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A new set of wheels for ENP

10 Feb
Photo courtesy of GM, Detroit

Darwinian Evolution is defined as: “descent with modification from preexisting species cumulative inherited change in a population of organisms through time leading to the appearance of new forms the process by which new species or populations of living things develop from preexisting forms through successive generations” – From Merriam-Webster

In Automotive Evolution we might say the following: automotive technologies descend with modification and enhancement from earlier preexisting forms and technologies cumulative inherited change of traits occur within a population of automobiles/automakers through time leading to the appearance of new and often more evolved/advanced automotive forms the process by which new automotive systems and/or collections of systems – as dictated by necessity and/or markets – lead to novel and more advanced automotive systems and/or collections of systems developed from preexisting forms through successive generations often (but not always) leading to more superior technological adaptations : those forms and technologies deemed inferior by function/markets are quickly weeded out of the population by the process that drives both automotive and Darwinian evolution – Natural Selection. Those forms and technologies deemed superior and that perform at or above their design will survive and their technological traits will be passed down to future populations.

Recently, I made the EVolutionary choice and I EVolved my automotive system.

In late September 2019 I purchased a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt to be the new ENP outreach vehicle.

Yep. The days of the Nissan Leaf are over.

My trusty old 2012 LEAF “Elektra” served me well as the ENP outreach vehicle for a little over six years but due to her failing battery chemistry and resulting limited driving range of only around 45-50 miles – natural selection prevailed and I was forced to automotively EVolve.

Yesterday meets today.

The old LEAF found a new home with a wonderful couple in a nearby town. Since they only drive around 25 miles per day I believe it will serve them well for many years to come.

For my ENP outreach vehicle needs, I require a vehicle that will travel more than 50 miles per day and sometimes upwards of 200 miles at a time. I also needed a vehicle that I can afford to fuel, maintain, and pay for as a company vehicle. Now that we have EV’s I feel that it is not logical nor is it a good use of funds for a small nonprofit organization to pay large amounts of money for fossil fuel powered vehicles and their fuels and maintenance. Essentially, using a fossil fuel powered vehicle for a nonprofit – or any business for that matter – is like lighting generously donated and/or hard earned money on fire, then tossing it out the window. It is not only a garish waste of funds but it also pollutes the environment – the very thing my organization is working so hard to protect, conserve, understand, and share.

So, after extensive research and planning, I decided to purchase a new 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV – Premier edition – as a replacement outreach vehicle for Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3) –

I have owned the Bolt EV now for 4.5 months and during that time I have driven the little EV close to 6500 miles! It is a remarkable car that makes the old LEAF seem, well, – like ancient technology – or, in keeping with the EVolutionary theme – an earlier form of life.

The last solar charge for Elektra.

I really loved my LEAF EV but the primary reason I decided to go with a Chevrolet over another Nissan was mainly due to the ongoing terrible experience I had with Nissan HQ. Despite my detailed record keeping, sticking with the car’s dealer defined maintenance/warranty schedule, countless service visits/inquiries/emails/phone calls with Nissan HQ about my LEAF’s battery degradation issue, and even working tirelessly to promote the LEAF to many people online via this blog and in person via my nonprofit programming through EV education classes, and through the Blue Ridge Electric Vehicle Club at EV car shows during National Drive Electric week – all of these things lead up to many people I knew and many I did not who then purchased Nissan LEAF’s for themselves. Despite all this Nissan still refused to stand by their product and would not offer to replace my car’s degrading battery. Then, to make matters worse – just when I was about to consider the purchase of a new battery for my LEAF – Nissan raised the price by thousands of dollars as if trying to force owners of the first generation LEAF’s to upgrade to a newer car!

On top of all this madness, Nissan opted to forgo the implementation of an active battery management system that would extend the useful life of their EV batteries in favor of keeping the costs down so they could then sell more new LEAF’s using an out-dated technology while making a higher profit.

All these reasons pushed me over the edge so I decided that I was finished with Nissan and chose to look elsewhere. I looked at Tesla, Hyundai, Kia and then Chevrolet. Chevrolet already had several years of EV experience with the Volt and the Bolt’s technology was a few years old therefore giving them some time to weed out any major issues with the newer Bolt. Chevrolet also opted to go with a battery management system similar to Tesla’s that would keep the battery at the optimum operating temperature extending its driving range and its useful life. The bolt also has amazing driving range second only to Tesla (at the time) – at 238 it was a massive improvement over the old gen one LEAF which would only travel 73 miles before needing a charge. Another big deciding factor for me was the fact that at the time I was shopping there were some really nice end of model year deals on the Bolt so, for all these reasons, I chose the Bolt EV.

Taking ownership of the new “MIGHTY BOLT” from Walker Chevrolet in Franklin, Tennessee…interestingly enough only a few miles from where I purchased the Nissan Leaf in 2013.
With the new Bolt at the Nissan HQ saying goodbye Nissan!

So far I love the little EV – although, it does have a few odd issues that need mentioning. These are issues that I believe need some real attention from Chevrolet – so let us get those out of the way first.

1: Ultra reflective dashboard deck. The windshield facing side of the dashboard (in my car) is light colored so it reflects sunlight onto the underside of the windshield making it almost impossible to drive without visual discomfort from the “flashing” reflections. This creates an unsafe and uncomfortable driving experience. During the test drive I did not notice this phenomenon – possibly due to the sun angle at the time – or I would have chosen a vehicle with a dark colored dashboard. To remedy the situation I purchased a custom fit charcoal black, non-reflective dash cover from and the problem was solved.

2: Thin driver’s seat bottom cushion. I am a relatively thin person so the narrowness of the seats do not bother me as they do for some people. However, the thin cushion and adjacent plastic framework of the seat near the seat adjusting levers puts pressure on my left outer thigh region as I exit the vehicle. Over time this fact began to cause my left upper leg to ache. I fixed the issue with a simple pool noodle slipped over the plastic piece. It worked for me but GM should really work to remedy this problem as it may be a deal breaker for some buyers especially those who do not want a pool noodle flopping about in their new car.

This added pool noodle cushion ended all discomfort and is removable if need be.

3: Cargo space. For many people the Bolt will be perfect in size for town runs etc but I needed more carying capacity so I opted to install a roof basket.

This allows me to carry much more cargo when I take long trips and even lumber ūüôā

Or bales of straw for the chickens ūüôā

And even more lumber and conduit ūüôā !

Things I LOVE about this little car.

238 miles of range – and more depending on conditions! WOW! It is a real car!!

Range anxiety is a thing of the past!

Cool UI. I love all the data and functionality the UI provides and it is pretty.

One pedal driving – SO COOL!!! (and the brakes will last MUCH longer!)

Awesome stereo system with the option of SiriusXM.

Roof rack ready.

The three level cargo area.

Arm rest/drink holder in the rear seat.

Heated seats and steering wheel.

USB charging ports everywhere.

Qi/wireless phone charger.

Wonderful windshield wipers that really work well.

Deep, multi-level storage in center console.

Sliding sun visors.

Built-in rear-view mirror backup camera.

Surround view camera.

Automatic headlights.

Automatic Emergency Braking.

Lane keep assist.

Android Auto.

The hulkingly huge 60 kWH battery that lets me go for days without needing to charge.

The insanely low cost to fuel and operate.

In fact, lets look at some numbers on that last topic.

I am not bragging but I feel that I need to share this very revealing automotive data with you should you be considering EVolving up to a Bolt or other EV.

I have calculated the fuel costs to drive the car the 6500 miles I have traveled up to this point.

Are you ready for this?

Are you sitting down?

Here it is.


Those costs come primarily from the five ‚Äúquick charge‚ÄĚ sessions I needed during these first four months of ownership. Those sessions resulted in a total charge of $77.95 or and average of $15.59 per charge.

The remaining $41.76 comes from multiple ‚ÄúLevel 2‚ÄĚ charge sessions on the road and from several overnight ‚ÄúLevel 1‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúLevel 2‚ÄĚ charging sessions at home.

In summary, during the last four months, I have driven an average of

1,625 miles per month.
406.25 miles per week.
58.03 miles per day.

At a cost of ‚Äď

$32.60 per month.
$8.15 per week.
$1.16 per day.

119.71/6500 = .0184

So that breaks down to be $0.0184 cents per mile for the Mighty Bolt’s electron fuel.

$0.2 cents per mile! I will let that sink in for a moment.

Those numbers are accurate as I keep detailed notes on all charge sessions/energy costs.

My EV’s electric fuel costs are much lower than many EV drivers since I am able to use locally generated renewably produced solar electricity as my EV’s primary fuel source. The largest percentage of my Bolt EV’s electron fuel comes from the classroom solar array my students, interns, volunteers and I installed on the ENP office/classroom.

For the average US homeowner without solar who is charging their EV at home using the local power utility energy mix (US average @ .12/kWh), their costs would be a bit higher than my numbers.

My stats.

Regional Energy Grid Data from:

Arcadia Power:

The fact remains that no matter an EV’s fuel source – fueling, maintaining, and driving an EV will always be much lower than anything powered by dirty, toxic, nature, life, earth, and future polluting fossil fuels.

It is very interesting and revealing to note that if I had driven those 6500 miles in my only remaining gas guzzler ‚Äď a 2013 Honda Pilot ‚Äď I would have needed to stop maybe 15 – 20 times to refill the gas tank (and change the oil and oil filter one and possibly the air filter once) and therefore my gasoline fuel bill (maybe we should call it a conveyance convenience cost) would have been a massive $812.50 or around 0.13/mile! ‚Ķthen add in the cost of the oil/filter change of around $50 and that‚Äôs $862.50!!

I do not care who you are, where you are from, or how much money you have to burn but you must logically agree with me – that is a CRAZY STUPID expense for anyone to spend just to get from point A to point B!

In fact, below is a photo of the gas pump the last time I filled up the Honda’s fuel tank…YIKES!

That $47 will push the Honda Pilot around 360 miles but it will also push the Chevy Bolt EV over 2300 miles!!!

Some Maths

6500 miles at an average of 20mpg = 325 gallons x $2.50 (per = $812.50

812.50/6500 = .125 (per mile)

(812.50 (gas) ‚Äď 119.71(electricity))

That is a fuel only cost savings of $692.79!!

No one can deny the fuel savings of driving electric – but what about all those grossly unacceptable downsides of driving EV’s:


Charging: What about the horrible inconvenience of charging my EV while I sleep…It is just so difficult and time-consuming to need to remember to plug in the car before going on to other things…oh the horror!

First quick charge!

Stopping: The painfully needling fact that when on a road trip I always need to stop driving every 200 miles or so to plug in my car while I take a break, read a book, surf the net, take a nap, graze on food, have a cold one, get some exercise, go shopping, fish for lunch, fly a drone, watch a movie, spend time with friends and family, ride a zipline, pet a dog, pick some fruit, or just smell the flowers (these are just a few of the terribly inconvenient things I have been forced to do or could do while waiting for my EV to charge)…I just can’t take this intolerable electric car life of any longer!

Gas Stations: What about the hot insanity of never ever again needing to stop at dirty gas stations*? I so greatly miss the ritual of waiting in line for a pump, grasping the infectious germ and “booger” covered gas nozzle, shoving it into my legacy vehicle‚Äôs fuel port, engaging the trigger, inhaling deeply of the toxic and highly flammable hydrocarbon fumes while watching other oil addicted users doing the very same – oh and sometimes some of them leave their engines running and/or are even smoking while fueling – WTF!!! All this time our tanks fill up and our bank accounts drain‚Ķoh and let‚Äôs not forget the great fun of shopping in the station’s store for low quality overly processed foodstuffs‚Ķoh how I miss those days. *Ok, so I do occasionally stop at filling stations ‚Äď but only if they have EV charging stations and/or to use their bathrooms or squeegee my EV’s windshield ūüôā (Read one of my earlier posts about an earlier and most unusual filling station experience.)

Fueling up on electrons at a Dandridge, Tennessee Exxon station – maybe one day the pump locations will be reversed ūüôā

Cash Flow: How about the fact that driving electric means you will never again be forever stuck in the endless ‚Äúsubscription to dependency‚ÄĚ that owning and driving petroleum-powered vehicles truly is. Therefore, I will be FORCED to stop endlessly paying out loads and loads of cash for gas/oil only to just burn it up over and over again harming our individual lungs and our shared environment. Whatever will I do with all this extra cash???

Health: When my asthma and the seasonal ozone/fossil fuel pollution-induced respiratory inflammation and distress go away – I will shed a great and lonely tear of loss. What will I ever do with all this improved health I just do not know…

Maintenance: Then there is the unbelievable madness of having virtually no maintenance costs/repair downtime on the EV‚Äôs motor, battery, brakes, and drive systems‚Ķlike the LEAF before it, this BOLT EV (and all EV’s) are virtually maintenance-free. I am going to really miss the time-honored ritual of raising the hood and/or crawling under my vehicle on the side of a busy road ‚Äď in the rain, mud, ice, snow, and boiling summer heat (been there done all that many, many times) ‚Äď to fix some failing component such as a faulty belt/hose/fuel line/fuel tank/plug wire/radiator/thermostat/clutch/carburetor/alternator/exhaust/intake manifold/”johnson rod” and on an on…and/or wiring up a broken exhaust pipe/muffler…and/or adjusting some broken or maladjusted linkage/shaft in 20-degree weather then bashing my knuckles on a cross member etc…or having my old beater car towed to a repair shop and then waiting hours or days for it to be professionally repaired and then receiving the huge charge $$$$$$ for all those frequent repair/labor costs‚Ķagain, what will I ever do with all this extra money and time? Note: I really do love working on older, classic cars – especially with my dad. However, working on a classic car at home in the garage or in the driveway/yard on a nice day is a totally different animal than what I described above – which is a fresh hell I would not wish on anyone.

Efficiency: Oh, and what about the insanely stupid fact that EVs produce a portion of their own electron fuel through the process of regenerative braking thereby extending their driving range by hundreds to thousands of free driving miles each year and therefore lowering my fuel costs even more…how will I ever adapt to all this egg-headed science nerd tech geek madness saving me loads of money and making my life easier, faster, stronger, better?!

The first road trip from Franklin, TN to Chattanooga, TN – a Bolt and a Tesla Model 3 – so cool! Photo by Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute

Sound of silence: How about the unbearable and unbelievably smooth, quiet ride? I just cannot handle all this calmness, comfort, and serenity. Oh, how I miss the endless internal combustion engine drone drowning out the silence and/or the nuances of my favorite songs, audiobooks, and podcasts. Then there are the random noises, sudden jerks, squeaks, rattles, bangs, parts falling off (yes, that really happened), and body wrenching lurches that used to assault my ears, muddle my thought processes, and often torque my spine in all my previous legacy vehicles…

…all this EVolved silence is just so unbearable – oh, the humanity!

Convenience: What about that ridiculous one pedal driving thing! It is just so bizarre and inconvenient to only need to use one pedal instead of two. Not having to step on the brake all the time means my brake pads may last over one hundred thousand miles – how will I ever adapt to all this efficient madness? What will I ever do with all the extra money that I would have spent on bake jobs? My foot really misses stepping on the brake all the time so sometimes I do it out of nostalgia.

High above my EV’s fuel refinery. Note how clean the air is ūüôā

Safety: I am not at all comfortable with the increased safety of this car. It will automatically and without asking me to authorize it – put on the brakes to avoid a collision!! What a HUGE compromisation of my freedoms to stop whenever I want to and under my own power and control!!! …oh and then there are all the airbags – they wrap around me on all sides – and then there’s the seatbelts holding me down keeping me from flying through the windshield in an accident – I feel so invaded!! …and what about all the CAMERAS!!! Giving over control to the machines – we all know where that leads!! It all must be a conspiracy…a plot fabricated by the Russians or maybe the Chinese…NO it is the greenies working with the Russians, the Chinese, the North Koreans and the DUTCH!!!! (To be clear: I am not racist and this was not a racial slur – it was a cheezy reference to an obscure comedy movie series staring Mike Myers.)


I will not stand for all the EV safety madness!!!!

Give me back my 1969 Vista Cruiser!!

That 70’s Show photo courtesy of Carsey-Warner.

Fuel: How about the garishly un-American ability to charge an EV‚Äôs traction battery with home-grown electron fuel made on my own soil ‚Äď be that electron fuel renewably generated by sun, wind, water, landfill gas, cow farts, or even the dirtiest hulking coal-fired power plant.

It is all domestically produced American made energy that does not require dirty deals, endless wars, and the terrible loss of our brave loved ones in the service just to keep it flowing into our tanks.

Nor does all this locally grown renewable energy destroy the very environment that gives all of us clean air, clean water, healthy food, diverse wildlife, our own lives, and a healthy future.

Source: NASA

Driving electric vehicles powered by renewable energy is obviously such an un-American, un-patriotic sacrilege that our founding fathers must be spinning like oil-soaked V8 crankshafts in their graves!


Ok, so for those of you that somehow missed it ‚Äď I absolutely LOVE my Chevrolet Bolt EV and I absolutely LOVE driving electric. I was attempting to be overly and intentionally sarcastic and humorous with my previous outline of EV shortcomings. From my point of view and over six years of EV driving experience – there really are no EV shortcomings.

Driving electric is simply a better way to drive.

Despite my sarcastic attempts at humor aside and despite all the mostly manufactured EV shortcomings you may encounter from the deniers, doubters, Luddites, and FUD generators ‚Äď and those with money/politics tied up in the legacy automakers and fossil fuel economy ‚Äď I fail to see how anyone can rationally dispute the massive cost savings of driving electric vehicles as daily driver commuter vehicles and soon, much, much, more‚Ķand all this before we have even looked at the significant reductions to toxic air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions saved by driving electric vehicles especially when they are charged by locally grown renewably generated 100% energy secure electricity – but that is another long-winded data-rich topic for yet another blog posting on yet another day.

Final Question:

How much does it cost you to drive your fossil burner 6500 miles?

Charging with my cousin the Chevy Volt

So, suffice it to say that I absolutely LOVE my Chevrolet Bolt EV.

I will keep you posted on my newly EVolved EV life with the “Mighty Bolt” EV and hopefully I will be able to offer you some insight into the world of the Electric Vehicle, renewable energy, and maybe, if you have not already, you will take the necessary steps toward your own automotive EVolution.

SPECIAL THANKS to Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute, Jim Hardy, Catherine O’Neil, Marian O’Neil, and the Blue Ridge EV Club, my awesome students, and everyone who worked with me to make all of this possible – you know who you are!

Note: I do not work for, receive compensation from, or own stock in GM, Chevrolet, Tesla, or any electric vehicle or electric vehicle supply equipment company or renewable energy technology or company. I do however support all of these technologies, companies, and ways of life as long as they stay focused on their goals and work to help more than harm and because they are all working toward a better, cleaner, more energy secure, lower ecological footprint, science-focused way of life that supports everyone everywhere.


29 Nov



This year you helped us make the following amazing things possible ‚Äď

and so much more!

Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation ‚Äď In 2019 we rescued 9 young Opossum joeys that lost their mother while crossing a road. They were very close to the age where they would have left the warm home of their mother‚Äôs pouch to strike out on their own so we gave them a few days to build their strength, fed them all kinds of tasty natural treats, and released them in the forest near the classroom.


We also rescued five Eastern box turtles. All were injured while attempting to crossroads and after some shell splints and recovery time all but one were released back into their home habitats. The remaining turtle has an injured eye so it will continue to reside with us until it recovers from its injuries and starts eating on its own and we hope to be able to release it into its home habitat next spring.



Update on the Black rat snake with terrible oral infection (aka ‚Äúmouth rot‚ÄĚ) that we rescued last year.¬† He fully recovered, was eating very well, and was released this past spring.¬† Take a look at his release day video on our YouTube channel via this link:¬†


Outreach РWe teamed up with our crew of wonderful volunteers to take our animal ambassadors, our wildlife, and environmental conservation message, our didgeridoo music, and our renewable energy, EV, and science advocacy programming into many local and regional classrooms, summer camps, festivals, and special events, introducing thousands of people to the wonder and beauty of wildlife, nature, and our interconnectedness to our shared earth.  We offered great ways to support nature, respect and live alongside wildlife, and to be better stewards of our environmental life support system with the adoption of renewable energy and transportation technologies such as solar power and electric vehicles.  The above photo was taken at our spring fundraiser at Oscar Blues in Brevard, NC where many folks came out to meet our education animals, experience several electric vehicles, and some (including me) even tried out an awesome One Wheel electric skateboard!



A new set of wheels for ENP 

Over the last 6 years we used our Nissan Leaf fully Electric Vehicle (EV) in most of our outreach classes and programs, wildlife rescue calls, and in the monitoring of Eastern box turtles, Black rat snakes, Timber rattlesnakes, bats, and Black vultures.¬† It was a wonderful vehicle but sadly, due to a design flaw in the battery chemistry of 1st generation LEAF‚Äôs, its driving range degraded to the point where it was no longer useful to us for our outreach programming needs.¬† In September of 2019, with generous support from some of our primary benefactors, we acquired a new outreach vehicle ‚Äď a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV.¬† It is 100% electric and has a driving range of 238 miles per charge – although we are often getting closer to 250 miles. The Bolt is the perfect vehicle for our mission as its battery is charged primarily from our classroom solar array making it truly zero-emission so it does not pollute the precious environment that we strive so hard to understand, preserve, protect, and share with you. This new outreach vehicle will allow us to expand our service area bringing our programming to a much larger audience.¬† The ENP EV Motto: Drive electric to protect and preserve nature, wildlife and wild places. Drive electric for the health of your family, drive electric for freedom from dependence on toxic, polluting fossil fuels. Drive electric for energy independence.¬† Drive electric for a better future for all. Drive electric for fun!

boltandsnakeI took this photo a few days after acquiring the new Bolt.  I was on the way home from work and stopped to assist a Rat snake across the road.

*This new EV is owned by ENP and will be used as a dedicated company outreach vehicle and it is charged primarily by local renewable energy sources. It will serve as an outstanding teaching tool for our Trails students, ENP outreach program participants, and everyone we meet.   Learn more about driving electric at:


Organic Garden

2019 was the third year for our organic/heirloom student garden project.  After the very successful straw bale squash garden experiment of 2018, this year we decided to plant the entire garden using straw bales as the substrate.  This experiment worked surprisingly well allowing us to produce many more tasty organic vegetables from our little garden than in previous years.


We believe the only way to have a truly organic garden is to not use any toxic chemicals or fossil fuels in the preparation and tending of the garden in any way so this year the students and interns prepared the garden using only human power and fertilized it with composted food scraps and waste from our education animals.¬† The students planted and tended the garden throughout its growing season and amazingly we had virtually no ‚Äúpests‚ÄĚ on our garden vegetables and we never used any toxic insecticides or herbicides!¬†¬† I am happy to say that our third year of the garden project was a great and tasty success with over 150 yummy squash, big bunches of green beans, countless tomatoes, Peruvian black corn, purple and red sweet potatoes, several varieties of peppers, and for the first time our Passion fruit vine produced several tasty fruits ‚Äď all of this wonderful organic produce was then shared among the students and staff!¬†


Our small flock of friendly laying hens grew to over 25 birds this year!¬† Several of the new recruits were adopted by Trails employees or found homes with chicken people in the community.¬† Our flock of chickens are free-range, organically fed, and have been hand-raised by our students as pets, and are wonderful therapy animals ‚Äď with the great side benefits of wonderful organic, free-range eggs, no-cost organic fertilizer, and free pest control for our organic garden!


Our rescue hen Midnight and her new chick in the “Coop Car.”


 Just in case you missed it Рlast year ENP was featured in The Laurel of Asheville

Read the story at this TinyURL link:

(or just Google ‚ÄúLaurel of Asheville Earthshine Nature‚ÄĚ)


   The ENP Renewable Energy Program

On November 8th, 2019 our student-built classroom solar array project celebrated two full years of producing clean, renewable, ‚Äúlocally grown‚ÄĚ solar-produced electricity for our classroom and electron fuel for our outreach EV! Add to all that awesome the incredible accomplishment this year of the completion of Phase Two of the solar array!¬† That‚Äôs right, with your help we have completed Phase One and Phase Two of this amazing classroom energy project and the array is now complete!!


Steve and one of his awesome students installing the first solar module in Phase Two of our classroom solar array.

This time last year our student-built solar array had produced over 6.5 megawatts of clean solar produced electricity. With the completion of Phase Two, the now complete and fully functioning array has produced well over 12-megawatt hours ‚Äď and that is just since mid-summer when the completed array went online full time!¬† With the generous support of Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute, Pisgah Forest resident Jim Hardy, Lake Toxaway Charities, Trails Carolina, Trails Momentum, and our many other wonderful project supporters ‚Äď maybe you were one of them ‚Äď and all of my amazing Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum students, ENP interns, and volunteers ‚Äď this classroom renewable energy project has been an outstanding success!


Since the completed classroom solar array went online on July 04th, 2019 (our Energy Independence Day) it has consistently, quietly, and without any harmful toxic emissions ‚Äď produced close to 4 times the power we need to meet the daily needs of our classroom building, education animal habitats, and our all-electric outreach vehicle‚Äôs electric fuel needs ‚Äď all this entirely on 100% clean, ‚Äúhomegrown,‚ÄĚ solar power!


We produce so much electricity that we send the surplus out to the local energy grid giving our closest neighbors on the campus of Trails Momentum some ‚Äúlocally grown‚ÄĚ on-campus renewable energy.¬† We are now producing an excess of around 823kWh of electricity each month and sending this out to the local grid. Over the course of the entire year that excess has totaled around 9.8 mWh ‚Äď so our classroom has now become a renewable energy power plant for the campus of Trails Momentum and for the local community!!¬† Due to our excess energy production, we have built up so much energy credit with Duke Energy that we could turn off the array and run on the solar credits for several months without paying a cent for energy! ¬†With the completion of Phase 2, the most complex portion of our classroom solar array project is now complete. We are now moving forward with fundraising for Phase 3 ‚Äď the final Phase of our classroom energy project.¬† This will consist of a ‚Äúplug and play‚ÄĚ battery storage system that will store excess electricity produced during the day that will then be used to keep all systems online at night and during power outages. We will then only use our grid connection to Duke Energy as a back-up power source during longer periods of dark/rainy/stormy weather ‚Äď isn‚Äôt science amazing!

Watch a short time-lapse video of Phase Two of the solar array’s construction via this link:

To make the 3rd and final Phase of this amazing student energy project a reality for our classroom, our students, and our animal ambassadors Рwe need your continued support in this final push to the end.  Please consider making a year-end gift to Earthshine Nature Programs and help us reach our renewable energy powered goals.


Cute little Jumping spider says it is time for everyone to GO SOLAR!

Supporter Spotlight — Bob Harris and Jim Hardy

ENP would not be possible without all of our amazing supporters – including you.¬† Two of our biggest supporters are also two of the most outstanding and most generous people on earth ‚Äď Bob Harris and Jim Hardy.¬† Jim and Bob have donated countless hours of their time, expertise, skills, and resources to make things happen for ENP, and for the students of Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum.


Jim Hardy is the master carpenter who has donated hundreds of hours of his valuable time and expertise as he has overseen, directed, and worked with our students and me on the construction of the solar array, our theater-style seating, the new fire escape steps, building electrical and other key building upgrades, many of the tables in the classroom and our “‘Possum Palace” Opossum habitat.


Bob is the incredible electrical engineer who designed the solar array, installed the wiring for the array, upgraded the classroom power grid, and donated countless technical and educational components and support to our classroom and outreach EV.  All of these things have contributed immensely to the wonderful educational environment we are working to create for our students at ENP and Trails Science.


THANK YOU Bob Harris and Jim Hardy for your wonderful and most generous support ‚Ästyou are true HEROES!

Wildlife Conservation Programs

Turtle Tracks, Snake Tracks and Snake Trails


The Turtle Tracks and Timber Rattlesnake Tracks programs have ended and we have now decided to focus our energies on our classroom and environmental education outreach programming, wildlife rehabilitation, and on reporting our findings from the reptile conservation projects we conducted over the last decade of tracking misunderstood reptiles. What did we learn while tracking wild reptiles? ‚Äď waaaay too much to fit into the pages of this newsletter ‚Äď so we have decided to write it all down and share it with you!¬† The stories and the answers are in the works in the form of three private publications currently available only to ENP supporters ‚Äď namely you.¬† ¬†The first of these three publications ‚Äď The Rattlesnakes of the Blue Ridge ‚Äď is ready now!¬† It contains a naturalist‚Äôs perspective on everything we have learned by following the secret lives of Utsanati and Zoe ‚Äď the two wild Timber rattlesnakes we followed in their native habitats for a four year period in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of WNC.¬† Within the pages you will find an overview of the natural history of the Timber rattlesnake, a consolidation of my field observations and personal reflections, tracking and activity maps, and many high-quality photographs from the field.¬† benfranklin.jpg

This document and the others that will follow on the Eastern box turtle and Black rat snake will grant fascinating insight into the lives of these unique, wonderful and very misunderstood creatures as well as useful information on coexisting with these animals and other native wildlife species on your lands.  All proceeds from the sale of this and the future documents in this series will be 100% directed toward our nonprofit wildlife conservation, rehabilitation, and environmental education mission.


Zoe – By Steve Atkins

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of¬†The Rattlesnakes of the Blue Ridge, and/or Turtle Tracks: Box Turtles of the Blue Ridge or Snake Trails: The Rat Snakes That Live Among Us at the discounted price of $25.00 each ‚Äď please contact me via the links at the end of this newsletter.


Opie D. Opossum ‚Äď by Evan Kafka


Clean Air Carolina Blue Sky Award


Photo by Clean Air Carolina

On November 07, 2019 ENP was honored to receive the Clean Air Carolina Blue Sky Award at a very special awards ceremony in Charlotte, NC.  This award was presented to us by Clean Air Carolina for our volunteer work with the Clean Air Carolina Air Keepers project which is working to install air quality monitors in all 100 counties of North Carolina.  We will continue to work with Clean Air Carolina and other organizations and individuals who value clean air, clean water, diverse wildlife, and energy independence for people, wildlife, and our shared environment.

In case you missed it last year ENP/Trails Science was featured in a Clean Air Carolina video clip with Miles O’Brien:

Learn more about Clean Air Carolina:

Your Support

We welcome your continued support in keeping our unique programming alive. There are many ways you can choose to help us make our programs and projects a reality.

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Donate time and energy by volunteering at our Science and Nature Center classroom ‚Äď we always have loads of projects from working in the garden, cleaning animal habitats, yard work, etc; so if you like to get your hands dirty for a good cause then just contact us at or call Steve at (828) 606-8939 to set up a time to give us a hand around the classroom/farm.¬†¬† Another great way to support us is through the donation of much-needed supplies ‚Äď our wish list can be found on Amazon by searching for the Earthshine Nature Programs Wish List or by visiting this tinyURL link:¬†¬† Another easy way to support us is through Amazon Smile. Simply visit: and sign up to support Earthshine Nature Programs.¬† Then, every time you make a purchase on Amazon using your account, a portion of Amazon‚Äôs profits will be donated to ENP at no cost to you! Yes, it really is that easy to support us!¬† If you would like to directly support our projects and programs there are several ways to do so.¬† We have an ongoing GoFundMe campaign where you may donate to our solar project and more ‚Äď visit:


We also now have a Patreon page where you can choose to support us with ongoing monthly donations of any size.  Visit our Patreon Page:

Lastly, you may also donate to us via the PayPal link on our website at or mail a donation to our address below. All donations to ENP are tax-deductible. Receipts available upon request.                                                                                    


Without your continued support, Earthshine Nature Programs would not function.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation or end of year gift to us now and in the future.  Earthshine Nature Programs is a 501c3, donation-funded, volunteer owned and operated, wildlife conservation and rehabilitation, environmental stewardship, and science education charity organization.


We have a wonderful partnership with Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum to provide nature knowledge, science education, curiosity, and inspiration to their populations of outstanding youth.

Learn more at:



A note from naturalist Steve O’Neil

I am passionate about sharing my love, respect, and curiosity for nature, wildlife and wild places, environmental stewardship, science literacy, and reason with everyone I meet Рespecially my classroom and outreach programming students.  It is the students of today who will make the big wildlife and nature conservation, science, and energy decisions of the future, and it is my goal to communicate to my students the most up to date, unbiased, peer-reviewed evidence, practices, technologies, and environmental ethics so they will be better informed and ready to take on the world and be the change that will guide us all forward. I feel that by demonstrating working models of what is possible, respectfully coexisting with each other, and by working together toward the common goal of creating and maintaining a better world for all living things today and into the future, we will bring the changes that will make all of our dreams come true.


Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3) is supported primarily through monetary, resource, and time donations from caring, concerned individuals just like you.  I work hard to fundraise and acquire grants and donations from any and all sources that would like to support us. With your help with hands-on volunteering, a one-time donation of equipment or funds, a year-end gift, or your continuing patronage Рtogether we will continue to create something unique and wonderful that will serve to educate and inspire thousands of students with a new curiosity, a greater respect, an evidence-supported understanding, and a powerful conservation ethic for caring for wildlife, nature, and the environment that supports us all.  Your support will assist us in sharing with others the value of adopting responsible, secure, clean energy and transportation resources we can all work to bring to our homes, businesses, and to the roads, thereby lowering our impacts on our shared environment and in the process, become better stewards of the earth and empower our shared futures through the findings, methods, and tools of science.


