Sam & Joanne Walker: At Play in the Forest

Sam and Joanne Walker sit at a picnic table beneath shade trees above Barnardsville, each with eyes twinkling in what looks like a shared 44-year bond of congenial mischief. Around them is their forest adventure-land, Navitat.

“It all started from the guy who wouldn’t go to college,” says Sam of his eldest son, John, now 42. Twenty-three years ago John became involved in an Outward Bound camp that included ropes course challenges and activities for kids in trouble with the law. As a junior counselor he helped rehab the course, then designed and built a new one the following year. He spent the next ten years driving around the country, building climbing towers and ropes courses, living out of a 15-passenger van that he’d outfitted as both home and workshop. In Alaska he designed the United States’ first canopy tour and altogether built three there. With his sister, Sarah, doing the bookkeeping, he started Bonsai Design, based in Colorado, now one of the leading zip-line tour designers.

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After Sam retired from real estate development in the suburban Detroit area, the Walkers moved to Scottsdale for six years. Sam hated the Arizona summer heat and the lack of trees. When their youngest child, Austin, settled in West Asheville and began raising a family, declaring that he would never leave this area, Joanne and Sam moved to Biltmore Lake. Pushed by John, and fortuitously joined by Michigan friend and landscape architect Ken Stamps, Navitat was born in 2009 in the bonus room above the Walkers’ garage. “I moved my sewing stuff out, and five people moved in,” says Joanne. A year later they moved to new quarters in Barnardsville. While Sam took care of finances and negotiated the 240 acre lease, and Ken took on CEO responsibilities, Joanne started the retail side of the business. “I said one day, don’t you think we ought to sell T-shirts?” “Yeah,” said Sam, “some people might buy a shirt or whatever.” That small single wall display produced more than twice as much volume as expected in the first year, and more than five times that revenue in the second.

Navitat has opened a new zip-line operation in Knoxville recently, and plans are in the works for a third in New Jersey about an hour from Manhattan. Sam credits his son’s vision. “He’s really an artist in the forest. You can do a zip-line any place. They have a long zip-line in Las Vegas, right on the Strip. They make lots of money. But we wanted to create an environment where people would get away from their urban rat race, and come out into the woods and be educated about the woods and have a thrilling experience at the same time. That’s what he wanted to create. Navitat: navigating the habitat in a new and different way.”

This article originally appeared in The Biltmore Beacon newspaper.

Linda Eriksen: A Place to Call Home

“I think this place saved my life. I was in the DC area for seven years before I moved here. It was sucking the life out of me.”

Linda Eriksen came to Biltmore Lake in 2014 after 32 years in the US Army. Enlisting out of high school at the very end of the WACS program in 1977, she was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant from Staff Sergeant in 1986 in a rare direct commission. By her 2010 retirement she’d risen to Lt. Colonel assigned to the Joint Chiefs Staff where she worked in a think tank and on the Joint Staff of the new African Command (AFCOM).

“Working in the Joint Staff was amazing. I worked with incredibly intelligent people. I was an aide to a general, and I basically took care of all these guys and made sure they had everything they needed to do these smart things. They were putting together strategic plans for the President. What an honor to serve with these gentlemen.”

Linda EriksenFrom 2010 to 2014, she was a DOD contractor in the Pentagon, working for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army.

Deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2006-07, she was in charge of policy & programs for 3rd Army, bringing in donations to the troops, making sure they were taken care of, and writing such policies as suicide prevention plans covering all 3rd Army troops in theater and at home. She was also in charge of naturalization ceremonies, “Which were amazing. There were so many troops that weren’t even American citizens, yet were putting their lives on the line. We did three naturalization ceremonies. Kids from all over came to Kuwait to do the ceremony so they’d become American citizens. That was incredible.”

During her service she earned a Bachelors Degree in Aviation, an MBA, and Masters Degrees in International Relations and Communications. She served briefly as a replacement air traffic controller during the Reagan Administration’s confrontation with the civilian air traffic controllers union.

Linda’s officer years were spent mostly in Active Guard Reserve career management. In her last year she managed 319 colonels. “It took a lot out of me because I couldn’t go home and not think about these people. When you move somebody, and you give them orders, it’s not just them, it’s their families, it’s their kids, it’s their dog, uprooting their lives. ”

Now settled in Asheville, “I’m retired, but I’m very involved. I’m a volunteer for the sheriff’s office, MANNA and 10,000 Villages, the free-trade store near Pritchard Park. I’m on the advisory board for Veterans’ Restoration Quarters. They have up to 250 homeless veterans in a [facility] on Tunnel Road. They help them get their lives together, get medical care, get them skills and jobs.”

Linda started the Biltmore Lake Military Veterans Group and is also on the BLHOA Safety Committee.

Residents know her by her gorgeous new Corvette. Her eighth, this is the first she’s ordered custom built.

Next on her schedule: at year’s end she is heading to the Ron Fellows Racing School in Las Vegas for two days of classes and time on the track. Corvettes and racing. “It’s my passion.”

This article originally appeared in The Biltmore Beacon newspaper.

Stephen Frost: Reticent First-Responder

Stephen Frost, with Mia, his pit bull/labrador, greets me in his driveway and leads me into his spartan study. He’s soft-spoken, lean, and looks younger than his age. He gently reprimands Mia, who is excited and anxious in my presence. She takes a moment to process the command, calms, and is soon licking my fingers. Stephen closes the door behind us quietly. His son, daughter-in-law, and 4-month-old grandson are living with him at the moment, and the baby is asleep in the next room.

Stephen S. FrostFamily photographs, including a yellowed military portrait of a World War II relative, sit on a bookshelf. Several items of naval memorabilia are evident. On the wall I see framed service awards, including the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, awarded to Captain Frost for heroic service.

He grew up in the rough heart of Philadelphia, living behind the shoe store that his father, an immigrant from Poland in the years between the two great wars, owned. Stephen wanted to be a doctor from an early age. “When we would play baseball I would always take along a little doctor’s kit to take care of injuries.” He calls his journey from inner city youth to physician an American dream.

Studying medicine at Jefferson University, he spent his first fifty years in his hometown, simultaneously teaching and conducting research in gastroenterology at the University of Pennsylvania while maintaining a private, clinical practice, “three things that most physicians would love to do.” He made a satisfying move into hospital administration there and in Maine later in his career. “As a clinical physician I took care of individual patients one at a time, but as an administrator I got to take care of whole populations at once.”

Frost joined the Navy while in medical school. He spent thirteen years as a reservist, left, then rejoined in 1994. He was caStephen S. Frostlled to active duty in 2001 to work for the Surgeon General of the Navy, overseeing and deploying about 1,000 doctors in the Bureau of Medicine and eventually overseeing all BUMED reserve medical departments. Only ten days into this assignment he was in the Pentagon when Flight 77 hit on 9/11, and his actions on that day are what the commendations on the wall signify. I ask him if he would care to talk about it. He slowly removes his glasses, wipes away tears that have formed, shakes his head. We move on to other topics. Later, I find newspaper accounts of his heroism in treating the injured on site through the following twenty-four hours.

Retired, still inclined toward service, but light in spirit these days, Stephen speaks happily of volunteering with the County Sheriff’s Office. And he rides bike patrol in Cataloochee for the National Park Service, keeping elk and tourists safe from each other, unsnarling road backups wherever the animals are sighted. He laughs. “If they knew how much fun I have, I’d probably have to pay the Park Service.”

This article originally appeared in The Biltmore Beacon newspaper.

Karen Stastny: Grounded Abstractions

Abstract painter Karen Stastny, born and raised in New Orleans, recently transplanted to Asheville, discusses her art in her Biltmore Lake home studio. She talks about majoring in art in college, setting it aside for a dozen years as she and her husband Dale struggled to establish careers in New Orleans city administration, and then rediscovering it in a watercolor kit on a vacation, “sitting at a table in some campground, thinking, oh my god, why have I not been doing this?”

She took art education at night in New Orleans, taught kids out of her home, and painted on her own, soon exhibiting professionally. In her forties she grew tired of still-life painting. She studied figure drawing. “I like drawing,” she says, but “it’s the emotion that I get out of the figure, not the specific figure that I care about.” That attitude pushed her toward abstract painting, but she had no idea how to make the leap from representational drawing.

Hurricane Katrina may have been a catalyst, overturning her life at a critical juncture. She and Dale fled to Baton Rouge, shared an apartment with displaced friends, slept on a mattress on the floor. Karen painted atop drop cloths laid over a borrowed table, her home and the gallery representing her both under water in New Orleans. Upon returning to the city they rented an apartment. Dale resumed his work as financial officer, resurrecting the beleaguered city zoo, aquarium and insectarium. Karen painted in a tiny room with inadequate lighting to meet an exhibition deadline, wandering New Orleans City Park for signs of re-emergent life and inspiration, producing a body of work that all “looked like stripes. All I saw around me were like bathtub rings, water rings all around the city.” Her agent, the owner of Cole Pratt Gallery, said, “I can’t sell that work. People here know what that is. Send it to Mobile. Maybe people there will think it’s beach-y.”

She eventually moved past water rings to landscapes. But she grew tired of those, too, and began to return to figure-based abstractions. West Asheville artist Steve Aimone helped her complete her transition into pure abstraction about five years ago.

Photograph of abstract painter Karen Stastny at work in her studio.

Karen Stastny at work in her Biltmore Lake, NC studio.

She gets exasperated when she hears people say, “I can’t draw, so I’ll be an abstract painter. The same technical and aesthetic criteria apply. If you do not have the foundation and the tools and background, you are not going to be able to sustain it. And for me, personally, it is harder than working realistically.”

Now Karen says, “When I talk about my work, I feel like saying it’s like breathing, It’s like taking a breath in, and holding it, and maybe letting it out. In my mind that is almost what I’m painting. And it is like breath. It’s air, and to me, a lot of what I paint is just things that are fragile. Things don’t last. Life changes. People change. One way or another, that’s what I paint.”

This article originally appeared in The Biltmore Beacon newspaper.

Golf and Giving: Kathleen & Randy Treiber

Golf and giving are motive forces in the lives of Kathleen and Randy Treiber. Neither concern was on their minds years ago when, in a most unlikely country-western music hall in Springfield, Virginia, Oklahoma-bred Randy met dance enthusiast Kathleen. Randy was career Army based in northern Virginia, while Kathleen had crossed the border from Maryland on a lark. So this night started as special and ended even more so.

From ROTC cadet through helicopter flight training to full Colonel attached to the Army’s medical branch, Randy spent his 30-year service primarily in the nation’s capital, ultimately, as a civilian contractor after Army retirement, overseeing the Walter Reed Army Medical Center closure.

Kathleen meanwhile worked her way from DOD school system teacher in Germany into the American National School Boards Association and then to Executive Director of Quota International, a women’s counterpart to Rotary that helps disadvantaged women and children, deaf and hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired people in eleven countries rimming the Pacific Basin.

Randy & Kathleen Treiber on their balcony porch.

The Treibers are avid golfers, lugging their clubs around the world, playing in “at least 95%” of their vacation destinations. Racks of golfballs in their study are reminders of courses they have enjoyed. Neither wanted their retirement to be exclusively preoccupied with the sport, though. They chose their Western North Carolina home for its mountain views and forest canopy rather than live alongside a fairway whose draw would tug at them daily. Not that they don’t have their own practice green nestled in the garden. The surrounding woods today are abustle with squirrels, finches robbing the porch feeder, robins, doves, and brown northern flickers energetically turning over chips of woody mulch, knocking pink petals onto the putting surface.

Randy’s volunteer work at the PGA Masters Tournament led CBS Sports to ask if the couple would work events for the network. They have done eleven tournaments across the country in the last two years, from the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tournament to the Barclays tournament in New Jersey. Kathleen drives a golf cart, ferrying competitors and commentators around the links, while Randy is a “spotter” assigned to follow groups of players and feed position, stroke, yardage, and similar information to the graphics technicians who superimpose these data on television broadcasts. They love being “inside the ropes” on productions that employ up to 400 technicians, announcers, camera operators, and support personnel at major tournaments and that raise around $140,000,000 annually for charities.

