August 16-18, 2019

Each year we assemble a wide variety of field trips with leaders who are experts in their field and who are able to make natural history understandable and interesting for everyone from inquisitive amateurs to accomplished naturalists. There is something for the entire family with an expert speaker Friday night, field trips Saturday and Sunday, and a nighttime program. Topics include salamanders, birding, snorkeling, geology, primitive skills, edible/medicinal plants, general natural history, kids programs, and much, much more! 

NOTE: Opportunity to choose your field trips will begin Friday at 4PM. All field trips have a limited number of participants and will be first-come-first-serve basis. All times listed are actual departure times. Please allow extra time if you still need to register. All trips will go out regardless of weather conditions! Come prepared!

Friday Night Dinner

Our Friday Night Dinners feature a lovingly-prepared menu of locally-sourced ingredients, complete with dessert! Please join us for this great meal to catch up with old friends and register for your favorite field trips before they fill up!

BRDC is teaming up with The Pakalachian Food Truck, who will serve their spin on chili. This recipe recently won the People’s Choice Award at the 33rd Annual Marion Downtown Chili Championship!Dinner is by pre-paid reservation ONLY.  There will be no dinners sold at the door.

Featured Speaker


Join us Friday, August 16th at 7:00PM for a presentation by special guest speaker Dr. Rick Van Noy.

“Nurturing the Natural Sense of Wonder”

Dr. Rick Van Noy’s book, A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature through the Seasons, was a cog of inspiration during the formation of Blue Ridge Discovery Center in 2008. Eleven years later, Dr. Van Noy joins us to spotlight the myriad benefits of connecting kids with the natural world, along with the tools to do so. Dr. Van Noy is a professor in the English Department at Radford University, teaching American literature, environmental literature, creative nonfiction, and professional writing. He is also the author of Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate-Changed South and Surveying the Interior: Literary Cartographers and the Sense of Place. To learn more, visit

Special Kids Programs

From critters to crafts to hands-on hikes, your young naturalist(s) will have a variety of opportunities to explore, discover, and share the wonders of the Blue Ridge.

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Animal Sensory Hike: Engage your senses on a short hike with Lily Kingsolver, Interpretive Ranger at Hungry Mother State Park. Come prepared for hands-on exploration of the natural world with sturdy shoes and a desire for discovery! Departs 8:00AM Saturday.

Stream Ecology: Get the know life beneath the surface of Big Laurel Creek! Prepare to get wet as you sample the stream’s insects, crayfish, mollusks, and fish while learning about freshwater habitats. Water shoes, a towel, and a change of clothes are recommended. Departs 1:00PM Saturday.

Wild Wonders: Come discover some of the wild wonders of the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest VA with wildlife rehabilitator and Master Naturalist Darin Handy. Through a combination of interactive activities and discussions, we'll look at some amazing wonders and history that nature can teach us. Departs 1:00PM Saturday.


Field trips depart at 8:00AM on Saturday morning.

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All-Day Hike to Mt. Rogers: Phil Shelton, Emeritus Professor of Biology at UVA College at Wise, will lead this 9-mile round-trip hike to Virginia’s highest point. Natural history, including geology, climate, plants, animals, and cultural history will be discussed. Sturdy shoes, dress for high altitude weather, food, and water are necessary.

Appalachian Trail Service Project: Join the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Mt. Rogers Appalachian Trail Club in clearing invasive plants and thinning hawthorn from the Elk Garden area. You will be helping restore the habitat of birds, Gray's lily, and other rare plants. Bring work gloves and your favorite loppers and small saws or use the tools provided.

Biological Survey of a Blue Ridge Beaver Ecosystem: Participants are invited to be scientists for a day! Join Devin Floyd (co-founder of BRDC) for a half-day biological survey of a complex wetland that combines natural seepage swamps and beaver impoundments at the headwaters of Fox Creek in Fairwood Valley. Participants will survey for soils, geology, plants, and animals to create a baseline understanding of this undescribed ecosystem. We hope to answer the following questions: What flora and fauna make their home here? What kind of ecosystem is this? How do we know? How does its biological richness and diversity stack up against other Virginia ecosystems?

Birding: Dr. Ashley Peele (Avian Ecologist with VA Tech) will lead a bird-watching program, focusing on sight and sound identification of resident and migrant birds in the Mt Rogers area. Bring binoculars and field guides. Limited to 20 participants.

Caving: A walking tour of the caves and karst of Sugar Grove, led by Walker Mountain Grotto. There are many small caves formed in the Shady dolomite, concentrated in a small area of Flat Ridge and along Slemp Creek. We will plan on about 3 hours of caving, plus driving time. Helmets with a helmet-mounted light are mandatory. Participants may use their own headlamps and/or caving or climbing helmets, if available. If you plan to borrow a headlamp, please bring at least two (2) AAA batteries. We recommend wearing old long-sleeved work clothes that can get muddy, and sturdy boots or shoes with good lugged soles. Bring a complete change of clothes for after the trip and a garbage bag (for the muddy gear). Limited to a maximum of 10 people and WMG will provide helmets and lights.

Edible/Medicinal Plants: Join Carrie Sparks on an easy walk to identify common plants that can be used for food and medicine. Learn to make medicine from these plants. Limited to 20 participants.    

Entomology: Explore the world of spiders, insects, millipedes, and other creepy crawlers. Shawn Kurtzman, CMI staff entomologist, will lead an invertebrate walk through several different habitats to identify insects and other arthropods in the Elk Garden area. Good footwear and a willingness to collect and handle insects is a must. Children 6 & up welcome with an adult. Limited to 20 participants.

