Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spring Alumni Workshop 2012

Learning about phenology at Konnarock Base Camp
 We had a great first alumni workshop May 4-6, 2012.  Nineteen participants from North Carolina to Virginia gathered at the Konnarock Trail Crew Basecamp in Sugar Grove, Virginia.  The group included teachers from the past 5 years of the TTEC program and club members from Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers, Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club, Carolina Mountain Club and Nantahala Hiking Club.  The jam-packed weekend was facilitated by Questing extraordinaire and long time TTEC instructor, Delia Clark.
Delia in our outdoor classroom

Friday evening we had some fun activities to get to know each other better and practice our story telling skills!  We did a recap of Questing 101 to refresh our memories on the taxonomy of a Quest and get our creative juices flowing for the big task ahead.  We also learned about phenology and how we can monitor a tree at our school or on the A.T. nearby!  Luckily, most of us went to bed early because Saturday was a big day.  We started the morning with a delicious 7am breakfast, packed our trail lunches and hit the road.  We traveled to Grayson Highlands State Park, where we met up with several local experts.  Kevin Kelly, the Chief Ranger at the state park, gave us a welcome and overview of the park and it's history.  He explained the open balds and the well known wild ponies of this area.  We then walked over to check out one of ATC phenology monitoring sites and learned about the protocol for observing a red spruce and red maple.  From there we headed up the Rhododendron Trail, learning about various trees, berries and wildflowers on our way up.  When we hit the Appalachian Trail, Anne of the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club shared information about the Trail and the work the club does to keep it in such good shape!  We also talked briefly about Leave No Trace. 
Fred and Roald sharing stories on top of Wilburn Ridge

Next, we headed over to a great rock formation where we climbed up to take in the view of Wilburn Ridge and learned about geology of the area from Fred, a local high school teacher and geology guru.  We ate our lunch on the rocks and continued to hear from Roald, the former park interpreter and local area expert, who shared some interesting stories and local legends.  We could have listened to him talk forever... but had to continue back down the trail to head to the Cabin Creek!
Scott teaching about "waterbugs" and water quality

Scott, from the Blue Ridge Discovery Center had set up a station for us to examine some of the macroinvertebrates he'd found in the tributary to the Cabin Creek that flowed next to the trail.   We looked under a microscope at mayflies and stoneflies before continuing along the trail with Eleanor and Carol, to learn about the beautiful wildflowers in bloom this time of year.  We saw trillium, bluets, wood anemones and more!  After returning to Massie Gap, we thanked our local experts for sharing all of their great knowledge and got to work on creating our Quest.  We decided to call it "Guardians of Grayson Highlands State Park".  We thought it would be a great way to present all of the unique and beautiful natural history of the area, and share with visitors what they can do to protect it for generations to come.

Pairs working on rhymes and clues
We created 9 stopping points along the trail and split up into teams to create rhymes that would teach the visitor something at each point and then a create a clue to get them to the next point.  They will have to collect a letter at each stop, which will eventually give them the final clue, so they can find our stamp to mark their Quest complete!  The rhyming and creativity among the group was amazing!  We worked and worked, editing and sharing and eating pizza in the park!  Then, we headed back to basecamp to share the entire Quest aloud.  Everyone was blown away with how great it sounded!  Several volunteers plan to "test" the Quest in the next few weeks, and then we'll finalize it and officially present it to Grayson Highlands State Park for all visitors to enjoy!  We all used carving tools and erasers to create our individual Questing stamps, and spent Sunday morning sharing our TTEC successes and challenges and took some time to journal about both.  It was great to see alumni reinvigorated and excited to continue their great work with students along the Appalachian Trail.  Thanks to everyone who made it happen!!!

The group at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park

Happy Trails!

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North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald