Equinox Provides Landscape Architecture to Jonesborough, Tennessee

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before picture of gas station

before picture of gas station

Check out what is happening in Jonesborough, TN.  Equinox has done a lot of work for this great historic community – the oldest Town in Tennessee.  Equinox has been providing landscape architecture services for the Town since 2007.  Equinox drafted Master Plans for Main Street and Boone Street improvements, both of which are currently being implemented with most of the construction on Main Street completed in 2013.  At the centerpiece of these improvements is the old Exxon gas station which is currently being renovated to the new Boone St. Market – a year round indoor/outdoor farmer’s market.  Equinox has been a proponent for this renovation as well as consulted on improvements to the site and surrounding streetscape.  This video http://www.wcyb.com/news/new-art-murals-put-up-in-jonesborough/26253994 talks about the recently installed art at the market, but you can see a little bit of the improvements that Equinox is proud to be a part of. 


Landscape Design with Native Plants

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“This blog post originally appeared on WNC Green Blog Collective and was reprinted with permission from the author David Tuch, president of Equinox” http://wncgbc.org/blog/david-tuch/design-with-plants/

Design with Plants

Plants are a keystone to the sustainable landscape and using native plants, drought tolerant plants, and edible plants is one of the easiest ways to promote a more ecologically sensitive landscape. One last thing, please don’t dig up native plants in the wild and don’t plant invasive plants.

Why use Native Plants-They can help to create a functional and beautiful ecosystem.
The Eastern Deciduous Forest contains multiple layers with large trees in the canopy layer, smaller trees and shrubs in the understory layer, and groundcovers in the ground layer. When landscapes are designed with native plants that contain this type of layering and are planted in drifts and masses, the landscape becomes more than just a pretty picture. It can become a functional landscape that:

Best11. Intercepts rainwater,
2. Helps clean the air we breathe,
3. Provides micro climates for us humans who have a low tolerance to wide ranges of cold and heat,
4. Provides habitat for declining species such as honey bees, and
5. Provides relief from the “heat island affect” caused from the built environment (heat reflecting off buildings, roads, and parking lots).

Plants grow in natural associations in conjunction with animals to create plant communities. These communities can serve as models for how to create designs with native plants that foster a healthy balanced ecosystem. Residential landscapes, campuses, business headquarters, urban planting strips, and even institutional and commercial landscapes can be designed to create sustainable landscapes that are modeled after the natural environment. Modeling our human-made landscapes after the natural environment, offers one of the best ways to create a natural looking landscape by planting plants that typically grow together in nature. For example in a wet shady area or drainage area, the landscape design and plant selection could be modeled based on a stream corridor and utilize the same plant palette as those found growing along a streambank. As well, an open sunny area could be planted with native grasses and wildflowers that reflect a grassland or meadow. These native landscapes would require less chemical treatment, less maintenance, less watering, and less petroleum products (for mowing) as compared to a landscape dominated by well-manicured lawn and traditional foundation plantings.
Why use Native Plants-They tend to be adaptable to the local climate2JB
Additional aspects for using plants to help create a sustainable landscape include the use of drought tolerant plantings. While many native plants can handle drought, some native plants grow in the wild in well drained soils or in moist conditions and are just not drought tolerant. In addition sometimes one can’t find the right native plant that will work in a given situation or want to create a landscape that can survive in an extended drought, such as the one we are currently experiencing. In this case, there are plants which are not native but are also not aggressive and invasive and can be part of a sustainable landscape. While these plants will not help create a “sense of place” by preserving the mountain atmosphere and character of the local landscape, they will reduce resources necessary to keep plants alive and thriving during extended dry periods. There are however, native plants that are drought tolerant including: Bottlebrush Buckeye, American Beautyberry, Redtwig Dogwood, Strawberry Bush, Fothergilla, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Virginia Sweetspire, Eastern Red Cedar, Inkberry, and Sumac, just to name a few. During the current dry conditions we are enduring in the southeast, the success of drought tolerant native plants and the decline of many of the non-native plants typically used in the landscape has become evident.

What about edible plants?
A final consideration in regards to plants and the sustainable landscape is the use of edible plants. Edible plants do not have to be confined simply to a vegetable garden and can be incorporated into just about any type of landscape planting scheme. There are native plants that are edible including several nut producing trees and fruit trees such as Serviceberry, Pawpaw, Blueberries, and several native herbaceous plants. At the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona in California, which is a campus housing and educational center for the university, edible plants were integrated into every aspect of the landscape design. Plantings and traditional foundation plantings contained edible trees such as nut and fruit trees and were interspersed among native shrubs and perennials. A vegetable garden was also built. This provided a supplemental source of food for the community living at the center and illustrated how the landscape could be integrated in an aesthetic and functional capacity. In fact, individual vegetable gardens, community vegetable garden plots, and even local farmers markets are a great way to support the edible landscape.

David Tuch, a plant lover at heart, is a Landscape Architect with Equinox- an Asheville based design and planning firm focused on resource conservation and sustainable development throughout the southeast.


Equinox Hires New Natural Resource Specialists

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The good news is that we have been very busy here at Equinox.  The bad news is that we have been so busy we have not had the opportunity to introduce you to the new staff we have hired to help us get our work done.  Please let us share a little bit about our newest staff members. Not so new, Drew Alderman joined us last fall and has quickly become an integral part of our team.  Drew received his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from Queens University in Charlotte, NC with a minor in Physical Science.

drew outside 4At Equinox, Drew works as Natural Resource Specialist specializing in Exotic Invasive Species research, control, and monitoring.  Drew’s professional experience includes working for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as an Aquatic Invasive Species Technician monitoring and identifying possible threats to Wyoming waterways. Drew was also selected as an intern for Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities Environmental Services Division where he worked to conserve energy and improves processes at the local wastewater treatment facilities.
Drew’s academic and professional experience has equipped him with the ability to work on many different environmental issues and is knowledgeable in environmental protection. Drew is a native of North Carolina and in his free time he likes to hike, camp, mountain bike, and fly fish; anything to be outdoors.

KristaBrand new to us is Krista Leibensperger.  So new in fact, that she hasn’t even broken in her hip-waders. Krista received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.  At Equinox, Krista works as a Natural Resource Specialist.  Krista completed two internships during her undergraduate career, one of which was working for the Trout Unlimited Abandoned Mine Program in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. During these internships, she also worked with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on their Unassessed Waters Initiative. Krista’s academic and professional experiences have equipped her with the knowledge and skills needed to work on a variety of environmental projects. Krista was born and raised in Pennsylvania and is very excited to be living and working in the beautiful city of Asheville. In her free time, she enjoys reading, walking her dog, hiking, camping, and fishing.

Groundbreaking at New Belgium Brewery

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Fred at New Belgium Ground Breaking

Fred Grogan (second from left), Land Planner at Equinox Environmental, participates in groundbreaking at New Belgium Brewery.

Fred Grogan with New Belgium Brewery leaders celebrating the official ground breaking and beginning of construction at the New Belgium Brewery.  A project which Equinox very own Kim Williams, Dena Chandler, Hunter Terrel, Owen Carson, Fred Grogan and David Tuch have been working on since 2012. This is a very exciting project!

Top Five Strategies to a Sustainable Site

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“This blog post originally appeared on WNC Green Blog Collective and was reprinted with permission from the author David Tuch, president of Equinox” http://wncgreenblogcollective.wordpress.com/

As development continues its rebound the question remains if we will build better than we did before, the same, or worse.  The opportunity to build better sites, working with the landscape as opposed to against the landscape and working with the environmental assets on a property, is in actually not as difficult as one might image.  Sustainable site planning and design helps reconnect people with nature and can blend the science of ecology with the art of design in any type of development.  This can be accomplished by designing landscapes with these

Top 5 Sustainable Site Planning  & Design Strategies.

1.  Know What You Got.  In order to build sensitively oDroversRd-Footbridge&Pathn
a site you must first know what is on the site (water, plants, habitat, etc.).

2.  Select the Proper Building Architecture.  Find a site that will meet your building program needs.  Don’t force a building design and building size on a site that cannot accommodate it.  This will help minimize impacts from grading and erosion issues and will better allow for maintaining the sites natural resources.

3. Manage the Water.  Water issues from scarcity to water quality and proper drainage can be addressed through design to treat rainwater and to capture and store rIMG_20130823_114301_216ainwater for re-use.

4.  Use the the landscape to Help Conserve Energy.  Proper placement of plants around a building or home can be used to lower energy usage for both heating and cooling.

5.  Select the Right Plants.  Think native plants and edible plants, even better think native plants that are edible. New sites can also be used to plant species that are declining in the natural environment due to loss of habitat.100_6542

Through sustainable site planning and design it becomes possible to balance the social, environmental and economic  needs of the developer, the community, and the individual. In fact many such as New Belgium Brewing, Sierra Nevada, and Davenport Park, just to  a few; see this type of development as a competitive advantage in the marketplace.


