Community Farm/Discovery Trail Hike

SAHC's Community Farm in Alexander, NC, situated with a stunning mountain backdrop

SAHC’s Community Farm in Alexander, NC, situated with a stunning mountain backdrop

It was hot –  but not too hot – just the kind of bright summer sun you imagine plants loving to soak in.

On National Trails Day/Land Trust Day (June 7, 2014), we led a group of curious members, landowners, and local families on a two-hour tour of SAHC’s Community Farm in Alexander, NC. This first Saturday in June starts off Outdoor Month, and was given special designation to recognize the economic importance of trails across the nation as well as the land conservation work of local land trusts. It was a wonderful day to enjoy the 1.5-mile Discovery Trail and to showcase the many exciting programs going on at our Farm.

talking and pointing

Community Farm & Food Assistant Yael Girard (left) explains in detail about the many projects at the Farm.

We were led by Community Farm and Food Assistant, Yael Girard – with a little humor, a lot of detail, and an enthusiastic, jovial attitude. After meeting at the recently improved parking area and checking out the trail maps, our group of around 25 embarked on a pleasant walk down the mulched trail at the top of the pasture. With a sweeping view across the farm, Yael pointed out the newly installed livestock fencing, stream restoration area, and shortleaf pine restoration project. Then, we moseyed on down to the lower end of the stream, where native grass plantings in the riparian buffer had grown tall enough to tickle as we filed by.

The best part of roaming around the Discovery Trail for this tour was comparing the memories of past hikes, volunteer days and workshops on the property — the change is incredible! Yael explained how we had graded the stream banks to repair the incised, narrow canyon along the stream (created by years of erosion). We won’t lie to you – this project required some big earth-moving machinery – but the miracle is that we replaced the kudzu-covered tiny canyon with beautiful, sloping creek banks covered with native trees, bushes and grasses. On this day, the trail through the stream corridor was lined with tall silvery stalks, and many of the young native trees and shrubs planted in the stream buffer area were growing strong, too.

crossing stream

Crossing the stream.

We crossed the stream near one of the riffle-pools – features installed to promote aquatic life. Yael commented that  a naturalist has been examining aquatic organisms in the stream and was astounded by the rebound of growth since restoration construction finished last fall.

“You wouldn’t have expected to see stream life at this extent so recently after the construction was completed, so it’s surprising as well as gratifying to see it bounce back so well – and a testament to the planning and work done by Altamont Environmental and Riverworks,” Yael said. “I’ve already seen tadpoles, frogs, salamanders out in the stream – it’s pretty neat.”

Then, our tour continued up a rise along one of the steepest, most open parts of the trail and through the shortleaf pine restoration area. Here, SAHC contracted with the US Forest Service to plant over 25,000 seedlings. Yael paused to explain how we had found native shortleaf pine seedlings growing in this area and embarked on a restoration project to help re-establish this native tree species, which has been on decline in North Carolina.

jim houser looking at sign

New interpretive signs along the trail help explain the many projects ongoing at the Community Farm.

“As the trees mature, this restoration area will provide excellent habitat for native wildlife, too,” she explained. One of the recently installed interpretive signs for the Discovery Trail tells the how and why of the shortleaf pine restoration project.

We continued up the slope to the other access point for the trail. As the group looked out over the Farm, Yael pointed to the plowed field where the first of our new Farmer Incubator Program participants will be launching her own agricultural endeavor. Then, Yael pointed out the off-stream water tanks and new livestock fencing, important features that help create safe and healthy pasture for future beginning farmers while keeping cattle, sheep, or goats out of the stream we have just restored.

“If you look closely, you can see large blue balls floating in the top of the watering tanks,” said Yael as she pointed at one of several tanks installed across the pasture. “These floating balls help keep the water fresh for livestock. The balls float at the top of the water, supplied from a well below, and form a kind of light seal. It’s easy for livestock to push the ball down, then the water flows up. This keeps a lot of insects and debris from getting into their water. We researched programs across the country to find the best agricultural management practices for the Farm. One reason many farmers love these tanks is because, when it’s freezing outside, only a thin coat of ice can form on top of the ball. Livestock can break it fairly easily to get at fresh water underneath, and it’s better than having to go break up a huge tank full of ice.”

stream restoration area

Thank you to all who joined us for the Farm Tour. If you haven’t seen it yet, stayed tuned for the next hike!

