ANNUAL MANUAL- WALKABOUT- Drink up: Growth doesn't have to be all bad

Old-timers bemoan the changes that have turned Charlottesville from a charming small town into an urban center to rival other exploding communities in the Commonwealth– for all the wrong reasons. It seems we have the worst of Fredericksburg's commercial sprawl, NoVa's unchecked housing growth, and Leesburg's loss of pasture and farmland.

But many newcomers from seriously troubled metropoli consider their move here a blessing. They revel in the quaint festivals, the home-spun farmers' markets, the friendliness of neighborhoods and the accessibility of the Downtown Mall, and the natural beauty– not only of the distant mountains but also of our many parks and shady by-ways.

The following pages provide lists of activities from near-future fall events like Halloween trick or treating on the UVA Lawn and Downtown "spirit walks," to Yuletide Holly Trolly rides and First Night revels, to spring extravaganzas like the Dogwood Festival, the Foxfield races, and Garden Week. 

Weekly wine tastings, Fridays after 5 during the summer, Downtown First Friday art gallery receptions year round, exciting sports events at UVA and area high schools, and seemingly limitless opportunities for exercise on the Greenbelt encircling the city and at first-class gyms keep newcomers delighted even when big events aren't scheduled.

While the continuing gas crunch is likely to continue and could put a crimp in travels to far-afield destinations, the local roster of activities is enough to keep everyone busy– and stimulated. The Virginia Film Festival, the Festival of the Book, and the Festival of the Photograph are the big three that appeal to scholarly and arty types, while the Charlottesville Marathon, the 10-miler, and the women's four-miler satisfy more pedestrian tastes.

Volunteering impulses can be gratified in numerous ways, too: CASA volunteers (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) champion the rights of abused and neglected children, steering their cases through local courts, and the Legal Aid Justice Center, UVA and Martha Jefferson Hospital, and Literacy Volunteers always welcome selfless helpers.

No round-up of diversions can overlook slightly off-kilter allures like the Unix Users Group, the Speedskating Club, and the Angora Goat and Mohair Association. Who knows? There are no doubt a few newcomers grieving about leaving their beloved knitting circle or meditation group. But they needn't worry: Charlottesville has substitutes galore.

While things are changing too fast for some Central Virginians, for others the expanding opportunities made possible by our growing eclectic population are just the rich froth on our already delectable latte of a town.