Tag Archives: education


29 Nov



This year you helped us make the following amazing things possible –

and so much more!

Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation – 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’s 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 “mouth rot”) 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: https://youtu.be/1b5HrXXRouY 


Outreach – We 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’s, 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 – 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: www.blueridgeevclub.com


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 “pests” 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 – 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 – 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 – last year ENP was featured in The Laurel of Asheville

Read the story at this TinyURL link: https://tinyurl.com/yb7zxhdp

(or just Google “Laurel of Asheville Earthshine Nature”)


   The ENP Renewable Energy Program

On November 8th, 2019 our student-built classroom solar array project celebrated two full years of producing clean, renewable, “locally grown” 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’s 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 – 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 – maybe you were one of them – and all of my amazing Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum students, ENP interns, and volunteers – 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 – 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’s electric fuel needs – all this entirely on 100% clean, “homegrown,” 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 “locally grown” 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 – 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 – the final Phase of our classroom energy project.  This will consist of a “plug and play” 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 – isn’t science amazing!

Watch a short time-lapse video of Phase Two of the solar array’s construction via this link: https://youtu.be/12wtCSldnKc

To make the 3rd and final Phase of this amazing student energy project a reality for our classroom, our students, and our animal ambassadors – we 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 – 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 – you 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? – waaaay too much to fit into the pages of this newsletter – 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 – namely you.   The first of these three publications – The Rattlesnakes of the Blue Ridge – is ready now!  It contains a naturalist’s perspective on everything we have learned by following the secret lives of Utsanati and Zoe – 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 – please contact me via the links at the end of this newsletter.


Opie D. Opossum – 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: https://youtu.be/mhQ4Kk3oq9o

Learn more about Clean Air Carolina: www.cleanaircarolina.org

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.

20190601_161651 (2)

Donate time and energy by volunteering at our Science and Nature Center classroom – 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 earthshine.nature@gmail.com 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 – our wish list can be found on Amazon by searching for the Earthshine Nature Programs Wish List or by visiting this tinyURL link: https://tinyurl.com/yahlsvnp   Another easy way to support us is through Amazon Smile. Simply visit: smile.amazon.com and sign up to support Earthshine Nature Programs.  Then, every time you make a purchase on Amazon using your smile.amazon.com account, a portion of Amazon’s 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 – visit: www.gofundme.com/enpsolartrails


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: www.patreon.com/earthshinenature

Lastly, you may also donate to us via the PayPal link on our website at www.earthshinenature.com/donate 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 – especially 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 – together 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

Email: earthshine.nature@gmail.com

Website:  www.earthshinenature.com

Nature Blog: www.earthshinenature.wordpress.com

YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/snakesteve68

EV Blog:  bluewaterleaf.wordpress.com


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 – I connected with my biological father!  Yes, you read that right – through 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 – my 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 🙂



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 🙂


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 – that 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 – that 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 – without 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 – especially 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 – the answer, for now, is – all 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 – it 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 🙂


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 🙂


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) – it 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 – only 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 – and as I write it is only now the fourth of July – now 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 – and 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 – and 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 – freedom 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: https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/


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 – 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 – one of Steve’s 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 – especially solar – 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 earthshine.nature@gmail.com

The ENP website: www.earthshinenature.com

The ENP Blog: www.earthshinenature.wordpress.com

The ENP Youtube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/snakesteve68 

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’Neil 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  – 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 www.earthshinenature.com/donate 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 – 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 – 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!

– 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.

– 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)*

– 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/staff will be identifiable to protect their privacy. 

And if you choose: A set of one of a kind “solar earrings” or a “solar pendant.” Handmade of remnants of solar cells by Naturalist Steve O’Neil 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 earthshine.nature@gmail.com

4. Support us by shopping on Amazon with Amazon Smile by following this link: smile.amazon.com 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 – together 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 – By Evan Kafka

Learn more about us:  www.earthshinenature.com

Follow our Nature Blog:  www.earthshinenature.wordpress.com

Find us on Facebook at:

“Earthshine Nature Programs”

Watch our nature video series on YouTube at: www.youtube.com/user/snakesteve68

Follow our Electric Vehicle Blog:  bluewaterleaf.wordpress.com

Earthshine Nature Programs

134 E. Dogwood Ln.

Pisgah Forest, NC  28768

(828) 606-8939










ENP Air Keepers Project

4 Mar
ENP is now working with Clean Air Carolina on the Air Keepers Project!

Follow me in my newest video as I work to install Purple Air particulate pollution air monitors in several locations in Western North Carolina.

Let’s work together to clean the air!

Learn more about Clean Air Carolina: https://www.cleanaircarolina.org

Become an Air Keeper today:  https://cleanaircarolina.org/airkeepers

If you live outside NC you may install your own PurpleAir air monitor by visiting:  https://www.purpleair.com

THANK YOU to all of my supporters and Patrons who have helped make this and all ENP projects possible!

Visit us on our website:  www.earthshinenature.com  

Support us on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/earthshinenature

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/enpsolartrails

Rat Snake Tracks Field Report for Summer 2016 & 2017

25 Sep

Video footage in this edition of Rat Snake Tracks was filmed in August 2016 and September 2017.

The Snake Tracks project is an ongoing Rat snake habitat use and movement study using radio telemetry techniques and UAV’s (drones) for canopy surveys and monitoring.

If you were a student at Trails Carolina or the Academy at Trails Carolina during the 2015 season you may have helped “Science Steve” locate Apollo the Black rat snake and you may be in this movie, in front of or behind the camera, learning and living 🙂

This project is supported by in part by Trails Carolina, The Academy at Trails Carolina, Trails Momentum , our donors, and people just like you. If you would like to support our projects and programs with a donation and learn more about us please visit our website.

Earthshine Nature Programs is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to wildlife conservation, rehabilitation, science, and renewable energy education and awareness.

NOTE: The parents of the student(s) appearing in this video granted permission for us to record their special moments sharing time with our educators and the Apollo the rat snake.

Turtles of Change!

30 Aug

Recently Earthshine Nature Programs Executive Director Steve O’Neil was awarded a very special award known as the “Turtle of Change”

This award is a small bronze statue of a sea turtle.

It is special because it is the only one in the USA and it is traveling all over the world visiting people who are working to make a good and lasting change in the community or the planet.

The turtle called “Turtle Grupo Tortugero” was presented to Steve by the previous recipient of the turtle Alan Cameron.  Alan is also known as “The Salamander Whisperer” because of his ability to find endangered Green Salamanders where no one else can find them. Alan has been volunteering with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission for many years and has helped them find thousands of Green Salamander sites all over WNC.

Alan presents Steve with the Turtle of Change.

Steve wrote the following in the Blue Turtle blog:

After receiving Turtle Grupo Tortugero (TSN004) first I took it to meet the education and turtles at Earthshine Mountain Lodge and Nature Center (see last photo). I found four of the turtles who were interested in meeting the turtle–the other seven did not want to have their photo placed on the internet 🙂

Three of the Earthshine turtles are Eastern Box Turtles and one is a Redfoot Tortoise. All of our turtles have either lost their homes due to development, are ex-pets or were badly injured due to unfortunate meetings with vehicles, lawn mowers or dogs. Tripod–on the bottom left–is our mascot. She lost her right rear leg after she was hit by a car in 2007. The turtle to Tripod’s left is Lucky. She was also hit by a car and suffered severe trauma to her left rear leg and shell but she has recovered nicely. The turtle to Lucky’s left is Crash. She was hit by a car and had such severe injuries that I did not think she would survive. After a visit to our veterinarian Dr. Coleman, I patched her up with epoxy, gave her some antibiotic injections and fed her loads of box turtle favorites and she has made a full recovery! The final turtle is Charlie. I found her at a reptile show and felt sorry for her so I gave her a great home at our nature center. Sadly, all of the turtles at Earthshine Lodge and Nature Center cannot be released due to their circumstances. They are however wonderful education animals that help teach people about the wonder and beauty of nature and why animals like the Eastern box turtle need understanding and protection.

After visiting with the turtles at Earthshine Lodge the Turtle of Change traveled with me to a local Veterinary Clinic–Sweeten Creek Animal and Bird Hospital–where I met up with Dr. Lee Bolt and Dr. Ron Davis to assist with the radio transmitter implantation surgery on a Timber Rattlesnake. Take a look at the photo of the turtle on the operating table with the rattlesnake, Dr. Davis (in yellow) and Dr. Bolt. The surgery went flawlessly and the snake has recovered and has been released back into the wild. Dr. Davis will track the snakes movements over the next few years in order to learn as much as possible about the life of the Timber Rattlesnake. The knowledge he gains will be imparted to his students who will become future wildlife biologists, conservationists and naturalists.

The next stop for the turtle was at a remote rock outcrop known as the “Secret Place” on the side of a mountain near Brevard, NC. USA. This rock shelter was used by the Native Americans as evidenced by the petroglyphs on top of the rock. I teamed up with my friend (and didgeridoo virtuoso) John Vorus to play didgeridoo (yidaki) over the turtle in this amazing power place. We first played our yidaki to the turtle on top of the rock then moved down under to the rock shelter and recorded a video. Take a look at the photo on top of the rock and video of our time at “The Secret Place.” View the short video of our concert for the turtle of change here.


The final stop for the turtle (so far) was when it followed me to the office of Dr. Coleman DVM. Dr. Coleman is a wonderful veterinarian and lover of all wildlife and my wildlife vet. I snapped the photograph of Dr. Coleman and the brass turtle while he was treating a wild box turtle. Thank you Dr. Coleman for all that you to for wildlife and for Earthshine Nature Programs!

THANK YOU Alan Cameron for presenting me with this great honor.

View the Turtles of Change website to learn more.

More to come!

Visit us at Earthshine Lodge today at: http://www.earthshinelodge.com

Visit Earthshine Nature Programs at: http://www.earthshinenature.com

Visit John Vorus at http://www.johnvorus.com

%d bloggers like this: