Teachers in the woods! Climbing rocks and jumpin’ in waterfalls! That’s what I call a workshop! For 5 very full days, two dozen educators traveled the Land of Waterfalls, centered around the Brevard fault, seeing some amazing geology, flora, and fauna with the staff of, and presenters for, the Pisgah Forest Institute. We got treated like teacher queens for a day (okay, one other guy besides me as kings in this group of elementary school teachers). We got free stuff, wonderful information and some great hikes.
The Pisgah Forest Institute is an initiative of Brevard College – a beautiful campus that is ancient as a 2 year college but only 14 years old as a 4 year. PFI focuses on “the earth and environmental science needs educators encounter in their classrooms. ” The workshops are funded partly through grants from the USDA Forest Service. This part of the mountains receives more annual rainfall than anywhere in the continental U.S. except for the Northwest temperate rain forests (or would if there weren’t a severe drought). There is a unique feel to the wilderness areas and even more so to the farmland, it seemed to me this trip. Rich, well cultivated fields and not so much the hard scrabble feel you see (disappearing) in the northern section of our mountains.
The town of Brevard hosts a Music Center, has a nice college/tourist shop and bar scene, and is famous for – did I mention them?, – the white squirrels. These little guys just blew me away, and set me off on an extended online chase to research white squirrels. There was a lot to find. The local history traces their origin to an overturned carnival truck in 1949. There is a research institute devoted to them, a White Squirrel Festival each year in Brevard, and of course a White Squirrel Lover’s blog. The very best picture I found online is on a realty site, and clearly the white squirrel is a promotion bonanza for the town of Brevard, though their claim to fame is not without controversy (other “homes of the white squirrel”).
The PFI would educate and inform us and then take us on a related field trip. We made 3 major expeditions: Holmes Educational State Forest, Caeser’s Head State Park, and a new amenity, Dupont State Park, which contains several spectacular waterfalls. We also conducted a stream activity at the trout hatchery on the Davidson River. Each place offered valuable lessons and experiences. At Holmes, which is open to the public, we practiced tree i.d. and took the “talking tree” walk. Caeser’s Head offered spectacular views of the Piedmont vista as seen from the edge of the Blue Ridge system. So many wonderful pictures – I offer an album at the end of the post, and many of the following text images are linked to a picture.
The park gots its name from a head-shaped rock that protrudes from the highest viewpoint. Across the chasm, you see Tablerock Mountain, a monolith of intruded younger rock whose side is painted by the staining action of rainwater.
Dupont, after a decent hike, offered beautiful waterfall views, including some used in The Last of the Mohicans. Here the Brevard Fault is in full view, fracturing and pushing til some of the huge blocks become square tree planters. The Little River winds its way down the rock cascades, though it was quite low the day my pictures were taken.
The young lady below is leaping from Hooker Falls, another fault-block structure in the park. We learned some background geology at Caeser’s Head and then put it into action at Dupont, locating the folded layers in a piece of gneiss that represent eons of slow bending pressure.
Kevin, program director for PFI, holds a northern water snake from the Davidson River. We measured stream quality parameters and took a tour of the trout hatchery, which attracts vultures from miles around. Back at the Brevard campus, we saw a stream rehabilitation process and surveyed native as well as invasive plant species on campus. Below is a picture of hemlock infested with wooly adelgid (the small white spots). Just one of the many ecological challenges faced in the Southern Appalachian mountains. Thanks, PFI, for such a great trip and for helping me learn so much!