 teal were feeding feverishly in the shallow water, again oblivious to our close proximity. A real treat was the number of Wilson’s snipe that was being flushed from the short grass around the pool. They flew up only to quickly land again and then disappear into the vegetation, demonstrating their incredible camouflage.

An adult red-shouldered hawk showed itself very closely, and small flocks of Eastern bluebirds, Eastern meadowlarks and American robins were feeding along the grassy banks.

We ended our weekend tour at the large Chickamauga Dam, just north of town, where an extraordinary number of white-winged scoter had flown in — part of the invasion of sea ducks that has been prevalent throughout the Southeast this winter. A very showy long-tailed duck was also present, along with several common goldeneye and a good selection of loons and grebes.

The four-hour drive back to Asheville was not bad, and all of the snow had now gone — a great trip with thousands of cranes and ducks and a great birding spectacle not far from us here in WNC.

Wild Birds Unlimited
Simon Thompson has lived in Western North Carolina for 18 years. He owns and operates Ventures Birding Tours, He co-owns the Asheville Wild Birds Unlimited Store. For more information, drop by the store or check his website at

Blue Ridge Parkway open through Asheville today

After last week’s snowstorm of epic proportions inthe Asheville area, tThe Blue Ridge Parkway was closed for much of its stretch through North Carolina. But with the rapidly warming weather, a short stretch through the Asheville corridor is open today, Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Most of the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed today.

Most of the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed today.

The rest of the parkway, though, in North Carolina is closed for snow, ice, and dangerous road conditions.

The parkway is open at Mileposts 389 at Hendersonville Road/U.S. 25 in South Asheville, through U.S. 74 near the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, up to MP 382 at U.S. 70/Tunnel Road at the Folk Art Center, which are both open today. This is where the parkway is closed, though.

In places where the parkway is gated, you can park off to the side, and access the parkway in most places by foot to walk, hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski, walk the dog or bicycle.

For more up to date road information on the parkway, visit or call the parkway visitor center at 828-298-5330.

America’s 20 Fastest-Growing Cities

America's Fastest-Growing Cities 2014

When New York-based research firm Ipreo was looking to expand into a new office, the company searched nation-wide for the perfect location. “The primary goal was access to talent,” says O’Hara Macken, an EVP and managing director, “and the [Research] Triangle was our top choice in the U.S.” Ipreo, which provides data, software, and intelligence to the capital markets and public companies, opened an outpost in Raleigh, N.C. last year. It moved 70 employees from New York and Bethseda, Md., hired 80 locals, and plans to hire 100 more.

English: Carter-Finley Stadium, North Carolina...

English: Carter-Finley Stadium, North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Raleigh, N. C. is growing at a healthy clip–fast enough to land  the No. 2 spot on our annual list of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities. At the nearby Research Triangle Park, more than 170 companies have outposts, including IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, Syngenta, Credit Suisse, and Cisco. The wider area is also home to several major universities: North Carolina State University is in Raleigh, while Duke University is situated in nearby Durham, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The combination of universities and job opportunities has made for a highly educated population: nearly 50% of people ages 25 to 65 have a college degree. These draws keep many grads in the local area, says Harvey Schmitt, chief executive of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve got great quality of life. You’ve got the university system, great health care, a decent climate year-round, and affordable cost-of-living.”

Those factors, plus a relatively low cost of doing business (FORBES ranks N.C. 4th on its list of Best States for Business) are attracting more companies to the area. MetLife recently opened a 1,300-employee IT campus in Cary, a western suburb, and software company Citrix is opening a campus in Raleigh’s downtown later this year. Raleigh is also a hub of smart grid activity, and the president recently announced a $140 million grant to create an advanced manufacturing institute to NC State. Raleigh’s jobs grew at a rate of 2.44% year-over-year while the population jumped an estimated 2.15% in 2013. Even faster population growth is expected in 2014. All of this was enough to push Raleigh up two spots from its slot last year, to rank No. 2.

Behind the numbers:
To cull our list, we began with the 100 most populous Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the U.S., geographic areas designated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget that  include cities and their surrounding suburbs. We rated these places based on six metrics. Using data from Moody’s Analytics, we assessed the estimated rates of population growth for 2013 and 2014, year-over-year job growth for 2013, and the rate of gross metro product growth—a.k.a. the economic growth rate–for 2013. We also considered federal unemployment data and median salaries for local college-educated workers, courtesy of The result is a list of the 20 fastest growing metro areas in America in terms of population and economy.

