Forty-three hardy hikers, including a slew of first-timers braved the early morning chill (temp in the 20s) to participate in what turned out to be a beautiful day for a hike.
On a personal note, the hike was a bit nostalgic for me. This was the first hike in the watershed without Waynesville’s former Assistant Town Manager Alison Melnikova. Alison recently left her position in Waynesville to accept the position of Town Manager in Laurel Park, N.C. I wish her well and know she will do a terrific job for Laurel Park, but I will miss her enthusiasm and good humor on those early watershed mornings.
On the flip side, new Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department Program Specialist Tim Petrea has taken over the reins of the watershed hikes. Petrea has a degree in outdoor recreation from Georgia Southern University and is from Athens, Ga. Petrea will now be responsible not only for the annual hikes but for any other recreational programs in the watershed. It was a pleasure to meet Petrea and hear of his enthusiasm for the watershed and learn that he has and is scheduling more and different guided programs for the watershed. Those who know me know that I have and do lobby for more supervised recreational opportunity in the watershed. And a big thank you for Tim and his efforts Saturday – the hike was another huge success.
As usual, my group of amblers covered about half the ground (4 miles as opposed to 8) as the robo-hikers led by Dr. Pete Bates, natural resources professor at Western North Carolina University. Bates, perennial hike leader, has been involved with the watershed since around 2004 and is one of the lead researchers responsible for the development of the Watershed Management Plan.
The jaunt started out a little chilly, but once everyone got moving, it was quite a pleasant hike. We didn’t do any birding per se but had a belted kingfisher flyover at the point where we started our amble and got good close-up views of golden-crowned kinglets. We found a few asters, some goldenrod and closed gentian in flower. We also got good looks at the flowers of one of, if not the, latest flowering trees in the Smokies — witch hazel. Red partridge berry peeked through the leaf litter from several different spots and we found creeping cedar with mature spore producing stalks, that when jostled released little puff-clouds of spores. We also made one streamside stop and despite the cool temps, after a little rock turning found one small, lethargic ocoee salamander.
We talked a little about what creates the different yellows, oranges and reds of autumn. If you want to hear that spiel, you will have to amble with us next fall. Most of the hike was passed simply enjoying good company while being embraced by this year’s golden glow.