With the bright sun almost directly overhead, our group continued down to check out the “before” and “after” photos on the stream restoration interpretive sign. Then, we followed a winding walk across a “hardened crossing” (another feature to prevent future erosion issues), up a section of pasture, and through the woods to the end of the Discovery Trail loop.

Thank you so much to all who came out to tour the Community Farm for Land Trust Day — and, if you didn’t make it yet, check our events at Appalachian.org for upcoming hikes. We will be hosting more Farm tours in the future!

Click here for more photos.

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June Jamboree – Saturday, June 14

Guided Hikes In the Highlands of Roan

Honoring our origin in the stunning Highlands of Roan, SAHC hosts a day of guided hikes each June to gather and enjoy our treasured flagship focus area.

This year we have five guided hikes planned, catering to a variety of skill levels and interests. Since the hike locations are spread out across the Roan, we will host post-hike gatherings at two different locations. Descriptions, details and start times for each hike, as well as the post-hike socials, are given below. You will receive directions to the departure location and carpool information upon registration.

Be sure to bring: sturdy hiking shoes, camera, walking stick, water, lunch, sunscreen, binoculars, and appropriate clothing for your hike. The weather may be sunny, rainy, windy or cool.
Hikes are rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most difficult.
We hope you can join us in the Highlands this year! Click here to register online.

Click here to register online for the June Jamboree hikes described below.


Hike #1 — Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge

Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge hike

Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge hike

Start Time: 9:00 am
Leader: Bill Ryan
Difficulty: 7.5
Fellowship Location: Roan Cabins (2:30 – 5 pm)

This classic and rewarding hike is full of adventure atop the highest elevation balds in the Highlands of Roan, widely considered among the most spectacular scenery along the Appalachian Trail. Grassy Ridge, elevation 6,189 feet, is the highest point near the AT. Enjoy a natural, unobstructed 360-degree view and so much more — blooming rhododendron, flame azalea, patches of spruce fir forest and rare plants such as Gray’s lily and Roan Mountain bluets.

Hike #2 — Roll n’ Stroll in Rhododendron Gardens

Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Start Time: 11 am
Leader: Judy Murray
Difficulty: 2+
Fellowship Location: Roan Cabins (2:30 – 5 pm)

The Rhododendron Gardens on top of Roan will be blazing with color this time of year. Judy Murray, will take hikers along gentle terrain with stunning views of the Roan landscape. On this leisurely stroll hikers will learn about SAHC’s newest land protection projects including several tracts in Yellow Mountain State Natural Area like the Justice Creek property on Spear Tops and Hawk Mountain Farm. This hike is designed to give people of all hiking abilities the opportunity to get outside and enjoy some of the property that SAHC has diligently protected over the last four decades. *This trail is paved and wheelchair accessible.

Hike #3 — Yoga on the Mountain

Yoga on the Mountain group.

Yoga on the Mountain

Start Time: 11:00 am
Leader: Danielle Fath-Goldstein
Difficulty: 5
Fellowship Location: National Trails Tract (2:30 – 5 pm)

Lay your yoga mat in the open meadow, tucked within the stunning Highlands of Roan. Prepare to move into your exalted warrior or tree pose while feeling the sun warm your skin as the high elevation breezes simultaneously cool you. Enjoy an moderate 1.5  hike through our protected Natural Trails Tract in the Roaring Creek Valley. The trail is narrow and is steep in areas so please be mindful of this and wear appropriate clothing. We will hike along pristine streams and critical bird habitat for a gentle yoga practice. The fellowship gathering after the event will be held on this property. 

Hike #4 — Kids in the Creek

Kids in the Creek

Kids in the Creek

Start Time: 11:00 am
Leader: Lizzy Stokes-Cawley
Difficulty: 3
Fellowship Location: National Trails Tract (2:30 – 5 pm)

Bring your kids to play in the creek on SAHC’s beautiful National Trails Tract. This shorter hike is designed to get kids outdoors and explore some of the beautiful water protected by SAHC. Kids will learn about some basic stream ecology, look for crayfish and salamanders. Kids are welcome to bring fishnets, buckets, or other toys to play with in the creek. This hike is for kids 7 years and older. Parents are welcomed to participate as well. Please bring water appropriate clothing and shoes plus appropriate day hiking materials.

Hike #5 — Challenge Hike

Triple B Challenge hike

Challenge hike

NOTE – this hike is NOW FULL; registration has reached capacity.

