Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Trails to Every Classroom Workshop

Grayson Highlands State Park, Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Saturday began iffy in the weather department.  I arrived at the Massey Gap parking area a bit after 7am, in order to set up one of BRDC’s educational components along Cabin Creek.  Soon after, Roald Kirby, BRDC volunteer, former park interpreter, historian of local lore, well-rounded naturalist, and one heck of a story teller arrived.  The park’s Chief Ranger Kevin Kelley drove up, soon followed by Fred Newcomb and then Deborah Greif, teacher and BRDC friend.  Fred is a geology teacher, whose interest in and support for BRDC have been previously shared on this blogspot, (as well as both Roald’s and Kevin’s).

BRDC’s assignment was to offer guides for 29 teachers involved with this workshop.  Carol Broderson, teacher and long-time volunteer for BRDC is also associated with the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club, and provides a working relationship between the two organizations.  Carol and her MRATC friends, Eleanor Grasselli and Ann Maio, instructed the teachers on their club’s volunteer work, including trail maintenance, descriptions of local trees, shrubs, wildflowers and the issues of invasive species. 

Angie Sheldon and Julie Judkins, the ATC organizers of this workshop, kept everyone on schedule…and amazingly well.  Delia Clark provided the structure to this weekend through Quest, which was described to me as something like a treasure hunt.  

Basically, the entire group, somewhere around 41 (including two young park employees), hiked up the Rhododendron Trail to its intersection with the AT.  Along the way, various discussions took place, with Carol, Eleanor and Ann pointing out the invasives, the hardy and abundant wild blueberry bushes, some of the remarkable trees, including hawthorn and the signature Frazer firs and red spruces.  The presence of the spruce/fir forest is a remnant of the last glacial age, as are many features of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains.  As someone commented, we were in a bit of Canada.  Left behind on the higher elevations as the glacier retreated, are many species of plants and animals not seen in the lower elevations at this latitude.  

Having Roald along helped fill out the ongoing verbal questionnaire, sharing his breadth of local and  natural history knowledge.   The park was established, under controversy typical of seizures of land from private hands, in 1965.  It was not until the early 1970s that it was opened to the public.  At nearly 5000 acres, the park rises from 3900’ at its entrance, to nearly 5100’ on its highest peak known as Little Pinnacle.  Roald spoke of the strong evidence of Native American presence through the preponderance of arrowheads, or points found all throughout the area.  We headed to a rock outcropping for lunch and a geological talk from Fred.  

Right beneath where we munched on lunch, Fred explained, lies the Mt. Rogers Formation.  Consisting of 70% volcanic rock, known as rhyolite, and approximately 30% sedimentary rock, this formation extends like a belt from the tri-state boundaries of Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina northeast into Grayson County.  Rhyolite is what the Native Americans were after, as this volcanic material was prized for shaping into sharp and durable tools.  

After lunch, the group trooped back down the mountain side to Cabin Creek, where BRDC had a stream-side aquatic invertebrate survey station set up. I had collected some specimens for viewing both with the naked eye as well as through a microscope.  Featured were caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies.  I explained to the teachers BRDC’s approach to working with kids, and a bit about Project Fish Bugs.

From there, everyone (except for me) headed up the Cabin Creek Trail to view spring wildflowers, as a final demonstration of the natural wonders of Grayson Highlands State Park.  

For more on the TTEC workshop weekend, please check this out: