Forest Ecosystems Daily: Outdoor classroom


classroom with a view

Our half-day on Saturday took us to the summit of Satulah Mountain to learn about the gnarly plants that can eke out a living on these exposed granite domes. The classroom does not get any better than this! On our hike back, we saw a momma bear and three cubs trying to get into a dumpster at a new home site. 

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Classifying Communities



At Ellicott Rock National Wilderness, we challenged students to assess the forest community, examining a small plot area in detail. Teams recorded species and percent cover in the canopy, mid-story, shrub, and herb layers, as well as measured the slope, aspect, plot profile and section, elevation, and soil depth and texture. Using a key, we then identified the community as an Appalachian Montane Oak-Hickory Forest (Typic Acidic Type). Knowing the community type can help protect rare species, for example, and are critical for conservation. [Plus, plants don’t run away.]

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Forest cathedral


joyce kilmer hiking

No visit to the southern Appalachians is complete without a visit to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, near Robbinsville, NC. If you look carefully, you can see several attributes of old growth cove hardwood forests: very large trees, a diverse understory of wildflowers, and trees of many sizes. Joyce Kilmer is one of the last remnants of old growth cove hardwood forest in the East. Walking among these forest giants is a spiritual experience.

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Giant shortleaf pine


shortleaf ancient

This shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) is thought to date back to 1684. We hiked through a stand containing 200-300 year old trees along the Goldmine Trail, off the Foothills Parkway in the Smokies. The National Park Service found a reference stand of older shortleaf pine here, and they are now working to restore the 10 year fire interval. More info about the project:

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Saving Our Ashes


Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) killed this white ash tree in Cades Cove. The invasive and exotic beetle has spread rapidly since it was first detected in Michigan in 2002.

Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) killed this white ash tree in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The invasive and exotic beetle from southeastern Asia has spread rapidly, eliminating ash from Eastern forests since it was first detected in Michigan in 2002. Park boundaries cannot prevent the spread of invasive insects and diseases that harm our forests. You can help by using locally-sourced firewood. More information:

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Adventures in heath balds


Today's adventure took us off-trail in search of a secret heath bald. Determined bushwacking, which involved some crawling, took us up and into the

Today’s adventure took us off-trail in search of a secret heath bald. Determined bushwacking, crawling through Rhododendron woven together with sawbriar, we made our way upslope as the canopy around us shrunk and the trees disappeared. We emerged into the open sunlight surrounded by the many evergreen shrubs that form a heath bald. We recorded 3 Rhododendrons, 2 Kalmias, and 1 highbush blueberry, which we sampled, before making our way back down, feeling the accomplishment of ecological explorers.

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Turk’s Cap Lily, Whiteside Mountain


Opportunity. Our first hike took us to Whiteside Mountain to see different plant communities on this ancient granite pluton.  We stopped at dripping cliff face, one that will freeze over in great ice sheets in winter. These ice sheets

Plants are opportunists. Most of Whiteside Mountain is covered with secondary forest that grew up after logging in the mid-1900s. However, some of the steeper rock faces have openings where ice accumulates, then collapses under its own weight, taking soil and vegetation with it. The openings channel water and create sunny habitat for the spectacular Turk’s cap lily (Lilium superbum).

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Satulah Sunrise


sunrise over Satulah Mountain

Dawn breaks this morning on the summit of Satulah Mountain. From my journal: “Booked up to the summit of Satulah in the light of dawn to witness the coming day and the start of my 5th Forest Ecosystems class. Ancient, lichen-crusted granite beneath me…ruby-throated hummingbirds whirling above, airing petty grievances and territory disputes with furious vocalizations…watching clouds blow across the front of Whiteside Mountain. The small moments are so often the ones most treasured.”

Letting go of the handlebars: Tour de Cure 2015 with Team Cheetah

CONFESSION: I have a draft started around here somewhere that may never see the light of day. I started with a great story about my pink Huffy and just couldn’t seem to get from 1987 to 2015. Another post, another time.

Instead, I’ll share my story from my Tour de Cure page about my friend Diane, who inspired me (and possibly badgered me) to learn how to ride a road bike and join her and Team Cheetah for the two-day Tour de Cure.

For many years, I have been in awe of my friend and stellar athlete, Diane Huis. We trained for the NYC marathon together in 2010. She is a Type 1 diabetic and I remember asking her what symptoms to look for if her sugar was low. She laughed and said, “well, I may be a little belligerent…and in complete denial that anything is wrong.” “Ha! Is it too late to find another training partner?”

We had a great time training, though, and inevitably, every Friday morning on our long runs before work, we’d discuss our weekend plans. “What are you doing this weekend?” she’d ask. “Oh, nothing much. How about you?” “Well, I have this awesome 100 mile ride on Saturday…”

Diane is always like that, with boundless positive energy, and she downplays her disease–enough so that many of us forget that it’s a daily struggle. It really wasn’t until Diane did her first Ironman, though, that I truly appreciated how her daily life was affected as a Type 1 diabetic. While most IM athletes focus on how many miles to bike, run, and swim each week, she was 100% focused on her race-day nutrition–dialing it in, checking her sugar, making sure she had the right food at the right times, and adjusting when necessary. Reading her race report really made an impact on me.

For the first time in several years, I didn’t have a conflict on the weekend of the Tour. When Ann said she was going to sign up, I was all in. My friend Ken also planned to ride. I couldn’t wait. I just had to find a road bike and figure out how to ride it.

Andrew had a road bike he found on Craig’s list that was actually a women’s bike–he claimed he bought it for himself, but I think he secretly bought it for me. It’s a red and white one. It looks fast. The tires seemed soooo skinny, but it wasn’t that hard to get used to. The real challenge was learning to ride with clip pedals.


Andrew and I rode 1400+ miles through Europe on hybrid bikes with cages, but I knew I needed to learn clip pedals. I walked into the bike shop and asked for help. “What kind of cycling do you do?” “Oh, I’m not a cyclist at all. I’m a runner, but I signed up for my friend’s Tour de Cure team, so I need to learn how to ride this road bike.” “Ah, I see.” We found a pair of shoes that fit fairly easily. As he was ringing me up, I said, “So, can I return these for a refund if I fall?”

Because I knew I was going to fall. Everyone I talked to about clips said that I better be prepared to fall. I wasn’t really afraid of falling (other than possibly hurting something that would prevent me from running, of course, which is why I did not get clips until after my 50K); honestly, I just wanted to get it over with.

My first opportunity came right away, in my driveway. Andrew helped me line up, then pushed my left foot into the clip. “Now, unclip it and clip in on your own.” I snapped out easily enough, caught the toe part of the clip with my shoe, and stepped down. Nothing. I tried again. And again. Andrew stood there silently. We have been married nearly twenty years and to his credit, he kept his face straight; even grave. He carefully avoided eye contact. Five minutes later, he cleared his throat and said, “Keep trying—I’m going inside.” Ten more minutes of stepping down with no click. I had broken into a sweat and was now muttering ugly words aloud. Finally, after 15 minutes, I stepped down and heard the sweet click of success. My left foot was clipped in.

I pushed off and focused on clipping in my right foot. Lined up and pushed down. No click. Re-aligned, pushed down. No click. I was so intent on what I was doing that I failed to notice that my bike had stopped rolling forward. Too late, I realized that I was balanced and motionless on skinny, skinny tires. It was a long moment. Then I started leaning ever-so-slightly to the left. Ever the optimist, I flailed around, trying to get out from under my bike. In the end, that hurt me worse than just accepting my fate. At least there was no audience as I crashed onto the cement. And they say trail running is dangerous!


Ann and Ken and I started riding once during the week and then again on the weekends. We recruited others to join us–for some reason, posting “Ride Bikes” on our Peeps workout calendar amused people—don’t you remember calling your buddies when you were a kid and saying, “Hey! Want to ride bikes?” That’s how I ride bikes. Andrew and I found a great route that was just short of 40 miles, riding from Beaufort out to Harker’s Island and back. Unfortunately I didn’t get in any rides longer than 40 miles before the Tour. Riding bikes takes longer than running to get a good workout, and you can’t ride in the dark.


Ann and I were both nervous, but we had a wonderful time and completed all 160 miles over two days. The weather was beautiful and the course to Pinehurst was on back roads, transitioning from the Piedmont to the Sandhills through farmland and then horse farms. I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

Team Cheetah at the start on Day 1.

Team Cheetah at the start on Day 1. This team raised over $60K for the American Diabetes Association. Thanks to those who donated to my page; over $300 raised.

