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Wednesday Field Trips & Workshops

Conference field trips offer a wide variety of opportunities to study the natural plant communities of western North Carolina. Trip leaders are local naturalists and professional scientists with diverse backgrounds. Trips are offered on a first come/first served basis, and the number of participants is limited.

Please come equipped to handle rapidly changing weather conditions and mountainous terrain. Participants should wear comfortable hiking clothes and shoes and bring rain gear, a pack to carry lunch, a water bottle, field guides, and hand lenses. Transportation and a bag lunch are provided. All field trips depart from the large parking area near the Ramsey Center promptly at 8:30 a.m. and return by 5:00 p.m.

Field trips and Wednesday Workshops cost $85. Canoe Trips (FT 4) have a surcharge of $15 to cover canoe rentals.

2018 FT Hike difficulty ratings:

(1) easy = light walking, in and out of the vehicle;
(2) moderate = trail walking, a mile or so;
(3) moderately strenuous = hiking, away from vehicle, more than a mile;
(4) strenuous = hiking, uneven trails, steep terrain, up to four miles;
(5) very strenuous = hiking over rough terrain, four miles plus.

FT 1:  Black Balsam Knob & Environs – A survey of plant communities above 5,000’.

Through a series of short hikes we’ll explore the unique plants that thrive in boreal hardwood and spruce-fir forests, grassy balds, heath seepage slopes, and spray cliffs. The Ericaceous family is very rich: rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurel, mountain pieris, Minnie-bush, blueberries (often in fruit), cranberries (usually in flower), sourwood, and others. Carpets of sedge and ferns, wildflower accents, light catching grasses: these communities provide good models for design and landscape management practices. The air is light and the scenery is grand, however weather can turn cool and stormy quickly, so layer and be prepared to enjoy the spectacle. Rain gear is recommended. Some trails are rocky with short steep sections. We’ll adjust the trail selection to suit the group. Leader: Randy Burroughs. Capacity: 9. Trip Difficulty Rating: 2+, Moderate to Moderately Strenuous

FT 2:  Southern Highlands Reserve, Kelly Holdbrooks and Eric Kimbrel

Enjoy a tour of the Core Park at the Southern Highlands Reserve led by Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks. The Reserve’s Core Park is a 20 acre high elevation native pant garden and arboretum. Designed by W. Gary Smith, the garden rooms illustrate thoughtful planting design with native plants. The Azalea Walk has hundreds of natural swarm hybrid Gregory Bald azaleas planted on a color vault among naturally existing canopy, hay scented ferns, and flame azaleas. The Wildflower Labyrinth is a pollinator haven and annually attracts several species of butterflies including Monarchs. The Vaseyi Pond and Viewsite offer viewsheds to Looking Glass Rock, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The tour will conclude with an in-depth look at the propagation efforts at the Nursery Complex of the Reserve. Please bring camera, walking stick, and comfortable hiking shoes.  We will walk for 2-2.5 hours then break for lunch.

FT 3:  Panthertown Valley Ethnobotanical Tour, David Cozzo and Adam Bigelow

Panthertown Valley is a 6,300-acre Forest Service tract that is often referred to as the “Yosemite of the East” due to the granite domes and stunning setting. At an elevation of 3,600 feet, the flat valley floor is traversed by slow-moving, tannin-stained streams and dotted with rare Southern Appalachian bog communities. On this trip we will enjoy the varied plant communities and view the region from an ethnobotanical perspective, especially the Cherokee relationship to selected species. This is a very strenuous hike of more than six miles with several steep, half-hour climbs and descents. You will want to be in good shape and bring a pack, extra water, and rain gear. Limit = 20.  Hike difficulty rating = 5, very strenuous.

FT 4:  Natural and Cultural History of the Upper Little Tennessee Valley by Canoe, Brent Martin, George Morris, and Peter Loos

This field trip will explore the rich natural and cultural history of the upper Little Tennessee river valley, including the travels of the 18th century naturalist William Bartram, who wrote a detailed account of the flora in the valley, Cherokee Indian history, and the current botanical communities found along the river.  Participants will visit the historical capital of the middle town Cherokees in the Cowee community, discuss the plant world described by Bartram in 1775, observe the federally listed Virginia spireae, along with other interesting riparian species, such as pawpaw, shingle oak, and more.  Participants are encouraged to read the North Carolina sections from Bartram’s 1791 publication Travels (available in various editions).  The trip is a canoe trip of easy to moderate difficulty, seven miles in length, and requiring little or no canoeing experience.  Basic instruction will be provided.  Water shoes, clothing suitable for water exposure, a journal, botanical field guides, sunscreen, hand lens, are essential and recommended for a quality experience.

