Help prevent lily leaf spot disease

Healthy Gray’s Lily

If you’re out traipsing high elevation mountains and meadows across WNC this July, you might spy the stunning red-orange trumpet of a Gray’s lily (Lilium grayi) bloom. Please look but don’t touch! This rare native flower has been suffering from a fungal disease that may be spread by contact. The Lily Leaf Spot Disease kills juveniles and reduces reproduction in adults, creating a grim forecast for the future of these beautiful blooms.

First identified by famous American botanist Asa Gray in the Highlands of Roan in 1840, Gray’s lily occurs at high elevations in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, on grassy balds and in moist forests and wet meadows. They bloom in June and July, creating brilliant displays beloved by nature photographers and naturalists. Already listed as Threatened in NC, Gray’s lily populations have been suffering from the wide spread of disease caused by the fungal phytopathogen Pseudocercosporella inconspicua. Indications of the disease occur as tan spots on the leaves, stems, and reproductive portions of the lily. SAHC, in partnership with the US Forest Service and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, recently posted educational signs along the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan to raise awareness about the Gray’s lily and try to slow spread of the disease. impacts other native lilies, including Canada and Turk’s Cap lily, but Gray’s lily seems to be most susceptible.

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Big Rock Creek Volunteer Work Day

On April 28, 2018, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and Nature Valley partnered with us for a volunteer work day at our Big Rock Creek Preserve, surrounded by national forest land and public recreation hotspots in the Highlands of Roan. In addition to the area’s rare habitats and unique species, SAHC’s Big Rock Creek Preserve – once the home of TrailRidge Mountain Camp — provides a great space for people to connect with protected conservation lands.  A total of 35 volunteers showed up for the work day and tackled a variety of tasks around the preserve to help better connect people with nature. The crew of volunteers represented programs from across the region, including Western Carolina University, East Tennessee State University, AmeriCorps Project Conserve, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and Asheville Women Outdoors.

The volunteers broke into smaller groups to work on tasks, which included building a quarter mile loop trail, deconstructing an old camping platform, transplanting rhododendron, and seeding an open area with native grasses.  

Jeff Hunter of NPCA led one of the trail crews to clear and grade the first segment of the trail. Jeff has extensive experience in building trails and volunteers learned a lot by working with him.  

Building the trail was an eye opening experience, I have hiked on trails for years and years, but had no idea the amount of work and love that goes into making and maintaining them. Now, when I am looking at a trail I can identify the mineral soil, what is a good slope, and where water may end up pooling; all things I never would have noticed prior to the Big Rock Creek Workday.  It was definitely a Saturday well spent!” -Emily Adler

The trail crew also built two sets of steps and cleared fallen trees. By the end of the day, all major obstacles had been cleared from the trail, creating a strolling path for SAHC’s educational programs and guests to use to explore the property.

On another portion of the preserve, volunteers worked in the open area surrounding our new camping platform.  Volunteers cleared the area around the platform, then spread seeds and transplanted rhododendron along the border. We hope to see this area sprouting native grasses and wildflowers in the next few weeks.

In only 5 hours, all of the tasks were completed and everyone took a walk on the newly built trail together.  We shared stories about what led us to volunteer and reflected on the importance of environmental stewardship.  Thank you to everyone who participated or supported this work day. We couldn’t do it without you!

Leave No Trace

Think about times you have been in the outdoors; it sometimes feels like you are the first person to experience your pristine surroundings, the first person to soak in the beauty of the trees and hear the flowing creek.   Then think about other times, where you hiked in miles to a remote destination, only to find garbage and destruction.  Obviously, the first experience is preferable; this is why SAHC decided to teach a Leave No Trace Trainer Course this spring!  We were able to do so with help from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  The ATC sponsors a grant annually using funds from the Appalachian Trail specialty license plates.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a set of outdoor ethics that promote conservation and help to minimize recreation-related impacts in the outdoors.  There are seven principles that are used to educate and guide recreationists in sustainable minimum impact practices that mitigate or eliminate human impacts in the outdoors.

The Seven Principles

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Leave No Trace Trainer Course

The Leave No Trace Trainer Course was a free, two day certification course.  The participants on the course learned how to be effective LNT trainers, so that they can continue to educate others on best practices!  The course was taught at SAHC’s Elk Hollow Property.  Participants arrived on Thursday morning and had a day full of education.  The instructors, Michelle and Emily, taught lessons on LNT History, teaching techniques, and the Plan Ahead and Prepare ethic.