The Economic Engine of Greenways

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Dena Chandler of Equinox will be giving a presentation on the economic impacts of greenways at the Tennessee Environmental Conference in Kingsport, TN on March 26th, 2014. http://tnenvironment.com/

The Economic Engine of GreenwaysP6040078

Greenways have been praised for both environmental protection and community health benefits, but often overlooked for their impact on the economy.

The bicycling industry alone contributes $133 billion a year to the U.S. economy and generates $17.7 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

Cycling and trail tourism have become a major recreation trend in this region, helping to support local economies by infusing money into restaurants,retail, lodging, and transportation services.

This presentation will highlight examples of successful greenway and trail projects, as well as supporting figures and case studies from built projects and their impact on local economies.


Dena Chandler, Equinox Environmental Consultation & Design, Inc.

Greenway Project Making Headlines

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Townsend_sectionThere has been a lot of buzz and attention regarding the Maryville-to-Townsend Greenway Master Plan just recently completed by Equinox.  The project has been covered by several news outlets and even a television station in the Knoxville area.  What’s the excitement all about?  Perhaps it’s due to the estimated $65 million dollar economic impact it could have or that it is a major part of a larger vision that connects Knoxville to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Or it could be that the greenway will serve as a major alternative transportation corridor and a mega-recreation facility connecting multiple underserved communities.  Equinox was thrilled to be part of this visionary project.  Equinox’ Recreation Planner, Kimberly Williams stated that “Working on greenway projects like this is a total pleasure. You get the chance to be a part of something that could have such a great legacy and impact on generations of people; whether it’s the local bike commuter, tourists visiting from out of town, or small business born to serve greenway users”.

masterplan_map_onlyEquinox lead a team of consultants to develop the 14 mile, multi-jurisdictional, Maryville-to-Townsend Greenway Master Plan (link to the website). The plan connects Maryville, Tennessee (and the greater Knoxville region) to the door of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and one of its gateway communities.  The Master Plan takes a holistic approach, looking at health and economic impacts as well as constructability and cost.  The plan provides suitable alignments for the greenway and spurs to connect the greenway to nearby communities, parks, schools, and other destinations. The Master Plan includes design recommendations to guide implementation, locates a feasible route along U.S. Highway 321 and provides design solutions for challenges within the corridor.

The greenway is an important vision for the region as it has an anticipated economic impact of $65 million in the first ten years of its construction alone.  For every $1 spent on greenway construction and maintenance there will be a return on the investment of $2.66. Being a gateway to the nation’s most visited National Park also will be a boon for tourism and economic development as the greenway corridor is very picturesque and likely will become a regional destination.

The Knoxville Region Transportation Planning Organization, the Great Smoky Mountains Greenway Council, the city of Maryville, Blount County, and Townsend, TN, are all partners and champions of the plan.

Links to news articles about the master plan



And if you would like to see the complete master plan you can find it here



Job Opening – Temporary Landscape Designer

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We seek a qualified Landscape Designer or Landscape Architect with a passion for ecologically sensitive design & planning and with strong design, technical, and Auto CAD abilities for a temporary or intern position.  The ideal candidate will possess a bachelor degree in Landscape Architecture, and have experience in AutoCad, Civil 3D.  A candidate with interest and skills in Photoshop, InDesign, and/or GIS is desirable.  The successful candidate will be knowledgeable of:

  • Natural Systems including plants and plant communities (especially native), geological and soil conditions, and mountain topography;
  • Design techniques; and
  • Tools and principles involved in production of plans, renderings, and other drawings;

The chosen candidate will be exposed to a dynamic work environment and a variety of expertise from a diverse multi-disciplinary team of biologists, plant ecologists, landscape architects, land planners, environmental planners, and environmental scientists.  She or he will be a dependable team player, and demonstrate effective oral and written communication as well as good interpersonal skills.  She or he will be resourceful, self-motivated, and a quick learner. She or he will be well organized and carry a positive and respectful attitude.

Equinox is a growing 11-person firm with the mission to facilitate conservation & sustainable development by servicing private, public, and non-profit interests with high quality ecological services, conservation planning and environmental design.  Equinox’ core corporate values include: Balance, Quality, Relationships, Community, and Prosperity.  In addition to knowledge, skill and ability, Equinox is looking for a Landscape Designer that embraces both the mission and core values of the company.  Interested, qualified candidates should send resumes, a cover letter detailing their fit with this position, and a portfolio to joyce@equinoxenvironmental.com. This is a full time, temporary position for a two (2) month period starting in January with possible opportunity for growth.  The salary range for this position is commensurate with experience and the ability of the chosen candidate to perform the specific job duties required of the position.

Please submit your application materials by November 30, 2013.

Marion Stormwater Park Designed by Equinox

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A great article appeared on the mcdowellnews.com site that featured a park designed by Equinox. New park protects water quality in Marion by Mike Conley.

“A stormwater park contains bioretention areas that can filter out the pollutants contained in rain runoff. The pollutants can be oil, heavy metals and nitrogen found on impervious surfaces like parking lots, rooftops, sidewalks and roads. When the rain comes, all of this is washed down to a stormwater park like the one behind the Marion Police Department. This park has two stormwater bioretention areas that can treat the runoff before it enters into the nearby creek. These bioretention areas contain plants and microorganisms that can absorb the pollutants harmful to water quality.”

Here are a few additional pictures we have of the site.

IMG_20130924_123724_115 IMG_20130924_123525_460IMG_20130924_123559_621

To read the complete article please go to http://www.mcdowellnews.com/news/article_26470b54-27a4-11e3-8763-0019bb30f31a.html



Form and Function in Storm-water BMP’s

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Bobbie Kelsten’s adorable yellow bungalow sits in a neighborhood that was built during a drought.  At the time, no one knew that the neighborhood storm drain that lies directly behind Bobbie’s house was insufficient to handle a normal Asheville rain.   When the rains did start in 2009 she soon realized that she had no option but to seek a solution to the flooding that not only inundated her yard, causing serious erosion, but came in to her house as well.  She contacted Equinox Environmental and that summer Fred Grogan, Dena Chandler, and David Tuch analyzed her situation and designed a functional and beautiful storm water solution for her that relied on best management practices (storm water BMP’s).

Before Equinox



For those of you who, like me, are not landscape design professionals, let me tell you in layman’s terms how a storm water BMP differs from more standard storm-water treatments.  As I understand, it instead of collecting storm-water in pipes and sending it directly into our streams and rivers,  a more sustainable solution works to slow the water down so that it will cause less erosion to the site, will allow it to slowly filter into the ground, and can even improve the quality of the water.  And as Bobbie will attest to, the solution we gave her was a lovely “tiny garden paradise in the heart of Oakley.”

Spring Rain 2011

Spring Rain

 Fast forward to 2013 and the summer of rain where the rainfall for the season has been double our average, and where single rain events have been up to 4 times greater than the summer of 2009 when Bobbie called us.  What a test for a storm-water system.  Bobbie sent us a lovely note in early August letting us know “that my home remains dry despite the monsoons of 2013. The drainage system (more poetically known as my “water feature”) that you designed and constructed is working beautifully.”

Spring Rain 3

Storm-water in action

This is one of the great things about working at Equinox, and why I choose to work here.  I was so pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Bobbie and take a few pictures of her ‘water feature’.  I am proud of the expertise that my coworker’s demonstrate.   And I am proud to share it with you.

Fall 2013

Late Summer – after the 2013 rainy season

Joyce Brown,

Operations Manager

Meet Our New Staff

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Conservation Planning, Ecological Services, Environmental Design | Leave a comment

We have added some members to the Equinox team lately.

In February within days of the birth of is baby girl, Hunter Terrell began working with us.  Hunter completed his undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies and Master’s degree in Geography at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  His specialties include natural resource management concentrating on stream ecology and fisheries habitat enhancement.  Hunter has worked in the State, Federal, and private sector and understands the importance and perspective of each entity.  He was responsible for stream assessment and restoration planning, stream and wetland delineations, fisheries sampling, benthic macroinvertebrate sampling, report writing, and coordination with agencies.  Previously, Hunter worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority playing an integral role in informing TVA projects to help reduce or avoid impacts to endangered species, streams, and wetlands throughout the Tennessee Valley region.  Hunter’s main interest focuses on the effect of human disturbance and land-use on aquatic resources.  He is an active member of the Society of Freshwater Science and American Water Resources Association.  Hunter enjoys paddling, fishing, or anything else that gets him on the water.

hunter outdoorMore recently Kimberly Williams joined our team filling an open spot in our Conservation Planning Group and adding much needed assistance to our overworked Environmental Design team.  Kimberly holds a degree in landscape architecture with an emphasis on environmental planning from Utah State University.  Over her career she has been involved and led efforts in open space and green infrastructure planning (from county to multi-state scale), trail master planning and design, environmental and transportation planning, community planning, and ecological site design.  She has worked throughout the country including extensive work in North Carolina, Utah, and Pennsylvania.  Her career started at a national design firm planning new communities, trails, and open space.  She has provided environmental and transportation planning consultation for State and Federal governments, and became the lead for the South Mountain Partnership. Kimberly is an avid backpacker and outdoors woman who has hiked 2,000 miles of a 6-month odyssey on the Appalachian Trail and was a wild land firefighter throughout college.  She also loves to fish, play the mandolin, cook dinners inspired from local ingredients, and spend time with family and friends who live across the U.S.

