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Archive for the 'Nature' Category

Bird Watching at the Golf Course. No Binoculars Required.

The word “turkey” is associated with golf in several ways — in golfing lingo, a “turkey gobble” is the sound a ball makes when it drops in the cup. And three consecutive birdies is sometimes called a “turkey”.

But at the Smoky Mountain Country Club in Whittier, a turkey is just as likely to be a family of wild turkeys leisurely crossing the cart path ahead of you. Sightings of the large birds are fairly common according to owner Mike Cornblum who photographed this group last week.

While they’re easy to watch without the aid of field glasses, wild turkeys are easily spooked and will fly away if you get too close.

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As Fontana Fills, Fields of Spring Wildflowers Become Lake Bottom

Each Spring, while Fontana’s lake levels are still rising, fields of grasses and wildflowers briefly appear, but their flowering season is short-lived. As the lake gradually swells to full pool, scenes like this patch of Purple Toadflax give way to the rising lake.

Photo by Scot Warf

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Carpets of Trillium Throughout The Smokies

If you’re a Trillium-lover, now is the time to head for the mountains. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll see them carpeting the wooded slopes along Newfound Gap Road (US 441), which runs from Cherokee to Gatlinburg. They are especially abundant near Collins Creek on the North Carolina side and Chimneys on the Tennessee side.

The Large Flowered White Trillium (above) is the most abundant of the Trilliums of the Great Smoky Mountains. The big, bell shaped white flower, which usually turns to a delicate pink with age, is on a stem 10 to 15 inches high. When started from seed, Trilliums take 6-8 years to have their first bloom.

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Once, Spring’s First Flowering Tree Was The ‘Sarvisberry’

Like the ubiquitous Bradford Pear, most of today’s early blooming tress and shrubs are non-native transplants. But in the early days, the Smokies’ first tree to bloom was known as the “Sarvisberry”. The blooms not only signaled the arrival of Spring’s first traveling preachers, they provided the year’s first decorations for weddings, funeral wreaths and Sunday church services. Thus the name “sarvis” — the colloquial pronunciation of “service”.

serviceberry treeThe serviceberry tree above is on the Zack Beasley homesite – now a pavilion on the old highway 288 Riverside Park where the Tuckaseigee becomes Fontana Lake.

Thanks to George Ellison for suggesting this week’s Postcard.

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Deep Creek Wildflowers Signal The Arrival of Spring

A Saturday walk along the Deep Creek trail revealed an indisputable sign that Spring has arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — a small cluster of Hepatica on a rocky ledge. Home to more than 1500 species of native plants, the Smokies provides an ever changing display of flowering plants throughout the Spring and Summer.

To learn more about Deep Creek and wildflowers in the Smokies, follow these links —

Hiking in the Bryson City area
Deep Creek’s trails and waterfalls (pdf)
Wildflower blooming calendar (pdf)

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Why Is That Tree Smiling At Me?

Burls are rounded outgrowths on a tree trunk or branch that are filled with small knots from dormant buds. They’re usually the result of some sort of stress but are generally not harmful to the tree.

James Clark, owner of the Deep Creek Boarding Stables, photographed this ‘smiling’ burl while riding his horse “Blackjack” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last summer. He was riding the Lakeshore trail along the north shore of Fontana Lake, and says this one is about the size of a soccer ball.

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Everywhere You Looked, a Picture Postcard Scene

The January 10th snow created an endless tableau of winter scenes worthy of a Postcard From The Smokies …like this view of Alarka Creek, photographed by Faye Bumgarner.

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All This Snow And It’s Not Even February

Since mid-December, the Bryson City area has recorded between two and three feet of total snowfall; and much more in the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But even the incredible beauty loses its appeal after a while. Those of us who live in the more remote, rural areas of the mountains are ready for a thaw. We want to put away the tire chains and take the car out of four-wheel drive …at least until February, traditionally our snowiest month.

Photo by Faye Bumgarner

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Bryson City Area Gets First Big Snowfall of the Year

This morning, the North Carolina Smokies awoke to a thick blanket of snow. While the peaks of the Smokies have already had several snowfalls, this is the first of the year in the lower elevations. And what better time to adorn a postcard with Scott Hotaling’s “Winter Gold”. Scott is an area photographer who routinely captures the Park’s beauty. For more of Scott’s photography and print information, visit his website at LightOfTheWild.com.

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Cherokee Children Learn To Fish Like Their Ancestors

For centuries, the Cherokee built their villages near the streams and rivers that flow out of the Smokies, largely for the bountiful supply of fish that the waterways provided. And to harvest large quantities of fish, they built fish weirs — “V”shaped constructions of rock that start from the banks on either side of the river and come to a point downstream. Men would line up across the river above the weir and roll bundles of river cane downstream, gradually forcing the fish into the apex of the weir. Nets or traps caught the fish, which were dried or smoked as a food supply for their nearby village.

Even though weir fishing is no longer practiced, many of these rock structures still remain. And a group of Cherokee youngsters from the Birdtown Day Camp recently had an opportunity to learn the “old way” of fishing in a demonstration conducted by WATR — the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River — with help from Blue Welch (foreground, above) of Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management.

The program — a partnership between WATR, US Fish and Wildlife and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation — focused on the river ecosystem and the importance of water quality. Roger Clapp, executive director of WATR, sat the children on the riverbank to eat their lunch, and gave them a lesson on what he calls “mudology.” Runoff of soil disturbed by developments, road building and bad streamside planting practices, creates sediment in the river, which is unhealthy for fish, insects and other wildlife which depend on the river.