Then it was time for students to break up into pairs.  Each pair picked out two ethics that they would like to teach, and we’re given the resources that they needed to teach them.  Throughout the rest of the course, it was up to the students to teach the other 6 ethics.  This led to some awesome group discussions, fun games, and overall great information!

On Thursday the group brought teaching to the trail, they woke up at 4:30am and hiked up to Little Hump to catch the sunrise and eat breakfast. After breakfast the group continued on the AT to the summit of Hump Mountain. Along the way we stopped to teach LNT lessons and to discuss different LNT observations made along the trail.  By seeing and experiencing impacts on trail the group was able to make connections that may not have been possible in a classroom.

The participants are all avid users of the outdoors, but still felt they learned new ways to reduce their impacts.  Some realized that they need to walk further from streams to use the bathroom; while others we’re shocked about the amount of time it actually takes for an orange peel to fully break down (up to two years).   Thank you again to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for providing this opportunity!  These participants will continue to be good stewards of the outdoors and the AT, by passing on the knowledge they gained from this course!

Outreach Event

The second part of the grant we we’re given was to conduct Leave No Trace outreach on the Appalachian Trail at a popular junction! On Friday a group went up to Carver’s Gap to table, and talk to hikers about potential impacts and specific Appalachian Trail LNT practices.  Over the course of the day we talked to over 60 people about Leave No Trace on the Appalachian Trail.  A big topic that came up was the shortcuts between Carver’s Gap and Grassy Ridge.  Many people did not know that using those shortcuts can cause major degradation on the balds including erosion and damaging sensitive habitats.  After that conversation with many hikers, many decided they would no longer use these shortcuts.  Although this outreach event only lasted one day, we hope the hikers we reached will continue to share this knowledge and start the conversation with others to help us preserve these special places!

 

Big Cove Creek

Appreciating the beauty and ecological importance of the Highlands of Roan, Ben and Leah Sherman recently donated 15 acres in Carter County, TN to SAHC for us to protect forever from development. The property adjoins Cherokee National Forest and can be seen from the Appalachian Trail. Located a scant quarter mile from our Little Cove Creek Preserve, the new preserve borders national forest land at the foot of Wolf Ridge, a high elevation ridgeline that descends from Roan High Knob.

“In 2001, we fell in love with the property adjacent to Cherokee National Forest, at the base of Wolf Ridge on the north side of Roan High Knob,” shared the former landowners Ben and Leah Sherman. “For more than 10 years we raised our young boys among the rocks and creeks and the cozy shadows of The Roan.”

“When we had to relocate, we knew we wanted to conserve as much of the land as possible. We were aware of SAHC before buying the land and increasingly learned of the good work SAHC does protecting so many beautiful areas. We are so happy SAHC will protect this property for future generations.”

Although small in acreage, the property contains significant habitat and water resources. More than half of the property is covered by open areas and early successional forest, which could potentially serve as habitat for rare species such as the Golden-winged Warbler. Nearly 1,000 feet of streams flow through it, including a portion of Big Cove Creek, one of the headwater tributaries of the Doe River.  The Doe River watershed is popular for trout fishing.

Near the new preserve in every direction there are public lands popular for recreation — Roan Mountain State Park to the north, Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area to the east, and the Appalachian Trail and national forests to the west and south.

We are very grateful to Ben and Leah Sherman for donating this land for permanent conservation, and to Brad and Shelli Stanback for donating funds for transaction costs and long-term stewardship of the property.

Hunter Outreach Chili Dinner

Highlands of RoanThe Roan Highlands are commonly referred to as the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s flagship conservation focus area. Along with their stunning views and unique habitats, the Roan Highlands are home to a rich mountain culture spanning generations with a deep connection to the land. The relationship between these communities and the mountain has been the foundation of stewardship in the Roan for hundreds of years. Historic uses like hunting and fishing have played a significant role in that relationship. Hunting for subsistence has always been a way of life and has fostered relationships with nature based on intrinsic values and respect.

SAHC honors the relationship between Roan communities and the land by allowing a limited number of hunting licenses to be issued for our protected properties. These licenses are typically issued to prior landowners, neighbors, or relatives to hunt deer and turkey. Read more

A Golden Opportunity — NCWRC Researches Golden Eagle Wintering Grounds

The camera-trapping stations were baited with meat for the eagles to scavenge, secured to the ground with steel rebar. Photo credit NCWRC

Recent research conducted by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) reveals that the Southern Appalachians may be an important wintering ground for Golden Eagles, once considered rare visitors to the mountains of NC and TN. As part of the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group, NCWRC set up camera trap stations across Western NC through the winters of 2013, 2014 and 2015. They also captured and released five Golden Eagles fitted with GPS transmitters. Their research casts an intriguing new light on these magnificent birds. Read more

Big Rock Creek Preserve – New Addition!