Start Time: 8:00 am
Leader: Tom Gatti
Difficulty 10+
Fellowship Location: National Trails Tract (2:30 – 5 pm)

The June Jamboree Challenge hike will start where the Appalachian Trail crosses Highway 19E, 4 miles west of the town of Roan Mountain. Participants will steadily hike 5.4 miles climbing a total of 2,707 feet to the summit of Hump Mountain. We will continue south along the Appalachian Trail over Little Hump and then along the spine of Yellow Mountain to Yellow Mountain Gap at 8.7 miles. From Yellow Mountain Gap we’ll hike another 1.7 miles to Low Gap and the Stan Murray Shelter. From here we leave the trail (long pants are recommended) and make our way to Elk Hollow Creek which we will follow for a mile or so down to the National Trails Tract, celebrate, and ride back to our cars.

Click here to register online, or contact Anna Zanetti at anna@appalachian.org or 828.253.0095 ext 205.

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Devil’s Britches “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership Hike


Devils Britches IPA

Hiking up the snow-laden Hemphill Bald.

Hiking up the snow-laden Hemphill Bald.

SAHC’s AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti recaps a snowy “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike:

“Highland Brewing Company’s seasonal release of Devil’s Britches Red IPA kicked off the first “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike of 2014 at Cataloochee Ranch. Hikers trekked through deep snow to the top of Hemphill Bald (5,540 ft. elevation), where they leaned about SAHC’s first conservation easement as well as feral hog damage and the natural history of the area.

In late February the Southeast experienced a large snowstorm, accumulating 6 inches of snow in the Asheville area and more in higher elevations, but the Devil’s Britches hikers were undeterred. On the Sunday after the storm 17 hikers made their way out to tackle the mountain with SAHC, Highland Brewing and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

It was a beautiful morning, with fresh snow illuminated by a brightly shining sun and vibrant blue skies. Cataloochee Ranch was filled with people filing into the ski area, but we took the road less traveled — enjoying a deep appreciation for the quiet, calm and cool day along the switch-backing, snow-covered trail.

After the majority of the switchbacks we began a steep ascent, gaining high elevation views with every step. As the views grew larger the snowdrifts became bigger and deeper – eventually becoming knee deep – but we still pressed on. Trailblazing through the untouched snow was certainly something special.


Trailblazing the fresh snow

As we approached the top of Hemphill Bald, hikers shed extra layers and cleared a spot on a bench to bask in the bright sun. We sat and ate our lunches, relishing views that seemed to stretch into infinity and snow outlining every crevice of the mountains. The clear day allowed us to identify mountains in the distance, orienting ourselves with landmarks like Cold Mountain, the peak of Pisgah, and even the Highlands of Roan.

Once everyone was settled I talked to the group about feral hogs and the devastating damage they have created on top of Hemphill Bald. Feral hogs, native to Eurasia, use their snouts to root up prime habitat. These hogs have the capacity to create acres of damage within hours. Hog populations also grow exponentially; two hogs can become 164 animals in about four years in the wild. North Carolina and Tennessee have had a difficult time managing feral hogs because of their capacity for damage and high population growth rate. Cataloochee Ranch is doing what they can to manage feral hog impacts on their property adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We took a few group photos at the top of Hemphill Bald and then proceeded to hike back down the mountain. This outing was unlike any other partnership hike I have led in the past; the smaller group of 17 embraced the snowy conditions for a delightful winter adventure. We were all so happy to be outside with white-capped mountains surrounding us — we really felt like we were on top of the world.”

group pic devils britches

The group on Hemphill Bald


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Winter Tree ID in Montreat

Cold but pristine headwater streams in the wilderness area.

Cold but pristine headwater streams in the wilderness.

This year’s winter tree identification hike took place in the beautiful Montreat Wilderness. As our intrepid, aspiring dendrologists hiked near Montreat’s streams, cold conditions and overcast skies gave way to a wonderfully pleasant western North Carolina winter day. Our guests were treated to a variety of topics, including native plant communities, forest health issues, and the cultural history of Montreat.

Chris Coxen, SAHC's Field Ecologist, led the winter tree identification hike.

Chris Coxen, SAHC’s Field Ecologist, led the winter tree identification hike.

Chris Coxen, SAHC’s Field Ecologist, discussed basic tips for winter tree identification success. Examine the form of the tree — is it straight or does it dramatically bend to seek out sunlight (like a sourwood tree)? What does the bark look like? Are the twigs coming off of the main branches alternate or opposite?

Participants put the tips into practice along the hike.

Participants put the tips into practice along the hike.

One of the most important steps someone can take when identifying anything in the field, flora or fauna, is to think about the forest community in which it is located. When you consider the elevation, aspect (north or south facing slope), proximity to a stream, or soil (thin and rocky or dense and rich?), you can narrow down the possible forest communities and create a smaller pool of potential plant or animal species.

The group hiked a 3.5-mile loop along the Sanctuary, Harry Bryan and Grey Beard trails, stopping at various points to talk about tree identification and the history of the area. We hiked near the old hydroelectric dam, reviewing times past when it provided electricity to the community in the 1920’s. SAHC was fortunate to also have Bill Sanderson, a local high school teacher and ranger of Montreat, join our hike. Bill gave the hikers a behind-the-scenes tour of the dam, old reservoirs used for drinking water and general history of the town of Montreat, which was created in 1967.

Educating hikers about the impact of ginseng & galax poachers.

Hikers learn about ginseng and galax poachers.

Toward the end of the hike the group gathered at a rock outcrop near a small stream where Chris Coxen and Bill Sanderson educated the hikers about the ongoing poaching of threatened species in the area, including galax and ginseng. Ginseng is a fleshy root often used in energy supplements and herbal medications. This plant only grows in the Appalachians and in the Himalayans. Ginseng is not as plentiful and harder to find in comparison to galax.

Blog post author and SAHC's AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti on the trail.

Blog post author and SAHC’s AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti on the trail.

Galax is a small, high elevation, cool-weather plant with broad, waxy, heart-shaped leaves. It’s picked mainly for floral arrangements because the leaves hold their green color for up to several weeks after they’ve been picked. Galax poachers are hired to rummage through the woods of the Appalachian region, illegally packing duffle bags full of galax which can weigh as much as 100 pounds. Montreat has had a hard time curbing the poaching population that enters its woods. Once the galax has been picked it cannot be replanted. We hope that educating hikers about poaching problems for these unique plants will lead to better understanding and assistance in reporting illegal activity.

Overall, the 30 hikers on SAHC’s Winter Tree Identification hike not only learned how to identify the barren woody companions but also learned about the overall health of the forest and a community like Montreat that works hard to protect these features for present and future generations. Thanks to all who came out to join us!

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Hiking Into The Lost Cove

Although we are in the midst of an arctic freeze in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, we’re eagerly looking forward to the slate of outdoor adventures our outreach team has planned for this year. To whet your appetite, here’s a narrative from one of our 2013 fall hikes – a trek into the 95-acre Lost Cove tract that SAHC purchased in 2012, led by our AmeriCorps PR & Outreach associate Anna Zanetti:

Paddlers along the Nolichucky River on the edge of the Lost Cove property.

Paddlers along the Nolichucky River on the edge of the Lost Cove property.

“Lost Cove, once a self-sustaining community nestled on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, has become a mere ghost town with the occasional company of a destination hiker.

In late November I led 22 people on a hike to the old settlement where only abandoned and crippled buildings now exist. The group hiked up to Flat Top Mountain where we peeked over the edge looking down on the Nolichucky Gorge catching a glimpse of the Lost Cove Property. During the 1940s, from this point, you would have been able to see white buildings consisting of homes, the schoolhouse and the church, but all we saw was overgrowth amongst the color changing leaves. We headed west and began to descend two miles along the old soil bed road until we came to an intersection in the trail. This intersection marks the beginning of the Lost Cove settlement and to the left marks SAHC’s property.


View from Flat Top Mountain looking down upon the Lost Cove.

We walked quietly under the dark clouds that came rushing in, covering the sun. Searching around the group examined the free standing stone chimneys and the decaying structures. Every few feet we would see old deteriorating cans, rusty car parts and we even found a wood-burning stove. We all navigated around on and off trail as if we were investigating an ancient civilization. Everyone was dispersed when a hiker called out, “Come up here, I found their cemetery.” We all rushed together to the top of a hill off of the trail to find a small gated graveyard with tombstones and some flowers. We knelt down reading the literature engraved in the stones — some had poems or just the family name, in places the letters were a little off and the p’s and d’s were backwards. On top of the hill we had a brief snack, but we were too engaged to turn around at that point. As a group we decided to push forward and hike down to the Nolichucky Gorge to see the train tracks and where the train platform once existed.

The group hiked about 1.5 miles descending through bolder fields with moss and lichen in every nook and cranny. It was like a sea of rocks flowing and rising within the tress. This section of the trail is by far my favorite because of its natural beauty. We reached the edge of our property looking upon the Nolichucky River and the train tracks nestled between the surrounding mountains. We all dispersed around the edge of the property to explore. Then we reconvened around an abandoned campsite,  all quiet and ready to eat our lunch. As I was getting settled the ground began to shake and we all stood up to see a train coming around the bend along the river. The graffiti covered railroad carts rushed by caring black coal and other cargo.

After the train was gone a fellow hiker said aloud, “These people had to hike 1.5 miles down here for goods and then proceeded to hike back up the steep and rocky trail with extra weight on their backs.”  This reminded everyone that Appalachian folk were and still are resilient people who don’t back down from a challenge. We packed up our belongings and I handed out trash bags and gloves to anyone willing to pickup and pack out the garbage from the abandoned campsite. Buddy Tignor, President of SAHC’s Board of Trustees, single-handedly packed out around 30 pounds of empty propane cans and debris.

The train was long gone and we were finishing packing up when it began to rain. We didn’t think much about it until the rain became worse, eventually turning into hail. We all looked at each other and understood that it was time to begin the trek up and out the gorge. The hail stinging our bare skin was not our only concern —  the slippery unsure footing made me nervous. A total of 45 minutes later and 1.5 miles up the steep terrain the rain and hail had stopped, giving us the opportunity to catch our breath.

The hike back was severely strenuous especially with the added weight from the trash we had picked up below. That morning we began the hike at 10:00 am and did not make it back to Flat Top Mountain till 5:00 pm. To say the least we were all exhausted, but we had formed an undeniable bond and gained a deeper appreciation for all the settlers who chose to call the Lost Cove their home.”

Group photo within the Lost Cove settlement.

Group photo within the Lost Cove settlement.

The next Lost Cove Hike will be held on April 26, 2014. Due to the increased popularity of this guided hike, we will open registration to SAHC members from March 1st through the 31st, followed by open registration for the general public after March 31. Please email Anna@appalachian.org for more info or to register.

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Fall “For Love of Beer and Mountains” Partnership Hikes


Group photo atop Blackrock Mountain for the Thunderstruck “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike.

Our new AmeriCorps PR and Outreach Associate, Anna Zanetti, launched into a full schedule of fall hikes when she came on board with us in September. Part of that slate of fall hikes included our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Clawhammer and Thunderstruck partnership hikes — which luckily occurred on two lovely October weekends. The Thunderstruck hike also gave the group an opportunity to visit one of SAHC’s newly protected tracts  — Blackrock Mountain. Below is Anna’s take on the experience:

“SAHC partnership hikes with Highland Brewing and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are one of the highlights of my job. These popular group hikes feature protected peaks that are namesakes of Highland Brewing Company’s seasonal beers. The “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership, including our guided hikes, helps raise public awareness of the places and species that make our mountains so special.


Twin Falls

The first hike I led was to Clawhammer Mountain in Pisgah National Forest, close to Brevard. Twenty-five people attended this hike in celebration of Highland’s Oktoberfest named after Clawhammer Mountain. The hike was a 12-mile loop that traversed along equestrian, biking and hiking trails. During our ascent up the mountain we stopped at Twin Falls for a beautiful view. With the top tucked into the tree line, the 150 ft falls appear as if they are flowing from the sky.

Group photo atop Clawhammer Mountain.

Group photo atop Clawhammer Mountain.

After enjoying a break at the falls, we continued along the trail. At the summit of Clawhammer Mountain we saw clear views of Looking Glass Mountain where the trees meet the large open-faced rocks. This made for a great lunch spot, and everyone relaxed before the long trek back down the mountain.

Hikers had to overcome some obstacles.

Overcoming obstacles on the hike.

On October 12th , we held our second autumn “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership hike across Blackrock Ridge to celebrate the release of Highland’s  Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. At the peak of Blackrock Mountain, you can see Thunderstruck Ridge zigzag like a thunderbolt on the horizon. We parked near Waterrock Knob Visitor Center and walked to the trailhead along the road. The Blackrock Ridge hike was a 5-½ mile out-and-back adventure crossing private, public and SAHC owned land.

Blue Ridge Parkway, visible from the hike.

Blue Ridge Parkway, visible from the trail.

During this time the government shutdown slightly affected our hike because parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway were closed, including the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center where we had planned to park and rendezvous for the hike. However, that didn’t stop us from enjoying the hike, and we were fortunate enough to still go through with our plans.

View pic from the Blue Ridge Parkway, courtesy of Perry Keys.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, courtesy of Perry Keys.

The day of the hike there were many tourists on the parkway enjoying breathtaking views of the autumn leaves. It was nice to see people out and about, but many disregarded the barricaded areas and continued to use closed facilities. This caused slight issues due to the fact that no one was managing these areas during the shutdown. A new member of SAHC, Perry Keys, organized a trash pick up along the parkway after our hike. This was a great effort on the group’s part to help mitigate the impact of visitors within the Blue Ridge Parkway boundaries.

These partnership hikes continue to be successful due to the unique makeup of our partnership with Highland Brewing Company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For those who love to celebrate local craft beer as well as the beautiful mountains of the Appalachian region, our “For Love of Beer and Mountains” partnership gives them a way to enjoy themselves and support land conservation at the same time.”

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No kidding – Goat herding rocks!

Hikers herd goats in the Roan Mountain mist.

Hikers herd goats in the Roan Mountain mist.

by Michelle Pugliese, SAHC Land Protection Director

The sounds of kids crying as they made their way along the Appalachian Trail caused ripples of giggling among our group of volunteers on Round Bald this morning.

“They’re so cute!” –  “I love it when they do that!” we exclaimed, with huge smiles.  You would have laughed at these kids too: they were baby goats among the herd grazing the grassy balds in the Highlands of Roan.

SAHC Farm Program intern Yael Girard herding.

SAHC Farm Program intern Yael Girard herding.

These goats, part of the Baa-tany Goat Project, are an integral part of SAHC’s and our partners’ long history of managing the grassy bald habitat in the Roan.  Thirty-four goats spent this summer grazing on Engine Gap.  By simply living and eating on the balds they are fighting back the invasive woody vegetation that threatens many rare species on the Roan’s grassy balds.  The Roan Mountain bluet, Roan Mountain goldenrod and Gray’s lily are a few of the rare flowers that depend on these open grassy habitats.

The group assembles for herding instructions before the hike.

The volunteer group assembles for herding instructions.

SAHC invites volunteers to help herd the goats up the mountain at the beginning of the summer and back down again near the end of summer.  As a first-time goat herder, I was delighted to be a part of the process.  About 30 volunteers gathered on the mountain not long after the sun rose over it.

The kids follow the adults down the trail.

The kids follow the adults down the trail.

After a short hike up the Appalachian Trail to the goat pen, we formed two lines on either side of the Trail.  Standing about 10 feet apart with our arms spread wide, we were ready for the gentle stampede of goats when the gate was opened.  Actually, it was more like releasing kids into a candy store…literally.  They ran for a few seconds and then stopped to graze the fresh blackberry bushes outside their paddock.  After some coaxing they moved along the Trail, some faster than others.  A few renegades tried to make a run for it, but our team of volunteers gently guided them back into line, across Engine Gap, over Round Bald, and down to Carvers Gap.  As the herd was loaded into the trailer to return to their home in Tennessee, my smile grew knowing I was part of an important step of SAHC’s habitat management.  It was one of many days when my work is as fun as it is meaningful.

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Clear Skies for ‘Shroom Hunters!

Before starting off, Charlotte explained mushroom basics and tips for collecting to the group.

Before starting off, Charlotte explained mushroom basics and tips for collecting to the group.

In the Southeast, we’ve been breaking all kinds of records for abundant rainfall through the summer – which you’d think would be great for growing mushrooms, right? Fun fact: There is such a thing as too much rain for ‘shrooms! Luckily, however, we were still able to collect a bountiful and varied assortment for our mushroom identification hike on August 14. And, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a beautiful sunny sky and clear views of the Black Mountains as a bonus.

Led by amateur mycologist Charlotte Caplan – who has spent the past 35 years learning about mushrooms – our group started out in a high mountain meadow with Mt. Mitchell and the stunning Black Mountains clearly visible in the background. Charlotte gave us a basic run-down on mushrooms and tips for collecting. Here’s some of her info:

  • Charlotte shares her knowledge about mushrooms.

    Charlotte shares her knowledge about mushrooms.

    Mushrooms are part of the Fungi kingdom – not the plant or animal kingdom; although they resemble plants, they share some behaviors more in common with animals. They are the recyclers of the natural world – responsible for breaking down & digesting natural materials.

  • You have to dig down below to get the whole thing. The mushroom growing up above is just the reproductive part of the mycelium — the actual fungus which lies underneath. Use a knife or spoon to carefully cut into the earth and slip under to collect the whole mycelium.
  • Bring baskets for mushroom collecting, and waxed or paper bags to separate specimens.
  • We learned about a few parts of a mushroom: gills, universal veil, partial veil, cap, stalk, spores, etc. As we later walked through the woods, Charlotte directed us to ask questions as we looked at our specimens.  “Look for the ‘veil’ that coats around the mushroom. What does the base look like? Look at the gills under the cap or lack thereof; some species don’t have true gills – they have folds.”

    Identifying the gills of a mushroom.

    Identifying the gills of a mushroom.

  • An important part of identifying mushrooms is to focus on recognizing  the families.  With some estimated 10,000 species visible to the naked eye, it is easier to start identification based on the mushroom family.
  • You can look for color, but many different varieties (edible & non-edible), may share similar hues.
  • There are some varieties that are edible and some that are poisonous, but a lot fall into an in-between zone that are simply inedible. They may really just taste bad or are too woody or tough to be good to eat.
Baskets are best for collecting mushrooms - keeping finds from getting squished. Another tip - bring along smaller wax or paper bags to keep your specimens separate.

Baskets are best for collecting mushrooms – keeping finds from getting squished. Bring along smaller wax or paper bags to keep specimens separate.

“There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters,” cautioned Charlotte as the group set off to begin.

We headed down a wooded gravel road and immediately began to spy a variety of mushrooms along the sides. Our jovial company brimmed with avid curiosity as laughter echoed in the woods  — adults and youngsters alike eager to learn. Charlotte was evidently excited about the world of mushrooms, and her exuberance proved engaging and contagious.

She directed us to fan out through a forested area. It looked a little dense from the outside, but following a little trail into the woods, we soon discovered that the understory was quite clear. Mushrooms abounded here in pockets – some growing at the base of trees, on rotting old wood, up from clumps of moss, and hidden in little clearings under the trees. The outing was more treasure hunt than hike – scouting for brilliant living gemstones on the emerald carpet under the trees. With flossy ferns, mossy carpets, and relatively little underbrush, it was a beautiful place to search. After rooting around in the woods for a while, we headed back to the top to enjoy lunch on picnic tables and beautiful views of the Black Mountains.

We spread out collected specimens after lunch to identify.

We spread out collected specimens after lunch to identify.

Following lunch, Charlotte broke out her mushroom books to assist with identification, and we spread the spoils of our baskets on the table to sort.

Here’s one example of how similar the edible & poisonous varieties of mushrooms can be: we found a little white puffball that was edible when we first started out. However, sitting around and identifying collections at the picnic table after lunch, Charlotte identified another puffball that was poisonous. It looked very similar on the outside, but was solid black inside and smelled raunchy. The best edible mushroom that we found that day was a black trumpet, which Charlotte described as “gregarious” because they like to grow together in clusters. In all, we saw representatives from just about every major mushroom family, over 30 different varieties.

"Find of the Day!" Bridger found this Morris Bolete - a rare and beautiful mushroom.

“Find of the Day!” Bridger found this rare and beautiful Morris Bolete.

The youngest member of our group, Bridger, brightened all our lives that day with his unabashed enthusiasm for learning about the natural world. He and his mother, Jodi, had joined the hike to spend quality time together while nurturing his passion for mushrooms. In fact, Bridger went home and put together a Prezi to share his knowledge, which you can view here.

It was a beautiful day to enjoy the outdoors and uncover a plethora of mushrooms. Thanks to everyone for participating, and to our landowners for graciously allowing SAHC to lead this hike on their property!

For a Flickr gallery of our photos from the day, click here.

More Info about Mushrooms:

If reading this has whet your appetite for mushroom investigations, you may want to check out the Annual Fungi Fest  coming up next month (Sept. 7 from 9 am to 4:30 pm) at the NC Arboretum. For more info, visit: http://www.ashevillemushroomclub.com/fungifest2013.html

Eager to traipse through the woods in search of spongy fungi? For more detailed information, get to know some folks at the Asheville Mushroom Club.

A beautiful day to enjoy the Black Mountains.

A beautiful day to enjoy the Black Mountains.

Categories: Hikes | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

June Jamboree 2013 – Loving the Roan!

A beautiful day to enjoy the Roan!

A beautiful day to enjoy the Roan!

Thank you to all who joined us on the Roan this past June for our annual June Jamboree! We enjoyed beautiful weather and spectacular views with a hundred hikers on the mountain in five different guided group hikes. Check out our photos and video collages from the event:

Animoto video for the five hikes of the June Jamboree, 2013:



Triple B Challenge hikers on Jane Bald

Triple B Challenge hikers on Jane Bald

Triple B Challenge:

View our images on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/southernappalachian/sets/72157634968869255/

Video: http://animoto.com/play/mKkkHRcZZ0sYeswTn0ngOQ


Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge hike

Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge

Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge:

View our images on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/southernappalachian/sets/72157634307449363/

Video: http://animoto.com/play/M4MCe10AtI80W8vyQNGQ3Q


One Bird, Two Bird, Red Bird, Blue Bird: How Biologists Monitor Bird Populations in the Field

Birding hikers

One Bird, Two Bird – Red Bird, Blue BIrd; How Biologists monitor bird populations in the field:

View our images on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/southernappalachian/sets/72157634982938611/


Exploring the creek!

Exploring the creek!

Kids in the Creek:

View our images on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/southernappalachian/sets/72157634980069121/

Video: http://animoto.com/play/0s1JiBVVhjrqKuAMBAAVJQ


Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens

Roll and Stroll in the Rhododendron Gardens:

View our images on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/southernappalachian/sets/72157634982730453/

Categories: Hikes | Leave a comment

Swimming in a Sea of Wildflowers

group shot.jpg

Photo taken by Ted Haddock

The forecast showed rain for Saturday’s wildflower hike on April 27, but even with the incoming deluge, ten rain-impervious souls showed up to enjoy a few of Spring’s fleeting treasures. The big rains were coming at two so we put on our water repelling soul-suits and set-off on our adventure.

Heading into the Haddock's property.jpg

Heading into the Haddock’s property

Off we went into the light drizzle, pausing only to take a group photograph as evidence that we were in fact outside and not identifying flowers from laptops in warm, cozy beds. Ted Haddock and his family generously offered their beautiful property as a place to search for spring ephemerals. Glancing up the mountain, the whole group knew we were in for a real treat! The climb was steep but Josh Kelly, Western North Carolina Alliance’s Public Lands Biologist, always had the knack to point out another cool flower or the call of a bird mocking us from far above when the group began to lose its breath.



Just on the logging road alone, on the way up to the rich cove forest, (diverse mixutre of moisture-loving trees and lush species-rich herbacious layer) we saw too many flowers to count. There were Firepinks, a trillion trilliums, Bishop Caps, Acolyte Avens (just kidding about that one), Gallium,violets, and plenty of the not-so-great, proliferating garlic mustard. We tasted the delicious seed pods of Solomons Seal. We met a Jack in the Pulpit. We met a Jill in the Pulpit and we learned that this androgynous plant changes its sex depending on the living conditions leading up to the plants sprouting. If there is enough rain, and the soil is full of plentiful nutrients, the plant sprouts as a female, Jill in the Pulpit, and is able propagate. If conditions are not as accommodating, the plant sprouts as a Jack in the Pulpit, the male version of the plant.

Jill in the Pulpit.jpg

Jill in the pulpit

Max Patch.jpg

Max Patch in the distance

Towards the end of the climb, the group was rewarded with a nice view of Max Patch in the distance and still, the great rains had not moved in…yet.

But oh did they come! We took a wildflower break to eat some lunch. After no more than three bites of my savory Subway sandwich, the skies opened  up, causing us to scarf down our grub and head to the wildflower Promised Land. The rich cove that Josh led us to was truly spectacular. The flowers we saw on the logging road were only a small sample size compared to the smörgåsbord that littered the cove. By the time we made it back to road, even the best rain gear was taking in water. Back at the Trust General Store were piping mugs of hot chocolate waiting for us. Whaddaday!

A big thanks to the Haddock Family for letting us explore their beautiful property and to Josh Kelly for sharing his vast knowledge of wildflowers and plants with the group. And lastly, thanks to everyone that came out to frolic in the rain with SAHC. It was a special day!

Categories: Hikes | Leave a comment

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