Photo by Evan Kafka


Sincerely, Steve O’Neil

Executive Director of Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3)

Snail Mail: 134 E. Dogwood Ln. Pisgah Forest, NC  28768

Phone: (828) 606-8939



Nature Blog:


EV Blog:


Earthshine Nature Programs Update

4 Jul

It has been a very busy 2019 at Earthshine Nature Programs!  In the pages of this posting, I offer an update to catch you up on the happenings over the first half of 2019 at ENP!


Adventure News

Early in the year, I journeyed to that outstanding nexus of all geekdom the wonderful nerd incubator that is Kennedy Space Center in Florida!


I was on a pilgrimage of adventure, awe, wonder and it was an information gathering mission for the science classes I teach to the brilliant youth of today (and I was on a mission to check this off my bucket list since I was a 4-year-old kid watching the last of the Apollo moon landings on a black and white cathode ray tube console TV way back in the early 1970’s!)

While at KSC I was in my element and felt the need to share a small part of my experience with my students and with you so I made an educational “teaser” video for anyone interested in learning about NASA’s out of this world space exploration history – check it out below- then get yourself to Kennedy Space Center!


While on this spaced-out star trek I also completed another amazing life milestone even bigger than my nerdy space quest РI connected with my biological father!  Yes, you read that right Рthrough the marvels methods and tools of science I was able to have my DNA sequenced, then a few weeks later I was touring Kennedy Space Center with one of the people who brought me into existence Рmy biological father!


What an amazing journey it has been – to the historic past of US space exploration and into my own history! Here’s a photo of my absolutely awesome father and I visiting in Florida.¬† Isn’t science, life, the universe, and everything – just amazing!



Public Service News

Early in the year, I produced a new video documenting Asheville NC’s adoption of Proterra all-electric city busses! Check it out below!

Then, while visiting an NC beach in May, I became very frustrated (again) with the way we human animals are mistreating the planet so, like I always do, I picked up others people’s carelessly cast-off litter and produced a short Public Service Announcement about littering – view it below.



please work to keep our home planet clean by picking up the litter/pollution carelessly cast aside by others onto our shared earth, air, and waters.

Remember to always Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, Rethink, Refuse, Resist


Outreach News

The amazing ENP volunteers and I have presented several reptile and wildlife outreach programs to many local schools and organizations and events.






Reptiles, wildife, nature,¬†local ale, One Wheels, electric vehicles¬†and renewable energy – yes, it is a thing because we at ENP make it a thing and you should too ūüôā



Abby and crew at the Upper French Broad Riverfest on June 22nd!


Wildlife News

It is summer and the reptiles are on the move.

A few weeks ago I was on my way to the office when I encountered this cute little Rat snake crossing the road.


I tried to lend him a hand and he was not very cooperative but eventually, with some gentle coaxing, I was able to encourage him to move along into the forest where he would be out of danger from humans and our machines.


Then a few days later Abby and I were on the way to the classroom to work on the solar array and we discovered a young Timber rattlesnake making her way across the road – so we gave her a bit of a “hand” in getting to the other side.


I carefully used my tongs to gently lift her and move her off the road to the safety of the forest – she quickly moved off rattling all the way – such an amazing encounter!!


Upon arriving at the office Abby spotted a young Rat snake moving across the chicken yard in the direction of the chicken coop car where a mother hen had just hatched out three new chicks!


I decided to move this cute little chicken thief to the other side of the building in the hopes that he would move off and not come back for a chicken dinner!


While working on the classroom solar array we discovered this cute little Jumping spider out for a stroll – isn’t she just soooo cute!!


Here’s a close-up:-)



Wildlife Rehabilitation News

We have successfully rehabilitated one once very sick Rat snake (black snake) who lived with us since the fall of 2018 and have released him back into his home habitat.


What a grand success story – check out his release video below!



Charlie, one of our Red-footed tortoises, has laid eggs!!



We are incubating them now and hope to hatch them by late summer –

more on this later as things develop ūüôā


We have fostered 9 orphaned young Opossums, who lost their mother in an incident with a motor vehicle – and released them into the forest near our classroom. (In the pic you only see five but the others are underneath…)


Opossums help us so much yet they are so mistrusted and misunderstood.  Watch this amazing video on the Opossum and learn how awesome they truly are!


In April, May, and June several of our hens hatched 10 new chicks!!



Everyone loves spending time with the chicks!


Clean Air Carolina Air Keeper Project News

With all of our other projects taking up most of our time we have not had much time as we would like to devote to getting more air monitors installed in the WNC area.  However, we were able to successfully install one monitoring station in Murphy, NC thereby filling in the big gap in coverage in the far western part of NC.


Are you air aware?  How is the air quality in your area?  Take a look at the map and find out.  In the coming weeks, I hope to install two more air monitors in the WNC area and close in the remaining gaps in the far western part of the state as well as in the area north of Asheville.  If you are interested in hosting an Air monitor in NC (or anywhere) feel free to contact me for more details on how you can become an Air Keeper or if you are in NC please check out Clean Air Carolina and find out how you can become an NC Air Keeper and be part of the solution.


ENP Crew News

We have an awesome new ENP intern! Let’s welcome Abby M. to the crew!


Abby loves animals and nature, is very capable in everything she sets her mind to, is focused and passionate about science and environmental conservation, she has studied abroad in the rainforests of Peru, and is great with animals, people, and power tools which is always a big plus.



The ENP/Trails Science organic garden is doing great!!

This year the students and I planted the entire garden in straw bales and if the amazing growth is any indication we will have a wonderful harvest!


Solar Project News

We have been working very hard on bringing the western portion of Phase Two of our classroom solar array online and as of 5/24/19 we made it so!


On May 24th we threw the switch on an additional 7.2 kW of solar that, with your support, we have added to the existing 4.8 kW Phase One array (the blue one).

That is solar hero Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute and I throwing the switch on the new western array!


This new increase in solar capacity means our science and nature center classroom and the ENP all-electric outreach vehicle are now fully powered/fueled* by the sun!!

*When the ENP EV is charged on-site.¬† My recent energy audit study on the ENP EV revealed that, as of the date of the study, the ENP outreach EV was 48% solar charged – however, that number has undoubtedly increased with our addition of more solar generation capability as well as the continued “greening” of the energy mix in the area in which I live.¬† I will complete another energy audit after the completion of the eastern segment of Phase Two and report the results here and on my EV blog.

Next, I offer a series of mostly chronologically arranged photos of the construction of the western segment of the Phase Two classroom solar array starting about 3 months ago.





ENP long-time intern Pierce and his girlfriend Erin gave us a hand one day on the solar array support structure and much more – THANK YOU PIERCE AND ERIN!


Solar Hero Jim Hardy installing a support beam.


The support structure taking shape, as well as our straw bale garden experiment!


Jim and Abby cutting steel support beams for the Eastern array.


The students all worked very hard to help make this amazing project happen for their classroom!





The completed Zilla Rac solar support framework ready to receive solar modules!


The students and I moving the new SolarWorld solar modules into place!




Bolting it all together!



Putting the final solar modules in place!


Bob wiring the modules into the system.


Connecting the SMA SunnyBoy inverter*!

*A wonderful benefit of using SMA Inverters is if/when grid power goes out the Secure Power Circuits from the solar inverters will – when the sun is shining – provide us with up to 6 kW of emergency power to run key habitat, lighting, education support systems, and the entire campus internet system – very cool indeed!


Bob Harris and Jim Hardy – heroes for renewable energy, the environment, education, our students, and our little log cabin classroom!




After we powered up the western array, Bob worked his magic and networked the new inverter with the original unit so we could visualize the energy output from anywhere in the world – check it out HERE!

As you can see from the first partial day of operation both solar arrays together were putting out over 9.8 kW!


On the first full day of operation, we put out over 1.6 times as much power as the original Phase One array alone – circled in red!


We produced a total of 58.16 kWh of electricity for the first full day of operation Рthat is  33.16 kWh above our average daily usage of around 25 kWh per day.  On the second full day of operation, we produced a total of 56.49 kWh and at midday hit a peak of 10,044 watts of clean solar produced electricity!!  Our best production to date on the Western Segment of Phase Two has been on a cloudless cool spring day when we generated a bit over 63 kWh of clean solar electricity Рthat is well over twice our average daily use!  Then, about two weeks later, on a very overcast, rainy, and gray day, the array produced 25.50 kWh of solar-generated electricity!! So what this means is that our array produced enough electricity to cover all of our needs even on a cloudy day Рwithout even seeing the sun itself !!!WOW!!! If this trend keeps up we will not be paying for and using fossil fuel generated power for much longer Рespecially after the eastern segment of the Phase Two array comes online very soon.

For those of you interested in how much money we are saving by going solar Рthe answer, for now, is Рall of it.  Our power bill for May 2019 was only $3 above the standard grid connection fee charged by Duke Energy!  Before going solar, our monthly energy cost to operate our classroom/ENP office averaged over $200.  Add in the all-electric outreach vehicle and that would be another $15.  But now, with our amazing student-built classroom solar array we have almost dropped our facilities and transportation energy use costs to zero!  Once the eastern segment of Phase Two goes online Рit will be well below zero and far into the positive.

The Eastern Segment 

 After we completed the Western segment of the Phase Two array we started work on the Eastern Segment.  Below I offer photos of that project.

I took the following photo a few weeks ago of Jim, Abby, and her boyfriend Mitch from high on the roof while we were working on the eastern array.


Bob and Jim working with me to put one of the eastern array’s frame pieces in place.


Moving more solar modules


Bob, Abby, and I showing off one of the solar modules that will soon be producing fuel for the ENP/Trails classroom and the ENP all-electric outreach vehicle – a 2012 Nissan LEAF.¬† I find it simply amazing that several very thin pieces of modified and purified silicon (sand) and a few other unique compounds fused together and sealed under another flat piece of glass (more sand) with a few wires connecting everything together and then pointed at the sun – produces clean fuel for our outreach vehicle and electricity to run the entire classroom/office building for zero operational costs, without any moving parts – and from my own “backyard!”

Why aren’t more people doing this?!?!?


The Eastern array starting to take shape while my little pup Tange looks on.


Abby and I moving a solar module up onto the frame.






Building a solar array means tapping into your inner monkey!


Peace – through teamwork, cooperation, perseverance, some monkeying around – and lots of SCIENCE and ENGINEERING!


The very last primary solar module goes into place!


WOO HOO!!! It is DONE!!


Tightening a hold down bracket


Bob tightening another hold down


Bob running more electrical conduit




As of June 06, 2019 the primary construction on the Earthshine Nature Programs/Trails Science student-built classroom solar array is officially complete!!


Throughout the entire project, the students have left their mark on the project and left their signatures on the support structure ūüôā


Over the next 10 days, we worked on wiring up the Eastern Array, installing the safety fencing, and completing the¬†classroom building’s new power grid wiring project that we started in the fall of 2018.

The photo below shows two of the new electrical boxes in the process of being installed.


Bob Harris installing the new main breaker box.


Now, compare those top of the line, incredibly safe electrical box units to what we had before pictured below and you can see why this electrical evolution upgrade project was so important for the safety of our students, our classroom, and our education animals.

Trails Old Main Electrical Panel Closeup

Before this electrical system upgrade, many of the building’s power outlets had failed and a few of the circuit breakers would get uncomfortably warm to the touch thereby requiring us to resort to using many extension cords to keep systems in operation.¬† After we powered on the majority of the new system I removed most of the extension cords and took this photo as a reference of what once was – yikes!


This new power grid is not only higher quality, a magnitude safer, and more energy efficient than what we previously used, it has also allowed us to interconnect the easternmost segment of the Phase Two solar array into the new power grid.

As the sun was setting on June 15, 2019, Bob Harris made the final connections and threw the switch on the Eastern segment of the array bringing the entire Classroom Solar Array online and ready to produce power.


As I write these words on June 16th, 2019 the first rays of the morning sun has just started hitting all 60 modules of the array and by midday, we will see what this amazing student, volunteer, and community constructed and donation supported solar powered renewable energy generation facility is capable of!

Below is a photo of “first light” hitting the newly completed ENP/Trails Science Classroom Solar Array on June 16th – Father’s Day!¬† I took this photo using the ENP/Trails Science BloomSky weather camera¬†– follow the link and view our completed classroom solar array in real-time anytime you like ūüôā


At the end of the day the newly completed Classroom Solar Array had produced over 67 kWh of clean, “locally grown” renewable energy – and it was even partly cloudy/hazy mid-day as evidenced by the solar production curve from the newly networked SunnyBoy inverters.

Full CSA Day One 6.16.19

Even with the clouds and haze our array produced more than enough electricity to power all our classroom/office systems, fill our Duke Energy net metering “credit bucket” to overflowing, and it also become a small scale local energy generating station providing cleanly generated electricity not only for our classroom and outreach vehicle’s needs – but also for the campus energy grid thereby “greening” the other buildings on the campus of¬†Trails Momentum!


Now that the Eastern segment (on the right) of the Phase Two Array is complete, online, and producing electricity alongside the Western segment (on the left) of the Phase Two Array and the original Phase One Array (the middle one) Рit will bring the total system capacity up to 19.2 kW of solar produced electricity!!  Due to environmental factors and system losses, our maximum output on perfect days could reach upwards of 18 kW and possibly hit production targets of over 80 kWh Рonly time will tell!

UPDATE: On the first day of Summer 2019 the array produced an astonishing total of 83.34 kWh of electricity!!! That is over 3 times our energy needs – truly amazing!!!

Take a look at the beautifully perfect power curve from that day…


A few more amazing stats…

Now the same curve showing the inverter output.bestsolardaytodate7

The below graph shows our to-date monthly production numbers for 2019 – outstanding!


Now let’s compare the solar output for

June of 2017…


…and June of 2018…


And now, June of 2019



Now take a look at our annual solar electricity production since day one of almost exactly three years ago.  Our 2019 levels will soon surpass all of 2018 and 2017 combined Рand as I write it is only now the fourth of July Рnow that is some amazing homegrown energy independence and freedom!  In fact, to mark this special day, from now forward  I will forever refer to July 4th as the ENP/Trails Science classrooms

Energy Independence Day! 


And now our energy production numbers to date.


The key numbers to notice here are the following:

Total energy produced since going online in late June of 2017:

11.184-megawatt hours!!!

That is enough solar-generated electricity to offset the energy needs of

1.55 average American homes for one year!! 

This may not seem like much but until a month ago we were using almost all of the energy produced by the 4.8 kW Phase One array Рand we still managed to generate a  small surplus.   Now that we have all of Phase 2 complete and online we will generate much, much more!

How did I come up with those numbers you may ask:

According to the UCS the average American home uses 7,200kWh/year.

1 (MWh) / 7.2 (MWh) = 0.13889 Homes per MWh

0.13889 (Homes per MWh) x 11.184 (MWh) = 1.553 homes

Data Sources:

Now that we have completed Phase 2 and the entire array is now complete, online, and producing loads of electricity, it will be very interesting to see how long it takes us to blow the top off of those numbers.

Science and evidence tell us that burning things (fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, etc.) for energy/fuel releases toxic air pollution and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into our shared atmosphere.  These compounds, directly and indirectly, harm our health, our planetary life support system, and all our futures. By going solar we at ENP and Trails Science are no longer using toxic fossil fuels to power our classroom and outreach vehicle.  We have avoided releasing 8.6 tonnes of CO2 into our shared atmosphere as well as all of the associated pollution Рand that is a very good thing!

The average American is responsible for releasing 19.8 tonnes of CO2 annually.¬† By installing our classroom solar array we have reduced our classroom’s carbon footprint from 19.8 to 11.2 tonnes.¬† Adding in the 6 tonnes of CO2 removed by driving an all-electric solar-charged EV outreach vehicle and we reduce our CO2 output down to 5.2 tonnes!¬† We are well on our way to net zero!

That is most impressive!

Calculate your own carbon footprint using the following websites and work to reduce your impact on our shared earth.

Our amazing new solar capacity will produce loads of surplus power, far above and beyond what we use.¬† This surplus power will, at first, go toward filling the overflowing net-metering “credit bucket” for our classroom that we will then pull from at night and during periods of low light/rainy/wintery weather.¬† This large output of power and overflowing electron filled credit bucket will effectively remove our Duke Energy power bill for the classroom building and most of the electric fuel bill for the ENP all-electric Nissan LEAF outreach vehicle – WOO HOO!!