Me, Ken and Ann are ready to hit the road for Pinehurst!

Me, Ken and Ann are ready to hit the road for Pinehurst!

We had to stop so Ann could take a picture of a VW bug we saw on the way. Still feeling good and over halfway there.

We had to stop so Ann could take a picture of a VW bug we saw on the way for Andrew. Still feeling good and more than halfway there.

We found some of our Peep friends who were doing the 100 mi ride at the last rest area.

We found some of our Peep friends who were doing the 100 mi ride at the last rest stop. Go Peeps!

The Cheetahs in Pinehurst! We made it 80 miles and felt good!

The Cheetahs in Pinehurst! We made it!

We had a great time in Pinehurst. My only goal was to get there feeling good enough to ride back the next day. Our bikes were whisked away to be stored safely, we showered and changed clothes, had some food and drinks, and even took a little nap before heading out for some dancing and hanging out with our friends.

Ken had another commitment for Sunday, so Ann and I headed out on Day 2 by ourselves. I had assumed that most people would ride both days, so I was a little flummoxed when so few people started with us. We were definitely near the back of the 80 mile ride back to Pinehurst, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Off to start Day 2 of the Tour de Cure!

Off to start Day 2! Cary or bust!

Lunchtime and some shade. Sunday warmed up quite a bit.

Lunchtime and some shade. Sunday was pretty hot.

Some of the 100 mile Cheetahs caught us at lunchtime, and rode with our friend Phillip for a few miles.

Some of the 100 mile Cheetahs who started early caught us at lunchtime, and we rode with our friend Phillip for a few miles.

This was right after the lunch rest area; I realized my helmet wasn't clipped and fixed it right away!

This was right after the lunch rest area; I realized my helmet wasn’t clipped and fixed it right away, really! [Rookie mistake!]

Last rest stop for the day (I posted,

Last rest stop for the day (as I posted: “it’s getting hot in heah.”). Thrilled that we accomplished this challenge together.

As we neared the later rest stops, we could hear the volunteers radioing HQ to ask how many people were behind us. We rode into Cary and it was hot and the traffic was a little nerve-wracking. Just as we pulled into the parking lot to finish our ride, we heard an announcement that Kona Ice was staying for just five more minutes. That was all we needed to hear. We flung our bikes in the truck and hobble-sprinted across the parking lot to get the last two ices. It’s good to know that our running background was good for something!

Thanks to Diane for the inspiration and also for being a big part of planning what is a big, well-run, exciting and inspiring event. Many friends donated to my page for our team, totaling more than three hundred dollars, while Team Cheetah raised more than $60K. As I figured out how to ride a road bike and started building my miles, my friend Ken offered lots of great tips and encouragement along the way. Finally, thanks to Ann for getting me to sign up–an ideal girls’ weekend in my book (forget the spa). It was such a treat to spend time together, focused on nothing more but the task at hand, one which was a new challenge for us both. I hope that next year we’ll encourage more of our friends to sign up for Team Cheetah, even if they’re not really cyclists. We had a great time along the way!

no hands

Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: Author interview

[Not to be confused with the Santa interview, below.]
We are incredibly excited for our official book launch on September 22nd, with a kick-off event at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC, at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, September 23rd. Here’s a link to some other events we’ll be doing in the region!

A cold, windy, rainy, and absolutely beautiful hike on the Overmountain Victory Trail at the end of July.

Steph Jeffries and Tom Wentworth, authors of Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, talk with Carson Rogers about how to get the most out of your hiking experience.

Carson Rogers: You take a holistic approach to the forest, showing readers how to look at the bigger picture of the environment rather than just the hiking path. What made you choose this approach, and why is it important?

Steph Jeffries: When we teach our two-week field course, we jump right in and during that first week, we are relentless—traveling to many stops each day and constantly asking the students what they see and what they think about what they see. Quite honestly, we nearly break them. But in the second week, a funny thing happens. The students gradually assume the lead—making observations, asking questions, probing current hypotheses, speculating. In short, they are thinking like ecologists and it is dawning on them that science is really not about what we already know, but instead about discovery. The transformation in such a short time is incredible. We think that anyone can learn to do this, to see the forest and the trees, so to speak. In doing so, your connection with nature broadens immeasurably, because you have a holistic understanding of why the forest you’re standing in looks the way it does. So many connections are formed that you’ll never look at a forest in the same way, ever again.

