Reflections on the 2019 Summer Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally

“Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods.” - Alexander Graham Bell

During the 4th Annual Summer Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally last weekend, over 150 naturalists came together at Blue Ridge Discovery Center’s new Campground & Field Station to enjoy one of the world’s most fascinating treasures.

Participants traveled from as far as 370 miles away and began arriving mid-week in preparation for this unique event. Registration and field trip sign-ups began Friday afternoon under the shade trees as children vied for their turn on the rope swing. When it came time for Friday Night Dinner, The Pakalachian Food Truck served their award-winning chili to anyone lucky enough to snag a dinner ticket before they sold out.

Hosting the MRNR on this beautiful creekside property allowed us - for the first time in rally history - to enjoy the featured speaker’s presentation outside overlooking Big Laurel Creek. On Friday evening, Dr. Rick Van Noy shared inspirations from his book, A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature through the Seasons, while the occasional child explored the creek bank and participants lounged barefoot, the gentle breeze between their toes.

During this time, BRDC Board Member and Campaign Chair Keith Andrews also shared the status of our capital campaign. With just under $200,000 left to raise through community donations, we have nearly reached our $2,250,000 fundraising goal for the restoration of the historic Konnarock Training School, the future BRDC School of Discovery.

As the sun slipped behind the mountains and the stars took over the sky, participants enjoyed a creekside campfire, picked at guitars, and searched the creek by flashlight to witness aquatic creatures out hunting at night.

Saturday morning kicked off with a locally-sourced breakfast before participants split up and departed on ten different field trips. Some slipped into the incredible cave systems underlying Sugar Grove. Some worked their way up to Virginia’s highest peak while learning about the natural history of Mount Rogers. And others ventured out to conduct biological surveys, sample fresh tea derived from native plants, or to explore the plants, insects, birds, or geology of the Blue Ridge while children learned about animals through the senses.

During the mid-day break, participants returned to the field station to share stories and discoveries over lunch. Afternoon field trips presented participants with opportunities to snorkel, practice primitive skills, hunt for mushrooms, identify butterflies, and practice sketching techniques. Some sought gall-forming insects or edible and medicinal plants while others held snakes and sampled the creek’s macroinvertebrates.

On Saturday night, blue light shining on a white sheet invited in a plethora of moths, caddisflies, and other flying insects to be collected and identified.

Sunday morning, participants enjoyed one last breakfast together before heading over to the meadows, waters, and hills of Helton Creek. There, we discovered butterflies, plants, and turtle tracks, cast flies over the creek, and witnessed spider after spider wrapping up its lunch in small, silky packages.

This event is not complete without a heartfelt thank you to every participant, guide, and volunteer who shared their time, interests, and character with us and this wonderful community.

We look forward to seeing you all at many more events at the BRDC Campground & Field Station as we continue leaving the beaten track and diving into the woods!