Photo by Bill Lee

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Bryson City Artist Turns Cornshucks Into Wildflowers

The most surprising thing about Lori Anderson’s exquisite wildflowers is not her attention to detail, it’s the materials she uses to craft her perfect reproductions. Each flower is made of cornshucks — a flame azalea (pictured), a dwarf crested iris, a flowering dogwood and many others — all native to the Smokies.

Flame AzaleaRecently accepted into the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, on Saturday Lori was demonstrating her craft at The Cottage Craftsman (above) in Bryson City, where her work is for sale. And she’ll be at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, April 21st thru 25th.

It’s the beginning of the wildflower season in the Smokies. For a blooming calendar, visit the Hiking page of the Bryson City Online Travel Guide.

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The Flight of Honey Bees Means Spring Has Arrived in the Smokies

While honey bees don’t hibernate, they do remain in their hives throughout the Winter months, living off honey they made and stored last year. And now, with warmer days and budding trees, the bees at Balltown Bee Farm are finally emerging from their hives — officially confirming the arrival of Spring in the Smokies. In another rite of Spring, Balltown’s beekeeper Kelley Penn (above) carefully inspects each hive to see how the bees fared over the Winter. “Quite well,” she said.

More than just bees, Balltown Bee Farm is a small, sustainable farm producing mixed vegetables, spring transplants and shiitake mushrooms, all raised chemical-free. You can find their products at the farmers markets in Bryson City, Sylva and Cashiers (in season).

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A Harmless Spider …Unless it Spells Your Name

The first sighting of a Writing Spider (Argiope Aurantia) can be a bit unnerving. The body alone is more than an inch long. Yet despite their intimidating size and threatening appearance, they’re actually quite harmless …and with a healthy appetite for grasshoppers and other garden pests, they’re nice to have around your tomato plants.

The female, pictured here, spins a nearly-invisible web — except for the characteristic white zigzag pattern at the center. According to legend, if the writing spider spells your name in her web, your days are numbered.

This spider was photographed on the porch of a Bryson City cabin, but they can be found in temperate climates worldwide.

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Winter in the Smokies — A Forest of a Different Color

It’s no surprise that visitation to the Smokies rises and falls with the temperatures. Most people simply prefer the warmer months with the wealth of outdoor activities available from March thru October. But the hardy individuals that weather the cooler temperatures are treated to an entirely different and equally beautiful Smoky Mountains landscape. The colors are more subtle, even monochromatic. And with the leaves on the ground, they can see much deeper into the woods revealing a striking array of patterns and textures …like the crosshatch pattern of Poplar trees and shadows in this week’s Postcard.

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A Beautiful Fall in the Smokies


As the colors change, everyone enjoys the grand panoramic vistas. Yet the most brilliant colors are often viewed up close, especially when the afternoon sun is backlighting the scene, as photographer J.R. vanLienden captured in this week’s Postcard From The Smokies.

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When is the Peak Fall Color in the North Carolina Smokies?


It’s the question of the month from callers to the Bryson City Chamber of Commerce. And the answer is “You can see fall color just about anytime from early October through early November. You just may have to drive to see it.” That’s because the arrival of peak color varies with the elevation, which ranges from 2000 to more than 6000 feet in Swain County.

Autumn’s annual color show is already making its way down from highest elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the climate is more like New England’s. And over the next three weeks, the above display will be repeated throughout the the Smoky Mountain landscape with the grand finale coming around the end of the month. The only spoiler could be a heavy thunderstorm, which could bring down the curtain early.

But right now, it’s shaping up to be quite a show.

Photo by J.R.VanLienden

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Great Smoky Mountains – An International Biosphere Reserve


This centipede is just one of thousands of species present in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Park is known for its biological diversity with over 10,000 documented species of plants and animals. The Smokies have such a great diversity because of the range in altitude, the abundant rainfall and glaciers that invaded the continent over 10,000 years ago. These glaciers didn’t reach as far south as the Smoky Mountains, and many species from farther north found refuge here.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations.

Photo by Aaron Morgan

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Local Residents Get Sneak Preview of New Cherokee Central School


The three Elks wandered out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an impromptu tour of the new Cherokee Central School scheduled to open in September. Architect Scott Donald of Padgett and Freeman took the photo while the animals were checking out the new football stadium.

Scott said “someone left the gate open and I and two other folks corralled them all over the field to various open gates, but they only wanted to go out the gate they came in …scoring 7 points on the way out, with the extra point, of course.”

Scott and associate Maggie Carnevale designed the state-of-the art facility which will consolidate all of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ schools into a single 473,000 square-foot Pre-K – 12 campus. It includes a new elementary, middle, and high school, as well as a 1000-seat performing arts facility and the 3500-seat football stadium. For more about the new school, visit the Padgett and Freeman web site.


Is It Spring Yet? Well That Depends On Where You Are.


Over the past week, the valleys around Bryson City have turned lush green and the Spring color is just beginning to creep up the hillsides, providing stark contrast with the still-wintry mountains above. It will be a few more weeks before the “greening up” of the mountains reaches the highest peaks of the Great Smokies.

This makes the next few weeks a fascinating time to drive in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can literally watch the seasons change with each change in elevation.

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Mother Nature Reclaims Bryson City’s Old Lands Creek Reservoir


In the mid-1980s, when Bryson City abandoned its Lands Creek reservoir and turned to Deep Creek for the town’s water supply, many questioned the future of the 750-acre Lands Creek tract. Bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Lands Creek property was understandably attractive to private developers.

In 2006, rather than opening up the land to development, Bryson City established a conservation easement that protects the land and makes it available for recreational activities like camping, hiking, fishing and hunting.

Today, only the concrete dam remains, and mother nature is well on her way to reclaiming Lands Creek. Photo by Faye Bumgarner

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