CR: What do hikers and outdoorspeople miss when they do not use this approach?

Tom Wentworth: Imagine strolling into one of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe with no understanding of the building’s rich history, no idea about what went into its construction, no concept of its purpose, and no sense of how this cathedral differs from others. You would doubtless be awed by the sensation of standing in that magnificent space, but think how much richer your experience would be if you appreciated its history, construction, purpose, and uniqueness. It’s much the same with forests and other natural communities. You may have a very pleasant experience walking through a forest, but you will have a much deeper connection with and appreciation of the place if you understand how it came to be, what its components are and how they interact, and how it functions. Our approach to natural ecosystems provides that gateway. SJ: I recently started re-reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a hilarious account of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Bryson begins nearly every chapter with his observation that he’s walking among endless trees along an endless trail that all looks the same. I love his story, his perspective in rediscovering America, and his colorful characters, but it’s hard not to think of how much richer his experience would have been if he could see the forest for the endless trees. Our four hikes on the Appalachian Trail are, in fact, very different from one another.

In addition, I think most of us are “destination-oriented”—focused on the trail’s end, the scenic vista, the waterfall. Many of our hikes have points of interest such as these, because we love them too. By using our book, you can become a “journey” person as well, someone who sees something new and exciting around each bend in the trail. We want you to start seeing the forest intimately, instead of a background of green noise.

CR: What makes your “ecological guide” different from other hiking books?

TW: Many other hiking books are focused on the details of a trail as a way to get from point A to point B. This is not a bad thing—we all need to know trail conditions, elevation gain and loss, points of interest, directions that keep us on track (and not lost), and so forth. Indeed, we love and use such trail guides ourselves. However, we offer our readers something entirely different. While some guides will comment briefly on historical events, forest types, or points of particular interest, none offer the holistic, ecological view that we provide. We teach hikers how to read the landscape and to appreciate the ecological components and processes that make these forests what they are today. We feel that this is a unique contribution to the hiking literature.

SJ: To add to what Tom said, what excites me about ecology is its accessibility. Ecological concepts are often intuitive and fun to share. What makes the science challenging is that it requires you to pull together everything you know to solve a puzzle. When you walk into a forest and want to understand what you see, you’d better bring along everything you know about biology, geology, chemistry, physics, geography, and history. The complexity of nature is what makes it so hard to decipher, and at the same time, so fascinating. You really feel like a Renaissance scientist!

CR: How do you envision readers using this guide out on the trail?

TW: First, I believe that readers should consult our book before hitting the trail! The hiker who has previously read the hike’s narrative, its sidebar, and some related sidebars and relevant community descriptions is then prepared for a most rewarding experience. Once on the trail, I would envision the reader pausing occasionally to pull our book from its home in the backpack and then consulting it as a reference. In this way the hiker would be prepared for and could quickly find answers to questions like: What did Steph and Tom say about this waterfall? Why did they say all the trees are small and of similar sizes? Which way did they say to turn at this trail junction? Which natural community is this? Which maple am I seeing? I also imagine and hope that readers might reach the destination summit or overlook, find a comfortable place to sit, and read again the hike’s narrative and sidebar, letting their immediate experience and the book’s content mingle in their minds. Perhaps this last step might even happen later that evening, in front of a campfire or in a cozy chair back home.

CR: How many walks are featured from each included state?

SJ: Well, the bulk of the land area in the southern Appalachians is in North Carolina, so unsurprisingly, we have many hikes there. But there are five hikes each in Georgia and South Carolina, with many hikes nearby in adjacent states. Tennessee hikers also have five hikes to choose from, but several others are just across the state line in North Carolina. While Virginia has only three hikes, they are all near its southern border, and several northern North Carolina hikes are nearby. We feel that the hikes we chose offer the best in the region, while providing good geographic coverage.

CR: How did you manage to narrow down the many possible hikes to just the 30 trails included in your guide? Do you each have a favorite?

