44th Spring Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally


We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the 44th annual Mount Rogers Spring Naturalist Rally. It seems that more often than not this second weekend in May is nice and rainy, but with just a brief shower Friday evening during registration, the rest of this year’s weekend was warm with partly cloudy to sunny skies.  Friday night’s locally sourced dinner included Lasagna, garlic bread and a nice mix of spring greens and attracted a record crowd which made for a successful fundraiser for the Konnarock community center.

Long time Rally supporter, Allen Boynton, was the keynote speaker and shared his vast array of experiences through the trajectory of his wildlife biology careers with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The weekend included several new opportunities including a habitat enhancement project for an important gray’s lily population and the kick off of a long term monitoring project of the red spruce / northern hardwood ecotone on Whitetop Mountain.

As with all of the previous, the 44rd annual Spring Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally would not have been possible without the support of the wonderful guides and other volunteers.  Their hard work and dedication to sharing their knowledge combined with the incredible natural resources of the Mount Rogers area continued the tradition of exploring and celebrating our portion of the Blue Ridge.  

Summer Naturalist Rally Celebrates the Ecology of the Blue Ridge

Summer Naturalist Rally Celebrates the Ecology of the Blue Ridge

Spectacular weather helped make the 2nd annual Mount Rogers Summer Naturalist Rally a wonderful success. The summer gathering is a great addition to the very successful Mount Rogers Naturalist Spring Rally, held for the last 43 years, giving naturalists an opportunity to observe species that change along with the seasons.

Join BRDC for the Summer Naturalist Rally!

Join BRDC for the Summer Naturalist Rally!


The Summer Rally gives us a chance to explore Mt. Rogers in a different season. We have assembled a wide variety of field trips with leaders who are experts in their field and able to make it understandable and interesting for everyone from inquisitive amateurs to accomplished naturalists.

Searching for Big Red

Searching for Big Red

For the Spring Naturalist Rally, Austin Thomas and I set out with a group in search of Big Red- a very large red spruce that is the second largest of that species recorded in Virginia. The rain cleared out and we had partly cloudy skies when we set the GPS coordinates for Big Red. With measurements of 77 inches circumference, 108 feet height and crown 26 feet recorded in 2010, our group was excited to stand at the base and take current measurements to update the tree's current status. 

Mount Rogers Spring Naturalist Rally

Mount Rogers Spring Naturalist Rally

Although the weather kept some away, the 43rd annual Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally drew a large crowd of enthusiastic participants during the second weekend in May.  Field trips on Saturday included several new opportunities such as Caving, Intro to Birding and Ecology of Grassy Balds, while many of the tried and true trips from the past also remained popular.  With the rain giving way to cloudy skies and even a little bit of sunshine, conditions were wet but good for the hearty naturalist who didn’t mind a little mud.

Mt Rogers Spring Naturalist Rally May 12-14!

Mt Rogers Spring Naturalist Rally May 12-14!

Three days of exploration & discovery for all ages!  

Bring your family and celebrate Mother's Day in the most beautiful place on Earth.  There is something for the entire family to enjoy with an expert speaker Friday Night, trips Saturday and Sunday, and nighttime programs at the campground. Topics include salamanders, wildflowers, geology, birding, cultural history, mammals, medicinal plants, natural history and much, much more! 

Mt Rogers Naturalist Rally Featured Speaker

Mt Rogers Naturalist Rally Featured Speaker


Three days of exploration & discovery for all ages!  Bring your family and celebrate Mother's Day in the most beautiful place on Earth.  There is something for the entire family to enjoy with field trips Saturday and Sunday, an expert speaker Friday Night and nighttime programs at the campground. Topics include salamanders, wildflowers, geology, birding, fishing, cultural history, mammals, medicinal plants, general natural history and much, much more! 

1st Annual Mount Rogers Summer Naturalist Rally

 1st Annual Mount Rogers Summer Naturalist Rally

After many years of thinking about a summer season rally, this August we achieved our goal. Gathering at the Konnarock Community Center for a potluck dinner and meet and greet, many new faces joined the familiar for a weekend preview of programs and hikes spanning from Friday night through Sunday morning.