Kim outside

We are having to say hi and bye to our efficient and hard-working intern Jenni Thornton.  Jenni joined us in March but as her internship wraps up she will be moving with her fiancé to Charlotte.  We wish her all the success in the world in her new life down the mountain.  Jenni is a recent graduate of North Carolina State University. While at NCSU, she received a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources with a concentration in Ecosystem Assessment, and a Minor in Forest Management. In the summer of 2012, she worked at RockTenn, a paper mill in West Point, VA, where she worked in the Forest Resources department measuring wood chip and biofuel inventory, working with pulpwood and biofuel suppliers, and participating in implementation of Rocktenn’s sustainability policy as well as ensuring certification of all forest products. While at Equinox, Jenni has achieved certification and training in surface water identification and acquired her ground applicator pesticide license. She assists the ecological services group in Natural Resource Inventories, Stream and Wetland Monitoring, GPS Data Collection, GIS Analysis and Mapping, and Invasive/Exotic Species Control. In her free time, Jenni enjoys camping, sewing, wakeboarding, traveling, and spending time with family.

jenni outdoorsjpg

Anglers Beware – New Trespass Law in Effect

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Community Outreach, Personal Experience | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Fishing season will soon be upon us and many of us will be heading to our favorite stream or pond.  Well, if those fishing spots are on private lands you need to be aware of a new trespass law that took effect in October 2011.  The law, called the Landowner Protection Act, requires you to have written permission to fish, hunt, or trap on properly posted lands and it must have a date that is less than 12 months old.  You must carry the permission form while fishing and you are required to show the form to law enforcement officers upon request.  If you cannot show written permission, the officers can immediately give you a citation.

The new law gives landowners two ways they can post their lands.  The first is using No Tresspassingtraditional signs mounted on trees and posts no more than 200 yards apart.

Under the new law, landowners can paint vertical purple marks instead of signs.  The bottom of the marks must be at least 3 feet, but not more than 5 feet from the ground and be at leastProper Blazing 8 inches in length.  Markings must not be spaced more than 100 yards apart.

Although the new law may seem to be a burden, in my experience most landowners will grant you permission to fish if you talked with them first.  Now you must get them to sign the written permission form and carry it with you while fishing.  State law encourages private landowner to allow recreation on their property without increasing their liability should someone be injured while doing so.  One simple and often successful approach used to obtain landowner’s permission to fish is to offer to share your catch with them!

Landowner Outreach

For more information and sample permission forms in both full page and wallet sizes, go to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s web site at http://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Conserving/


-Jim Borawa, Senior Environmental Scientist and Avid Angler

Yellow Birch in the Southern Appalachians

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Climate Change, Ecological Services, Personal Experience | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the early 2000s, Hugh Morton, former owner of Grandfather Mountain  reported an unusual number of large, dead trees high on the slopes of the mountain.  The verbal report was investigated by the US Forest Service’s Eastern Forests Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) via aerial flyovers and ground-truthing.  It was discovered that the dead trees were large-diameter yellow birch trees (Betula alleghaniensis).

Yellow birch trees, along with other hardwoods, comprise high elevation maple-beech-birch and spruce-fir forest communities.  The Southern Appalachian mountains offer one of the last refuges for these forest types due to its climate.  Sadly, these communities are subject to high concentrations of acid deposition, which leads to the leaching of elements essential to healthy tree growth and survival.  Calcium, for example, bolsters the ability of yellow birch trees to regenerate after injury or damage and is readily leached out of the soil from acid deposition.  Based on EFETAC’s initial look,  it appeared that calcium-dependent yellow birch trees were on the decline.  Were they being impacted by acid deposition?  Was there enough calcium in the soil for them to survive?  How do they respond to damage in calcium poor soil?   We need to know more.  So begins the story of Equinox’ three year partnership with EFETAC to  understand the dynamics of acid deposition and yellow birch forest communities.

The first year of study began by collecting data at sites where a range of different size yellow birch trees occur.  Equinox collected ecological data such as site elevation, aspect, slope, and regeneration.  Data was collected for each yellow birch tree including the tree’s height, diameter at breast height, canopy condition, and whether or not the tree had any existing wounds or other damage.  Data was also collected for  black cherry (Prunus serotina), red spruce (Picea rubra), and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) trees occurring at the site as a control.  Soil samples were collected at the base of three randomly selected yellow birch trees and sent to a laboratory to analyze the mineral content of the soil (below).

A slide hammer with attached soils chamber was used to collect mineral soil samples of varying depths.

The idea was to obtain a physical and chemical profile of each site in order to determine sites most susceptible to acid deposition.  Although inconclusive, it appeared that the most damage was observed on the largest yellow birch trees in the highest, most north-facing plots with the lowest soil pH.

The second year of the study delved deeper into tree-specific data at each site.    Twenty-four sites with the most acidic soils were revisited where a 2 inch core was extracted from  the three largest yellow birch trees.  On the opposite side of the tree, a 3/8 inch hole was drilled into the tree to simulate a damage wound (below).

As a control, cores were taken and wounds were also made on the three largest black cherry trees at the site.  Tree damage data was again collected to determine if any change had occurred from Year 1.  The tree cores were sent to the Northern Research Station in Minnesota for various chemical analyses and age determination, while the drilled holes will be used to evaluate wound response over time.

Various types of damage were recorded across YB plots, including open wounds, cankers (abnormal growths), and conks (fruiting bodies indicating advanced decay).

At the close of Year 2, each plot was revisited  and observations were made regarding the tree’s response to the wound.  Observations showed that yellow birch trees were slow to heal; they exhibited almost no healing and even showed some signs of decay.  Black cherry trees had begun to heal the wound with sap or resin and showed very little decay, if any.  It appears that black cherry trees are more capable of retaining calcium in environments where it is limited and can therefore heal faster.  The second year study ended with a snowy field day and we were glad to overwinter inside while poring over the data we collected.

The initial damage response of most black cherry was to fill the wound with sap.

The third and final year of the study was spent monitoring the wound response of damaged trees.  Each site was revisited and every cored and damaged tree was evaluated for heal or decay.  Humus samples at the base of the three largest yellow birch trees at all plots were also taken in Year 3 to chemically analyze the ionic concentrations of essential nutrients as well as retention of heavy metals associated with acid deposition. 

Humus was collected from a standard 30 cm diameter area; sample depths ranged based on the extent of humus formation within the sample area.

By this time, I knew the plots like the back of my hand – at certain plots I could even remember the types of lichen growing on each tree!  Through working with the same tree individuals for so long, it was as though a relationship was formed between the forest and me.  It was exciting to go back and check on the trees – not surprisingly, some pretty consistent results were observed.  Across all plots, nearly every single black cherry tree that was damaged showed a 100% closure! Sadly, the same was not true for YB; wounds were still open,  sap was leaking, and the bark was swelling.  The wound holes were, for the most part, dark and damp with signs of decay beginning to show.  I can’t discredit the few birch that represented an aberration from the norm by actively healing and closing their wounds – for some reason or another (only time and testing will tell), these outliers managed to initiate the curative process.  Data collection for Year 3 was concluded in November 2012, and for a second consecutive season, there was snow at the last plot.

Comparative analysis of differing wound response over time by black cherry and yellow birch. Note the full wound closure in cherry compared to the inactivity and slight decay in birch.

So where does this research project go from here?  What does the data tell us about how yellow birch trees are responding to acid deposition?  Because the onus of critical data analysis lies in the hands of the EFETAC, we won’t know their scientific conclusions until mid 2013.  But, coming from the perspective of one who has had a hand in collecting nearly every piece of relevant data on the project, I have noticed a few nominal patterns myself.  In general, lower elevation stands of yellow birch seem less susceptible to the detrimental effects of acid deposition – they exhibit a more normalized soil pH as well as lower damage values.  Conversely, large-diameter (>15-30 inches diameter at breast height) yellow birch occurring at high elevations showed significantly more damage and a far lower (more acidic) soil pH.  Interestingly, it appeared to me that YB plots in close proximity to perennial streams were healthier than those in drier settings. I also noticed that seedling and sapling regeneration was higher in plots that exhibited characteristics of the Rich Cove community type: fertile, mesic soils on steeper, more north-facing slopes supporting diverse plant species.  Furthermore, those plots that contained ample downed woody debris from YB trees supported greater regeneration, with groups of the young YB growing on ‘nurse logs’ (see below).

