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Another Year Past: 2016 Highlights at the Cradle of Forestry in America

The holidays afford the time to reflect on the previous year and mull over our goals for the next. The 2016 season at the Cradle of Forestry in America was packed with events, outreach opportunities, and chances to explore more of our Pisgah National Forest. It’s bizarre to spend so much time looking forward to each celebration and then to be here in mid-December looking back on them. Here are some of our choice 2016 highlights:

1. The late arrival of countless monarchs. monarch-butterfly-2016-highlights-cradle-of-forestry

Each year we host a Bring Back the Monarchs program in mid-September anticipating the arrival of southward migrating butterflies. Last year there were few monarchs which migrated through our meadow conversion areas and native backyard habitats. In 2016 they simply arrived late! A few days after the annual program, the Cradle was buzzing with rumors of orange butterflies settling on Joe-Pye Weed and Goldenrods. Since we have converted much of the “lawn” area surrounding our parking lots to a more meadow-type ecosystem,  an influx of species diversity has been observed. Value of these conversions correspond with the appearance of monarchs, dozens of pollinators, hundreds of Lady’s Tresses orchids and native wildflowers.

2. Our volunteer hosts.volunteer-opportunities-nc-mountains-mustaches

We just can’t succeed during April-November without our team of volunteer hosts. We were fortunate this year (as in many years past) to have an outstanding and diverse group. They were flexible, optimistic, welcoming to visitors, inquisitive, and brought new insights daily. As staff, it’s always a treat when we can join hosts after work for game nights, evening campfires, or potlucks. These folks spend endless hours educating themselves so that they can better inform visitors about our unique site.

3. Blue ghosts during Firefly Twilight Tour

We were floored by the participation at this annual evening event. A budding curiosity in NC’s top things to do from both locals and visitors is witnessing the blue ghost fireflies. These small fireflies are endemic to the southern Appalachian mountains.  This July event typically occurs past blue ghost peak season. Those who complete the paved 1-mile walk, despite later hours, are rewarded with a magical site as night sets in. Firefly larvae live in the leaf litter and therefore increasing travel into the woods off of the trails may lead to a decimating affect on populations. At the Cradle’s Firefly Twilight Tour we encourage curiosity for the wondrous natural history of fireflies while highlighting our responsibility to protect these beetles that engulf our childhood summertime memories. For upcoming years we are planning ways to accommodate a growing interest in this natural phenomenon while protecting these habitats from foot traffic. 

4. Hosting two brand new events: May the Forest Be With You and Pink Beds BioBlitz

During special events we enjoy meeting with visitors, crafters, demonstrators and volunteers. In August, May the Forest Be With You is a new way to celebrate our forests’ resources. There is importance in conserving those resources along with our Appalachian heritage that originates from the Blue Ridge Mountain soil of North Carolina. In addition our second new event, Pink Beds BioBlitz, allows for visitors to engage with those who work in Pisgah. Through the use of citizen science you become the scientist while photographing and identifying some of the species dwelling in our rich forests. Look forward to these newer events in 2017 as well!

5. Celebrating Pisgah’s Centennial Year at Forest Festival Day. us-forest-service-nc-pisgah-forest-celebration

“So this year,” one of our educators says while welcoming school groups, “we are celebrating the 100th birthday of Pisgah as a national forest and land that belongs to all of us to use for recreation. But do you think these forests are a little bit older than 100 years?” Each child nods with an outspoken, “Yes.” Although we celebrated one of the first eastern national forest’s centennial this year we mustn’t forget that the land in which we bike, paddle, hunt, hike, run, climb, and fish is millenniums older. Age bent the cool rivers, carved the valleys and coves, exposed granite slabs.  In continuing to use our public lands we need to conserve what generations took to achieve. The Forest Service’s photo booth highlighted the countless reasons why each of us love Pisgah National Forest.



NAI Sunny Southeast “BioBlitz Bliss” by Cindy Carpenter

For the original NAI post on their website please click here.

BioBlitz Bliss

BioBlitz Bliss by Cindy Carpenter

This past weekend we held the first ever and long awaited bioblitz at the Cradle of Forestry in America, Pisgah National Forest. The Pink Beds BioBlitz, named for a high elevation valley that, as folklore goes, settlers named long ago for flowers, was a great success. This success was not due to the number of participants or the number of species recorded, but that it happened at all.

I have been intrigued with the concept of bioblitzes since reading an article in an NAI Nature Center Administrators section newsletter a decade ago. It described engaging scientists and other experts in an all-taxa kind of survey over a 24-hour period. This year timing and capacity aligned grant funds from the US Forest Service recreation program and the energy of an imaginative co-worker, Courtney Long. Courtney dealt with many moving pieces while leading the effort to engage youth and adults alike in observing nature and learning about a southern Appalachian forest ecosystem while spending time on their public lands.

The Pink Beds picnic area served as the center of operations for the bioblitz. Here participants visited booths staffed with specialists on fungi and bryophytes. They learned about the hemlock woolly adelgid threatening biodiversity. They browsed a vast selection of field guides at an identification assistance booth. They learned about the iNaturalist app, a tool for recording findings and getting help with species identification, and won items in raffles to help them explore the world around them.

During the Pink Beds BioBlitz forest visitors joined guided walks and activities at selected locations along a trail from the picnic area. An all-species guided walk was led by volunteers from the Blue Ridge Naturalists. Other walks and searches focused on birds, reptiles and amphibians, trees and shrubs, aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish. The leaders of these experiences humbly conveyed their passion, knowledge and love of learning about the natural world, and their enthusiasm was contagious. They recorded results on a large white board visible to all attendees.

Surprises were the number of salamander species found on a single stump during a night time exploration. A highlight for me was witnessing in late afternoon light a bat catch insects active over a stream and dipping for a drink on the wing.

This first bioblitz in the Pisgah National Forest showed that natural resource partners and specialists welcome the opportunity to interact with the public and engage them in discovery and discussion. Although we were prepared for many more participants than the approximately 60 who attended, Courtney’s plans, equipment purchases and networking laid the groundwork for future endeavors to engage the public in nature education.
Time invested in nature study is time well spent, and technology tools common today add an entertaining and meaningful dimension that did not exist a decade ago. From our public lands to our backyards it is fun to learn and share the diversity of life around us every day. Bioblitz bliss!

Stream explorers observe the behavior and characteristics of aquatic invertebrates during the Pink Beds BioBlitz in the Pisgah National Forest.

Stream explorers observe the behavior and characteristics of aquatic invertebrates during the Pink Beds BioBlitz in the Pisgah National Forest.

Nature enthusiasts learn and share along the "all species" walk during the Pink Beds BioBlitz this past weekend.

Nature enthusiasts learn and share along the “all species” walk during the Pink Beds BioBlitz this past weekend.