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

2012 Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally

Konnorock, Virginia

From feed-back in the moment and through personal observation, I have determined that this 38th annual Rally was a huge success.  Carrie Sparks once again pulled off the impossible, tying all the details and people together under one roof on Friday night for the official Rally launch, complete with the traditional chicken dinner and guest speaker, Mike Hayslett.  

Behind the curtains, are many people without whom there would be no Rally.  They include the MRNR committee members, Friends of Mount Rogers, the Konnorock Community Center and kitchen staff…every single one a volunteer.  With just a smidgeon of this understanding BRDC was handed the torch on Friday night, from Carrie to me, the new committee chairperson in charge of next year’s Rally and many to come.  As I watched Carrie work, I marveled at her comprehensive knowledge of people (their names, their standing), the most important chronology of tasks at hand, and her stamina in the face of great confusion, activity and noise.  I also shook in my boots.  

Many camp for the weekend, and a special thanks goes to those who work at the local campgrounds, such as Grindstone, who often provide free camping on Friday night for the guest speaker, the guides and other important volunteers.

BRDC has another big learning curve if we are to even begin to serve in the capacity of Carrie.  She will be a very important component of the transition, and has promised to help me in every way possible.  Fortunately there is time… and volunteers are already in place.  

As is the case every year, excellent programs, guided walks, and excursions into the many aspects of the highlands natural and human history were on the roster... 22 choices in total, from fly-tying to medicinal and edible plant explorations.  BRDC volunteers alone offered 5, including a special focus on kid-oriented programs. 

Mike Hayslett’s presentation on Friday night was stunning, very well done, and highly informative.  As a wetlands specialist, he dispelled common myths about what constitutes a marsh from a swamp, and described the different types of bogs, sinks, and especially vernal pools.  He drew from geological history, plant and animal associations, and conservation concerns to give us all a far better understanding of the ecological importance of still or lentic waters. 

BRDC is hugely honored by being given this charge.  The MRNR is a great tradition and inspiration to the community and the larger natural history network.  People come from great distance to take part, many bringing their kids.  BRDC considers the MRNR a model, and hopes one day to offer other such gatherings throughout the year, while ensuring that the model remains alive and well! 

Many thanks to the BRDC volunteers:  Allen Boynton, Gale Kuebler, Rebecca Rader, and Christina Gramm. 

Keep an eye on the Rally website:

Scott Jackson-Ricketts

BRDC at the Rally!

2011 Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally

Konnarock, Virginia

Blue Ridge Discovery Center guides offered four programs at this year's rally:

Program #1


Mushrooms: Seaking the Morel High Ground

Rebecca Rader, President of the New River Valley Mushroom Club and BRDC guide, offered an 8am program. The program explored late-season high-elevation fungi, foraging, and gave participants an idea of what fungi would be coming with the arrival of summer.

"These pictures are from the Morel Mushroom walk I did in the morning.

We had 14 people, including myself, and we found 6 morels (all of the

Morchella deliciosa


We went about a third of a mile up the Straight Branch Trail and we saw some beautiful wildflowers, too, including the jack-in-the-pulpit pictured and some showy orchis. Though late in the Morel-hunting season, I think our walk helped participants learn to spot morels and find likely habitats for them. We didn't have time to fry our finds up at the Rally, but Carrie [Sparks] got to take them home and enjoy them for breakfast on Sunday!" -Becky Rader

Program #2

Birding in the Highlands.

Blue Ridge Discovery Center's Allen Boynton and Scott Jackson-Ricketts will include stops on Laurel Valley Road and Grindstone Campground. Expect to see a good selection, including flycatchers, grosbeak, vireos, and several warblers.

Program #3


BRDC guides, Allen Boynton and Gale Kuebler, led this walk looking for butterflies and showing participants how to recognize various characteristic traits to make identification easier.

Program #4

Highland Treasures: Discovering Diversity

"How many different kinds of plants, animals, fungi, and rocks can you find?" Participants joined Blue Ridge Discovery Center for a survey of diversity. BRDC's Scott Jackson-Ricketts, Devin Floyd, and Becky Rader led an expedition to find as many lifeforms as possible, document them, and compile the information so it can be shared with others! Participants used measuring tools, illustration, photography, and writing to document discoveries.


Ages 7-12 (ages 4-7 welcome w/parent)

Devin Floyd speaking to the crowd after a delicious chicken dinner on Friday night.