Even after three years of observing the same trees in their same environments, carefully tracking their health, monitoring their response to wounding, the soils, cores, hundreds of datasheets, plastic bags, miles of hiking on beautiful land…despite all of the research, it is still difficult to hypothesize what will become of yellow birch trees in the Southern Appalachian mountains.  But what is not debatable is the reality of climate change and the resulting acid deposition that is affecting yellow birch at high elevations – the trees are dying, succumbing to some otherworldly, man-made blight.  Yet, hope lies in research projects like these, where humans strive to understand the ramifications of their life processes and how they apply to a natural world that is far greater and lasting than the legacy they’ll leave behind.

-Owen Carson, Field Technician & Associate Ecologist

What is Your Ecological Address?

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Conservation Planning | Leave a comment

All of us know the state, county, and street we live on and many of us know the plant communities that surround our homes, but do you really know your Ecological Address?

Known as ecoregions, those are areas of similar climate (rain and temperature), landform (river valleys, rocky outcrops, steep mountainsides), and soils.  These characteristics are a major factor in determining the plant communities that occur across western North Carolina.  Much like the U.S. Postal Service did in creating Zip Codes, scientists from across the country have defined ecoregions of the United States at four different scales.  At Level I, most of the eastern U.S is within the Eastern Temperate Forest ecoregion.  At Level II, western North Carolina is part of the ecoregion that includes the Appalachian, Ozark, and Ouachita Mountains (8.4 on the map).

At the state level (Level III), the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee are considered to be within the Blue Ridge ecoregion.  Within theBlue Ridge, each of us resides in one of 9 Level IV ecoregions as shown on the map below.  Most of us would immediately recognize the four major areas covering most of the region, but there are five minor ecoregions that stand out as having unique characteristics.  These include the high mountains of Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, and Roan Mountain (66i on the map), the Eastern Blue Ridge Foothills (66l; Brushy Mountains, South Mountains), and the Amphibolite Mountains (66k; Rich Mountains).  What many would be surprised to know is that the Sauratown Mountains in Stokes County (66m on the map) also are a part of the Blue Ridge ecoregion, but are not connected to it.

The Key to Ecoregions and examples of each type:

Level III – 66,Blue Ridge; 45,Piedmont

  • Major Types within the Blue Ridge:
  1. 66c – New River Plateau (New River Basin)
  2. 66d – Southern Crystalline Ridges and Mountains (most of the region)
  3. 66g – Southern Metasedimentary Mountains (Great Smokey Mountains National Park and surrounding areas)
  4. 66j – Broad Basins (French Broad, Little Tennessee, Hiwassee Rivers)
  • Minor Types within the Blue Ridge:
  1. 66e – Southern Sedimentary Ridges (Bald Mountains)
  2. 66i –High Mountains (Mt.Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, Roan Mountain)
  3. 66k –Amphibolite Mountains(Rich Mountains)
  4. 66l –Eastern Blue Ridge Foothills (South Mountains, Brushy Mountains)
  5. 66m –Sauratown Mountains

You can find more details about your ecoregion address and download the full maps by going to the following web sites:

Level I and II – Ecological Regions of North America, a joint effort of Canada, United States, and Mexico.  2006.  ftp://ftp.epa.gov/wed/ecoregions/cec_na/NA_LEVEL_II.pdf.

Level III and IV – Ecoregions of North and South Carolina.  2002. ftp://ftp.epa.gov/wed/


-Jim Borawa, Senior Environmental Scientist

A Giving of Thanks

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November is coming to an end: the cold is settling in, fireplaces are aglow, the leaves are on the ground and winter is just around the corner…it’s a busy time of year for most of us, holidays, holy days, just plain lazy days…but let’s not forget about that special day where we take time to reflect on what’s truly important to us, what truly makes a difference in our lives and helps shape who we are: Thanksgiving!  And although this holiday has morphed into a commercial free-for-all in this day and age, we want to take a moment to focus on its true meaning: the Giving of Thanks to that which we hold dear.  So, we’ve all thought critically about our lives, loves, and passions, those inspiring elements that enrich our every day, and we’re sharing them with you!

  • I’m thankful for my beautiful family, good neighbors, hot water from the tap, food on the table, and inspiring views of the landscape that greet me daily.

- Dena Chandler

  • Wow.  So much. Of course, I am thankful for my family: My immediate family, two beautiful daughters, and a loving husband.  I am thankful that my family is growing, and includes a new son-in-law and an adorable grandson. And I am thankful for my extended family both biological and in-law: brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, nieces, nephews, and cousins.  I am thankful for wonderful friends and a wonderful community.  I am thankful for God’s beautiful creation and the gorgeous mountains where I live.  I am thankful for employment and the opportunity to make a difference in this world.  I am thankful to work at a place that pays a living wage, provides healthcare for its staff, and shares the same values that I hold dear.  I am thankful for the coworkers that work beside me every day to help people protect land and water and to develop our environment in a sustainable way.

- Joyce Brown

  • I am thankful for every second on this wonderful Earth where I am surrounded by life, love, and learning.

-Owen Carson

  • I am thankful for my caring and supportive family.  I am also thankful to be part of an interconnected community in Asheville.  Finally, I am thankful for my physical health and the ability to climb mountains!

-Lindsay Majer

  • I’m thankful for friends and family, and that my happy and healthy family is fortunate enough to live, play, and work in such a beautiful place.

 -Fred Grogan

  • I am thankful for my family, friends and health and especially look forward to spending our first thanksgiving with the newest addition to our family Charles Bass Melton.

-Steve Melton

  • I am thankful for the time to be able to spend with my family and friends.  I am also very appreciative of the outdoor recreational opportunities we have available in the Southern Appalachians.

-Kevin Mitchell

  • Having avoided a life-threatening heart condition 3-years ago, I am thankful for every day that I get to enjoy with family, co-workers, and friends; and to take pleasure in the natural beauty that surrounds Asheville.

-Jim Borawa

  •  I am thankful for many things.  First and foremost I am thankful for the love and health of my family and my friends.  I am also very thankful that the election is over and with it all those political commercials.  I am thankful for cute things-like puppy dogs, babies, and my children when there are sound asleep.  I am also appreciative of my wife’s ability to put up with my sense of humor.  I am thankful for laughter, good jokes, or a funny story.  On a more serious note, I am thankful for the ability to eat healthy food, drink clean water,  and breath clean air.  I am also very thankful for working at a place where I have the opportunity to make areal difference in the world and for our Clients who hire us to also help them make a difference.

-David Tuch

Finally, we are ALL thankful to be working together to make this world a better, more sustainable place to exist.  Happy holidays!


Field Technician Position Now Closed

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Sorry, but we are no longer accepting applications for the Natural Resources Field Technician job offering.  We’d like to say ‘Thanks’ to everyone who applied!


-Equinox Environmental

Bradley Nature Preserve Opens at Alexander’s Ford Historic Site

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Community Outreach, Conservation Planning, Environmental Design | Leave a comment

From left to right: Paul Carson (NPS), Elizabeth Nager (Polk County Community Foundation), Polk County Commissioner Ray Gasperson, and Ambrose Mills (Project Manager for AF Site) performing the ‘ribbon’-cutting at the opening ceremony.
Photo by Joe Epley

On October 5, 2012, the opening ceremony was held for the Bradley Nature Preserve at Alexander’s Ford.  The Preserve was established on the historic site at Alexander’s Ford, where revolutionary soldiers on the Overmountain Victory Trail staked camp then forded the Green River on their way to King’s Mountain.  “For many of the soldiers, Alexander’s Ford was to be the final place they lay their heads down to rest on this earth,” as noted by Paul Carson, the superintendent of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail for the National Park Service.  Two days later the patriots would engage General Ferguson and his loyalist troops who were en-route to connect with the main British Army, and Kings Mountain is now recognized as a crucial turning point of the revolution.  Here’s a fantastic video that conveys the historical and natural significance of the site:  Alexander’s Ford – A History.

Alexander’s Ford Militiamen fire off black powder rounds.
Photo by Joe Epley

Equinox is excited to have worked closely with Polk County, The Bradley Fund, North Carolina Parks and Trails Foundation, and the National Park Service to complete the master plan for over 150 acres of the Bradley Nature Preserve at Alexander’s Ford, which has now been placed into a conservation easement.  Our Master Plan helped to guide construction of a low impact vehicular road access and parking, trail networks, field identification of the actual historical trail, interpretative signage, kiosk, picnic shelter, handicap accessibility along the historic trail bed, historic overlook viewing areas, and general land use for site.

The plan also promotes access to and generates awareness of one of our Country’s most significant historical sites.  We had a tremendous obligation to maintain the integrity of this historic site to honor those who, according to some, were the key to our Country’s independence and the site that was literally a pivotal point for the remainder of the patriots’ campaign.  Construction activities were carefully sited to preserve the existing character of the site, and Equinox is proud to have helped balance modern human access needs while preserving the historic layout and feel of the encampment.

