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Monday, March 17, 2014

Morganton Hosts World Premiere of Sci-Fi Movie About Famous Lights


Coming soon to a theater near Asheville: Burke County's mysterious Brown Mountain Lights.

The lights, a natural phenomenon seen for centuries near their namesake mountain, play an integral role in Alien Abduction, a highly-anticipated sci-fi thriller hitting the big screens April 4.

The independent movie was filmed in Burke, Avery and Watauga counties in 2011, and will hold its world premiere Tuesday, April 1, at the Marquee Cinemas in downtown Morganton.

Director Matty Beckerman and producer Cathy Beckerman, both of Los Angeles, will be on hand for the premiere, and will host a Q-and-A session following the 7:00 p.m. screening.

Beckerman grew up on the East Coast and learned about the Brown Mountain Lights as a kid visiting his grandparents' house in Blowing Rock. During those visits he also experienced the remoteness of North Carolina's mountains, and combined those two ideas into a fictitious story that involves the lights and the disappearance of people.

"We would often get lost on some of the back roads. I remember sitting in the car and daydreaming about what would happen if we really got lost," Beckerman said. "What would happen if our entire family got lost? That was the inspiration. That's where I started."

The movie uses the found-footage format to tell the story from the viewpoint of a family on a camping trip to Brown Mountain. Beckerman describes it as a "psychological thriller" that does not rely on blood and gore to stir emotion.

"Sometimes the things you hear affect you more than the things you see," he said.

Burke County tourism director Ed Phillips was instrumental in bringing the world premiere to Morganton, and feels it will generate renewed interest in the mysterious lights.

"Even though the film is spooky and scary, it will definitely bring attention to the lights. We already have a business in Morganton offering guided tours to try to see the lights," Phillips said. "IFC Films is distributing this worldwide. It's a big deal. I recently read a review that said it's probably the best found-footage film since the genre was created by The Blair Witch Project."

The movie also interviews the two people most associated with studying the lights - scientist Dan Caton of Boone and paranormal researcher Joshua Warren of Asheville.

"Making this movie in Burke County and being able to debut the film there is a special moment for me," Beckerman said. "I believe people are going to really react to it. People will see this worldwide and it will draw attention to the Brown Mountain Lights. This will be great for tourism. The movie is fiction, but lights are there; they're real. Anyone can go to see them."

For info on the world premiere, call (888) 462-2921 or book tickets online.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Opening for 2014 Season


Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome
Weary of winter? Here's the spring opening schedule for facilities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Campgrounds and secondary roads will begin opening Friday, March 7. Much of the park, including Newfound Gap Road and most hiking trails are open year-round. Here's the schedule for opening facilities for the 2014 season:

Secondary Roads open: Forge Creek Road opens on March 7; Clingmans Dome Road opens on April 1; Round Bottom/Straight Fork Road opens April 4; Parson Branch, Rich Mountain Road, Roaring Fork Nature Trail, and Little Greenbrier open on April 11; Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain roads open on May 23.

Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed for bicycle use only on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m. from May 7 through September 24.

Visitor Centers: The three visitor centers are open daily and the operating hours through March:  Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Cades Cove Visitor Center, near Townsend, TN, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m., and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC, hours will be 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Hours are extended for each location as the season progresses. Clingmans Dome Visitor Contact Station will open April 1.

The Backcountry Office located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, is open every day from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Recreation.gov provides visitors an opportunity to make reservations to many federally-managed recreation areas, including National Park Service areas, all across the U.S.  The park’s developed campgrounds of Cataloochee, Elkmont, Cades Cove, Smokemont, and some sites at Cosby are on the reservation system for at least a portion of their seasons.  The system allows campers to reserve specific campsites and to make reservations 6 months in advance.   Group campsites and picnic pavilions can be reserved up to 12 months in advance.  To make reservations at the five campgrounds, and all group campsites, horse camps, and picnic shelters, visitors can go to www.Recreation.gov or, alternatively, book reservations by calling 877-444-6777.

Campgrounds will open starting March 14. Reservations are recommended at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont for the period from May 15-October 31 (for other dates, the three campgrounds are first come, first serve). Advance reservations are required at Cataloochee Campground throughout the entire. Cosby Campground, which has mostly first-come, first-served campsites, has a limited number of reservable sites during its season.  Camping fees range from $14 to $23 per site per night.

Campers have an opportunity to camp in “generator free” campsites at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. The generator-free loop sections of these campgrounds are reservable through Recreation.gov.

Group Camping will be available at seven campgrounds and reservations must be made through Recreation.gov.  Group camping is available at Big Creek, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Cades Cove, and Smokemont.  The cost for group camping ranges from $26 to $65 per site per night.

Horse Camps at Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Tow String open April 4.  Anthony Creek opens on April 1 and Big Creek on April 11. Reservations available through Recreation.gov. The horse site fees are $20 at all horse camps except for Big Creek where it is $25.

Picnic Areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms picnic areas are open year round. Chimneys picnic area will open on March 15 and Collins Creek picnic area will open on April 4. Big Creek and Cosby picnic areas will open shortly after on April 11. Heintooga picnic area will open on May 23. 

The park’s largest picnic pavilion at Twin Creeks opens on April 1 and reservations are required through Recreation.gov. Twin Creeks’ fees range from $35-$75 depending on the number of people. In addition, picnickers can reserve five other picnic pavilions at Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Metcalf Bottoms, and Greenbrier picnic areas.  The cost is $20, except at Greenbrier where it is $10. 

If you are horseback riding, the opening dates for the three horseback concessions located on the Tennessee side of the Park are:  Smoky Mountain Riding Stable on March 7; Sugarlands Riding Stable on March 7; and Cades Cove on March 8.  In addition to horseback rides, Cades Cove Riding Stable will offer their customary carriage rides and hay rides which are wheelchair accessible.  The Smokemont Riding Stable in North Carolina will open March 22 providing guided horseback rides along with horse-drawn wagon rides along the route of the historic Oconaluftee Turnpike. 

Mt. LeConte Lodge, accessible only by trail, will open on March 24.  Reservations are required and can be made by calling 865/429-5704, fax 865/774-0045 or email: reservations@lecontelodge.com.  One night at the lodge costs $132 per adult and $85 for children 10 and under (tax not included).  The price includes two meals--dinner and breakfast.   Day hikers and backpackers can purchase a prepared bag lunch and snacks/beverages at the lodge. 

The Cades Cove Campground Store has been open since March 2.  The store provides groceries, camping supplies, firewood, ice, vending, limited food service, souvenirs, and bike rentals.  The Cades Cove Store has multi-speed comfort bikes, single speed cruisers, and electric assist bikes for rent.  The Elkmont Campground concession opened on March 14.  The concession provides firewood, ice, limited camper convenience items, and vending of soft drinks, newspapers, and snacks.

For more information on the Great Smokies, go to www.romanticasheville.com/greatsmokymountains.htm.