SJ: Goodness me, I am still discovering new trails that would have been perfect for the book. It wasn’t easy. On one summer day, I hiked nearly every trail on the western rim of Linville Gorge—including Linville Falls, Pine Gap, Babel Tower, and Wiseman’s View—to choose the best one for the book. (I ate the biggest slice of pie in western North Carolina that night, while icing my knees.) We wanted to represent a broad cross-section of the region and natural communities, of course, as well as varied distance options. Accessibility was also important to us—we wanted to reach the broadest possible audience. There are five trails that are at least partially accessible to those with physical disabilities. Most importantly, each trail we chose has a great story—some are historical, some are mysteries or dramas, and a few even have surprise endings.

If I could transport myself anywhere today, it would be to walk among the ancient giants at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Tomorrow would be different, of course. I think my favorite chapter that I drafted is the Babel Tower Trail because it helped me articulate my thoughts on wilderness.

TW: I’ll add that many, many people offered suggestions of hikes they thought should be included in this book. Certain hikes were mentioned so often that there was never any question that we would include them. In other cases, little-known gems suggested by just one or two friends and colleagues proved to be ideal. As Steph says, in the end we had to make some hard choices among many great candidates.

Where would I go today? It’s the summer solstice and peak blooming time for Catawba rhododendron, so I’d set my sights on the Roan Massif, where I’d hike above the clouds in its magnificent open meadows and flowering shrub balds where nothing obstructs the spectacular view!

CR: You mention climate change and the introduction of foreign pests or species as potential threats to the forests. Can you elaborate on why this is an ecological danger?

TW: The natural communities we visit in the beginning of the 21st century are substantially different from those we might have visited in the early 20th century. In some cases the changes are positive, having resulted from conservation and restoration of natural communities. In many cases, however, the changes are deleterious, having resulted from wanton destruction of natural resources and the inadvertent introduction of harmful pests, like the chestnut blight or the balsam woolly adelgid. When we consider the exotic diseases and invasive exotic species that are currently plaguing our southern Appalachian forests, we must realize these forces will destabilize and eventually degrade these natural communities. We can say with little doubt that the forests our grandchildren visit in the early 22nd century will be substantially different from those we describe in this book. In this context, climate change is certainly the wild card, with the potential to disrupt existing natural communities in ways not seen since the last Ice Age. However, in this case humans, not other forces of nature, are the causal factor.

CR: Because trails and forests are susceptible to natural events, like fires or tornados, what provisions did you take while writing in case of any sudden major changes to the included hikes?

SJ: [Laughs] The full manuscript went to the Press on November 8th. On November 12th, I sent Tom an email. “Hike 22 is on fire!” Linville Gorge was burning, from an unattended campfire in the Table Rock Picnic area, and eventually spread to about 2000 acres. Fortunately, we had covered the possibility of a fire in this area when writing the hike’s narrative. Indeed, fire is the major theme of Hike 22, with a sidebar featuring two fire-adapted pines. So this hike is still up-to-date in a very real sense. Throughout the book, we emphasize the idea that change is the only constant, and we teach readers to piece together the story for themselves. On a more practical level, we try to avoid pointing out specific features like large, old trees, because we know they may not be there or be visible forever. Each hike is a snapshot in time, but we teach readers how to look for clues that will help them interpret the inevitable changes that will occur after our book is published. If we have done our job well, we have taught readers to read and interpret the landscape for themselves—not only for these thirty hikes, but all over the southern Appalachians.

CR: You encourage readers to view the forest from a curious, questioning perspective, always asking why things are the way they are. Can you speak to why this is important?

SJ: My relentless curiosity as a kid has only worsened with age, so this comes naturally for me. But honestly, I find that anyone who has their curiosity kindled soon finds that they want to know more—much more. What makes ecology—and all of science—so exciting is discovery. Walking along the edge of what we know allows us to peer into the vast chasm of what we don’t know.

CR: You say “the present can only be fully appreciated in the context of the past.” How so?

TW: Most of the natural communities we see reflect events in the past. Nature has no recipe that dictates exactly what will be found at each place. Instead, environmental conditions provide broad guidelines, which are then influenced by time and space. For example, we note the absence of red spruce and Fraser fir on some summits that should support them, given their elevation and other environmental attributes. As we discuss, understanding such absences requires that we consider climatic fluctuations in the past that may have driven spruce and fir off the summits, as well as processes that may have prevented their return.

In the more distant past, evolutionary processes, climate disruptions, and major geologic changes (such as continental drift and the formation and breakage of land bridges) have also shaped the natural communities we see today. Without the historical perspective, we are severely handicapped in our ability to understand the present.

SJ: Right! Each place you visit, whether you realize it or not, reflects past events, with forces that made the natural community you see there today unique. I’ll add that you have to consider recent history as well—human history and natural disturbances such as fire, fire suppression, storms, and logging—to truly understand the story of the place.

CR: In addition to hiking, what other ways do you recommend enjoying the forest?

SJ: Two of my favorites are to slow down or to speed up. Slowing down and becoming more journey-oriented is a great way to enjoy exploring with kids. First, you have to drop your expectations of how far you’ll go or how much time it will take. Once you’ve done that (it can be surprisingly hard), you can really experience nature through their eyes. Kids have an eye for detail that fascinates me, and they’re more curious than most adults. My older son, Stephen, has a knack for spotting salamanders, while my younger son, Simon, would rather race woolly worms than reach the top of the next ridge. And, as research has repeatedly shown, we need to be doing more to get our kids out into nature.

I’m also a trail runner. Something I love about trail running is the amount of ground I can cover in a beautiful place on my own two feet. I’m not especially fast, and I often take my camera. Also, I find that the singular focus required to stay upright wholly occupies the distracted part of my mind, leaving the rest of my brain free to wander. Like most people whose lives exist in multiple dimensions (for me, that includes mom, professor, runner, business owner, and writer), my life can be pretty noisy. Running trails through the forest is my favorite way to quiet my mind, and, as a result, do my best thinking.

CR: Is it best to explore the southern Appalachian forests during a specific season, or can hiking be appreciated year round?

SJ: Each season brings its beauty. In our southern latitudes, you can enjoy hiking year-round, though some higher elevation areas, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, are closed in the winter months. A crisp, clear winter day brings the best views, and, without the distraction of greenery, you can really appreciate the contours of the landscape. Spring brings a colorful parade of wildflowers as the days grow longer, while warm summer days invite quick dips in icy mountain streams and berry picking. Fall might yet be the best season, though—brilliant autumn colors and nighttime temperatures cool enough to really appreciate a toasty campfire at the end of your day.

CR: After reading Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests, how might I see my favorite hike in a different way?

TW: You’ve said this is your favorite hike, so there are things about it that you already love. Perhaps this hike is a favorite because it offers the calming influence of nature, “far from the madding crowd.” It may offer particular aesthetic charms, or perhaps a chance for birding, botanizing, berry picking, healthy exercise, or a spectacular view of waterfall or landscape. After readingExploring Southern Appalachian Forests, we hope that you will have added to these individual elements a broader appreciation of the hike’s natural setting. You will “see the forest” in addition to the many other things that drew you to this hike in the first place. As you take subsequent hikes, you’ll appreciate the diversity of species that occur along your favorite trail, and why they’ve formed the particular natural community you see. You’ll understand how both recent and deep histories have much to teach us about why your hike’s natural community is the way that it is. We also think you’ll be more attuned to the threats to the well-being of your favorite hike, so that you’ll be more inclined (and better prepared) to help protect its future integrity.

CR: All thirty hikes are on public lands. Why is it important to invest in public land? Under tightening budgets, can we really afford to own so much land?

SJ: National parks have been called “America’s Best Idea,” protecting scenic landscapes (and later, cultural and historical landmarks) for the enjoyment of all. This was a radical concept when originally proposed, particularly for a growing young nation that seemed to have unlimited natural resources. However, proponents recognized that the best way to balance competing interests for natural treasures was to purchase and protect them for future generations.

Our hikes utilize trails in national parks and national forests, as well as state parks. Although we discuss threats such as climate change and invasive exotic species, development as a result of a growing population could well be the biggest threat to the southern Appalachians. As more people flock to the mountains, public land becomes still more precious, providing recreational resources and protecting biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and clean water. Undeveloped land is shrinking rapidly, and much of what is left is irreplaceable. Private, nonprofit conservation organizations, such as the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, also play important roles in protecting natural areas, but they can only do so much with their limited resources. Public institutions must continue to play a leadership role in conservation.

The vision of public parks for all citizens is an enduring one, even as visitor populations swell and park resources are stretched thin. Public land is the best gift we can give to ourselves and to future generations!

Reference: A conversation with Stephanie B. Jeffries and Thomas R. Wentworth, authors of Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia (University of North Carolina Press, Fall 2014). The text of this interview is available at

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