New gates and interpretive signage at the Overmountain Victory Trailhead.
Photo by Joe Epley

Here are a couple of press releases you can check out to learn more about the site:




Fred Grogan, RLA




Autumn Leaves – The Chemistry Behind the Color

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Welcome to Fall, the most beautiful time of year.  A drier, cooler nip to the air, flurries of leaves, and the smell of a wood stove all come to mind. And as we dust off our rakes and leaf blowers and ready ourselves to clean up all of that fallen ‘litter’, do you ever wonder what exactly causes the trees to change, to display their fiery colors?  Well I do, and I decided to do a bit of reading to learn about the mechanisms behind leaf season –  lo and behold, you can thank chemistry!

During summer, the leaves of deciduous trees work to create sugar and water from carbon dioxide and light.  They do this using chlorophyll, an internal compound which also causes leaves to appear green. As water and nutrients flow from the basal roots, through the branches, and into the leaves, sugars produced in the leaves by photosynthesis flow to other parts of the tree and are used and stored as energy. This process occurs throughout leaf-on in the spring and summer months.

However, as we’ve experienced recently, the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn cause a shift in the tree’s physiology and chemistry. One of the first changes to occur is the development of a membrane within the ‘abcission zone’ between the branch and the leaf stem, interrupting nutrient flow within the leaf.  As a result, the the amount of chlorophyll drops off, causing the green color to start to fade.  Here’s where things get colorful: if the leaf contains carotene (birch, hickory, and sugar maple, for example) it will turn bright yellow as the chlorophyll disappears. In other tree species, as the proportion of sugar to chlorophyll increases, the sugar forms anthocyanins, pigments that cause the yellowing leaves to turn red. In the Southern Appalachians you can count on sumac, red oak, and red maple to show off their fiery hues come autumn.

But while the above does explain why it happens, it doesn’t explain differences in vibrancy, which is something we can all notice from year to year.  Some years you may see a duller autumn, and that’s because the range and intensity is significantly affected by weather. Chlorophyll is lost quicker in both brighter sunshine and colder temperatures; if above freezing, anthocyanins are produced more abundantly than in milder conditions.  Relative humidity also plays a big role, as drier weather brings the proportion of water down within the sap, sugar becomes more concentrated within solution and subsequently produces more anthocyanins. So, to sum it all up, in autumn you can expect to see the most vibrant leaf changes when the days are bright and sunny and the nights are cool and dry.

Wait, that means with all of the recent bright days and cool nights, the season should be starting, right?  Well have a look and decide for yourself!

-Owen Carson, Field Technician

Strive-Not-To-Drive: A benefit for our environment and our health

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Back in May of 2012, Equinox Environmental participated in a week long Strive-Not-To- Drive (SNTD) workplace challenge.  To our surprise, we won the challenge for a company size of 11-30 employees and received an award and recognition from City Council!  For a full week our staff dedicated themselves to taking the bus, walking, riding their bikes, or carpooling to work.  The goal of SNTD is to promote active and sustainable transportation in Asheville and Buncombe County.  This is a goal that was easy for Equinox to get behind as it blends nicely with our own goal of helping to protect and restore our environment and develop in a sustainable way.  In fact, this helped us achieve our own reduction of carbon emitting pollutants that are causing changes to our climate and also helped the people who work at Equinox get a little healthier.

Lindsay Majer & David Tuch receiving the Strive-Not-To-Drive Workplace Challenge award from Mayor Bellamy on behalf of Equinox.

We continue to hear about the health and wellness benefits of walking and biking.  The most recent National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in the August Vital Signs focused on the benefits of walking and put a national spotlight on the need and importance for safe and accessible walking environments.  With the pending completion of the Buncombe County Greenways & Trails Master Plan, it is even more important to advocate for the infrastructure that can help communities like ours become healthier and more sustainable by providing residents easy access to walking and biking facilities.

Top 10 Ways To Revitalize Your Landscape (In a not-so-great economy)

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Environmental Design, Personal Experience, Sustainable Landscape Design | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hey! Just because you may be strapped for money this year doesn’t mean that you can’t add some excitement to your landscape.  There are numerous things that you can do that won’t break the bank, but will give your yard that new sparkle and curb appeal that you can feel good about.

For 2012, here are the “Top 10” things you can do to revitalize your landscape on a budget.

  1. Divide and conquer.  Double the amount of plants in your planting bed by splitting up your clumping perennials (e.g. daylilies) and ornamental grasses.  Just take a shovel and make a clean split right down the middle (or even into thirds for really big plants).

    By digging and splitting bulbous plants you can easily start new populations and spread plants throughout your gardens.

  2. Give it an edge.  Take a shovel or edger and give all of your beds a clean edge – you’ll be amazed what a simple, clean line can do to a planting bed.
  3. Trading spaces.  Plants tend to grow how they want to, and not necessarily how we intended.  Move around those shrubs that are too big for their space or give your perennials that are being shaded out a fighting chance.
  4. Focal element.  Add or replace an existing focal element in your planting bed or landscape.  This could be a new plant of your choosing or something material, like a scrubbed up bird feeder, sculpture or whatever art project is hiding in your garage that needs a seasonal home.

    A colorful birdbath accents native bee balm – a perfect rest stop for hummingbirds and other pollinators!

  5. Clone your favorite.   You want to add a hedge row but don’t want to spend a lot – take cuttings of the shrub you want to propagate (some work better than others) and get started on growing your own shrubs.  This method takes time and patience, but you can’t beat the value.
  6. Plant swap.  Get together with friends, family and neighbors and swap a couple of your plants for new ones.  You’ll not only have new plants, but special reminders of your loved ones too.
  7. Add some detail. For everyone with a plain concrete pad in the backyard – it doesn’t have to be that way!  For a weekend’s worth of hard work, you can turn your boring patio into a cool, interesting space just by using leftover building materials, like bricks or stone, to add a detailed edging.  This not only increases the space you have, but makes it unique as well.

    Build an attractive border around an unsightly concrete pad, add potted plants, and you’ve got a re-vamped backyard seating area.

  8. Get your shears.  Just a simple trim can make your yard look like new.  Lightly shape up shrubs and limb up trees to give your spaces some definition.
  9. Start with seeds.  Seeds are inexpensive and a great way to add annual color to your planting beds.  Don’t be shy – plant on the heavy side and thin them out as they come in.
  10. Break out the brushes.   This may be the most labor intensive of the list, but it probably needs to be done at some point.  A good staining or painting, and an attractive fence can make all the difference.

Dena Chandler, LEED AP

The Chattooga River– Wild and Scenic

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Kayaking or rafting is a unique way to experience a river.  Recently I took a trip down the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, which forms the Georgia/ South Carolina state line.  The Chattooga originates high in North Carolina just south of the town of Cashiers, carving its way through the Southern Crystalline Escarpment on its 50 mile journey to the Piedmont and Lake Tugaloo.  In its descent, the Chattooga drops ~2,050 feet in elevation through boulder-choked gorges and breathtaking scenery.

Large boulders break up the flow of the river, creating endless rapids and eddies.

This truly is a special place and it made me reflect on the memories I have of the Chattooga.  In fact, in a recent trip with my wife I found myself entranced by the scenery and described it to her as a “magical kingdom”.  I am a fairly grounded person and don’t normally make such strange Tolkienesque statements; however, after several minutes of laughter, I was still enamored by the remote beauty of the river.  During the spring and summer, the banks are lined with flowering shrubs like mountain laurel, rhododendron, and native azaleas.  White sand beaches and dense fern thickets also line the riparian corridor providing stability and habitat for numerous organisms.

In the gorge, these water-loving cinnamon ferns can reach heights up to 5 feet, creating a unique understory jungle.

There are over 50 miles of hiking trails throughout this area, but to really appreciate the interior of the gorges you would have to do so by raft, canoe, or kayak.  You can sometimes be sidetracked from the scenery by the challenging whitewater, but the reward of calm, deep pools lie below most rapids.

Kayaking in the gorge can be serious: serious fun, serious adventure, and serious exhilaration!

I have been making multi-day trips to this river since the late 90’s and have grown to really appreciate this resource.  I am drawn to the crystal clear water, rugged geology, and vegetative biodiversity.  I feel very lucky to have this resource so close to home and I am grateful that it has been designated as a Wild and Scenic River.  This river stands for  the value of preserving land and properly managing our resources, and I am proud to say that this is what I do for a living!


Kevin Mitchell, Field Technician and Whitewater Enthusiast

Learning to Ride

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Community Outreach, Conservation Planning, Environmental Design | 2 Comments

Recently I had an intensely nostalgic moment.  Do you remember your first time riding a bike without training wheels?  Back in my day, I remember sitting on my banana-seater with no helmet on while my father pushed me off of what at the time seemed to be a mountain.  I don’t remember if it was the first try, but I do remember the feeling of freedom when I was able to steady the bike and make a few pedal cranks.  It was if a new world had opened up for me.  I could explore further and get around much faster than before.  I was reminded of how that felt when my oldest daughter successfully achieved this rite of passage.  She was giggling and wheeing as she disappeared around a gradual bend of greenway.