Eventually, when we bring online the third and final Phase of our classroom solar energy project – the “plug and play” battery storage bank* – we will then channel a portion of any excess power produced during the day into those batteries for later use at night and during periods of dark weather.¬† At that time, our connection to the Duke Energy power grid will remain as a backup – just in case – and it will act as an emergency “generator” in the event of a major power outage coinciding with a long period of dark/rainy/wintery weather (if we ever see wintery weather again…)

However, if over time, we discover that we are able to make enough power for all of our needs and if the system operates without issue in all weather through all seasons – we hope to eventually unplug from the grid entirely thereby making our science classroom and ENP office 100% off-grid, self-sufficient, energy secure, and net zero.

Now that is what I call true freedom!!

Freedom from all the problems of burning toxic fossil fuels Рfreedom from the insanely high human and environmental health costs, the endless war, and dirty politics connected to and feeding upon the acquisition, transport, and use of fossil fuels.

*We are now raising funds to support the Phase Three battery bank and associated battery inverter system.  If you are interested in supporting the third and final phase of this awesome classroom renewable energy project, please follow the links at the end of this blog post for more information on how you can support us. 


All donations to ENP are tax deductible.





Above all of the obvious awesomeness of producing clean, “locally grown,” energy-secure, renewable energy from the sun to power our classroom building and outreach vehicle – our primary reason for all the time, effort, classroom, and community teamwork, fundraising, and focus on this multi-year-long project is the continuing STEM¬† education of our students, visitors, and outreach program participants and you reading this blog post.¬† To put it simply – our students, visitors, and outreach program participants and you are the future of science-supported nature, wildlife, and environmental conservation of their futures and of our planetary life support system.¬† By introducing all of you to the most up to date, scientifically accurate, and unbiased, nature, wildlife, environmental, energy, climate, and renewable energy-focused peer-reviewed science, as well as to these functional projects that they work together to create in class that directly benefit their classroom and learning environment and education – we are hopefully planting great seeds of curiosity in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), nature, ecology, clean energy, and clean transportation systems as well as forward-thinking progress that works to benefit all of us, our shared environment,¬† and of everything moving forward.





Speaking of change, today* was monumental for us in more ways than one.

*much of this post was written on 5/24/19.

While we were powering on the Western segment of our new solar array in support of using clean, “locally grown” renewable energy (instead of – toxic and expensive – in more ways than your bank account – fossil fuels) to power our classroom, outreach vehicle, and our future – over a 1.5 million school-age students, many of their teachers, supporting parents and other adults, and scientists from all disciplines from all around the planet, in thousands of cities and hundreds of countries – were walking out of their classrooms, offices and laboratories to protest their government’s inaction on fighting the most challenging environmental and social issue of our time:

Anthropogenic climate change.

I stand in support and solidarity with the students, scientists and others who are attacking this most urgent issue head-on with peer-reviewed evidence, science supported solutions, and peaceful action such as but not limited to;¬† the adoption of energy-secure “homegrown” renewable energy sources, zero-emission electric transportation, and the election of policymakers who understand and support the findings of science and will choose to deny the status quo and work very hard to make the needed changes in the system that will be most beneficial for everything and everyone moving forward.


In support of these goals I attended the March 15th, 2019 Fridays For Future event and plan to attend the September 20th Global Climate Strike event as well. I encourage all of you reading this to join me from wherever you are and to attend, organize, band together with your classmates, teachers, professors, and co-workers, and peacefully walk out of your school, laboratory, office, home, church, place of business or other institution to show your support for ending our toxic addiction to fossil fuels and adopting clean, energy-secure, “locally grown,” renewable energy systems and electric vehicles to power, transport, and and empower a better, more prosperous future for us all.

Learn more about this planetwide movement for positive change at:


Earthshine Nature Programs* (ENP) is a volunteer operated wildlife and environmental education and conservation and renewable energy outreach education nonprofit (501c3) based out of Pisgah Forest, NC. It is operated by its founder and Executive Director Steve O’Neil.  Steve is on a mission to connect people with nature and wildlife and in doing so he works to foster a renewed curiosity in the natural world that supports us all.  

Through his hands-on wildlife, nature, indigenous music, renewable energy and science outreach programming at camps, schools, birthday parties and special events in local area and in the WNC region, to his unique experiential citizen science-based projects and experiences in his Trails Science classes, Steve strives to educate and inspire his students and people of all ages to get excited about nature, wildlife, the sciences, and above all else ‚Äď caring for, and becoming better stewards of the fragile natural environment that supports us all.

Steve is also a full-time naturalist and environmental science educator at Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum near Brevard, NC where he and his students and interns care for a menagerie of animal ambassadors, most of which are ex-pets and non-releasable wildlife.  Some of these animals were once wild but after surviving run-ins with cars, dogs and habitat loss, were rehabilitated by Steve (an NC licensed wildlife rehabilitator), his students, and volunteer staff.  


Gollum the Eastern Hellbender ‚Äď one of Steve‚Äôs animal ambassadors.

These animals are housed in the rustic log cabin Science and Nature Education Center classroom that is also the office of Steve’s nonprofit 

Earthshine Nature Programs 


High above the ENP/Trails Science Classroom cabin (Note: This photo was taken in 2017 – before Phase Two of the classroom solar array had been started).

Steve is an avid supporter of renewable energy ‚Äď especially solar ‚Äď and he supports the great need for trusting the findings of science to facilitate the final goal of transitioning our society away from polluting fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and renewably powered electric vehicles for the sake of our health, the health of our shared environment, and future generations of life on Planet Earth.

Questions? Contact Steve at

The ENP website:

The ENP Blog:

The ENP Youtube Channel: 

Facebook: Earthshine Nature Programs and The Blue Ridge EV Club 


Steve and a Snapping turtle friend he rehabilitated and released into its native habitat. 

A history lesson: Steve O‚ÄôNeil founded Earthshine Nature Programs (ENP) when he was working as an outdoor guide and naturalist at¬†Earthshine Lodge¬†in Lake Toxaway in 2010.¬† In 2013 ENP incorporated as a 501c3 and became a separate business entity from Earthshine Lodge yet ENP kept the name Earthshine as a reminder of its humble beginnings at the wonderful Earthshine Lodge. ¬†The name Earthshine is foremost in our mission because we believe that stewardship of the EARTH, and all the life contained within this fragile¬†oasis of life in space, should SHINE brightly above all other issues because without clean air, water, and environmental balance ¬†‚Äď we have nothing.

There are several ways you can support us. 

1. Monthly Patreon support via our Patreon page.

2. Direct donation of materials/funding via one of the following links.

If you would like to donate anonymously, please visit our donate page at¬†¬†or donate to our¬†GoFundMe campaign¬†or support us on our new¬†Patreon Page.¬† Yet another option for supporting us is our new Solar Sponsorship program ‚Äď read more about it below.¬†


Snail mail your donation to 

Earthshine Nature Programs 

134 E. Dogwood Ln. 

Pisgah Forest, NC 28768

3. Sponsorship of a solar module (aka solar panel).

How the solar sponsorship program works.

You may choose to sponsor (donate) one or more solar modules at the donation level of $500 each.* 
*Your sponsorship covers the cost of the solar module, its support structure, and the electronic components needed to tie Phase 2 into the existing & operational classroom solar array. 

After your donation is complete ‚Äď your name/company name (or the name of your choosing) will be permanently affixed to the frame of your sponsored solar module(s) and/or inscribed on a nearby commemorative plaque listing all classroom solar project supporters. (you may opt out of any of these perks)

Sponsors will also receive a certificate of sponsorship, a donation receipt, and the following private web links that will allow you to check in anytime & see your donation in action supporting our classroom, our students, our education animals, and the future!

‚Äď A unique web address and private login/password that will allow you to directly access our classroom¬†solar array‚Äôs real-time energy production status.

‚Äď A unique web address to a private live web camera providing a birds-eye view of our classroom¬†solar array in action! (and organic garden during the growing season)*

‚ÄstA web address to our weather camera that provides yet another unique view of our classroom solar array in action and a daily time-lapse video of the weather at our site.*
*No students/staff will be identifiable to protect their privacy. 

And if you choose: A set of one of a kind ‚Äúsolar earrings‚ÄĚ or a ‚Äúsolar pendant.‚ÄĚ Handmade of remnants of solar cells by Naturalist Steve O‚ÄôNeil and his interns.¬† These unique items do not generate any power but they are all one of a kind, unique, and beautiful.¬†

To sponsor one or more solar modules please contact Steve at

4. Support us by shopping on Amazon with Amazon Smile by following this link: and under the Supporting Link choose Earthshine Nature Programs and Amazon will donate funds to ENP each time you make a purchase – at no cost to you!



Without your continued support, Earthshine Nature Programs and the Trails Science program would not function.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to ENP now and in the future.  Earthshine Nature Programs is a 501c3, donation funded, volunteer owned and operated, wildlife conservation and rehabilitation, environmental stewardship, and science education charity organization.


ENP has a wonderful partnership with Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum to provide nature and science education and inspiration to their populations of outstanding youth.  Learn more at:



A note from naturalist

Steve O’Neil

I am passionate about sharing my love, respect, and curiosity for nature, wildlife and wild places, environmental stewardship, science, and reason with everyone I meet, especially my classroom and outreach programming students.  It is the students of today who will make the big nature and wildlife conservation, science, and energy decisions of the future, and it is my goal to give my students the best possible unbiased exposure to the most up to date, peer-reviewed evidence, ethics, practices, and technologies so they will be better informed and ready to take on the world and be the change that will guide us all forward. I feel that by demonstrating working models of what is possible, respectfully coexisting with each other, and by working together toward the common goal of creating and maintaining a better world for all living things today and into the future, we will make all of our dreams come true.

Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3) is supported primarily through monetary, resource, and time donations from caring, concerned individuals just like you.  I work hard to fundraise and acquire grants and donations from any and all sources that would like to support us. With your help with hands-on volunteering, a one-time donation of equipment or funds, a year-end gift, or a continuing patronage Рtogether we will create something wonderful that will serve to educate and inspire thousands of students with a new curiosity, greater respect, passionate understanding, and conservation ethic for caring for wildlife, and nature, and the adoption of responsible, secure, clean energy and transportation resources that we can all work to bring to our homes, businesses, and on the roads, thereby lowering our impacts on our shared environment and in the process become better stewards of nature and empower our shared futures through the findings, methods, and tools of science. 



Steve O’Neil

Executive Director of Earthshine Nature Programs(501c3)


 Steve and Ashley РBy Evan Kafka

Learn more about us:

Follow our Nature Blog:

Find us on Facebook at:

‚ÄúEarthshine Nature Programs‚ÄĚ

Watch our nature video series on YouTube at:

Follow our Electric Vehicle Blog:

Earthshine Nature Programs

134 E. Dogwood Ln.

Pisgah Forest, NC  28768

(828) 606-8939










17 Mar

Date: April 16, 2018 

Location: Oskar Blues Brewery – Brevard, NC

Time: 5-8:30 PM

Earthshine Nature Programs* (ENP) is a volunteer operated wildlife and environmental education and conservation and renewable energy outreach education nonprofit (501c3) based out of Pisgah Forest, NC. It is operated by its founder and Executive Director Steve O’Neil.  Steve is on a mission to connect people with nature and wildlife and in doing so he works to foster a renewed curiosity in the natural world that supports us all.  

Through his hands-on wildlife and nature outreach programming at camps, schools, birthday parties and special events in the region, to his unique experiential citizen science-based projects and experiences in his classes, Steve strives to educate and inspire his students and people of all ages to get excited about nature, wildlife, the sciences, and above all else – caring for, and becoming better stewards of the fragile natural environment that supports us all.

Steve is also a full-time naturalist and environmental science educator at Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum near Brevard, NC where he and his students and interns care for a menagerie of animal ambassadors, most of which are ex-pets and non-releasable wildlife.¬† Some of these animals were once wild but after surviving run-ins with cars, dogs and habitat loss, were rehabilitated by Steve (an NC licensed wildlife rehabilitator), his students, and volunteer staff.¬† These animals are housed in the rustic log cabin Science and Nature Education Center classroom that is also the office of Steve’s nonprofit.¬†


Gollum the Eastern Hellbender – one of Steve’s animal ambassadors.

Steve is an avid supporter of renewable energy – especially solar ‚Äď and he supports the great need for trusting the findings of science to facilitate the final goal of transitioning of our society away from polluting fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and renewably powered electric vehicles for the sake of our health, the health of our shared environment, and future generations of life on Planet Earth.

Working toward that grand goal, over the last few months Steve and his students, and Pisgah Forest resident and environmental hero Jim Hardy, finished Phase One of the construction of a grid-tied solar power station that now provides 5.3 kW of clean solar produced electricity for Steve’s log cabin classroom and the ENP nonprofit office. 


This array was constructed from donated components and in-kind donations from generous local individuals and businesses as well as great support and expertise from Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute in Townsend, Tennessee.  

View the construction of our solar array in the video below. 

Phase One of this student-built solar array is now complete and online; however, it provides only around 5.3 kW of electricity or 50-60% of the power needed to operate the building.  To provide 100% of the power needed for all our daily needs we are now working on Phase Two of our classroom solar project.  Phase Two consists of 10 more solar modules, their support frame and wiring totaling around 3.0 kW of solar.  To date, we have raised around 35% of the funds needed to complete Phase Two and it is for this reason that we will be holding a fundraiser on April 16th at: 


Bring the family and friends and join us as Oskar Blues hosts their Making a Difference Monday fundraiser for

Earthshine Nature Programs 

Between the hours of noon and 8:00pm Oskar Blues will donate a percentage of taproom sales to Earthshine Nature Programs!  Proceeds from this fundraiser will support Phase Two of the construction of our student built and maintained classroom solar array project. Learn more about this community supported renewable energy project by reading the full story on my previous blog post linked below:

Watch a video of the day we first activated our classroom solar array last summer!

Now that you know how and why we did it, please come out in support of making it even better with Phase Two of our classroom solar project!

At our benefit event you will learn all about our wildlife education, rehabilitation and outreach programming and interact with many of our friendly education animals including Rosie, Rex, and Charlie the Red-foot Tortoises, Ashley the Red Tailed Boa Constrictor, Fiona the Ball Python and Piggy the Western Hognose snake.

We are working on having several Special Guests!

(these could change but may include) 

Peter Kipp of Curtis Wright Falconry with his birds of prey!  Get your photo made with a bird of prey sitting on your hand!


Meet Walter Kidd of Serpentarium Magic and Peewee the 22 foot long python!


Meet members of the Blue Ridge Electric Vehicle Club and learn all about and possibly take a ride in an electric car! The Blue Ridge Electric Vehicle club will have several sleek, fast, EVs on display including the all-new 2018 Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S & X, BMW i3, Chevrolet Volt, and Bolt EV, all new Honda Clarity and the much anticipated Tesla Model 3!


Browse local nature and wildlife themed art, photography, and jewelry for sale by Steve Atkins, Kathy Wright Hardy,  Christina Ramsey and Chance Feimster.


Find out how you can do more to conserve and protect our fragile environment when you chat with representatives from Clean Air Carolina, Sundance Power Systems, Joyce Pearsall of Monarch Watch, Alan Cameron Рa volunteer with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and Friends of Dupont State Forest РAlan will have a Green Salamander for you to learn all about and much more!  

Explore our fundraiser table of unique items and if you have any items you would like to donate to the sale table please do contact us or just bring them the day of. 


Live Music!

Local Beer!

Great Eats provided by the

  Oskar Blues Chubwagon! 

If you are unable to attend or would like to donate anonymously, please visit our donate page at or donate to our GoFundMe campaign or support us on our new Patreon Page.  Yet another option for supporting us is our new Solar Sponsorship program Рread more about it at the end of this blog post. 


Snail mail your donation to 

Earthshine Nature Programs 

134 E. Dogwood Ln. 

Pisgah Forest, NC 28768

All proceeds from this fundraiser will support the completion of our classroom solar project and are tax deductible. 

Questions? Contact Steve at

The ENP website:

The ENP Blog:

The ENP Youtube Channel: 

Facebook: Earthshine Nature Programs and The Blue Ridge EV Club 


Steve and a Snapping turtle friend he rehabilitated and released in its native habitat. 

*Steve O’Neil founded Earthshine Nature Programs when he was working as outdoor guide and naturalist at Earthshine Discovery Center in Lake Toxaway in 2010.¬† In 2013 ENP incorporated as a 501c3 and became a separate business entity from Earthshine Discovery¬†Center yet ENP kept the name Earthshine as a reminder of its humble beginnings at the wonderful Earthshine Discovery Center. ¬†The name Earthshine is foremost in our mission because we believe that stewardship of the EARTH, and all the life contained within this fragile¬†oasis in space, should SHINE brightly above all other issues because without clean air, water, and environmental balance ¬†– we have nothing.

