A waterfront wonderland at National Harbor

George Washington Statue National Harbor

Love George Washington? Whether from the ferris wheel, in your hotel or along the Potomac, you’ll see plenty of history on our Founding Father at the new National Harbor.

Rising from the banks of the Potomac, the National Harbor is so big it has it’s own convention and visitors association! It’s aim is to lure not only large groups on business but families and couples looking for alternative places to stay, dine and shop.

This week I’m on assignment in this travel destination akin to a smaller, softer Walt Disney World. After recording keynotes and sessions inside the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center all day, my producer unclips the leash, and I’m off to experience this 350-acre playground: scenic tours, nature trails, outdoor movie nights and shopping galore.

I manage to squeeze it all in before the sun sets.

Downtown D.C. is only 15 minutes away by taxi or, do what I did, and jog to it from the 3.5-mile concrete waterfront pathway called the Woodrow Wilson Bridge trail. The trail includes station bump-outs with viewing scopes along the drawbridge and several interesting pavers with carved glyphs of the fish species found in the Potomac River.

If only there was time to hop aboard the ferry parked outside the hotel for a tour of Mount Vernon, the plantation home of America’s first president.

National Harbor

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail

Peep's aren't just for Easter anymore.  There are  3 brick-and-mortar locations in the U.S. with this one at National Harbor.

Peep’s aren’t just for Easter anymore. There are 3 brick-and-mortar locations in the U.S. with this one at National Harbor.

National “Get Outdoors Day” near Lenox, Massachusetts

Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary

Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary

Saturday was National Get Outdoors Day and I wasted no time taking a family member who suffers from debilitating Muscular Dystrophy on an easy hike near Lenox, Massachusetts.

The Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary boasts several universally accessible trails, clean bathrooms and a beautiful Education Center.

Sis felt completely safe and comfortable traversing the soft trails many with boardwalks and bridges over low-lying water. I could tell that she was reconnecting with this unexplained rhythm in all of us to slow down and smell the roses, or, in this case, blooming pink mountain laurel.

Mother nature quiets the mind and heals the heart and best of all, at the Sanctuary, there’s no need for bug repellent! Neither us had to swat at any annoying mosquitos, black flies or deer flies.

This sensory-loaded experience in a peaceful environment proved perfect for a day designed to encourage outdoor fun.

Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary

Their eyes were watching us on Vly and Bearpen

Deer on Bearpen

Top of Vly Mountain

Red Trillium Vly Mountain

Snake on Vly Mountain

Frogs on Vly:Bearpen

Frogs, deer, porcupine, hedgehogs, butterflies, salamanders and snakes: fauna was out in wild abandon on Vly and Bearpen mountains in May. Wild critters are always present in the Catskill mountains but, based on my experience, you watch them, they don’t watch you. This was not the case hiking with my friend Eve in late Spring.

With temperatures hovering in the mid 90s and no wind, the day was unusual from the start. Before stepping out of our cars, Eve coming from New Jersey and me from Albany, both of us carried books and maps that took us to the wrong trailhead. Fortunately, an older backwoods women living bravely on a secluded farm, minus her two jump-happy labs with nails that tore up my arms, helped redirect us to the right road.

We arrived and hiked a remote road to a scary, dilapidated hunting camp. The windows were hidden by creepy black insulation board. Still, something felt like it was watching us.

We made a right at the fork in the road and veered onto a well-traveled herd path, trees coated with blue paint. So much for a bushwhack. The trail was dotted with blossoming red trillium and littered by toads. We found the canister without incident and proceeded back to the black-draped cabin.

We proceeded to slog up a messy snowmobile trail to the top of the second peak, Bearpen, sweat dripping like a small faucet from our foreheads. I was already almost out of my second bottle of water. We kept our sights glued downward as to prevent squashing the many snakes and amphibians that sat motionless in our path.

I looked up only once to catch a curious white-tail staring in our direction. It stood in a bed of young, green twigs with a brown body blending well with the exposed rock and fallen debris.

Her eyes locked with mine as I slowly lifted my phone camera to capture the moment. Surprisingly, she didn’t scamper off into the woods but resumed munching on her favorite tree shoots as we tiptoed past quietly.

Needless to say, it was hot at the top. We found shade and ate our remaining grub near a rusty ski rope tow. In the 1950’s, Bearpen entertained beginner skiers with a single chairlift and platterpull. Most of the ski trails are no longer noticeable though.

On the return trip past the ominous hunting camp, indeed we saw eyes staring at us! It turned out not to be the gun-toting, deranged madman that I constantly fear. Instead, a plump, furry groundhog burrowed under the deck floorboards and watched us pass. It appeared to shake its’ snout back and forth at us as if waving goodbye as we dragged our limp legs back to our cars.

Row Toe Pull Motor on Bearpen

Birdcams in Bucks County, Pennyslvania

Bucks County Website

This week’s assignment brought me very close to Bird Town, or, to be more precise, the fertile farming community of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 35 miles north of Philadelphia. Everyone is a steward of mother nature in this wealthy township of beautiful Bucks County.

In between sightings of restored stone homes and charming farmhouses, Sara spots ospreys, wrens, sparrows and possibly a hawk or two. She is, as I like to call her, my human “birdcam.”

“Wow, look at the size of that vulture!” I shout while driving and heading south on route 202. Sara is too busy analyzing the fallen deer carcass that the bird is feasting on.

“What color was the head – pink or black?,” she asks.

“It was black.”

“Oh yes, that’s a Coragyps atratus (huh?), part of the such-and-such family, a highly social and highly loyal bird, blah, blah, blah…”

My video producer Sara is great at her job but she may have missed her calling as an ornithologist. Instead, as a hobbyist bird watcher, she likes to point out the identity of everything and anything that flies overhead as I drive below. It’s actually quite an amusing way to pass hours of being together from assignment to assignment every week.

It also appears that, despite the challenges of suburban sprawl in Bucks County (starting with Levittown in the ’50s), bird conservation and natural habitats are still preserved. I could be wrong, this is based purely on observation, but, if so, it’s likely that the Audubon Society has had a tremendous impact on development.

Unfortunately, (as usual) there is no time to assuage Sara’s birding mania. So, I suggest, that if you are as passionate for feathered friends as she, you visit the Honey Hollow Environmental Educational Center. Better yet, make a weekend out of “Visit Bucks County” and start with their website for far more ideas.

Pasture your bedtime in Cabot, Vermont

Todd Parlo, Owner and Grafting guru of Walden Heights Nursery and Orchards in northeast Vermont.

Todd Parlo, Owner and Grafting guru of Walden Heights Nursery and Orchards in northeast Vermont.

Q: Why did the cow cross the road?
A: To get to the udder side.

I’ve got moooo-re, if you like… smile, wink, wink.

The thing is I’m on assignment in bucolic Vermont, a state that, until 2012, had more cows than people! That’s no longer true but the ratio is still charming – something like one iconic bovine to every five Vermonters.

I spent the day recording tree grafting at a small, family-run organic orchard northeast of the capital Montpelier on the rolling hillsides of Washington County.

Owner Todd Parlo of Walden Heights Nursery specializes in grafting non-GMO heritage variety fruit trees like apple, pear, cherry, plum and more. He demonstrated the melding of rootstocks from one variety to another using scions (cuttings), electric tape, and wax.

(Having shot a documentary last month about 19th celebrity “Plant Wizard” Luther Burbank, this assignment was as sweet as a bushel of blueberries.)

Visitors are welcome to visit, purchase products and learn techniques in grafting workshops.

Cabot Creamery Factory

Cabot Creamery Factory

Who can resist the samples of cheddars at the Cabot Creamery factory?  Our favorite is the lactose-free chipotle with smoked Morita jalapeno chilies in adobo.

Who can resist the samples of cheddars at the Cabot Creamery factory? Our favorite is the lactose-free chipotle with smoked Morita jalapeno chilies in adobo.

Understandably, a lunch of healthy, sustainable, locally-sourced cooking was on our minds when we wrapped. Ten minutes down the road we found ourselves at the award-wining Cabot Creamery factory headquarters in the town of, what else, Cabot. The Visitors Center offers free nibbles of cheddars, syrups, jams, jellies, yogurts and specialty foods as well as tours of the facility. The history dates back 1919 when 94 farmers from the Cabot area purchased the village creamery and began producing butter and marketing it throughout New England.

Surprisingly, the plant doesn’t have an official luncheonette counter but Sarah’s Country Diner on the main drag through town does. With only two tables, four stools and one cook, you might need to wait some but the home prepared dishes are worth it.

To find the eatery, you’ll need to take an old-fashioned stroll past hinges, hooks and handles at Harry’s Hardware. I think Harry was fix’in a screen door when, with full bellies, we paid Sarah for one of the best chicken salad sandwiches (with pineapple and chipotle) we’ve ever had and happily went on our way.

Four hours later, I was home well “pasture” my bedtime and fell asleep counting Holsteins.

Sarah of Sarah's Country Diner prepares 10x10 inch pans of lasagna and other pasta take-out dishes after you indulge in creative soup and sandwich combinations followed by hearty slices of lemon cake.   No leaving hungry from here.

Sarah of Sarah’s Country Diner prepares 10×10 inch pans of lasagna and other pasta take-out dishes after you indulge in creative soup and sandwich combinations followed by hearty slices of lemon cake. No leaving hungry from here.

Not unusual, tractors take up parking spaces just as often as cars do in rural Vermont.

Not unusual, tractors take up parking spaces just as often as cars do in rural Vermont.

Harry's Hardware, Cabot, Vermont

The smell of success in the Pioneer Valley

Breathing is easy along the canals of Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

Breathing is easy along the canals of Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

Rotten eggs, stinky cabbage, putrid sulfur – these are smells sometimes associated with towns that have paper mills. But this is Turners Falls. Only the sweet aroma of innovation and progress waft from this 175-year old pulp manufacturing plant.

Ken Schelling, mill manager of Paperlogic, provided my producer and I with an exhaustive tour of a facility that dates back to 1839 producing some of the first commercially available paper in the U.S. Notably, Abraham Lincoln used their paper for important correspondence during the Civil War.

But, Paperlogic has evolved too, keeping up with new trends, development and technology. At 60 hands strong, their orders serve specialty niches, from water-resistance paper made of cellulose nanofibers to tree-free paper.

Suffice it to say, the tried and true manufacturing processes of bleaching, beating and finishing still remains but there’s now an emphasis on the environment. Buzz words like mill broke, pre-consumer and post-consumer recycling get tossed around quite a bit during a tour.

Schelling likes to reflect on the history of the industry citing the old donkey roads that weave close to the canal or the underground cisterns that still collect water.

Paperlogic rollers

A vat of fiber soylent, a staple mixture in the making of paper products.

A vat of fiber soylent, a staple mixture in the making of paper products.

"In the 1700's, albeit primitive, paper was made by hand using this sifting device," said Ken Schelling, mill manager of Paperlogic of Turners Falls.

“In the 1700’s, albeit primitive, paper was made by hand using this sifting device,” said Ken Schelling, mill manager of Paperlogic of Turners Falls.