We purchased 21 wooded acres in the Highlands of Roan just south of the TN border in Mitchell County, securing a gateway to connect our existing Big Rock Creek conservation properties with Pisgah National Forest.

“This is another Roan success story that protects habitat for birds and native trout – with the added benefit of providing access and educational opportunities for connecting people with land,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. Read more

Upper Roaring Creek Valley

“It is simply magical,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett, referring Roaring Creek in the Highlands of Roan. “If I were a Hellbender, this is the stream I would want to live in.”

SAHC recently acquired 142 acres at Upper Roaring Creek Valley in the Roan, to protect clean mountain streams and habitat for native trout and other wildlife. The contiguous tracts in Avery County contain a portion of Roaring Creek and its tributaries as well as undeveloped, forested land that adjoins Pisgah National Forest.

“This is one of the most incredible stretches of mountain stream,” explains Crockett. “From a biological standpoint, Roaring Creek is one of the most productive native trout streams in the state. It feeds into the North Toe River, which is home to endangered species like the Appalachian Elktoe mussel.” Read more

Roan Highlands Story Map

Straddling the border of Tennessee’s Carter County and North Carolina’s Mitchell and Avery Counties, the Roan Mountain massif rises above the farms and villages of the valley below. Known as the Highlands of Roan, these mountain peaks and ridges, for the most part above 4,000 feet in elevation, are renowned for their exceptional biological diversity and magnificent beauty.

The Roan Highlands are home to grassy balds, rhododendron gardens, high-elevation rock outcrops, and rich spruce-fir forests. The Roan’s ecosystem is one of the richest repositories of temperate zone biodiversity on earth, including more federally listed plant species than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Roan Highlands are home to more than 800 plant species and over 188 bird species.

This summer, Stanback Intern Sarah Sanford from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment created a Story Map of Grassy Balds management, using GIS data to catalog three decades of habitat management in the Highlands of Roan. Enjoy a virtual journey to the Roan through historic photos, scenic images, and interactive maps below — or feel free to visit and share the Story Map with this link. 

Roan Balds Management 2017

It takes a village to care for our mountains, and SAHC, our partners, and volunteers certainly made that happen this summer.  In less than four days of work, more than 25 volunteers cut blackberry from about seven acres of grassy and shrub bald habitat during our annual Grassy Ridge Mow-Off and Roany Boyz stewardship events. A big thank you to all the folks who came out to mow, to rake, to cook, and to photograph these events. They simply wouldn’t happen without you!

“After expecting rainy weather the weekend of the mow off, it was a pleasant surprise to have sunny skies and great views for much of the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off,” said Sarah Sanford, Duke Stanback Intern. “I really enjoyed meeting and working with such a wide variety of people, from folks who were there for the very first Grassy Ridge Mow-Off to brand new SAHC members. My favorite part was the views from our campsite on Grassy Ridge. Being part of the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off gave me a better perspective on the large scope of work that SAHC and its volunteers do to maintain the Roan Highlands.”

We would like to give a special thanks to the NC BRIDGE crew this year. In addition to hauling equipment to Grassy Ridge and Engine Gap for our volunteer events, they cleared 3.5 acres of grassy bald habitat and maintained 1.76 acres of early successional habitat on our Roan Mountain Gateway preserve. The BRIDGE (Building, Rehabilitating, Instructing, Developing, Growing, Employing) Program is a cooperative effort between the NC Forest Service and the NC Division of Prisons based out of Western Youth Institution in Morganton, NC. The primary goal of the program is to provide well-trained and equipped forest fire fighting crews ready at a moment’s notice. A secondary, but important, goal is to develop a strong work ethic and work skills so inmates will be able to secure a job when they are released.  For more than 20 years, BRIDGE has been crucial to our habitat management work. Every year, we are always privileged to witness the hard work, dedication, and professionalism exhibited by this crew.

Thank you all!

Poem below contributed by Bill Ryan, Roany Boyz Volunteer 2015-2017

The Roany Boyz  2001-

once a year
in one gap on the AT
in high summer
they gather

to work
to eat
to talk
to lay down ever wearier bodies to camp

some poetry
some stargazing
no campfire out of respect for the land

drinks just cool enough from the spring
work measured in tanks
dream images of blackberry and alder leaves interlacing

coming back to the same places
still trying to figure out why the balds were bald before them
eating a few early blueberries and seeking the elusive Gray’s lily