Geology Hike: See evidence of epic events in Earth’s history as you walk this easy, one-mile hike along the Creeper Trail (between Green Cove Station and Creek Junction). Join Fred Newcomb, retired geologist and teacher at Marion Senior High School and be transported back three-quarters of a billion years to the supercontinent Rodinia and witness the effects of glaciers, faults, rivers, and an encroaching pre-Atlantic ocean.

Intro to Botany: Get to know the basics of botany with Dr. Jerry Bresowar (Emory & Henry College). Begin by learning how to classify and identify plants before uncovering hidden relationships between plants and their environment.

Saturday Afternoon Field Trips

Field trips depart at 1:00PM on Saturday afternoon.


Butterflies of Southwest Virginia: After a brief discussion on identification and photography, Bruce Grimes will lead a group to look for butterflies around the community center then head to Elk Garden. Expected butterflies include silver-spotted skipper, pearl crescent, American copper, and a variety of fritillaries and swallowtails.

Edible/Medicinal Plants: Join Horticulture Instructor Ben Casteel of Virginia Highlands Community College on an easy walk identifying common plants that can be used for food and medicine. Learn about the traditional and unusual uses for beneficial flora.

Geology (From Billion-year-old Rocks to the Evidence of a Proto-Atlantic Ocean: A Geology Excursion): Join USGS Geologist Arthur Merschat for this field trip conducted primarily by vehicle to look at billion-year-old gneiss and eastern Blue Ridge mica schist, amphibolite, and ultramafic rocks. We will talk about the geologic and tectonic history of the Blue Ridge.

Insects, Plants, and Parasites:  Hike from Elk Garden up toward the Mount Rogers Trail with Austin Thomas, NCSU, while exploring the work of gall-forming insects on goldenrod and blackberries. Discover how and why these unique plant structures are formed.

Mushrooms: Join Ken Crouse, member of NAMA and past president of Blue Ridge Mushroom Club, on a high elevation fungi foray! While on our search we’ll discuss the vital role fungi play in the overall health of the forest ecosystem. Join this group to learn the ins and outs of identifying mushrooms found in the area.

Nature Art: Learn to enhance your observational skills and record your experiences in the natural world. Artist Suzanne Stryk will demonstrate how to make quick sketches as well as more sustained studies. Bring your own sketchbook, pencils or pens, and camp stool.

Primitive Survival Skills: Jordon Blevins, Resource Specialist for SWVA Region State Parks, will demonstrate primitive survival skills including using native rock to make points, fire starting, rope making, and more.

Snorkeling: Join Mike Pinder, Wildlife Diversity Biologist for Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, to investigate the aquatic life of a stream with wetsuit and snorkel mask. Ever wonder what lurks beneath the water’s surface? You will be amazed at what you see! Expect an array of colorful native fish from darters to dace, and search for hellbenders.

Sunday Field Trip

Field trip departs at 8:00AM on Sunday morning.


Naturalist Walk: This “guideless” naturalist walk with BRDC staff pools the collective interest and knowledge of participants to explore whatever we come across: rocks, plants, birds, bugs, you name it. Bring your curiosity caps, cameras, notebooks, and field guides. The aim is for everyone to discover something new and unveil some inner workings of nature.

Nighttime Activity

Field trip departs at 8:30PM on Saturday evening.

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Saturday Night Salamander Courtship: Join Dr. Kevin Hamed, Professor of Biology, Virginia Highlands Community College, in search of the rarely sighted yonahlossee salamander courtship that occurs only in a brief window each year. Bring a headlamp and sturdy shoes for the one-mile loop on the side of Whitetop Mountain.

Camping & Lodging

Camping will be at Grindstone Campground. Reserve your spot online.

Although the focus is on Grindstone Campground, there are a number of other options available in the area including overnight lodging in "Downtown Konnarock" through Airbnb. Beartree Campground is also located within 10 miles of Konnarock. Other local options include Bed & Breakfasts, Inns, and rental cabins. Try for more lodging information.


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Blue Ridge Discovery Center Annex: 6315 Whitetop Rd, Troutdale, VA 24378. From I-81, take exit 35 (Chilhowie). Turn south (toward Hardee’s) and continue for 11.2 miles. RT 762 will become RT 600 and will cross over Iron Mountain. When you reach the intersection of RT 600 and RT 603, the BRDC Annex will be on the left.

Grindstone Campground

Grindstone Campground (GPS: 36.68694, -81.54111) From I-81, take exit 35 (Chilhowie). Turn south (toward Hardee’s) and continue for 11 miles. RT 762 will become RT 600 and will cross over Iron Mountain. Just before the bridge, turn left onto Laurel Valley Road. Travel 4.3 miles and the campground entrance will be on your right. 

Consider Supporting the Rally

The Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally is a grand tradition that dates back to 1974. Over the years it has gone through many changes but the root goal has stayed the same: to connect our community to one of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth. If you would like to see this tradition continue for the next generation, please consider making a donation to support the Rally. 

Donate NoW

All of our field trip leaders volunteer their time for the Naturalist Rally, so let them know you appreciate them sharing their time and knowledge with us!!


BUY NOW  Pre-order adult and youth graphic tees from our 2019 Species Shirt Collection and pick up at the door! Multiple designs available.

BUY NOW Pre-order adult and youth graphic tees from our 2019 Species Shirt Collection and pick up at the door! Multiple designs available.

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The Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally has adopted the Leave No Trace Principles as a guiding reference for participant and guide etiquette. Please refer to their 7 Principles for more information.

The Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally has a long history, all the way back to 1974! Check out these historical brochures!

Sponsors & Partners

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