Grassy Ridge Mow-Off volunteers enjoy camaraderie after an intense day’s work.

evening group on Grassy Ridge

Every July for more than 40 years, SAHC staff and volunteers have met on Grassy Ridge to clear the Canada Blackberry that threatens the globally endangered grassy and shrub bald ecosystems found on the Roan Highlands. This summer, 22 volunteers, partners, and staff attended the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off to clear 4.85 acres. Volunteers braved some wild weather and were rewarded with incredible views and camaraderie. Organizing this event is always an adventure for our Roan Stewardship staff. Travis Bordley, Roan Seasonal Ecologist, shares his perspective on his third Grassy Ridge Mow-Off and mowing “season”:

“The window for grassy balds management spans roughly three weeks in July, and coordinating multiple volunteer events during this time requires the organization of many moving parts. This management “season” is exciting and simultaneously nerve-racking. Even with the best laid plans, some things – like spontaneous weather changes – remain out of your control. For our Roan staff, getting 20 weed eaters, camping equipment, and 20-30 volunteers to the top of a 6,000 ft grassy bald will always constitute an intense outing. You hope for productive, safe workdays — and that summer thunderstorms will take the weekend off.

SAHC and USFS Botanist Gary Kauffman surveying Gray's lily

Our volunteer crews at the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off weekend this summer worked tirelessly.

However, on two distinct occasions rapidly forming storms and sky-splitting lightning sent the crews scurrying for cover. In a matter of minutes, weather shifted from beautiful summer skies to dark, electric thunderclouds. Winds roared like airplane engines, and horizontal rain sent volunteers retreating to prepared shelters. Despite the challenges of storms at such high elevations, the attendance of seasoned mowers, dedicated volunteers, and prepared organizers led to warm spirits under damp rain jackets.

Even with the extreme weather events, our team managed to mow almost five acres on Grassy Ridge.  The mission of SAHC in protecting and managing habitat in the Highlands of Roan is too important to be derailed. Each year the faces of volunteers vary, the weather is slightly different, and we mow different patches of the balds. But the dedicated spirit remains the same — and the Roan remains open for the enjoyment of visitors and rare species alike.”

Volunteers for the Grassy Ridge Mow-Off enjoyed beautiful sunsets and sunrises while camping for the weekend.

Following the Mow-Off, the NC BRIDGE Crew picked up the weed eaters and mowed an additional 11.6 acres on Round Bald. On an adjacent ridgeline the faithful “Roany Boyz” mowed more than 4 acres, and a Southeast Conservation Crew (sponsored by ATC) mowed 7.5 acres on Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge.

Thank you to everyone who assists in managing and restoring grassy bald habitat in the Highlands of Roan!