Austin Aglow

Austin Aglow (Photo credit: atmtx)

Two states–Florida and Texas–each boast four cities on our Fastest-Growing Cities List this year, with three of the Texas cities ranking in the top 10: Austin (No. 1), Dallas (No. 4), Houston (No. 10), and San Antonio (No. 20). Strong population growth in 2013 and unemployment under 6% –well under the national rate of 6.7%–helped all four cities make the top 20, although last year the cities did even better, with Austin, Houston, and Dallas sweeping the top three slots. Given its business-friendly regulatory environment, lack of state income tax for corporations or people, and highly educated labor market, it’s perhaps not surprising that Texas continue to grow.

Austin takes the top spot on FORBES’ annual list of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities for the 4th year in a row.With a 2.5% population growth rate (estimated annual) for 2013—the highest of all the geographic regions—and an economy that expanded 5.88% last year, it’s hard for other cities to compete these days. But the area wasn’t always booming. The first tech bust wreaked havoc on the region, which was heavily weighted in software, semiconductors, and dotcoms. In 2004, the Austin Chamber of Commerce launched a proactive effort to recruit businesses from diverse industries, focusing exclusively on California, the Upper Midwest, and the Northeastern states—places where the cost of doing business is at a distinct disadvantage compared to Austin’s. “We’ve had 307 companies move here in the last 9 years,” says Dave Porter, Senior Vice President, Economic Development at the Austin Chamber. “And about 100 of those come from California.”

With the 48,000-student University of Texas churning out engineers and computer scientists, the five-county area has a robust workforce–38% college-educated—to fill up those desks. Half of the adult transplants flowing in possess a college degree, Porter says. In addition to major corporations like Whole Foods and Dell (in Round Rock, part of the greater MSA), Austin now boasts some 4,000 technology companies which represent about 35% of the area’s total payroll. Athena Health is bringing 607 jobs to Austin, and San Francisco-based Dropbox is expanding there. As for keeping its edge, Austin has collected over $40million from the private sector to keep recruitment efforts up. “The competition for jobs is fierce. We can’t let our guard down,” Porter says.

St. Mary's Basilica, Phoenix AZ

St. Mary's Basilica, Phoenix AZ (Photo credit: Michael D Martin)

Phoenix also makes the list this year, jumping a whopping five spots to No. 3. “That certainly shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, because they are among your leading growth states,” says Lee McPheters, a director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center of Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business. “But they were really hit hard by this most recent recession, which is why things have been bit subdued over the past few years.” Construction industry jobs, which dropped 50% in the state during the downturn, are up 5% year-over-year, McPheters notes. Surprisingly, Phoenix—not New York—is No. 1 in the nation in terms of growth in finance industry jobs, adding 8,300 from December 2012 to 2013, says McPheters, whose research team does its own economic rankings each month based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Insurance and health care are also growth engines. Add to that an estimated population growth rate of 1.67% for last year and a projected growth rate of 2.46% in 2014, and Phoenix is expected to be the 4th fastest-growing metro area in terms of population this calendar year.

Dallas, on the other hand, moved down a spot, from No. 3 to No. 4. Considering that most of the country is seeing sluggish population growth, Dallas’ projected rate of 2.08% for 2014 is pretty good, and the local economy’s year-over-year growth rate of 3.57% quite healthy. A strong business climate, low taxes, and the ease of serving both the East and West Coasts are among the metro area’s business attractions. Over the past two years, some 51 companies moved or announced plans to move to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Among them are Neovia Logistics Services, a logistics company that moved its headquarters from Illinois to the western suburb of Las Colinas, and Kohl’s, which announced plans to open a customer-service center in Dallas. Motorola Mobility also recently opened the first smartphone assembly plant in the United States, hiring 2,000 workers in Fort Worth (part of the greater M.S.A.). Economic strength: the area is a hub for logistics and distribution, technology, and support services like law and accounting firms, yet isn’t dominated by any single industry. “That’s why we entered the recession so much later than everyone else, and we’ll be able to come out of it sooner,” says Duane Dankesreiter, VP of Research for the Dallas Regional Chamber.

Salt Lake ranks No. 5 on the list, as it did last year, thanks to its strong jobs market: its 4% unemployment rate (as of December, seasonally adjusted) is the 2nd-best in the nation. “Utah’s economy has really become much more diverse than a classic western economy focused on extractive natural resources, federal defense—the things we used to be very dependent on,” says Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah who specializes in regional economics and demographics. She points to growth in construction, residential and commercial real estate, and a burgeoning energy sector as lifting the region. Tourism, manufacturing, professional and business services, and information are also help driving the region’s growth. A new light rail system has also been a factor, luring both housing and jobs along its corridor.