Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally

The 39th Annual Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally

Each year on Mother’s Day weekend, way up in the (otherwise) quiet community of Konnorock, VA, natural history enthusiasts young and old gather to share in a celebration of our high country treasures.

On Friday evening, May 10


, while the Konnorock Community Center kitchen staff prepared the traditional chicken dinner, folks signed in to the back-ground music of Earth Mama Joyce and her able assistant, Richard Rouse.

This is meet-and-greet time, with old friends catching up on a year’s news, and deciding which field trips to take the next day.

From 5:30 to 6:30, we settled into dinner.

After introductions of field trip leaders and announcements, the Rally took time to honor Carrie Sparks for her 20+ years of leadership.

She was given a hand-crafted basket full of thoughtful gifts of appreciation, and a standing ovation.

Dr. Karen Francl, Associate Professor of Biology at Radford University, was this year’s speaker.

Her program on bats and white-nose syndrome captivated the audience.

White-nose syndrome is fungal condition found on bats associated with caves, and is rapidly killing off large populations.

Dr. Francl’s enthusiastic presentation offered as well a general discussion of Virginia bat species, behavior and habitat, and the mythology surrounding unfounded human fear of bats.

The Rally is attended by people from as far away as Vermont to as close as next door.

As the evening came to a close, we dispersed to local campgrounds, homes and motels to rest up for Saturday’s field trips.

Inclement weather does not deter this hardy crowd, who arrived in the morning well equipped for a day of rain.

The morning field trip options were Birding (Eric Harrold), Fly Tying (Ernie Barker), Geocaching (Link Elmore), Salamanders (Kevin Hamed), Whitetop Wildflowers (Eleanor Grasselli and Carrie Sparks), an All Day Hike to Mount Rogers (Phil Shelton), Mushrooms (Rebecca Rader), and Geology (Arthur Merschat).

A simple hot-dog lunch, prepared by Jim Sparks and volunteers, was offered during the noon hour, as soggy people regrouped for the afternoon events and hikes.

In years past, the Rally has held writer’s workshops focused on capturing the outdoors in words.

This year we were very lucky in having Suzanne Stryk and Kyle Buckland conduct an artist’s workshop for our ‘special afternoon program’.

Both of these artists are highly accomplished and celebrated for their work in natural history illustration and interpretation.

Other afternoon field trips and programs were Geology (Fred Newcomb), Fairwood Valley Cultural History (Steve Lindeman), Grindstone Wildflowers (John Kell), Native Trees (Joel Keebler), Geology of the Virginia Highlands (Bill Whitlock), Fish Bugs (Aaron Floyd), and Kid Activities (Mary Alice Hardin, Roald and Ellie Kirby, and Eric Harrold).

As I was unable to neglect my duties at the community center, I did spend some time with the kid activities and the artist’s roundtable.

Ellie brought clay for the kids to mold into turtle shapes.

Roald told tall tales related to local mountain lore.

Eric gave kids the opportunity to dissect owl pellets, always a big hit with the young crowd.

And Mary Alice conducted her ‘Amazing Race’, taking kids on an outdoor exploration of plants, bugs, rocks and so on, much like a treasure hunt.

Registration for the MRNR is $13.00 per dinner, and $8.00 for Saturday.

Kids 16 and under can join in the field trips for free.

This year’s overall attendance easily surpassed 200.

For further information please take a look at our website:

Every year the Friends of Mount Rogers set up a table to bring attention to their organization and offer tee-shirts, field guides, and maps.

Louise Tilson has long volunteered for the ‘Friends’, and continues to attend every Rally.

Many people came together to ensure the success of this year’s Rally.

With Carrie’s official resignation last year, the torch was passed to Blue Ridge Discovery Center and yours truly.

I especially want to thank Deborah Partridge, MRNR Committee member, for her tireless assistance throughout the weekend.

I also wish to thank Aaron Floyd for his work on the brochure and help at the registration table, and Mike Nichols for managing the website.

Others, and in no special order, who were indispensable are as follows:

Eric Harrold, Gale Kuelber, Allen Boynton, Roald and Ellie Kirby, William Roberts, Carrie and Jim Sparks, Brandy Nichols, and Beth Merz.

If I have left anyone out, please accept my deepest apologies.

Scott Jackson-Ricketts

MRNR Committee Chair

BRDC Executive Director