Big Girl

I was a proud father that she was pulling it off, proud that she was learning to ride on a greenway, and even more proud that it was a greenway that I had the privilege of being involved in the design.  The Flat Creek Greenway in Black Mountain is a prime example of a highly utilized community amenity.  It seems there are people using it every time I look down the corridor from the Primary school.  On nice afternoons, there are almost always cars parked in the school parking area, loading and unloading bikes after school hours.  These observations have reaffirmed what I have known for some time:  Folks need greenways, especially folks that live in the hills.  My family lives in the country on a gravel road with a gravel driveway.  I have many friends with young children that live in the same setting.  While we prefer the remoteness and natural setting and my children spend a great deal of time exploring in the woods,  living in such an idyllic place does come with its inherent challenges.  The kids can’t just go outside and bicycle, much less learn how to ride.   So, upon seeing my daughter ride free that day, it occurred to me that without the greenway safely and conveniently affording her the opportunity, she would have been delayed on one of the simple joys of life.

Even children that can't yet read enjoy looking at interpretive signs!

Greenways serve many functions, but for us and a great number of people in Western North Carolina, our current primary use is letting the children ride.  Over the years, I have noticed other families teaching their kids in empty parking lots.  This never really appealed to me and, in fact, seemed quite precarious.  The prospect of taking my children to a place where the sounds of a stream resound through a shaded area with large old growth trees and no adjacent vehicular traffic is much more alluring.  Furthermore, greenways provide the opportunity to educate children and adults alike on the importance of topics like environmental health (stream, forest, animals, and humans), provide an excellent opportunity of connectivity between communities, can be functional as commuter corridors, serve as a natural venue for fitness events and outdoor recreation, and are just a great way for people to get outside and exercise.   In fact, this particular section of greenway has served as a tremendous opportunity for participants of the Mount Mitchell Challenge, a footrace from downtown Black Mountain to the highest peak east of the Mississippi and back,  if only as a segment off of a dangerous section of street.

A Mount Mitchell Challenge participant rounds the greenway corner, nearing the finish.

My daughter’s eyes and actions said it all.  When she got to the end of a straight away, she laid her bike down and ran towards my wife and I laughing hysterically, almost to the point of crying from her excitement.

If you find greenways useful, are interested in finding out more about the greenways, or have ideas or input, please support your local greenway group.  Buncombe County is also in the process of finalizing a master plan.  For more information, please visit:


Also, an exciting new video has been released by Connect Buncombe, take a moment to view the Greenways, Please! Video


Fred Grogan RLA, Land Planner and Proud Father!

Our External Response to Climate Change: Part III of III

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Climate Change, Community Outreach, Environmental Design | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ahoy readers!  This blog entry marks the final installment of our 3-part series outlining Equinox’ External Response to Climate Change.  We’ve covered the Conservation Planning and Ecological Services groups, and that just leaves our talented Environmental Design group.  Read on to find out how they address and respond to climate change!

Equinox’ Environmental Design group has been implementing Sustainable Landscape Design strategies since 2000, helping to create landscapes that improve water quality, lower energy and resource consumption, offset carbon emissions, reduce waste, provide habitat, and produce food.  Sustainable landscape design helps to mitigate against climate change, but is also pertinent in adapting to projected climate change extremes, like drought, flooding, and record temperatures.  We see landscapes not solely as aesthetic components, but if planned and treated accordingly, can also function as energy reducing tools.  Properly planned landscapes can shelter buildings from cold winter winds and summer sun exposure, reducing the need to run air conditioning and heating units, to create more comfortable, sustainable living environments.

Using innovative landscape design techniques, homeowners can reduce their energy consumption and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenway & Park Planning provides opportunities for recreation and alternative modes of transportation, while positively influencing economic and community development.  Equinox specializes in greenways, pedestrian planning, park master planning, and alternative transportation master planning.  Greenways and parks provide avenues for conserving open space, wildlife habitat and migration corridors, and native vegetation while encouraging citizen interaction with the natural environment.  This interaction helps to create more of an overall awareness of ecological events, like impacts from climate change.  Results of integrated networks of greenways linking parks, neighborhoods, and other special places are a higher quality of life, a healthier environment, a healthier community, and less dependence on vehicular travel, reducing carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

Schoolchildren take a sweet field trip to the Flat Creek Trail, a greenway in Black Mountain. This amazing resource has allowed more children to walk to school, and has also provided a safe and beautiful natural area for anyone to get some exercise!

Equinox has been a leader in the region in planning for and designing stormwater best management practices (BMPs) to help reduce the impacts of increased rainfall events.  The innovative stormwater solutions we offer as part of our Stormwater Planning & Design service not only meet all applicable government regulatory requirements but integrate innovative solutions that prepare for projected changes in our climate, such as more intense rain events, increased flooding, and droughts.

This constructed stormwater wetland functions as a filter, cleaning pollutants from collected runoff. Wetlands are extremely important in maintaining water quality and managing the excess stormwater that is being produced due to climate change and increased rainfall events.

Proper Land Planning for residential and commercial development projects can help minimize adverse environmental impacts or ensure that they are avoided altogether.  Proper planning can save and protect significant tracts of woodlands, wetlands or other green spaces that act as carbon reservoirs.  Planning livable, more “walkable” communities can save resources while helping to decrease dependence on the automobile.  Also, proper planning reduces the overall negative impacts on the natural environment, including less material use, reduced impervious cover, and an overall increase in energy savings.

Creating a plan for the sustainable use of resources within a community is a vital resource. Equinox creates and implements low-impact development plans which help to preserve contiguous tracts of forests. In turn, these forests absorb and retain atmospheric carbon, helping to reduce local heat-trapping effects.

Ecological Restoration services help to re-establish native vegetation and reclaim ecological functioning of a place over time.  Replanting natural areas, like streams and wetlands, with native vegetation helps to restore the integrity of developed or damaged ecosystems, allowing more carbon uptake in vegetative mass and carbon storage in healthy soils.

Looking downstream at this once-incised creek gives a good picture of how ecological restoration can be simultaneously functional, beautiful, and restorative.

Through our range of expertise, Equinox has the ability to really make a difference when it comes to responding to climate change.  Our service groups work together to develop and implement innovative solutions that create and preserve natural areas and maintain their functioning – ultimately, we try our hardest to sustain our ecosystems because they do so much to sustain our lives.  It’s never easy and it takes time, but we’re dedicated to the well-being of this earth and always will be.  As we continue to respond to an ever-changing climate, we look forward to innovation, better choices, and shared responsibility, all of which will help uphold and improve all life on this planet.


Our External Response to Climate Change: Part II of III

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Climate Change, Community Outreach, Ecological Services | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome back readers!  We hope you enjoyed last week’s entry which detailed our Conservation Planning Group’s efforts to respond to climate change via proper planning, coordination of groups and their resources, and regulatory environmental assessment.  This week we’ll be discussing our Ecological Services group.  They are our on-the-ground, real-time ecological monitoring and assessment team, and they do a lot to help mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Our Ecological Services Group helps to mitigate and adapt to Climate Change in various creative ways.  Our services include baseline documentation, Phase I environmental assessments, stream restoration monitoring, and open space & habitat management, all of which help to establish and maintain healthy ecosystems that function at the highest possible levels.

It is vitally important to collect precise data, especially when it comes to ecological sciences.  Our Natural Resources Inventory & Monitoring services guarantee just that.  Baseline Documentation Reports, one of our specialties,  include ecosystem analysis and help to determine the quantity and quality of forests on a given property.  These forests can translate into carbon ‘sinks’, areas which capture and store atmospheric carbon and reduce Greenhouse gas presence.  Baselines are designed to establish ‘baseline’ conditions on properties which are being put into conservation for perpetuity, and so those forests will always be protected and continue to act as sinks, leading to the guaranteed continuation of carbon sinking throughout time.   The conservation of natural areas can also preserve corridors for species movement so plants and animals can migrate as plant hardiness zones and habitat ranges begin to shift due to climate change.  Maintaining these corridors is essential to the preservation and expansion of natural, functioning ecosystems.

Large trees (like this one) absorb and store massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere - when they're protected from logging, they'll do so until they die.

