Winter Naturalist Rally now taking reservations.

John Thompson • Jan 9, 2018 at 8:35 PM

ROAN MOUNTAIN — After the area’s recent experience with subfreezing temperatures, winter may not be too popular, but the annual Winter Naturalists’ Rally sponsored by the Friends of Roan Mountain promises to be a hit for all those who love nature in all its seasons.

This year’s winter rally director is Richard Broadwell. The rally will take place on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Conference Center at Roan Mountain State Park. A brochure for the event is already out and reservations are already being accepted.

“For 11 years the Winter Naturalists' Rally has drawn hardy nature enthusiasts from far and wide to Roan Mountain on the Saturday closest to Valentine’s Day,” Broadwell said. “Top naturalists volunteer their time and energy to make the event both enjoyable and educational for people of all ages.”

Unlike the weekend-long spring and autumn rallies, the winter rally is only a one-day affair. The morning will feature four lectures on matters of interest conservation efforts. In the afternoon there will be a choice of four hikes, some easy and child-friendly while others are strenuous.

The first of the morning lectures will be presented at 9 a.m. by Ben Jarrett, Southern Regional Science coordinator for the American Chestnut Foundation. His topic will be “Restoration of the American chestnut: A marriage of breeding and biotechnology.”

Jarrett will speak about the historical significance of the American chestnut (its economic, ecological and social importance). He will also discuss chestnut blight and the subsequent downfall of the tree. Finally, he will describe the ongoing restoration efforts through backcross breeding and genetic engineering.

The second presentation will be by Lisa Huff, stewardship ecologist with the Tennessee State Natural Areas Program. Her topic will be “the mystery of the missing shortleaf pine.”

Huff will present a history of the shortleaf pine-bluestem vegetation community of Tennessee. She will explain what happened to this ecosystem and describe some efforts underway to restore the community.

The final lecture of the morning will be presented by Dwayne Estes, professor of biology at Austin Peay State University. His topic will be “The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative: Charting a new course for conservation in the 21st century.”

Estes will be speaking about the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative in Clarksville, which aims to focus it efforts across a 21-state region. The various types of grasslands involved include the Southern Appalachian balds, of which the Roan Highlands is the pre-eminent example.

The initiative uses a multi-faceted approach combining restoration, preservation, recreation, research, rescue, seed banking, education and market-driven strategies.

A lunchtime program will be presented by Sarah Sanford, a master’s candidate in environmental management at Duke University. She will discuss “Grassy balds management in the Roan Highlands.”

Sanford’s experience with the balds includes an internship with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy last summer where she worked on a project of cataloguing over 30 years of grassy badls habitat management in the Roan Highlands. To accomplish the work, Sanford built a geodatabase.

Box lunches by City Market of Elizabethton may be ordered on the same form used to register for the event.

The four afternoon hikes will begin at 1:30 and will leave from the Roan Mountain State Park Conference Center. The four hikes listed from easiest to most strenuous are:

• Tree identification in winter, led by Frosty Levy, professor emeritus of biology at East Tennessee State University. It is rated as easy.

• Wildlife tracking and animal signs, led by Marty Silver, ranger at Warrior’s Path State Park. The group will be searching for tracks and signs along the Doe River in the park. It is rated as moderately strenuous and child-friendly.

• A hike up the Birchfield Trail in the Hampton Creek Cove Natural Area, led by Lisa Huff, stewardship ecologist with the Tennessee State Natural Areas. The hike up to the stream crossing and back should not take more than three hours. It is rated moderately strenuous and child-friendly.

• A hike in the alder balds of the Ridgeline of the Roan Highlands, led by Jamey Donaldson, the John C. Warden Herbarium Adjunct Curator at East Tennessee State University. Participants are advised to dress warmly for this high-elevation hike. It is rated as strenuous.

Registrations can be made online at https://formsmarts.com/form/1xi5?mode=h5

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