Nature Photography Challenge

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“Spring Pawpaw In Umstead,” South Turkey Creek Trail, Umstead State Park

I’ve really enjoyed seeing my friends’ posts for the Nature Photography Challenge (‪#‎challengeonnaturephotography‬), and after Julie Tuttle and Dan Pittillo challenged me, I spent a few days thinking about what kind of “theme” might guide my choices. I decided to focus on land that has been conserved for the benefit of all, public land. Each of my photos features public land across North Carolina–mountains, Piedmont and coast. Each is managed differently–14.6% of the land area in NC is in public ownership. As our population continues to grow, conservation becomes even more critical.

2016 is the 100th anniversary of North Carolina State Parks! It’s been 100 years since Mount Mitchell was set aside as our first, and we now have 41 state parks. Their beauty is a gift that most of us take for granted. I hope to visit several state parks I haven’t been to with my family in the coming year.

On April 2nd, 2016, I plan to do the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, which will be at Umstead State Park. It’s twice the longest distance I’ve ever done, and I’m in the thick of my training. I’ve been thinking about a meaningful way to make it larger than a personal goal. Therefore, in honor of the 100th anniversary of NC state parks, I plan to make a small but symbolic donation of $100 to Friends of State Parks. Andrew’s and my local business, Runnerpeeps, will match the gift.

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The slide show didn’t allow for my lengthy captions, but here they are:

“Piedmont Prescribed Fire,” Day 1, comes from a prescribed burn I helped with our local land trust, the Triangle Land Conservancy. Land conservancies raise and leverage private funds to purchase land for conservation. TLC is guided by the mission of protecting clean water, natural habitats, local farms, and connecting people with nature. If you live locally, consider becoming a member! The prescribed burn was primarily to keep the meadow area open at Horton Grove (visit–it’s a gorgeous piece of land in Durham County) for wildlife habitat. Fire is an important component of many natural landscapes.

“Autumn Glory,” Day 2, Linville Gorge National Wilderness, Pisgah National Forest. Linville Gorge was one of the first wilderness areas in the East, protected 50 years ago. Administered by the US Forest Service, the Gorge does not have maintained trails, blazes, or visitor facilities. You could get lost for days out here. It is, in the words of the Wilderness Act, “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Is the concept of wilderness lost in today’s connected world, one that is overrun with human influence? I would argue that we need wilderness today more than ever, a reminder that we are all citizens of the natural world.

“Quite a Catch,” Day 3, a black skimmer (Rynchops niger) cruises shallow estuarine waters with the lower half of its beak skimming the surface for fish. Watching them in action (often a pair in tandem) is a spectacular show of grace and agility. I took this photograph on Carrot Island, aka Bird Shoal, in Beaufort, NC. Bird Shoal is part of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve, a 3 mile complex of small islands (some of which are dredge spoils). It’s part of the federal estuarine research reserve, but the land was purchased by the NC Nature Conservancy and then sold to the state for permanent protection. More than 200 species of birds have been identified on this Atlantic Flyway site, and there are a variety of habitats, including salt marsh, oyster reefs, tidal flats, and maritime shrub thickets. Though small, this reserve ranks high in conservation value.

“Edge of the Sea,” Day 4, Cape Lookout National Seashore. This was a wonderful winter beach walk to the very tip of Cape Lookout, part of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Unlike most of the developed East Coast, both Lookout and Cape Hatteras National Seashore protect about 125 miles of mostly undeveloped (or less developed) coastal barrier islands. Barrier islands are dynamic, with shifting tides and sands that regularly wash over, protecting inner coastal areas from storms and flooding. They provide critical habitat for migratory birds, shorebirds, marine life, and nesting sea turtles. Protecting these islands is a tricky business. Tourism is the biggest chunk of the Outer Banks economy, bringing fishermen and beach-goers to enjoy these unspoiled beaches. Rising sea levels cause continual washouts and expense in the maintenance of bridges and roads that provide access to coastal communities. In some ways managing national seashores is a Sisyphean task–causing conflicts between the coastal communities and the National Park Service. We can all agree that we don’t want the coastline to look like New Jersey (where I grew up), yet most people want some level of access to these beautiful places.

“Golden Afternoon,” Day 5, Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Doughton Park, Blue Ridge Parkway. I took this in late afternoon last June as I ran along this gorgeous section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in NW NC. It was unbelievable running through the fields and pastures and I laughed aloud a few times because it was so beautiful and I could not believe that I was so lucky to be there at that moment. Both the MST and BRP are linear parks, stretching along a trail or roadway. The BRP and Doughton Park have federal status (through the National Park Service) while the MST is now managed through the NC state park system. Linear parks have special management challenges, like buffers and multiple ownerships and managers. Which one do you think is longer?

“Respect Your Elders,” Day 6, Foothills Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This photo was taken in the National Park that boasts the highest tree species diversity as well as the greatest number of human visitors, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the NC/TN border. Here, we are in the quiet NW side of the park off the Foothills Parkway, paying homage to a stunning shortleaf pine that has been dated to the 1600s.

“Spring Pawpaw In Umstead,” Day 7, South Turkey Creek Trail, Umstead State Park. For my last day of the challenge, I decided to return to the NC Piedmont to Umstead State Park, where I run nearly every week of the year. I run there to think, to spend time with friends, to challenge myself, and to log some miles. It is truly one of my happiest places.

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One thought on “Nature Photography Challenge

  1. They are all beautiful photos. My favorite is the Cape Lookout, because it shows the life on the preserved beach! Then, the amazing technicolor of Linville Gorge in fall is my second vote. The prescribed burn has an unexpected beauty.

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