There are several ways you can support our Classroom Solar Energy Project

1. Monthly Patreon support via our Patreon page.

2. Direct donation of components/funding via one of the links above.

3. Sponsorship of a solar module (aka solar panel).

How the solar sponsorship program works.

You may choose to sponsor (donate) one or more solar modules at the donation level of $500 each.* 
*Your sponsorship covers the cost of the solar module, its support structure, and the electronic components needed to tie Phase 2 into the existing & operational classroom solar array. 

Solar Sponsorship spaces are limited to 18.

Of those 18 spaces ‚Äď five are already taken as of April 8, 2018.¬†

After your donation is complete – your name/company name (or the name of your choosing) will be permanently affixed to the frame of your sponsored solar module(s) and inscribed on a nearby commemorative plaque listing all classroom solar project supporters. (you may opt out of any of these perks)

Sponsors will also receive a certificate of sponsorship, a donation receipt, and the following private web links that will allow you to check in anytime & see your donation in action supporting our classroom, our students, our education animals, and the future!

– A unique web address and private login/password that will allow you to directly access our classroom¬†solar array’s real-time energy production status.

РA unique web address to a private live web camera providing a birds-eye view of our classroom solar array in action! (and organic garden during the growing season)*

–¬†A web address to our weather camera that provides yet another unique view of our classroom solar array in action and a daily time-lapse video of the weather at our site.*
*No students will be identifiable to protect their privacy. 

And if you choose: A set of one of a kind ‚Äúsolar earrings‚ÄĚ or a ‚Äúsolar pendant.‚ÄĚ Handmade of remnants of solar cells by Naturalist Steve O‚ÄôNeil and his students.¬† These unique items do not generate any power but they are all one of a kind, unique, and beautiful.¬†

To sponsor one or more solar modules please contact Steve at

Earthshine Nature Programs Fall Benefit Events

25 Sep


Date: October 01, 2016

Time: 1-4pm

  Location: SANCTUARY BREWING COMPANY Hendersonville, NC


Date: October 03, 2016

Time: 5-8pm


Brevard, NC


Come to one or both events, bring the family and friends and join us as Sanctuary and Oskar Blues as both wonderful establishments will be donating a portion of taproom sales during the events to 

Earthshine Nature Programs! 

Learn all about our wildlife education, rehabilitation, conservation, outreach, science and renewable energy programming. 

Meet many of our education animals including Rex and Rosie the Tortoises, Scar and Slip the Rat snakes, and Ashley the Boa Constrictor and more!

Help us raise funds for our newest project at our science, nature and wildlife rehabilitation and conservation center – a¬†5.3 kW solar energy system that will help us power most of the heating, lighting, and habitat life support systems for our education and rehabilitation animals as well as and the lighting, audio visual and computing systems for our classroom…and charge our all electric Nissan Leaf outreach vehicle with 100% renewably generated power from the sun!


*Learn more about our solar energy project in the detailed description at the bottom of this blog post*

Meet special guest Pierce Curren of TV’s Scaly Adventures and hear all about his adventures with his family sharing his love of reptiles and nature with everyone he meets! 


Local artists will be on hand offering their unique wildlife and nature themed art, photography, and jewelry with a portion of the proceeds directly supporting our work. 


Steve and friends will start off the event with a one of a kind music jam with indigenous instruments such as the didgeridoo, flute and drum.  If you play, please bring an instrument and join in on the fun!

At the Oskar Blues event we will also have an Electric Vehicle car show where you can learn all about and maybe even take a ride in an electric car!  Members of the Blue Ridge Electric Vehicle Club will have several sleek EVs on display including possibly the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, and BMW i3 on display!

Come learn how you can go electric and kick gas! 


All donations to our 501c3 are tax deductible.

Receive updates from our programs on Facebook at Earthshine Nature Programs and on the Earthshine Nature Blog at

If you are unable to make it to one of our fundraisers and would still like to support us, please feel free to visit our Amazon wishlist or the donate page on our website where you will find a Paypal donate link.



Earthshine Nature Programs is a 501c3 nonprofit wildlife conservation and rehabilitation, nature and science education organization, and is a separate business entity from Earthshine Discovery Center.

Please support our

Solar Energy Project

Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3) and Trails Science is working to develop an environmental education classroom and wildlife rehabilitation facility that is powered by the sun!¬† Our goal with this project is to drastically reduce our carbon footprint and dependence on fossil fuels by taking advantage of the most renewable energy source ‚Äď our nearest star.

This 5.3 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array will not only supply our classroom with renewably generated power but it will be a bold teaching tool for the students of Trails Carolina, The Academy at Trails Carolina, and our visitors. It will offer our students a myriad of learning opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, environmental education, and conservation courses. It will also provide web interface technologies that will allow the system to be monitored in real-time by students in class or from anywhere on the planet!

Once online, this solar farm will not only provide much of the power used by the science classroom but it will also provide enough solar generated electricity to power our nonprofit outreach vehicle, an all-electric Nissan Leaf.


Our students and visitors will benefit greatly from the applied use of renewable energy technologies in class by experiencing the first hand functioning of real world, renewable energy applications such as solar-electric power, and electric vehicles.  In our unique solar powered science classroom they will bust through the negative myths often associated with these technologies by assisting with the maintenance of, and studying of the most up-to-date systems in class and on class field trips to local renewable energy installations and events.  After leaving Trails our graduates will be more up to date, connected, and ready to accept the reality of, and make use of, sustainable clean energy power and transportation systems to power their lives and their futures.

To make this grand vision a reality we have partnered with Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute (BBSI) in Towensend, Tennessee with the goal to install a state of the art off-grid solar array that will allow the Trails Science and Nature Center to one day become fully self-powered by the sun!

The students and I have already begun site preparations and will begin installing the solar array in the early fall of 2016 and depending on granting/donation support we hope to have the system online by mid-November if not before.

The following outline shows what components we have already received and the yet to be sourced components. ¬†Two of the three primary components needed to make this project a reality have already been donated ‚Äď they include;

1.The Solar Modules (Panels). 22 240watt solar modules ‚Äď Donated by Frank Marshall of¬†FLS Energy, a local utility scale solar installation company in¬†Asheville, NC. ¬†Approximate value: $10,000

2.The charge controllers. ¬†Two (2) Morningstar 600 Volt charge controllers with DC disconnects ‚Äď Donated by Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute in Towensend Tennessee. Value: $3,600. These devices will monitor the output of the solar modules¬†and the needs of the batteries and regulate the power as the batteries need it. ¬†They are ‚Äúsmart‚ÄĚ devices so we will be able to monitor their status from anywhere with an internet connection.

3.Electrical Panels, Wiring and Conduit for Solar Control System. Donated by Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute in Towensend Tennessee. Value: $600.00

4.Aluminum Racking for solar panels. Donated by Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute in Towensend Tennessee. Value: $3,922

Our remaining needs to make this classroom solar project a reality

  1. The battery storage ‚Äď yet to be acquired. This project will rely on 24 Trojan T145 EHPT 6 Volt golf cart batteries to store power for use at night and on cloudy days.


Need: 24 Trojan T145 EHPT 6 volt batteries. Estimated cost: $5256.  Donate via our wish list on Amazon or special ordered locally from Batteries+Bulbs in Asheville to save on shipping costs.

2.¬†The power inverter ‚Äď yet to be acquired.

The remaining primary component for this system to work as planned is the power inverter.¬† This device ties everything together, converts DC to AC power, and is the ‚Äúbrains‚ÄĚ of the system keeping everything that needs power running smoothly and efficiently.


Need: 1 Aims 6000 Watt 48V Pure Sine Power Inverter / Grid Charger / Transfer Switch PICOGLF60W48V

Cost: $1392.00 via:

You may also donate this unit using our wishlist on


3. AIMS Power Remote Switch with LCD Monitoring Screen

This device will allow the students and I to monitor the solar power system remotely from the classroom.


Cost $139.00

Donate via our Amazon wish list.


  1. Hidden Costs: $2,500 – These are the unseen costs that will inevitably come up during construction and upgrades to the ENP/Trails Science and Nature Center. Should this not be needed immediately, it will be deposited into the ENP account and used for future needs.

Primary Supporters of Our Solar Project

Black Bear Solar Institute

Bob Harris ‚Äď Executive Director


Bob understands the value solar holds to the future and has generously donated many of the components needed to construct this system as well as new, energy efficient computers for the classroom and is providing pro bono guidance, technical expertise, and installation assistance to see this project to fruition.

FLS Energy

Frank Marshall:

Frank has graciously taken my students and I on guided tours of local grid scale solar installations that his company has installed for Duke Energy. ¬†He also sees the value in supporting solar energy education for our students and has generously donated 20 new 240 watt solar modules to our classroom’s solar project.

Jim Hardy

Jim is a master carpenter, passionate educator, Sierra Club member and founder of Charge Transylvania County.  Jim is also a wildlife advocate and drives a fully electric vehicle.  Jim will also be providing pro bono guidance, construction technical expertise, and installation assistance to see this project to fruition.


 Trails Carolina

Supports the project and its great value to the students and the organization.

 The Academy at Trails Carolina

Supports the project and its great value to the students and the organization.

Jewell Mimms donated $1000 – THANK YOU!!


Option 1: Donate to our project and be part of something amazing that will truly make a difference in the education of countless students, campers, and visitors to our science and nature center over the lifetime of the project!

In our great and humble thanks to those that have and will assist us with this grand education and conservation undertaking, the students and I will create a one of a kind informational plaque that outlines the benefits of the project, all the student groups that worked together to construct the project, and lists all of the primary supporters* of the project.  The large version of this plaque will forever be proudly displayed on the solar array for all future students and visitors to see.  A smaller version of the plaque will also be permanently mounted in the classroom alongside the solar array’s information and monitoring station.


Level 1. Up to $100  Charged Particle

Level 1. $100 Р$200  Shiny Soldier*

Level 2. $200 Р$500   Captain Photon*

Level 3. $500 Р$1000   Ray of Hope*

Level 4. $1000 Р$5000  Enlightened Provider*

Level 5. $5000 and up!     Lord of Light and Wonder*

As stated above all primary supporters* (unless you choose to opt out) will have their names listed on the solar array commemorative plaques as well as having your names listed on our website and a spacial blog posting.

Option 2 РBONUS PERK: Those that donate $500 or more will receive your choice of either beautiful custom made locally crafted jewelry and/or artwork made with fragments of actual solar cells similar to the ones used in the construction of our solar array.  These solar cell fragments are the remains of a very successful classroom solar pilot project that the students and I conducted over two years ago. This project created two student built small solar panels that are still online and providing clean power to one of our animal habitats to this day.  This small array will be coupled with the large array to provide even more power to our systems when all is complete.

These one of a kind items will take the form of either;


-Tie/Lapel pin


-Mixed media artwork

-A combination of the above listed perks

-Or you may submit your own custom suggestion

NOTE: Perks to be granted to supporters after the project officially goes online.




A note from ENP Executive Director Steve O’Neil 

I am passionate about sharing my love, curiosity, fascination, and respect for nature, wildlife and wild places with everyone I meet ‚Äď especially my classroom and outreach programming students and participants. ¬†It is the students and children of today that will make the big wildlife, nature, science, and energy decisions of the future.¬† It is my goal to give them the best possible unbiased, science supported, exposure to the best ethics and best practices of these most important disciplines so they will be better informed and ready to change the world for the better as they mature. ¬†¬†

I feel that by demonstrating what is possible, and working together toward the common goal of creating and maintaining a better world for all living things today and into the future by using clean technologies that are readily available to us, we will be able to make all of our dreams come true for the betterment and health of us all and in support of the planet that supports us.  

I am working very hard to complete all of these upgrades and enhancements under my very small wildlife, nature and science conservation, education, and outreach organization Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3) (Tax ID 27-3465594) which is supported primarily through monetary, resource, and time donations from concerned individuals just like you. To cover the remaining costs I am working on acquiring donations from any and all sources that would like to support us. 

Please consider supporting us in any way you are able.  If you are unable to support us at this time please, if you know of any possible monetary or component donation sources and/or granting options please do share this document with them.   

Every little bit helps us get closer to our grand goals that will serve to upgrade our education animal habitats, classroom equipment, power our education facility and outreach vehicle via the endless energy from the sun, and most importantly ‚Äď educate and inspire middle and high school aged children on the proper respect and understanding of wildlife and wild places and the wise and responsible application of clean energy resources that we can all use to provide for, and empower our shared futures together on spaceship earth.¬†


Steve O’Neil

Executive Director of Earthshine Nature Programs (501c3)


Naturalist with Trails Carolina and The Academy at Trails Carolina

(828) 606-8939

134 E. Dogwood Lane

Pisgah Forest, NC 28768


Earthshine Nature Programs End of Year Report

21 Feb

It was a wonderful 2013 for Earthshine Nature Programs!


Although this report is a bit late, we wanted to fill you all in on the amazing year we had in 2013 thanks to many of you.  So sit back and enjoy the year in review!

We started the year off at our new base of operations on the campus of The Academy at Trails Carolina near Dupont Forest in Henderson County, NC. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our great friend Jim Hardy who donated of his valuable time and amazing carpentry skill to construct several new and incredibly strong tables to hold many of the animal habitats. ¬†After Jim completed the tables and the Academy students painted them, Earthshine’s one and only Erith aka: “Tadpole” gave of his time and his truck to assist me with the move of many of the habitats and animals–thank you Erith!


Then Jim returned and constructed a wonderful large Opossum habitat for Crash.¬† That‚Äôs Jim building the ‚Äúpossum palace‚ÄĚ below.


 Crash loves his new habitat!  Thank you Jim!


¬† This new location gave us so much more room to expand and expand we did!¬† Over the last year we have added more habitats both at our new location and at the Earthshine Discovery Center.¬† Early in the year some very nice people in Asheville donated to us a huge 250 gallon aquatic habitat with all support systems!¬† Our friends Erith, Jason, Michael, Steve A., and many of the Academy students assisted in the break down, transport and set up of the massive aquarium and associated support systems in the new nature center.¬† The massive aquarium now houses dozens of tropical fish, a young snapping turtle and Jack our juvenile Dwarf Caiman–that is a photo of Jack below.


One of our next projects was to construct an outdoor box turtle habitat at the Trails nature center–that is the new habitat in the photo below.


Students from the Academy and Trails wilderness worked together during the winter and spring to complete the habitat.  It is a circular enclosure constructed of primarily donated/reclaimed/re-purposed materials, native food plants, a large brush pile for sheltering and overwintering and a small pond for turtle hydration purposes and as an amphibian breeding pool.  The pond needed a water filtration system but a good, name brand outdoor filtration system would have been in the hundreds of dollars.  I did not want to spend that much on a filter system so the students and I constructed a filtration system from a 12 volt pump, three different kinds of bulk filter medium, some random aquarium materials that I had on hand, and a few new off-the-shelf components.  We then wired in a 40 watt photovoltaic (solar) panel I donated, my father-in-law donated a new 12 volt battery to store the power and then the wilderness students and I installed it and it is now online and operational keeping the water clean for several hours per day with free energy from the sun!

In 2014 the students and I will be planting several blueberry and grape plants in the turtle habitat to provide better cover and tasty snacks for the turtles (and the students).¬† We will also construct wooden benches‚ÄĒwith rough cut sawmill lumber‚ÄĒon top of the turtle habitat’s wall to provide nice outdoor seating which will allow the enclosure to function as an outdoor classroom.¬† ¬†We are also planning to install three more 40 watt solar panels alongside the previously installed solar panel and a second battery.¬† These panels will be built by the students over the winter in our renewable energy class.¬† This will boost the power output of the system allowing it to collect more energy from the sun during the shady summer months under the canopy.¬† The pump will then be able to run for much longer periods and for most of the night and on cloudy days.¬† These new updates will allow the enclosure to become an even better habitat for the resident turtles and become a wonderful outdoor classroom with a focus on the Eastern box turtle, wildlife rehabilitation, recycling and renewable energy.

Introducing Vadim our new Russian Tortoise!


Vadim is named after the late Asheville artist Vadim Bora.  Vadim was donated to us after his previous owner decided that he was not able to care for him any longer.  He will live in the new turtle habitat with Charlie the Red foot tortoise and the box turtles Rose, Crash, Chewy, Rasputin and Ben Franklin.

Chewy chowing down on fresh tomato and spinach!!  Our turtles eat very well!


Uber Cool Nomenclature Note: In the early fall some staff and I were cutting down a couple of hazard trees outside the nature and science center and together we chose a new name for the turtle habitat and/science and nature center complex and this name shell be: Turtle Island.¬† I know, I know, you might say “there already is a Turtle Island near Boone, NC and it has even been on TV… Please do not confuse our Turtle Island with Mr. Conway’s Turtle Island thank you. ¬†I believe that there can safely be more than one Turtle Island on Turtle Island Earth ūüôā


Science Class at Earthshine and Turtle Island

 2013 was filled with nature, science, fun, adventure and above all: SCIENCE!  Over the last year class we have studied many different science topics including but never limited to:

Citizen Science/Environmental Science: We work together to study nature by getting out in it, getting dirty and making a difference.¬† We study the ecosystem around us from the creeks and bogs to rocks and logs.¬† We are keeping track of the movements of several wild reptiles by following in the “Turtle Tracks” and ‚ÄúTurtle Trails‚ÄĚ of four Eastern box turtles, “Snake Tracks” of two Timber rattlesnakes and in the spring of 2014 we will begin following in the “Snake Trails” left by Splinter the ratsnake who lives just outside Turtle Island! ¬† ¬†We are learning loads of great environmental and wildlife conservation science and helping to collect valuable reptile movement data for a statewide reptile monitoring project that is working to understand, conserve and protect some of the most misunderstood yet most important creatures on the planet–reptiles.¬† In this class the students get hands-on time with accepted scientific wildlife research and monitoring techniques and equipment as well as special professional guests such as wildlife diversity biologists and volunteers who pop in from time to time to teach the students about their chosen professions.


Turtle Trackers at work at Earthshine!

Animal Adaptations: Why does that animal have a stinger, that one venom, that one wings, the other one feathers, hair, a sticky tongue or an opposable thumb?¬† Why doesn’t a snake have legs, why is a salamander slimy and a toad dry and how the heck does a bumblebee fly?¬† All these questions and more are answered in this class that uses many of our resident education animals as hands-on teaching aids.¬† In this class the students not only learn about the animals but they get plenty of one on one time with the animals. ¬†May students develop strong bonds with their favorite animal when they not only hold it but also learn how to feed, medicate and care for the resident and rehab animals.¬†


Air and Space¬†a student favorite–who doesn’t want to be an astronaut! ¬†We start with the Wright Brothers, fly with ‚ÄúLucky Lindy‚ÄĚ Lindburgh and Check Yeager, launch into space and land on the moon with Armstrong and Aldrin, ride the most complex and most powerful vehicle ever built‚ÄĒthe Space Shuttle, orbit the earth at 17,500 mph on the International Space Station while learning about life in space and how it benefits us in our daily lives and then land on Mars with the Mars Science Lab Curiosity Rover.¬† We close out this class by watching Col. Chris Hadfield performing the first ever music video from space! ¬†It is a great ride that has become a favorite among students, staff, Steve and over 21,000,000 viewers worldwide!¬†¬†

(If video will not open, watch it on Youtube here )     


Ancient Clues: We visit with some of the most intriguing finds in the history of archaeology starting with Otzi the Iceman: a 5300 year old Neolithic man found frozen in the ice in the Austrian/Italian Alps.  Visit Pompeii and Herculaneum and investigate the ancient volcanic disaster that preserved Roman daily life in 79 AD and try to answer the questions that the Kennewick Man left us with over 9000 years ago.


Waterworld: we explore the real final frontier–the Oceans–with indigenous fishermen, Jacques Cousteau, James Cameron, college students and visionaries who are working to help us better understand this fragile blue water planet we all call home. ¬†


Energy‚ÄĒpast, present and future: Where do we get energy to operate our bodies, houses, cars‚ÄĒour society?¬† Where does it come from, where does it go and at what cost to us and the earth?¬† We start with food in the belly and fire in the hearth, learn about energy use in ancient times, modern times and in the future.¬† Topics include‚ÄĒfire, food, fossil fuels, renewable energy and electric vehicles.¬† Part of this class is hands-on classroom and field based “labs” where the students participate in the construction and maintenance of several different renewable energy projects such as:¬†

  • Solar energy: Over the summer several students assisted with the construction and installation of a solar powered turtle pond filter.¬† This winter many students will build and assist with the installation of three new solar panels at “Turtle Island.”¬† I am also working to develop a day trip for Academy students to visit one of North Carolina’s largest solar farms that produces enough clean energy to power 750 homes!


  • Electric Vehicles: after learning the history of the electric car in class students take a walking “field trip” to visit Science Steve’s all electric car–a 2012 Nissan Leaf.¬† After learning about how the car works, ¬†many of the students have¬† expressed a great interest in buying an EV or hybrid as their first car or trading in their–as one student put it “archaic old earth killing gas guzzler”–when they return home from Trails.¬†


  • Gravity feed crop irrigation/micro-hydroelectric power: during the fall many of the Trails wilderness and Academy students have worked with me on the construction and installation of a gravity fed garden irrigation system that is now functioning at the Academy.¬† This system has been designed to double as a micro-hydro generating station at some point in the future.


  • Generator Bicycle: my wife Marian kindly donated her old bicycle to be used as a stationary generator bike.¬† After scrounging up some more donated and recycled parts and supplies and a few new ones, the students and I worked to construct the gen-bike over the last couple of months and it is now a reality!¬† The gen-bike is now online and generating student, staff and Steve produced pedal power to operate the computer and data projector I use to show science and nature documentaries in class.¬† Now, if the students want to watch the show they take turns pedaling the bicycle to power the show!¬† The gen-bike serves to directly show students just how much work energy is needed to watch a movie.¬† They learn by experiencing the direct transfer of their bodies biochemical energy to the mechanical energy of the bicycle then on to the electromagnetic/electrochemical energy in the generator/battery/inverter and then finally ending with the projection of their expended energy in the form of an educational motion picture on the “silver screen.”¬† Added benefits from the gen-bike is that it will provide power to the turtle pond filter on dark days when the solar array is not producing much power and it also gives the students and I some much needed exercise.¬†

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Feel free to drop in any time and take the gen-bike for a “spin.”


Waste: when you flush it, drain it or throw it away…where is away?¬† Where does our waste go?¬† Leave no trace, reduce, reuse, recycle…rethink…these are all lessons I work to teach in this dirty class.¬† In this class students from the Academy go on field trips to visit a waste water treatment plant, recycling sorting facility, landfill, and landfill gas (LFG) powered art studio and greenhouse!


¬† ¬† ¬†¬†¬†True Heroes aka Humans are Amazing!¬† Inspiring examples of humans who are true heroes. ¬†Ordinary and extra-ordinary people who have in some way made a positive difference in the world for people, wildlife and the planet.¬† We learn from some of the greats such as but never limited to: Neil Armstrong and Col. Chris Hadfield, Steve Irwin, Paul Watson, Elon Musk, Diana Nyad, Stephen Hawking, Les Stroud, David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, ¬†Authur C. Clarke, Jennifer Pharr Davis, and more…¬†

Diana-Nyad_2314412bDiana Nyad swimming from Cuba to Key West in 2013      


Wildlife Rehabilitation Report

During 2013 ENP/Trails Nature ¬†rescued and rehabilitated several box turtles, one snake and 9 baby ‘possums!¬† ¬†In the early spring the ‚Äėpossums mothers were hit by cars and the little Joeys were rescued by a passerby who checked the mother possums‚Äô pouches, found the babies, and then took them to the WNC Nature Center who then called me.¬† The young marsupials grew up at the Trails Nature Center until mid-June when I transferred them to the nature center at Camp Illahee in Brevard where the nature girls took good care of them until I released them into the forests surrounding Turtle Island in early July.


The cute photo below is of one of the young ‚Äėpossums soundly sleeping a few days before I released him.¬† The extra leg sticking through a hole is from a sleeping sibling under the blanket!


¬†¬†¬† The box turtles we rehabilitated this year were all hit by vehicles or lawnmowers.¬† Three were released back into their habitats after some recovery time at the nature centers.¬† One came in late in the year and is overwintering at the Trails Nature Center and will be released in the spring at its place of origin.¬† Two of these turtles had major shell fractures‚ÄĒthe rather graphic photo below is of Ben Franklin just before we applied his shell patch in class.


The Academy students and I carefully repaired the shells of both turtles with a special epoxy resin that will hold their shells together like a cast allowing them to knit back together and form new shell underneath.¬† Our veterinarian Dr. Coleman of Haywood Animal Hospital in Hendersonville, NC prescribed a course of antibiotics for both turtles that helped them fight off infections due to the shell fractures–

THANK YOU Dr. Coleman!

 Both turtles would not eat for over a month so the students and I had to force feed them a special food, electrolyte, and vitimin blend through a tube as we are doing in the photo below in order to get their energy up so that they could recover faster.


By late summer they both began eating on their own as Ben shows in the photo below where he is enjoying a juicy forest snail!¬† Notice also that Ben’s left eye is missing–this is an old injury that was healed when Ben came to us–this old turtle has truly been through it!


These two turtles now live in the new turtle habitat at Turtle Island, the Trails Science and Nature center.¬† Unfortunatly they must live as captive education animals for the remainder of their lives.¬† This is due not only to their severe mobility limiting shell injuries but also because the individuals that dropped them off with us for treatment did not leave their contact information or the exact places of origin for the turtles.¬† Many reptiles are “locked in” to one home habitat by instinct and will not thrive in a new location unless cared for as we care for our turtles.¬† Moving them around is often a death sentence to them even if you feel like you are doing a good thing by moving them out of harms way to a safe new forest or to your back yard.


If you find an injured reptile on the road and decide to drop it off at a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitation facility for treatment, please leave with the animal its exact place of origin so that it can be returned home after it recovers.


Ben Franklin is one of the most beautiful box turtles I have ever encountered.  He has vivid yellow-orange  colors and an atypical yellow eye.  Most male Eastern box turtles have cherry red eyes so this makes Ben a very special turtle.

Later in the summer we received a young ratsnake that had been hit by a lawnmower.¬† His injuries were severe with terrible cuts along his sides and a broken jaw.¬† Despite his injuries he was otherwise healthy and strong so we rushed him to Dr. Coleman.¬† This is a photo of the snake shortly after the accident‚ÄĒyou can clearly see the broken jaw and wound covered in antibiotic ointment on his right side.


After a visit to Dr. Coleman, he was treated and then cared for by the students and within a couple of weeks he shed his badly damaged skin to reveal fresh, new, healthy pink skin underneath!

Scar Jr. has now recovered and is doing very well and although his horrible scars remain they will continue to shrink with each shed.  His jaw however will not heal because it is missing a piece of bone.  Due to his jaw injury he refuses to eat on his own so the students and I must tube feed him a special blend of liquefied cat food and vitamins as seen in the photo below.


Since we have been tube feeding him he has shed again and gained strength and weight but he still does not like to be held nor will he eat–now our goal now is simple–get him to eat on his own.

So far he has continued to refuse food but it is my hope that in the spring his natural instincts will turn on his feeding instinct and he will feed.  Until that time we wait.

      If he will eat on his own then Dr. Coleman has stated that he may be able to attempt some form of reconstructive surgery on his damaged jaw!  If this happens and he is able to feed himself we may one day be able to release Scar Jr. back into the wild and that would be a great success for sure!




We started out the year strong with Catherine, Jimmy and Mrs. Bones following their usual spring movement patterns that I have noted over the last 5 years. ¬†Jimmy once again visited the garden area and spent lots of time at Jimmy’s Place while Catherine first trekked next door to the neighbors to the south where she fed heavily on juicy morsels in their backyard. Then, in late spring, she trekked over the ridge to visit our other neighbors to the northeast where she nested–for the third year in a row–on the edge of their gravel driveway.


In the late spring and then again in early summer we attached transmitters to two new turtles at our Trails Academy site.  These turtles were named Paula Journeys and Shelly Echo by the Trails Wilderness students and are part of the new Turtle Trails radio telemetry project taking place in the forest surrounding Turtle Island.


Take a close-up look at Shelly Echo–notice her missing foot.

We decided to attach a transmitter to her shell because we would like to learn how a physically challenged turtle survives as compared to a turtle with all of its feet like the other turtles we are following.

Below is a photo of preparing to attach the newly refurbished transmitter to Shelly’s shell.  The transmitter only weighs 10 grams and it is glued on and hurts the turtle in no way.


¬†In 2013¬†The Earthshine and Trails turtles went about business as usual however, our only Cedar Mountain turtle, Mrs. Bones, vanished in July.¬† She was later discovered several miles away by a concerned citizen and then came home only to need a new transmitter because the original unit had failed due to an exhausted battery. ¬†The old unit was replaced and she was soon released back home on the farm. ¬†Around this time Mrs. Bones had her amazing story printed in the Transylvania Times for all to read–how cool is that! ¬†A few days after her release she came down with a respiratory/eye infection which I treated for several weeks with antibiotics and eye drops. ¬†She recovered nicely only a few weeks before the cooler weather of fall set in. ¬†Then, just before she was about to go into her winter den, we lost track of her yet again. ¬†This time it turned out to be natural causes–a large animal–possibly a bear, coyote or dog–removed her transmitter, spit it out, and then either carried her off or she got away and is doing just fine. ¬†I believe it is the latter because she was an older, experienced turtle and would always clamp up tight in her shell at the first sign of danger. ¬†Whatever happened to Mrs. Bones she gave us close to five years of wonderful data on the movements of the Eastern box turtle in the mountains of Western North Carolina and this information will directly help private land owners, naturalists, conservationists and scientists conserve and protect her entire species from harm. ¬†THANK YOU Mrs. Bones! That’s Mrs. Bones chowing down on a huge land snail!


Watch the final Odyssey of Mrs. Bones’ on Youtube by following the link below.

In late¬†September Catherine’s transmitter began emitting a strange signal that was very hard to track. ¬†I was instructed by the company that manufactured her transmitter, to send it back to them for repair. ¬†In the meantime I replaced her unit with a new unit from a different company and so far it has been working flawlessly although it is a bit larger than her previous unit but if it lasts the 2.5 years the company claims–it will be worth it for sure.

IMG_20130723_153624_890Saya and Jimmy Irwin

Jimmy’s transmitter was replaced in 2012 with a refurbished unit and it continues to transmit strongly. ¬†Hopefully it will work without interruption until the late summer of 2014 when its battery will be running low and we will replace it with a newly refurbished unit.

Currently, all of the turtles are now sleeping off the winter.  They have all returned to their overwintering locations and we hope to see them all again in the spring of the year.


Conclusions? ¬†I cannot say anything with absolute certainty however, I am¬†beginning to see solid trends with the movements of these turtles. ¬†It is to early to say anything about the Turtle Trails turtles Paula Journeys and Shelly Echo since we just began tracking them in 2013, ¬†but about the Turtle Tracks turtles I can say quite a bit.¬† Catherine–she seems to overwinter in relatively the same area every year. ¬†It is an area of about 50 feet in circumference on a southwest facing slope above a small spring. ¬†The precise location within this area that she picks for her actual “den” is either: near a fallen log or near the edge of the forest/trail. ¬†Like Catherine, ¬†Mrs. Bones always over wintered in the same area–a south facing slope in a mixed hardwood forest in close proximity to a large rotting pine log. ¬†Jimmy on the other hand, ¬†over winters in two different locations. Site 1 is on a west facing slope¬†on the edge of a mixed hardwood forest and¬†only about 2 feet from the edge of a grassy field. ¬†Site 2 is on a north facing slope deep in the hardwood forest under Rhododendron and Mountain laurel shrubs. ¬†These sites could not be more different from each other. ¬†Since I have not found Catherine, Mrs. Bones or Jimmy overwintering in any other locations in their habitats it seems that they may be instinctually “locked in” to these sites as their over wintering locations. ¬†I remember when I was tracking Mr. Bones, he actually had three different overwintering locations…why do the females seem to stay in the same locations while the males seem to change their den locations? ¬† Only the turtles know and we can only guess. ¬†Not only do the turtles return to the exact same over wintering areas like clockwork–almost to the day–but they also visit the same foraging and sheltering areas almost without fail.¬†However, only time and continued tracking will reveal more of their secrets as I have only been tracking them for just over 5 years. ¬†In 5 more years I may change my theories depending on what new evidence is presented to me by following in the turtle tracks and turtle trails of these remarkable creatures.



Snake Tracks Project Update


Photographer and friend of ENP Steve Atkins visited us in the spring to get some amazing photos of the young Timber rattlesnake that I rescued with the help of the Scaly Adventures film crew. 


Check out more of Steve’s amazing photography.

In 2013 we spent hundreds of hours in the field visiting with the beautiful nature and wildlife of the woods, fields and streams surrounding Earthshine Discovery Center and Trails Academy.  Many of you joined me on exciting and informative Turtle Tracks tracking expeditions where together we located our radio-tagged Eastern box turtles Jimmy Irwin, Catherine, Mrs. Bones, Paula Journeys and Shelly Echo and the Timber rattlesnakes Utsanati and Zoe.  We have learned many great things about the natural movements of our native reptiles and the ecology, biology, the nature of the forest and our connection and place in the web of life.


The data we collected from all of the reptiles this year serves to strengthen our hypothesis that Eastern box turtles and Timber rattlesnakes have very strong site fidelity.¬† This simply means that they return to the same places yearly to meet their survival needs.¬† In 2013, as in previous years, I documented all of the reptiles that I am following using many of the exact locations that they have used in the past, for example–in the spring of this year, for the third year in a row, Utsanati the rattlesnake returned to within 30 feet of the site where I first discovered him in June of 2011.¬† Then, in the late summer, he returned to the same area of the power line access-way where he spent several weeks at the same time in 2011 and 2012.¬† Finally, at the end of the 2013 season he moved back to the exact same den site that he used over the last two winters.


Zoe, on the other hand, changed her movement patterns this year.¬† After her early spring egress from the same winter den that she used two winters in a row she moved around 1/2 mile to a small southeasterly facing clearing in the forest on the opposite side of the mountain.¬† In 2012 she visited this very same clearing at the same time in the spring but after a few weeks she then moved down into the grassy fields below during the heat of the summer.¬† In the fall of ’12 she made her way up a small tributary of the creek below the falls before again traversing the ridge top and returning to her den in the late fall. For 2013 however, this year was different in that Zoe spent the entire summer at this location not moving more than a few feet at a time in and around the small, sun washed clearing.¬† Se remained relatively sedentary, sheltering in thick vegetation on the edge of the clearing for several months and then, at the end of the season, she chose to overwinter only a few dozen yards from the clearing–why?¬† What was her motivation for staying at this site?¬† Only time and continued tracking may reveal the answer.


Although I have only been tracking them for a little over a 2.5 years, it is my belief that both Timber rattlesnakes, box turtles, and probably all of our native reptiles, are creatures of habit and use the same sites on an annual or semi-annual basis.¬† This knowledge tells me that moving a wild reptile more than a few hundred feet from its home habitat could be detrimental to its survival.¬† I also believe that these animals seem to prefer edge habitat to the dense forest.¬† Edge habitat is simply the edges of fields, forests and other habitats where the two different habitat types converge thereby creating a blending of the two distinct habitat types into a new habitat type-edge habitat.¬† These edge areas are also often modified or disturbed in some way by humans which create great cover in the form of dense brush and downed timber as well as rock, brush and debris piles–great places to take shelter and hunt for food.¬† These edges also provide great opportunities for thermoregulation (aka: sunbathing, basking) which as we all know the reptiles must have due to their ectothermic (cold blooded) nature.¬† What does this mean for those of you with box turtles, rattlesnakes and other reptiles on your land?¬† Well, you must be doing something right to play host to these remarkable creatures so keep doing whatever it is you are doing and the wildlife will be happy and continue to visit your property working to help keep life in a beautiful balance.


Steve and Scar the ratsnake

New to the Snake Tracks project for 2014 will be a new snake study that will be conducted at The Academy at Trails Carolina called ‚ÄúRatsnake Tracks.‚Ä̬† We will be following in the tracks of an adult Black ratsnake that lives just outside the Science and Nature Center at Trails. ¬†Over the last year this snake had been seen on many occasions by Trails staff around Crash the ‚Äėpossum‚Äôs cage as well as on the trail and in a nearby campsite.¬† Then, in the fall, ¬†I found this snake basking just outside the back door of the nature center.¬† Steve later worked with Dr. Bolt, with Margaret and Jim assisting, to implant a micro radio transmitter into this new snake.¬† The snake has since recovered nicely and been given the name ‚ÄúSplinter‚ÄĚ by Margaret and he is now over-wintering in the Trails nature center only ~10‚Ä≤ from where he was found just outside the back door. ¬†Splinter will be released in the spring and the Trails students and I will then track him for several years with the goal of learning all that we can about the natural movements and habitat usage of a wild ratsnake in and around an area highly modified and used by humans.

As with the turtles and rattlesnakes, the story of Splinter will be documented on video and posted on my youtube site so that you may share in this exciting new wildlife conservation and education project!

The first video installment in Ratsnake Tracks starts with me meeting Splinter for the first time then, a short time later, I am joined by Jim and Margaret as we visit Dr. Bolt at Sweeten Creek Animal Hospital to assist with the implantation of Splinter’s new micro radio transmitter.

If the video does not play try following this link:
to watch the video on


EARTHSHINE NATURE PROGRAMS on worldwide television!


In May we had an action packed visit from the entire Scaly Adventures TV crew!  Pierce, Rick and Tanya Curren visited Earthshine and went out into the field with me to get some exciting video footage of radio tracking the turtles and snakes and then journeyed to the office of veterinarian Dr. Lee Bolt for transmitter replacement surgery on the snakes!  Then we went on a rattlesnake rescue to remove a Timber rattlesnake from someone’s outbuilding.


To close out the adventure we gathered around the fire on top of the mountain above the lodge for a great bonfire, music and fun!¬† A few weeks later we all sat back and watched ourselves on international television as we taught real life wildlife conservation to the masses–that’s what it’s all about! Watch the video (from my perspective) of our adventure below.¬† Note: my version of the adventure is longer but it shows much more detail of our adventure than could be shown on the Scaly Adventures TV series due to the time constraints of the networks.

Be sure to check out Scaly Adventures through this link for listings of where and when you can watch the entire series on your TV or streaming on your computer.


This is a photo taken during the filming of “Reptiles on the Radio” –one of the first Episodes of Pierce’s Scaly Adventures.¬† We were working with Dr. Bolt of Sweeten Creek Animal and Bird Hospital to implant new radio transmitters into Utsanati and Zoe.


The series is going to be re-run over the next few months on the Daystar network and several others so if you would like to watch it just follow visit Scaly Adventures website to check out channels and showtimes!


2013 MAD MOUNTAIN MUD RUN Fundraiser

For 2013 we held a very unique fundraiser–we formed a running team of four friends, found sponsors, and ran through 5 kilometers of crazy obstacles and mud–you heard me right, I said mud. ¬† That’s the before photo below!


 It was a great success with over a dozen individuals and businesses supporting our muddy challenge.  THANK YOU to everyone who supported us in our unique fundraiser!  Your generous donations supported our wildlife conservation,  education and outreach programs for 2013!     



This is the after photo ūüôā¬†


Now for the video–yes, of course there is a video–would you expect any less ūüôā¬†¬† On the day of the mud run I strapped a GoPro camera to my helmet (see above pic) and shot footage of the entire event as I ran through the obstacles with my mud covered friends.¬† My wife Marian and friend Padraig snapped some video from the sidelines and then I later edited all the footage together into a video chronicling the mud covered event!

If the video will not play you can find it on YouTube via this link:

For 2014 I will be assembling two running teams for the Mad Mountain Mud Run!  If you are interested in running with us on either the Earthshine Nature Nerds or Trails Turbo Turtles teams please contact me and we will get muddy in support of wildlife conservation, science, wilderness therapy and outdoor adventure education!

If you would like to sponsor us in the Mud Run in 2014 please contact me and we will discuss the details or feel free to donate by visiting my website where you can donate through Paypal.



Over the summer I again worked part time at Camp Illahee in Brevard as a naturalist where I worked to teach the girls about the value of nature, reptiles, opossum’s and the didgeridoo–it was a wonderful summer at a wonderful camp!


Charging my all electric Nissan Leaf at Earthshine Discovery Center–probably the first time this has ever happened!

The nature center at Earthshine continues to be a great favorite of visitors to the lodge.  Over the last year Karen, Liz and the staff working with my interns Elisha and Riina have restocked the nature center with many new adopted animals including two Ball pythons, a baby snapping turtle, a Red-eared slider turtle, Irwin the Bearded dragon and several new snakes.  The box turtle enclosure behind the lodge  remains a fixture with Tripod, Rowdy, and the other resident turtles out and about during the warm months of the year so be sure to visit with your favorite turtles when you visit Earthshine.


As far as for me–sadly, I do not work at the lodge as much as I would like to.¬† I still drop in a few times per month to track the turtles and snakes and check on things in the nature center.¬† I have also led several turtle tracking hikes over the last year.¬† Take a look at some of the photos from the 2013 turtle tracking season below.










We acquired a few new animals in the Trails Nature Center over the past year the most notable being Cami and Leon the Jackson’s Chameleons.  Take a look at the handsome Leon in the photo below.


We also had donated to us an adult female Bearded Dragon named Lola.


Lola was a wonderful old girl who was loved and often hand fed by many of the Trails students.  She was an ancient old girl and spent her last few happy months with us during the summer of 2013.  Sadly, she has since passed away from old age and will be sorely missed.


In 2013 we also lost another one of our beloved ambassadors for misunderstood wildlife when Gollum our Eastern Hellbender passed away unexpectedly in the late summer.  Goodbye Gollum, you will be greatly missed by all who knew you.


Gollum is now in the museum collection at the North Carolina Museum of Natural History in Raleigh where he continues to teach people about the wonderful and greatly misunderstood Hellbender.

Interestingly, after Gollum passed away we were contacted by the  Center for Biological Diversity for permission to use one of the videos I posted of Gollum on youtube over the last year.  Gollum now lives on forever in a special music video produced for their Hellbender awareness campaign.  Watch the music video below

  If you are unable to view the video check it out on Youtube at:

We are currently in the process of filing out the paperwork and permits for acquiring two new, captive raised, Hellbenders and will be sure to let you know when we have them!

The newest critter on the mountain is this big cuddly girl.


The next time you visit the lodge be sure to ask and we will call her in and let you feed her. ¬†Just remember, ¬†you will have to bring your own food items for her. ¬†By the way, when you visit you can help us locate our donkey Boo boo, sheep and the goats…they all seem to have gone missing ūüôā



Cryptic Creature on the Mountain in Lake Toxaway!

As many of you may know I have been operating a reptile conservation and education project using radio telemetry at Earthshine Discovery Center in Lake Toxaway for close to seven years now.  During this time I have hiked all over the mountains and forests around Earthshine and never seen anything that I would call unusual…until recently.  On several separate occasions in late 2013 I discovered some interesting animal signs while tracking the reptiles.

On the first occasion on Thanksgiving Day 2013, while tracking Utsanati the Timber rattlesnake, I found some rather large footprints in the light snow that reminded me of “bigfoot” or “sasquatch” tracks–but it may have been simply a hunter passing through.

On the second occasion I was returning from collecting temperature data on the sleeping turtles and found the scat (poop) of an unusually large animal so like any good naturalist I carefully analyzed the contents of the scat.  It was oddly human-like in many ways but after I had it analyzed by a lab it came back with four kinds of intestinal parasites and whatever kind of creature it was had been eating raw, wild lichens and rose hips!

On the third occasion I was hiking on the mountain with a friend and we found some unusual reddish brown hair on the bark of a tree.  It was unlike any hair/fur I have ever seen from any native wildlife species in this area.  I was so intrigued by this find that I sent it off to a friend who is a geneticist to have its DNA sequenced for species identification and other than it was not the hair/fur of a native wild animal the results were inconclusive!

On the fourth occasion I was again collecting temperature data on the hibernating snakes and I found what looked like an animal‚Äôs bedding or nesting area under a ¬†large overhanging rockshelter. ¬† From the size of the “bed,” the fact that it was constructed out of Rhododendron branches/leaves broken off from about chest high, and that I found more of the reddish brown hair trapped in the layers of the bedding area–I came to the conclusion that we may have been visited by either a homeless person, a vagrant passing through, or possibly: a “Sasquatch.”

On the fifth occasion a friend and I were searching for more sign of the elusive beast when we heard a large animal crashing through the rhododendrons only a few yards from us.  Shortly after the encounter we found another bedding area nearby under another large rock overhang.  The bed was still warm and it contained more of the reddish brown hair that I found in two other locations on the mountain!  The DNA of the third hair sample matched the previous hair samples exactly!

On the sixth and most recent occasion I found very large tracks in the snow crossing a remote dirt road in the forest. ¬†The tracks were about the same size as the ones I found on Thanksgiving day of last year and they were not far away from that site. ¬†Later that same day I found more tracks in melting snow passing only a few yards from the hibernating male rattlesnake Utsanati. ¬†These tracks led me to a small creek where I assume the creature acquired a drink of water. ¬†While these finds were most interesting the most amazing find was nearby on a fallen tree–a large hand print in the snow! ¬†It was very human-like but with longer fingers and a shorter thumb!

Owing to the large number of unusual findings that I have recently discovered–albeit a bit hard to believe–I have decided to start a new video series in the interest of the scientific method, education and entertainment–to chronicle these sightings and others if I happen to come across more in the future. ¬† Currently, all of my findings are condensed into five short YouTube videos that I have entitled: “Sasquatch Tracks.”

Watch Sasquatch Tracks below and please do let me know if you see or hear anything odd when you are visiting the mountain at Earthshine.

Note to the neighbors: ¬†As far as if you have anything big and hairy to fear when venturing into the forests around Earthshine, I believe this “Sasquatch” to be nocturnal, gentle, ¬†secretive and non aggressive. ¬† I also must reveal to you this tidbit that is just between you and me: the “Sasaquatch Tracks” project is just for fun and entertainment for all. ¬†I hope all of you out there viewing Sasquatch Tracks have as much fun watching the series and I have had making it. ¬†If any of you would like to appear in the series just contact me for details ūüôā



For more information on the Turtle Tracks, Snake Tracks and Sasquatch Tracks projects and Earthshine Nature Programs please visit us at and

If you are looking for a good cause to donate to in 2014–please consider making a¬†donation to

 Earthshine Nature Programs!

It is our goal at ENP to promote wildlife conservation of our misunderstood wildlife through exciting hands-on education, outreach programs, science and conservation based field research programs, and online with our blog and nature documentary video series on Youtube.

I am not paid nor do I pay myself to operate ENP or to conduct my wildlife conservation activities.  ENP is a 100% volunteer operated program designed to educate you about these greatly misunderstood and amazing animals and hopefully, to impart to you, their beauty, uniqueness and intrinsic value to a healthy Earth and healthy humans.

If you would like to help support our mission and programs please feel free to donate using this link: Receipts available upon request. You may also donate supplies such as animal foods, medical supplies, reptile vitamins and habitat supplies. If you are interested in donating any of these items or if you would like to “adopt” (sponsor) an animal with a donation of food or supplies going toward the care and conservation of that specific animal please¬†contact us¬†for more information.

THANK YOU Earthshine Discovery Center and all of you out there who have supported us and helped to make Earthshine Nature Programs happen! Without all of you, our wildlife conservation and education mission would not be possible.

Visit the Earthshine Discovery Center to learn how you and your family, school, scout, church, corporate or camp group, can visit us and have a wonderful, fun, and educational retreat!

Music by The Steep Canyon Rangers used with permission.

Music by Ten Toe Turbo used with permission:


Earthshine Nature Programs is in no way affiliated or responsible for ads that may appear below this line.


Wildlife Conservation in a Nissan Leaf EV

24 Oct

A few days ago I drove my Nissan Leaf deep into the forest in search of Zoe the Timber Rattlesnake! ¬†As many of you already know, I am following in Zoe’s tracks in order to learn more about the natural movements of a wild Timber rattlesnake in it’s natural habitat. ¬†Then I bring my experiences and knowledge to the world via this blog, my Youtube chanel, and facebook page¬†in the hopes of teaching you a bit about the beautiful and greatly misunderstood world of the Timber Rattlesnake.

Today I found Zoe at the same location where she has been since early June–the clearing in the forest. ¬†It is so late in the year I believe she has decided to overwinter at this location.¬†

This snake tracking excursion was probably the first time a Nissan Leaf has been used as a Timber rattlesnake tracking vehicle and possibly the first time a Leaf has been used in a wildlife conservation field project.    


