IN A quiet mountain valley of western North Carolina, the people who publish the popular Mother Earth News magazine have created an unusual 622-acre park, called Eco-Village, a homespun place where visiting travelers can learn the do-it-yourself skills of their forefathers.
It is, says spokesman John Vogel, "a theme park for independent living--a get-down and get-dirty Disneyland," where a vacation becomes an education into the practical.
At Eco-Village, the magazine tests its "waste not-want not" theories, which eventually are written up for the 1 million circulation publication. Last year when it opened, the park, just south of Asheville near Hendersonville, attracted 20,000 visitors; this year that number is expected to be 30,000.
The idea behind Eco-Village is to help people find less-expensive options for housing, food and fuel by putting their minds and muscles to work harnessing "the sun, the wind and the water." Self-sufficiency is an Eco-Village goal.
Informal classes offer a mixture of the old and the new. There's instruction on building a log cabin, a cheap form of housing, requiring such generally unfamiliar skills these days as selecting, cutting and peeling the trees and notching, fitting and chinking the logs.
A more-modern housing concept is the do-it-yourself, solar-heated home that can be built into a hillside for greater energy savings. Eco-Village, where a model has been constructed, calls it a "homestead on a shoestring."
The demonstration sites, many of them open-air, are scattered in the rolling meadows on one side of a large lake. Fishing and boating are available when lessons are over. Wooded hills laced with hiking and riding trails climb from the distant side of the lake. Visitors who want to linger overnight can check in at the 200-site campground.
Currently, 24 classes are offered, on a schedule of about 10 a day with repetitions throughout the week. To attend them all, says Vogel, takes at least two to three full days. Instructors frequently are the writers and editors from Mother Earth News.
In one corner of the park, the staff has built a solar greenhouse to show how to grow fresh vegetables year around while helping to heat your home. In the demonstration kitchen, food-preservation--canning, freezing, drying and storage--is featured as a "vitally important" aid to greater self-sufficiency and cheaper food bills.
Extensive outdoor vegetable plots utilize the latest "biodynamic" methods of intensive gardening to increase productivity while growing plants healthy enough to resist bugs without the help of pesticides.
Other skills on the "show-how" schedule, all geared for home use: bread-making, bee-keeping, alcohol fuel production, fish farming ("for food and profit"), backyard livestock raising and wind-electric and hydroelectric systems (to produce your own electricity).
Eco-Village will be open daily through Oct. 22 and will reopen again next May. The hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with demonstrations beginning at 9:30 a.m. The entrance fee is $6 per person per day. Campsites (no hookups) are $7 per night.
As an ecological research center, Eco-Village lets no opportunity go to waste. The restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and snacks, serves--naturally--natural foods from the park's organic gardens. And the campground bathhouse, naturally, is heated by solar power.
For more information: The Mother Earth News Eco-Village, Box 70, Hendersonville, N.C. 28791 (704) 693-0211.
OFF TO THE RACES: An offbeat vantage point from which to watch the America's Cup yacht races this month is the deck of the S.S. Britanis. The luxury liner is offering two five-day cruises from Newport to coincide with the finals in the prestigious competition.
During the day, passengers can view the race scene on Rhode Island Sound from their elevated perch on deck while enjoying the amenities of the 642-foot vessel. Expert commentary on the races will be provided. Each night the ship returns to Newport, where it serves as a floating hotel with the full range of expected cruise entertainment.
Cabin rates range from a minimum of $550 for a lower deck inside cabin to $1,250 for an outside cabin on the main deck and $1,625 for a suite on the main deck. The per person fare includes meals and entertainment. Sailings are Sept. 13-18 and Sept. 18-23.
For information and reservations: (800) 521-2006.
ROY'S TRAILS: A new concept in camping is emerging on the West Coast. Called Thousand Trails, it is a growing network of 25 membership-only resort campgrounds stretching south from British Columbia to the Mexican border and across the Southwest from Texas to California.
To join, a family pays a $6,000 one-time membership fee (which may be sold or transferred); afterwards they pay annual dues, which this year are $211. This entitles the family to almost unlimited use of any of the campgrounds year-around. The one exception is that a single visit generally may not extend beyond 14 days.
The reason, says Jerry Alto, vice president of Thousand Trails of Seattle, is to prevent campers from putting their trailer on blocks and settling in for good.
Begun in 1972, the organization--the largest membership campground network in the country--has enrolled more than 40,000 families, most of whom own recreational vehicles. Six campgrounds were opened this year. Film cowboy Roy Rogers, who is the organization's national spokesman, touts Thousand Trails as "the best idea in outdoor recreation since the campfire."
The growth of the "preserves" (as they are called), comes at a time, says the organization, when America's public campgrounds are frequently filled and, because of a cutback in government funding, sometimes poorly maintained.
"Our members know they have a good, clean, well-maintained camping site," says Alto. "They always have a place to go." This is the same philosophy that has made resort time-sharing popular, but Alto likens the Thousand Trails concept more to a country club membership.
The campgrounds range from 200 to 600 acres, and most, says Alto, are in "close proximity to a major national amenity like a lake, the ocean or a river." Sites include Pacific City on the Oregon coast, Donner Pass in the California Sierras and Medina Lake in the Texas hill country near San Antonio. A man-made amenity, the Las Vegas strip, is the attraction for another site a few miles outside the city in a grove of oak and pinzanita trees.
Most of the campgrounds have at least one swimming pool, a lodge house, electric and water hookups for camping vehicles, central restroom and shower facilities and 24-hour security system. Some have tennis courts and other sports facilities. The organization tries to develop only about 30 percent of the land at any of its sites, leaving the rest in its natural state.
Except for a gap in the network between San Antonio and Las Vegas, a family could travel throughout the Far West and be within a day's drive of the next Thousand Trails campground.
The network is planning for expansion, and new sites are being acquired to fill in the gap. The first "preserve" east of the Mississippi River is expected to open next summer near Cincinnati. "Someday," says Alto, "we would like to be America's private national park system."
For information: (800) 426-5045.