Limit = 36.  Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous.

FT 5:  Blue Ridge Native Grasses and their plant communities - Gary Kauffman & Nancy Adamson

Join Gary Kauffman, NFsNC botanist, and Nancy Adamson, Xerces/NRCS ecologist, for a day visiting grassland communities within the Pisgah National Forest (PNF) and along the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) in Jackson, Haywood, and Transylvania Counties. Grasses are a component of most Southern Appalachian plant communities but dominant in a few such as grassy balds, fire-maintained pine or oak woodlands, glades or rock outcrops.  We will visit a variety of sites, including Graveyard Fields with its fire-maintained meadow, surrounding northern hardwood forest, high elevation boggy seeps, and spruce-fir forest.  Other stops along the BRP and PNF will highlight grass tribe species.  A discussion of natural disturbance patterns maintaining grass-dominated habitats will be incorporated in the stops as well as some of the other flora.

Gary and Nancy will co-lead a native grasses half-day workshop Friday morning, July 20th. See the workshop section for more details.

FT 6:  Whiteside Mountain, “The Mountain at the End of the Trail”, Jeff Zahner

With sheer bluffs shining like a beacon over the upper Piedmont, Whiteside Mountain is a regional landmark with dramatic geology, a rich flora, and ancient history. On this three-mile loop hike, Jeff will discuss the many unique high-elevation plants found along the trail and interpret the natural history of the mountain. The views on top are some of the best in the Southeast and one might even see a Peregrine Falcon on the hunt. The hike requires sturdy shoes, rain gear, and a small pack to carry lunch and water. After the hike the group will visit the Zahner homestead, gardens, and nursery to see many examples of native plants in a garden setting. Uses, growth, and management of many types of native plants will be discussed and the slightly over-grown “wild formal” garden of Jeff’s grandmother will be explored.  Limit = 10.  Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous.

FT 7:  Highlands Botanical Garden and Other Native Plant Gardens, Larry Mellichamp

We will visit Highlands, NC, to visit the remarkable Highlands Biological Station Botanical Gardens plus three private gardens to see an unbelievable array of famous, interesting, and attractive native plants in a variety of naturalistic settings. We will see such great natives as Shortia, ginseng, gentians, Hexastylis, pirate bush, Florida Torreya, mountain sweet pitcher plant, mountain sweet pepperbush, mountain mint, silverleaf hydrangea, grass-of-parnassus, prostrate juniper, bottle-brush buckeye, sand-myrtle, pawpaw, turk's-cap lilies, hercules'-club, Spiraea virginiana, many more wildflowers and shrubs, and many different ferns. We will discuss identification, culture, pruning, propagation, landscape use, cultivar selections, interactions with birds and insects, and conservation. Be prepared to say wow! Bring a 10x hand lens, a camera, and a notebook. Limit = 20.  Hike difficulty rating = 1, easy.

FT 8:   Sam’s Knob Valley and Flat Laurel Creek with Wes Burlingame and Lauri Lawson

Sam’s Valley Knob is not only one of the loveliest sites in the southern Appalachians, but is almost unique in its diversity of special native plants and their communities. A number of these plants are known for their medicinal properties. Lauri and Wes will explore and discuss the plants and communities in this valley and creek system. Lauri, a medicinal herbalist, will point out the healing features of a number of plants and we will have some herbal texts along for more in-depth information. The hike is 3 miles on a loop trail. Rain gear strongly recommended. This is a fascinating hike—you won’t want to miss it.  Limit = 25. Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous, with some steep descent requiring agility (hiking poles helpful).

FT 9:  Buck Creek, Serpentine Barrens – Ed Schwarzman

The Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens will provide visitors with a glimpse of a unique ecosystem for the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the ultramafic barren. The barrens sit on a deposit of ultramafic rock at 3,500’ elevation. Thin soils and exposed rock create an open landscape, which has been promoted through prescribed fire. Buck Creek supports an unusual flora, including over 20 rare plant species. Rare species that we will see in flower include the small-leaved meadowrue (Thalictrum macrostylum), Canada burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis), and tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa). Make sure to bring long pants, close-toed shoes, water, lunch, and a raincoat in case of weather. For a reference on the site, refer to Mansberg, L., and T.R. Wentworth. 1984. Vegetation and soils of a serpentine barren in western North Carolina. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club. 111:273-286. We will be in the sun for much of the day, traversing unsteady, densely vegetated terrain, and the Trip Difficulty Rating is a 4 Strenuous.

FT 10: *NEW* Mosses of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Ann Stoneburner and Robert Wyatt

Come explore the magical world of mosses, miniature nonvascular plants that are often overlooked even by avid botanists.  Learn about the varied microhabitats in which they thrive and the great diversity of species in the Southern Appalachians.  Learn too about their structure and function, as well as their systematics, evolution, and ecology.  We will appreciate their beauty in places where they are abundant, including boreal spruce-fir forest, seepage cliffs and bogs, and red oak-beech-sedge forest.  Expect to see dramatic stands of “feather mosses” such as Ptilium crista-castrensis, Hylocomium splendens, and Pleurozium schreberi, as well as peat mosses and epiphytes.  Higher elevations on the Parkway can be surprisingly cool, so dress appropriately, including rain gear.  A good field guide is Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians by McKnight et al. (2013) in the Princeton Field Guide series (cost about $20).  Limit = 10.  Hike difficulty rating = 3.

FT11:    Botany and Geology of Cullowhee Falls- Kathy Mathews and Peter Schubert


Join us for a hike to one of the most glorious waterfalls in Western North Carolina, Cullowhee Falls (a.k.a. High Falls).  Along the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River, the trail starts at a rich cove/boulderfield forest and then winds through a mixed hardwood forest, through rhododendron thickets, and along riparian habitat passing Thurston Hatcher Falls, a beautiful cascade, leading to the base of a two-tiered waterfall approximately 200 feet tall, with a box-canyon feel.  The waterfall area features a spray-cliff grotto, pot-holed bedrock and a refreshing swimming-hole. Surrounding flowers include mountain dwarf-dandelion, sundrops and Michaux's saxifrage.  Along the way, we'll discuss the geologic setting, and view numerous summer wildflowers, including galax, goat’s beard, large-flower heartleaf, Indian ghost pipe, and many ferns, lichens and mosses.  Please bring rain gear, sunscreen, sturdy shoes, field guides, hand lens, water, snacks, a swimsuit, and a sense of adventure.  Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous (hiking, brief rock scrambling near the falls, away from vehicle, more than a mile).

FT 12    *NEW* Photography Workshop to Whiteside Mountain, Jonathon Jackson and John Magee

We’ll visit Whiteside Mountain for a landscape and nature photography workshop.  Our group will cover photography tips during a moderately strenuous 2-mile loop including camera basics, composition and preparation.  John Magee will accompany to help with plant identification as a variety of wildflowers can be observed including false Solomon’s seal, white snakeroot, dwarf dandelion, speckled wood-lily and wood betony.  Whiteside Mountain is also home to the reintroduced peregrine falcons and can be observed on the rock outcrops during the spring and summer.  Bring your cameras and tripods, consider weather and pack accordingly.  Trip Rating: 3.

To learn more about Whiteside Mountain visit:


Wednesday All-Day Workshops

W 1:  Creating a Buzz in your Neighborhood: Designing, Planting and Managing a Pollinator Garden- Anne Spafford

Through lectures, lively discussions, exercises, and a mini-design project at the end of the session, participants will be taken through the wonderful world of sustainable landscape design.  Each module exposes participants to critical aspects of the art and science of landscape design and gives participants tools to effectively design their own home landscape.  No experience is necessary.

Participants will be provided with handouts, worksheets, and exercises so they can easily take information learned in the workshop home with them and apply knowledge to their home landscapes.  There are no textbooks required. 

Supplies participants should bring include: Tracing paper (a 12-15" wide roll, or large pad (no larger than 11 X 17”)--available at any art supply or office supply store; several sharpened #2 pencils, an eraser, 1 black pilot razor point pen, 1 fine point sharpie marker.  All other needed supplies will be loaned out that day.  Additional helpful supplies, should the participant chose, includes: circle template and colored pencils.

W 2:  Working with Cast Stone & Botanical Imprints, Jeff Jackson

You've seen his work in our silent auctions for years, now Jeff will be sharing his 2+ decades of experiences with this fascinating and useful material to show you all the tricks and shortcuts so that you too will be able to create beautiful botanical imprints in cast stone. We will be looking at its history and science, how different mixes serve different purposes, mold making, choosing foliage, pigments, and much more! Prepare to get your hands dirty. We will be mixing materials (Jeff puts the 'work' in workshop!) and you will use it to create your very own garden and home treasures! Bio Limit = 24.

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