Stream and wetland monitoring also helps to address climate change by preserving forested lands around water resources and ensuring their success.  At the onset of a project, the riparian area is restored to a more natural stream channel and is replanted with thousands of woody trees, all of which will grow to uptake and store carbon.  When we monitor the vegetation on a project, we provide a picture of the overall success of the vegetative buffer which will remain forested for perpetuity.  Like the forests inventoried in baseline documents, these riparian forests also help sink carbon and will do so forever.  Also, the vegetative buffer is important to the restored stream because it provides shading and slows the flow of the water to provide habitats for various vertebrate and invertebrate organisms.  Furthermore, the preservation and monitoring of our precious wetlands is vital to mitigating the influx of pollutants from sources associated with greenhous gas increases and climate change – they are incredible filters, and when we monitor them and confirm they’re functioning properly, we’re ensuring a reduction of pollutants within our soils and water tables.  All of these qualities mean cleaner, healthier outflow which helps to support a healthy ecosystem downstream.  Healthy ecosystems provide the necessary ‘environmental purification’ (like carbon sinking and filtering of contaminants) to maintain a healthy planet.

Wetlands are amazing filters - identifying, preserving and expanding our existing wetlands will increase the interception and absorption of pollutants, the majority of which are derived from climate change.

Finally, our open space and habitat management services help to re-establish native vegetation where invasive-exotic plants have come in.  The invasive plants which invade healthy ecosystems grow rapidly and overtake native plants and communities are generally smaller in size and biomass, and store a considerably smaller proportion of carbon than those larger, native trees and shrubs.  As climate change continues to build, invasive-exotic plants thrive in the warmer temperatures, producing more seed and spreading more rapidly.  When we help remove these species, we ensure that the healthy native ecosystem will survive and continue to absorb and store atmospheric carbon and reduce Greenhouse gases.

Lindsay Majer, Invasive Plant Specialist, selectively applies herbicides to freshly-cut Japanese knotweed, an amazingly invasive and persistent shrub which has overtaken miles of streambank in Western North Carolina. Knotweed's range continues to expand as climate changes.

To sum it up, the world needs science to understand climate change, and Equinox’ Ecological Services group understands that necessity.  Our work restores and preserves natural ecosystems while simultaneously helps to build on a set of data used to better the process of ecological restoration.

Tune in next week for our last installment in this 3-part series outlining Equinox’ External Response to Climate Change.  Thanks!

Our External Response to Climate Change – Part I of III

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Climate Change, Conservation Planning | Leave a comment

Although the degree of impacts and rate of climate change is debatable, it is certain that it has a long-term effect on temperature rise, extreme weather events, changes in precipitation leading to flash floods and drought, changes in forest communities, and increases in insect threats and diseases.  Equinox has always been at the forefront of our field by using creativity, innovation, and proper planning to design, implement, and monitor a wide variety of environmental projects.  Our core service groups and their respective staff members work in unison to continue to shape the mold and lead by example.  Together we help develop solutions for minimizing environmental impacts, and that includes responding to climate change through both mitigation and adaptation.  This is the first of a three-part installment that shows just how each of our three service groups addresses climate change.

Conservation Planning

Equinox’ Conservation Planning Group is well equipped to address impacts from climate change and greenhouse gas reduction through its Partnership and Capacity Building, Water Resource Planning, and NEPA, Regulatory Permitting, and Due Diligence services.  These services are vital pre-cursors to addressing on-the-ground issues and compliment Equinox’ Ecological and Environmental Design service groups’ capabilities.

Partnership and Capacity Building, one of the Conservation Planning Groups flagship services, is known for facilitating collaboration between agencies, organizations, and individuals to expand their capabilities and extend their resources to get things done.  Equinox has extensive experience bringing partners together, keeping them engaged, developing and executing public relations strategies, recruiting volunteers, engaging landowners, and securing funding.  Addressing climate change requires many partners and Equinox is well-suited to bring the appropriate parties together to develop momentum towards mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Volunteers work together to put another tree into the ground on the Muddy Creek Watershed Restoration Initiative project.

Climate scientists predict changes in the frequency, intensity, and duration of precipitation events as one effect of climate change resulting in water quantity and quality problems.  On one end of the spectrum, reduced precipitation can lead to drought and water supply shortages, while on the other end of the spectrum, increases in precipitation can lead to flooding and stormwater issues.  With over 12 years of experience providing Water Resource Planning services, Equinox has the expertise to address the impacts of climate change on our precious water resources.  Equinox’ environmental scientists, planners, and biologists identify water quality stressors through physical, biological, and chemical assessments.  This planning considers the context of the watershed in regard to land use, geology, and climate.  Resulting watershed management plans incorporate best management practice recommendations and strategies for implementing measures that protect and improve the water supply and reduce flood hazards.

Lindsay examines a soil sample taken below a fuel oil tank to determine if any leakage is occurring. This type of analysis helps identify and mitigate sustained environmental damages from anthropogenic activities.

Assessing environmental impacts in advance and thinking critically about the risks associated with climate change will reduce our vulnerability to its impacts and make our communities more resilient.  Equinox regularly practices these types of analysis in our NEPA, Regulatory Permitting, and Due Diligence services.  As communities begin to adapt to climate change and develop strategies to mitigate impacts, alternatives must be evaluated to ensure long-term impacts to the environment are minimized.


Be sure to check in next week for the second installment of this three-part series!

Local Initiatives to Improve Food Security and Sustainability

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Community Outreach, Conservation Planning | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the Asheville area, we are blessed with 12 farmers markets that sell fresh, seasonal produce and over 250 independent restaurants that serve unique, delicious fare.  Yet within this “Foodtopia” coexists food insecurity, or the inability of some area residents to access enough healthy, affordable food.  A 2011 study conducted by the Food Research and Action Center ranked the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area (including Buncombe, Madison, Haywood, and Henderson Counties) as 3rd in the nation for food insecurity.

The Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council is a group of individuals, organizations, and government agencies who have come together to address food insecurity and “identify and propose innovative solutions to improve local food systems that spur local economic development and make food systems environmentally sustainable and socially just.”  Participants include, but are in no way limited to, farmers, restaurateurs, grocers, consumers, health care providers, legislators, planners, food banks, educators, and anyone who is involved with food in anyway.  The Food Policy Council provides a venue for diverse stakeholders to communicate about issues and collaborate to develop mutually beneficial solutions.

And with little more than 6 months under their belt, the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council has celebrated several successes.  One success comes with the City of Asheville amendment of an ordinance allowing fresh food markets in residential neighborhoods at churches, schools, and community centers.  These types of neighborhood produce stands increase access to fresh produce, especially in food deserts where grocery stores are sparse and the closest source of food is a gas station or convenience store.  Another success comes with City Council unanimously supporting the Center for Environmental Farm System’s 10% Campaign, which challenges governments, institutions, and individuals to spend 10% of their food budget on locally produced foods.  The City’s support of this campaign economically supports our local farmers and keeps our food dollars within our region.

Over the coming months, the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council will be working to increase access to affordable food by evaluating existing land use policies, identifying opportunities for economic development, developing an education campaign, and communicating progress through a variety of media outlets.  If you are interested in participating in the future of food security within our Foodtopia, visit abfoodpolicy.com and get involved.

As we strive to live sustainably and work towards lessening our impact on the Earth, it’s important to consider our food systems.  Where does it come from?  Who does it support?  Does everyone have access to it?  Next time you’re enjoying some of Asheville’s finest, consider this food for thought.

-Lindsay Majer, Environmental Planner, food consumer, and Board Chair of Bountiful Cities

TreEconomics –Who Says Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees?

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Community Outreach, Sustainable Landscape Design | 2 Comments

Technically, no, twenty-dollar bills don’t spring forth from leaf buds, nor do Benjamins drop lazily from the canopy in the fall.  You can’t crack open a walnut and find a silver dollar.  But, in today’s economic climate you should reconsider what your mother used to say, because although living trees don’t provide us with money, they can definitely keep us from spending it.

When one applies science and economics to study the value of a tree, one will ultimately discover that the tree is incredibly invaluable.  What I mean to say is that the ecosystem services, the goods provided to us by trees, are numerous and diverse, and positively affect our lives daily whether we understand it or not.  I think it’s safe to assume that most people recognize that through photosynthesis our simple, oxygen-dependent cardiovascular system is supported by trees.  And from my childhood experiences in Atlanta,GA, most people welcome the shade of a tall white oak in the dog days of summer.  But what else are we missing, what other critical roles do trees play in our ecosystem that we don’t take time to understand?

  • Trees are filters – they absorb and retain water that flows over land through the process of infiltration.  During infiltration, a significant amount of heavy metals and other pollutants carried in the water are removed by the tree, the end result being cleaner water stored in our aquifers, and less cost to remove those contaminants before human consumption.
  • Trees are like linebackers – in winter, evergreen species block cold winds from penetrating your house, therefore reducing draftiness and the subsequent need for conditioned air…equaling a lower heating bill.  In the summer, their deciduous counterparts reflect and absorb the sun’s rays, leading to a temperature-normalizing effect and a reduction in cooling costs.
  • Trees are grounded in reality– their root systems hold our soils in place, preventing erosion and unnecessary sediment loading into our waterways during heavy rain events.
  • Trees are strongholds – through photosynthesis, elemental carbon is separated out of carbon dioxide and stored in the tissues of living trees.  We know that atmospheric carbon exacerbates the trapping of heat within our atmosphere, and so without its sustained removal and storage our planet would suffer from wild fluctuations in climate driven by unregulated temperatures.

So what does all of this translate to?  In an urban setting, trees lower costs, increase savings, provide cleaner water, cleaner air, even marketable products (in the form of carbon credits).  There are now ways to quantify with one-cent accuracy the amount of money trees save us, especially in our cities and hardscapes where impervious surfaces, automobiles, heavy metals, and extreme temperature fluctuations are abundant.  Even street trees, root-bound by concrete on all sides, provide simple and beneficial ecosystem services which should not be overlooked.  For example, the city of Corvallis, OR (roughly 53,000 residents) used a computer program to value their urban forest’s annual worth at close to four million dollars; that estimate was generated by data collection in forested areas, street trees, shrubs, and grasslands, and included in the savings were pollutant removal, carbon storage, stormwater reduction, energy savings, and increases in real estate values (EPA).  Based on that figure, it certainly seems like more cities would pursue initiatives to protect their urban forests, if only for the economic savings generated by their presence.

Maybe we should change the age-old phrase to say “money doesn’t grow on trees, it grows through them”, all the way from the stabilizing roots to the shading canopies.  That might change the way we look at them.  The investment in and preservation of urban forests generates real and quantifiable annual returns which are in no way insignificant.  Add those tangible benefits to the incalculable aesthetic value of a tree, of a whole forest of trees, and we may just be able to strike a balance between science and economics and begin to grasp the incredible worth of a resource we so easily take for granted.

-Owen Carson, Field Technician (and tree-hugger)

Message from Equinox’ President

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Community Outreach | Leave a comment

In September 2011 I stepped in to serve as the President of Equinox Environmental.  It has been with great satisfaction that my business partners Andy Brown and Steve Melton have put their faith in me to lead the company.  Andy Brown, who founded Equinox in 1998 and who I succeed as President, had the vision to build the organization into the company it is today through his leadership and determination.  Steve Melton’s tireless effort and commitment to building the Ecological Services group has significantly contributed to Equinox’ continuing success in spite of the challenging economic climate we all have experienced.  I am also very thankful to our terrific staff that has been very supportive during this time of change.  With all that being said, many of our supporters, business colleagues, and clients have asked what changes to expect from Equinox in going forward.  My reply to them is that Equinox will continue to provide our clients with the same excellent solutions, service, and people for the benefit of a healthy environment.  More specifically, we will continue to provide the five essentials that have set us apart or what I like to call “The Equinox Difference”.

1.       Our blend of unique skills and services- Our multidisciplinary team of professionals  produces sustainable solutions that work.   As simple as it sounds, our experience and backgrounds are critical to the success of each project we undertake.  Our talented team includes a diverse group of professionals from the planning, design, scientific, and natural resource realms that have a host of certifications and professional licenses to boot.  We will stick to what we do best because we are good at it, not everyone can do what we do, and we get deep satisfaction out of our work.

2.       Personal touch- We take great care to work with our clients and colleagues to promote effective communications.  It’s that “mom and pop” feeling combined with our practical experience within our niche market that gives the people we work with confidence that we truly have their best interest at heart.  This emphasis has served us and our clients’ very well over the years and has never been more important.

3.       Commitment to community- Equinox has a social mission that is tied to our community and the communities in which we work.  One of our main business goals is to make this world a better place and we believe that giving back to our community is part of who we are as an organization and how we can achieve that goal.  We give back in terms of volunteer time and financial contributions every year.

4.       Quality- We have built our reputation on delivering services and products that meet or exceed the expectations of the people with whom we work.  Equinox’ people are highly motivated, well trained, personable, and passionate about conservation, sustainable development, and client service.  This ensures that every project gets staffed by the best people and leads to the best result.

5.       Relationships- We believe in building relationships based on trustworthiness, integrity, and by valuing people. Our goal is to build and sustain long-term relationships with clients and collaborators that share these values.  Our emphasis on relationships gives people with whom we work the confidence in us to deliver what is needed every time.

I look forward to helping our clients reach their goals to protect and restore land and water resources, address environmental issues, build in an environmentally sensitive manner, or develop land based on sustainability and livability principles.  Hopefully, as we emerge out of the shadows of the economic doldrums, we can all have a bright and more sustainable 2012 and beyond.

David Tuch




Witch Hazel – The Winter Star

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Sustainable Landscape Design | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A mild winter has its perks – low heating bills and more outdoor excursions, just to name a couple.  But some of the plants in our front yard have become a little disoriented by these warm days.  Our daffodil leaves have emerged just recently (and it’s only January), and so have our calendulas and alehoof growing in the front yard.  The future doesn’t look promising for these young plants – the next cold nip will surely be the end of their display.  There are plants, however, that regardless of mild or cold temps, give their floral displays every winter.  Some of my favorites for the winter landscape are in the witch hazel family.  There are so many varieties available today (well over 30!) that I’m a little out of practice.  There are numerous colors and fragrances, with several stemming from our native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana. 

The native Virginia witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is a large shrub/small tree that flowers in early winter, with delicate star-like yellow blooms that make me think of “pom-poms.” The vernal witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, is another native witch hazel that blooms typically in January, with fragrant yellow to red flowers.  Several cultivars have flowers ranging from orange to purple and even include enhanced ‘spicy’ fragrances from the species.  These odorous traits are delicate but alluring, with scents similar to culinary delicacies, such as the Gingerbread witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Gingerbread’ ) and the Diane Red Flowering witch hazel  (Hamamelis x intermedia‘Diane’), with scents of vanilla and clove.  I’ve always wanted to bring branches into the house to brighten things up a bit, but I can never bring myself to cut these beautiful displays.


With more and more exotic evergreen choices flooding the horticultural market, don’t forget about the more subtle and unique native witch hazel varieties for winter interest.  Similar to azaleas and rhodos, they primarily need the same requirements: acidic, well drained soils, and partial sun (typically full morning sun is optimal for blooms).  Witch hazels look great with finer textured evergreens in the background, such as an eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) or white pine (Pinus strobus).  Also try mixing them with winter fruiting displays, such as the winterberry holly (Illex verticillata).   They can really be a great component to your winter landscape and add a bit of colorful cheer to overcome those winter blues.


-Dena Chandler, Landscape Designer, LEED-AP

Equinox’s Internal Response to Climate Change

Posted by Equinox Environmental in Climate Change | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Because of our mission, our concern for our environment, and general thriftiness, we at Equinox have always worked to minimize our consumption of resources such as electricity, fossil fuels, and paper.  However, as climate change grows to an even bigger concern, we want to know and do more.  We began by learning more about climate change.  All of us now know a lot more than we did, and some of us have become real experts.  You can reference our dedication in our ‘Response to Climate Change’, which has been on our website for some time.

Since we outlined our basic strategy, we have had an energy audit to determine a baseline of energy consumption from which to compare any success we may achieve in reducing our energy use.  Waste Reduction Partners conducted the energy audit for us and helped us determine that our energy use is roughly 25.3 kBTUs per square foot whereas the average used by comparable small businesses in the Asheville  area is 93.0!  Learning this was a real morale booster; we are doing great – and honestly it’s not surprising -  it is important to us to do the right thing.  Now the challenge is to do more!  We know it can be done, and therefore, we’ve created a plan to address our internal energy consumption and efficiency.

We hired Green Opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of our space by adding additional sealing to windows, walls and doors. We have insulated the pipes to our water heater, disconnected the compressor to an internal water fountain, have plugged up some leaky holes in our walls, and have converted all of our light bulbs to fluorescent and LED. The energy savings won’t be staggering, but every little bit helps, and we want to do all that we can.

We are also implementing a Green House Gas Emission Reduction Policy that includes a variety of ways our conglomerate behavior at Equinox can change to reduce the amount of energy we consume.  Changes will include: 1.) increased planning, including carpooling when applicable, to reduce the amount of mileage we accumulate while working and commuting to work, 2.) requiring staff to turn off the power supply to all equipment at their workspace at the end of the day, 3.) converting to electronic documents instead of printed when possible, and  4.) a program to incentivize staff to choose alternative ways to get to work such as using city transit, walking or biking to work, or working from home when feasible.  We are optimistic that we can make a greater difference here and tread more softly on this beautiful planet we call home.

We hope to achieve a 25% reduction in our energy consumption and will track the achievement of our target.  We hope not only to reduce our green house gas emissions, but to also reduce the cost of doing business. If these efforts do not allow us to achieve our target, we will purchase offsets that will reduce our carbon footprint.  Our intention is to find in the ground projects that are local to Asheville and the surrounding area.  Ultimately, the point of all our efforts to increase energy efficiency and minimize consumption of resources and their resulting emissions is not to boast a number or meet a requirement, it is to embody our mission as well as to make good on our promise to ourselves and our incredibly precious planet.

-Joyce Brown, Andy Brown, Win Taylor, and Owen Carson-