This fund-raising aspect is important to the Treibers. Both are active in Asheville philanthropy, noting how many needs exist below the region’s tenuous middle class. Echoing the logistics work they performed in Singapore for Project Hope after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, they are active with both Lutheran Church of the Nativity and Veteran’s Restoration Quarters in Asheville to provide meals and other services to our own area’s struggling homeless population, examples of fortune both gotten and given.

This article appeared originally in The Biltmore Beacon newspaper.

Profile of Garrett Artz, environmental activist

Portrait of Garrett Artz

Garrett Artz, Executive Director of Riverlink, Asheville, NC.

Within the southernmost arc of Asheville’s Sandhill Road, current and projected development of the former American Enka Company site are topics of much concern among the communities of Enka, Candler, and Biltmore Lake. Traffic increases and road widening, commercialization, recreation and greenway use are likely to change the character of the area. One of those taking a leading role in shaping this future is Biltmore Lake resident Garrett Artz.

Artz is an organizer of Connect Enka, a neighborhood offshoot of the Connect Buncombe effort to procure, develop, and support 102 miles of linked greenway corridors from Black Mountain to Montreat and Woodfin, from the River Arts District to the Arboretum.

Most recently, Artz has been appointed Executive Director of Riverlink, Asheville’s environmental non-profit that promotes the benefits of the French Broad River basin.

Soft-spoken and focused, Artz is a former Navy aviator. He graduated from Annapolis, then flight training, and in 1993 began a career as a carrier-based helicopter pilot out of San Diego, engaged in search-and-rescue and anti-submarine warfare missions. He enjoyed helicopter flying (“I’ve spent a lot of my life at 150 feet”) and the locker room camaraderie of men and women of similar age and interests.

Enduring some razzing, he left the Navy in 2003 to become a stay-at-home dad. During his time at Coronado, he and his wife Evelyn (“Ebby”), an endocrinologist, had maintained a commuter marriage; she was doing her residency an hour north at the University of California, Irvine.

They moved to North Carolina. Artz took a law degree at North Carolina Central University and did housing and consumer law for indigent populations at Pisgah Legal Services for three years. Mission Health had recruited Ebby from Duke, and the family settled in Biltmore Lake in 2008. Shifting to part-time in 2011 in order to take care of three kids, Artz worked for military parachute maker Mills Manufacturing in Woodfin until it downsized. He currently does legal work for veterans.

Artz became a cyclist on converted Panzer trails while stationed in Germany and began mountain biking in Bent Creek with several nearby fathers of school age children. Following up conversations among these friends about helping their kids ride bikes to Hominy Valley Elementary, he began a walk-to-school and then bike-to-school movement in the neighborhood. With connections made in this successful program among county schools, local government, and the NCDOT, Artz became involved with Connect Buncombe and is now working on Connect Enka plans.

Social and health benefits from greenways are potentially enormous, says Artz. Adult fitness is obvious. Children also benefit in an era of reduced PE classes. Businesses and stores gain increased accessibility.

Already one mile of greenway along Hominy Creek from the bridge construction at Smokey Park Highway to the new Enka Intermediate School is funded. Artz hopes for an additional mile at each end to complete a route from Enka High School to a planned 7-mile Hominy Creek-to-Brevard Road greenway. Sidewalks and safe crossings along Sandhill Road are under study.

Artz is characteristically optimistic. The future does indeed look green.

This article originally appeared in the Biltmore Beacon newspaper.

Finding Carolina

Photo of a sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, NC.

Asheville sunset from The Grove Park Inn.

When you have lived all of your adult life in one state, taken its geography and climate and culture as normative, and then you move to another that is distantly removed in all of those respects, even after you think you have settled in, spent a couple of years wiping this foreign soil from the soles of your shoes each time you venture from your new–and not so new–home and return, you feel the unusualness of everything you see and everyone you meet.

So I begin now to be an explorer of what is not altogether new in my world, and yet surely is.