After driving to the top of a steep mountain, parking at the end of a gravel road on a foggy, darkening mountainside I located Zoe and collected the vital biometric data and got ready to head home–that went easy but the adventure was not over. ¬†I noticed that my range gauge (aka Guess-O-Meter or GOM) said that I had ~41 miles of range remaining on my charge so I decided to take a remote, steep, one lane gravel road through the deep forest in order to benefit from the most regenerative braking and gravity assist (downhill) as possible to extend my range. ¬†The only issue I foresaw was near the bottom of the narrow, windy, dark, remote track in the forest–a creek crossing–yes, a creek crossing. ¬†It was a small creek but it must be crossed in order to make it back to the pavement. ¬†So, like any true pioneer I turned off the safety of the pavement and into the dark forest I plunged with LED headlights cutting laser-like paths in the foggy blackness of the deepening night. ¬†Down and down the narrow, steep road wound until I came to the recent thunderstorm ravaged, flash flood swollen and boulder strewn creek…oh wait, that is another story. The creek was rather small and quiet and about 8″ deep but still I wondered: ¬†would I tear out the bottom panels of the leaf on the rocks in the creek? ¬†Would the leaf flounder and get stuck? Would it um…short out? ¬†Like electrons through a wire all these questions and more went through my mind at warp speed…but I could not go back or turn around because the road was to narrow to do so…I was committed so I plunged into the creek…slowly…and the Leaf charged across with no apparent ill¬†effects–woo hoo!! ¬†Without so much as a¬†wheel¬†spin or¬†slippage¬†the Leaf negotiated the creek and the entire journey with no problems at all. While it may not be a 4×4 it is a very¬†sure¬†footed and¬†capable¬†car for steep, mountainous, gravel roads…and yes, even shallow creek crossings.

I must say that the car performed¬†admirably while quietly climbing steep, wet mountain gravel roads without issue. ¬†When I reached the bottom of the trek I realized that I had regenerated over 23 miles of range just by rolling downhill–amazing! Free power means more range, less money out of my pocket and less power I have to suck from the outlet and therefore a cheaper, cleaner and greener ride! ¬†I can feel my carbon footprint shrinking!

When I arrived at home I glanced at the GOM and noticed that it was sitting on 41 miles range–the same range I had when I was at the top of the mountain at the start of the trek–truly amazing–the 12 mile drive home was powered by the car for free!

Watch the video of the adventure below!

The Leaf is an amazing vehicle!


A few days after my snake tracking adventure I found myself in the city charging my Leaf alongside a Chevy Volt.

Premium Parking + Free Power = Pure Bliss.


Snake Tracks is a Timber Rattlesnake conservation and research project occurring near Earthshine Discovery Center in the mountains of western North Carolina, USA. Through the magic of modern technology and allot of hard volunteer work by a wildlife conservationist and his small crew of volunteers, glimpse into the lives of two wild Timber rattlesnakes in their natural habitats. For more detailed info on the project please take a look at the website at:

Follow us on our blog at:

It is our goal at ENP to promote wildlife conservation through our unique, exciting, citizen science based, hands-on education, out-reach programs, and online with our nature videos, blog and website.

We are not paid to operate ENP or to conduct wildlife conservation activities. ENP is a 100% volunteer operated and donation funded organization. It is our mission to educate you about these beautiful but greatly misunderstood animals and hopefully, to impart to you their beauty, uniqueness and intrinsic value to a healthy Earth, healthy wildlife and healthy humans.

THANK YOU to all of you who have donated to ENP over the years!! Without you this important reptile conservation and education work would not happen. If you would like to support Earthshine Nature Programs please feel free to donate by visiting

You may also donate supplies such as animal foods, medical supplies, vitamins and habitat supplies just contact us for more information on what supplies we are in need of and how to donate.

Visit to learn how you and your family, school, scout, corporate or camp group, can visit the Earthshine Discovery Center and have a wonderful fun and educational retreat!

Music by The Steep Canyon Rangers used with permission.

Bluewater Leaf is not responsible or affiliated in any way with ads that may appear below this line.


We just bought a Nissan Leaf EV!

2 Sep


Yes, you read it right–we took the plunge and bought an all electric car!

You may be asking “why a Leaf?” or better yet “why an electric car?” or you may be asking ¬†things like “how far will it go on a charge?” “what’s it like to drive?” or “How long does it take to charge it up?” or even “how could you spend so much money on a car with such limited range?” or “You know it still burns fossil fuels if you charge it up using the utility grid?” and “The construction of the car and battery is more damaging on the environment than a gasoline powered car.” and on and on and on…

Well, hopefully I can answer some of those question for you here in this blog and help to dispel some of the misinformation around electric cars (EV’s) and put the nay sayers and deniers in their place–the past.

So, just how did we end up with an all electric car?


Here’s the story in a rather large nutshell.

A couple of years ago my wife Marian and I started talking about the Leaf and the possibility of purchasing one someday. ¬†At the time it seemed way out of our budget so we put it on the back burner. Then, a couple of months ago we crunched some numbers and came to a shocking realization–between our two cars–a 1999 Toyota 4Runner and 1998 Honda CRV we spent around $350 USD per month on gasoline/repairs! ¬†We decided that for that amount plus the value of our trade in we might be able to buy a Leaf, lower our fuel costs significantly, replace our ageing Honda and drastically reduce our carbon footprint on our Mother Earth. ¬†In late July 2013 we started looking around for a car but could not find one locally in the Asheville, NC area. ¬†I got online and found two almost identical 2012 Leaf SL’s near Smyrna, TN–the home of the Nissan Leaf’s North American manufacturing facility. ¬†So, we made some calls and decided to check them out and then a couple of weeks later we jumped in the Honda with our little terrier and took a weekend road trip to Barr Nissan Company in Columbia, TN. ¬†Once there we met with salesman John who set up a test drive in a 2012 SL with ~1200 miles on the odometer–it had been short term leased by a Nissan employee who drove it as a promo vehicle and took great care of it so it was practically new. ¬†We were both happy with the car so we sat down with another employee¬†to talk numbers and by 1:30 pm we were on the road in our “new” Leaf!

John giving me the keys to our new car! ¬†This was John’s first Nissan Leaf sale!


Marian, Tange and I getting ready to drive halfway across Tennessee in our new Leaf!


So we were now the proud owners of an EV…an electric vehicle. ¬†We were happy but a bit apprehensive due to the range being so low compared to a petrol powered vehicle–just how were we going to get home? ¬†My answer to this was the fact that Tennessee has a large concentrations of Blink fast charging stations along the route we had chosen to take home. ¬†These stations had been installed a couple of years ago in a partnership between Nissan, ECOtality and the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. ¬†A week or so before the trip I had called each Cracker Barrel to verify that the charging kiosks were functional–they were. ¬†I then called Blink and one of their technicians also verified that all of the stations I would be stopping at to charge were in fact good to go. ¬†I felt fairly certain that we would be ok…but there was still that little nagging “what if” feeling but I just brushed it off and jumped in the drivers seat and of we went toward our first charging station stop at Cracker Barrel in Murfreesboro, TN 53 miles away. ¬†On our first drive in the Leaf as its owners drove it and “ran” great–it was comfortable and the A/C was nice and cold even though I didn’t turn it any lower than 68F to conserve energy. Normally, 53 miles is not a problem in a Leaf however, this part of Tennessee is hilly–with long grades and short downhills, it was about ~88 degrees F and we were running at highway speeds of 65-70 mph and we ran the A/C so when we pulled into Murfreesboro an hour or so later we had 21 miles remaining on the guess-o-meter (GOM)! –the GOM is a gauge on the right side of the main gauge cluster that gives you your estimated range based on charge level. ¬†Nissan does not call it the GOM but that is basically what it does so Leaf ownder have adopted that term. ¬†The new model Leafs (or is it Leaves?) have replaced the GOM with a %charge remaining and that seems more logical to me. ¬†Once at our first charging stop in Murfreesboro I¬†walked up to the Blink fast charger to input my Blink code that I had gotten earlier by calling the Blink network (my Blink card had not arrived in the mail in time for the trip). ¬†The kiosk computer said that it did not recognize my number…hmmm…it seems that gremlins, leprechauns, goblins, sprites or Yokai¬†had gotten into the inner workings of the machine and had a little party on the circuit board…¬†so I called Blink for assistance. ¬†They had me reset the entire charging station and try again…still no luck. It was getting hotter and I was getting really bummed and really hungry…I really wanted to go in Cracker Barrel and eat some lunch while the car charged…but that was not going to happen. ¬†I believe that my wife was having second thoughts at this point and the dog Tange…she probably knew much more than she let on as she cooled off under the shade of a tree. ¬†The Blink tech said I should ask to use one of Cracker barrel’s Blink charge cards, I did and it worked! ¬†The machine recognized the card and after an hour of back and forth with Blink the car was charging!! ¬†Needless to say our first fast charging experience was not the best.

firstcharge Unfortunately we had lost an hour and had no time for a sit down meal in the CB so I walked across the street and settled for an Arby’s wrap while the Leaf charged. ¬†By the time I finished my sandwich–about 20 ¬†minuets later–the car was ready to go with an 80% charge and the battery temperature had only gone up by one segment on the gauge.¬†The battery temperature gauge–on the left side of the gauge cluster–is a bar graph representing the temperature of the battery. ¬†Frequent fast charging and higher ambient temperatures coupled with running at highway speeds can raise the temperature of the battery but so far we were good to go!

We hopped back in the Leaf and shot out onto highway 231–the Leaf has amazing pick up due to the direct drive and high torque–and were in Lebanon in no time. ¬†Once there we fast charged again–this time to 100% because we had a 51 mile trek ahead of us to the next charging station in Cookeville.


After charging up we zipped out onto interstate 40 east toward our North Carolina home passing big smoking semi trucks in our clean running little blue EV.


Soon we realized that the long grades on 40 were longer than the energy we could recover in ECO mode with regeneration and we started to sweat–literally–because we had to turn off the A/C to conserve power in the hopes of making it to Cookeville…now is where the real range anxiety set in. ¬†Running at highway speeds of 75-80 mph in the heat of summer alongside noisy, carbon belching trucks and cars while pulling long grades was not the best situation for the Leaf. ¬†As we watched the range drip away on the GOM the sweat dripped heavier on our bodies and the dogs tongue lolled out longer and longer…the Leaf is not a long distance highway car. ¬†We knew that when we bought it but this experience proves that fact. ¬†I soon realized that we might not make it to Cookeville 9 miles away so I opted to ere on the side of caution so when the GOM said 11 miles so I pulled off the interstate into a filling station for a trickle charge…yes, a trickle charge. ¬†There was no other option. ¬†At first the manager of the station was not going to let us charge–something about not letting anyone but employees use the outside receptacles–until I offered to make a $5 donation to the charity fundraiser they were running…then she said OK, I didn’t see you–whew! ¬†I don’t know what I would have done if she had said no. ¬†That was some real anxiety! ¬†So I plugged in, sat down, leaned against the wall and waited…and waited…and waited…for about an hour.

chargingatloves3All the while as my Leaf slowly crammed electrons into its battery and people came and went from the gas station–filling their tanks, paying copious amounts of hard earned money into their tanks only to spew it back out again into the atmosphere. ¬†Many people asked all sorts of questions about the leaf while I was sitting there, the best being a group of frat boys from UT that were really intrigued by the Leaf and thanked me for buying it and “being part of the future”! ¬† I felt even better about our decision so I just answered the questions as knowledgeably as I could and waited for the battery to charge up a bit more.


Yes, I know that the electricity I was charging up my car with was generated by mostly the burning of coal…our precious mountaintops…but that is another story for another day. ¬†After about an hour of charging the GOM said we had 14 miles of range and since we only had 9 miles to go we took the chance and off we went on I 40. ¬†We made it…just barely…with 6 miles to spare…yikes…no “turtle mode”¬†but close! ¬†Note how high the temperature gauge is on the right…and the day was getting hotter!


In Cookeville we charged to 100% at Cracker Barrel and headed to Crossville 30 miles away to grab another charge…however, once there we realized that our battery temperature was just below the red zone so we decided that before we charged the car again we needed to let the car cool down in the shade while we had a sit down dinner at the Cracker Barrel.


The only problem was that they didn’t serve dogs…crap…come on CB you should be more tolerant of other species, cultures and beliefs. ¬†Tange chilling in the back of the Leaf while we waited to find out if we could eat on the porch of CB. ¬†The management said OK so we used a checkerboard as a table and had a great “home cooked” meal. ¬†While it was of CB to let us eat on the porch I still felt like a second class citizen until I realized that the porch was clean, calm and not crowded with people like the restaurant.


Dinner was wonderful and relaxing but it didn’t give our car long enough to cool down so we opted to stay across the interstate in a La Quinta Inn for the night. ¬†To tell the truth we (and the Leaf) were done for the day. ¬†lasteveningatlaqunita¬† The next day the battery temperature gauge showed that all was well in lithium land¬†so we headed over to the Cracker Barrel early to charge the car and eat a nice country breakfast only to find the below message on the Blink charging station…oops¬† Bummer…the gremlins had apparently visited this Blink station as well…so I called Blink and they said that the station was out of order and had went down over the last 12 hours…interesting. ¬†Luckily they said that the level 2 charger should still be working so I plugged in, it worked and we went to breakfast.lvl2

After breakfast the car was still not charged enough to make it to the next fast charger 35 miles away in Harriman. ¬†It needed another hour and a half so I left Marian knitting on the porch of the Cracker Barrel and walked the half mile to the hotel to pick up the dog and a couple of things we had left in our room and check out. ¬†As I walked across the Highway 40 bridge I though about how ironic it was that I had just purchased an electric car and was now makin’ like ten toe turbo* and hoofin’ it down the road…I could only smile, laugh and soldier on. ¬†I picked up the pooch and bags, logged out of the hotel and snapped this pic as Tange and I crossed over the interstate 40 bridge…

*Ten Toe Turbo is a Jamaican term for walking and a great local band from Hendersonville, NC–check them out if you are ever in the area!

tangeandion40bridge¬†I believe that Tange was terrified at this point but she didn’t let me know it…such a trooper! ¬†Then as I passed Cracker Barrel I snapped this pic of the Leaf charging up at the Blink station and I could only smile at this amazing adventure we had embarked on–I live for adventures such as this! ¬†chargingonsunday¬†Finally, after 2 hours of charging, the Leaf was ready to go and so were we so off we went into the cool Tennessee morning. ¬†Once in Harriman we charged to 80% with no problems…fillerup

…and then headed on to Farragut where we plugged in the Blink fast charger for the last time and charged up the Leaf to 90% in 20 minuets and drove on to Knoxville.¬†chargingleleaf

Farragut was the last time we would be able to charge the Leaf because in the 149 miles between Farragut and home there were no fast chargers and we did not want to wait for 2 hours at each level 2 charging station so we rented a Uhaul and car hauling trailer in Knoxville and set out on the road once again.

trailerleaf2¬†It was not the most energy efficient way to get the Leaf home but it was a MUCH lower cost than having Nissan ship the car to us on a car carrier.trailerleaf¬†The drive through the I-40 gorge between Knoxville and Asheville was a white-knuckle experience to say the least–it felt more like torture than a nice Sunday afternoon drive in the mountains. ¬†The weight of the car and trailer behind an empty Uhaul forced me to drive slower in order to be safe…but it did not feel safe…but we made it with no incidents. ¬†After arriving in Asheville we parked the Uhaul and drove the Leaf the remaining ~20 miles home. ¬†Once safe at home we had only 11 miles remaining on the GOM–another close one!


Well, we had survived the trip and despite the charging gremlins, battery overheating issue and range anxiety we both love our new Leaf. ¬†It is a beautifully designed car with only a few issues that we can easily get used to in return for virtually free (compared to ICE vehicles) commuting to and from work, running errands and to and from family and friends houses. ¬†After arriving at home we plugged in “Electra” to our house for the first time…


And by morning she had gladly accepted a full charge as indicated by the “full battery” lights on the dash¬†and was ready to go anywhere within range we point her.charged

That is the end of our first great adventure with our Nissan Leaf. ¬†Hopefully it has not served to scare you off from purchasing a Leaf because none of the problems with the operation of the Leaf save one–the battery overheating issue–were caused by the Leaf. ¬†The problems we encountered were due to our attempt at using the Leaf as a long range extended use at highway speeds on a hot day vehicle. ¬†It was not designed for this and our adventure proves that fact. ¬†The issues we faced were as follows:

Problem 1: 2 out of 5 Blink fast charging stations not working correctly–this was a Blink issue.

Problem 2: Leaf battery overheating issue.  Caused by frequent fast charging and running at high speeds on hot summer days.  When a Nissan Leaf is used as recommended by the manufacturer the battery overheating issue simply does not happen.

We have had the Leaf for one week as of today and during that time we have driven it 45-80 miles per day in mountainous terrain and charged it every night, at work and at level 2 charging stations and the battery has never left the middle range of the gauge. ¬†It has driven and operated perfectly and is an excellent vehicle if you do not need a long range high speed vehicle. ¬†If you drive in and around towns and cities and do not drive more than 75 miles per day and keep your speed below 65 for extended periods of time then you might want to take a Leaf for a test drive–you will be glad you did!


More on our continuing adventure of Leaf ownership is yet to come…

If you are interested in following in the tracks of our Leaf just follow us on the Blue Water Leaf Blog! 

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