Archive for March, 2009

links for 2009-03-31

March 31, 2009 at 2:30 pm 1 comment

Sinking Creek Mountain and Fire Recovery

Virgin Gorda’s The Baths is a great example of how today’s places of beauty are often the sites of past traumas. As the millennia pass, vegetation moves back in and erosion smooths over rough edges. It’s nature’s healing process.

There are a number of reasons to hike Southwest Virginia’s Sinking Creek Mountain and here is another one! You’ll get to witness earth’s recovery on a small scale.

On October 13, 2008, a section of the Appalachian Trail was closed while firefighters tackled a wildfire on Sinking Creek Mountain. I hiked that section five days after the fire. The damage was about 0.5 – 0.75 miles southbound of the Niday Shelter. The air still smelled like a giant camp fire, the trail was lined with charred bark and fallen trees, and the ground was carpeted with blackened pine needles.

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Shadows on Burnt Pine Needles
Blackened Pine Needles on Rock

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Burnt Logs
Burnt Tree Burial Ground

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - James Hike Debris
James I on Burnt Landscape

Sinking Creek Mountain - Ascent - Forest Fire - Post Fire Trail Maintenance

Forest healing brings forth flora and fauna. In 2001, Backpacker Magazine discussed the changes one could expect after a fire.

As blazes level tall trees and undergrowth, holes are left in the forest canopy, “so all of a sudden you have sunlight hitting the forest floor,” explains Jack Cohen, Ph.D., a fire physicist at the Intermountain Fire Research Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. “This produces a profusion of shrubs, flowers, and shade-intolerant plants like fireweed, and the soil in these areas is rejuvenated. More insects come in, as do animals that forage on the plants and bugs. This brings in the predators, like wolves and bears, to prey on ungulates.”

– “Lessons from Forest Fires“, Backpacker Magazine, June 2001

As spring arrives in Craig County, Virginia and the surrounding mountains, you can witness the rejuvenation of this section of the Appalachian Trail. You can see the profusion of shrubs and flowers and the influx of animals. And if you make return trips, you can watch the vegetation change, the trees grow larger and the signs of the fire become less noticeable.

More pictures of the Sinking Creek Mountain Fire can be found on my Flickr site.

If you do head up that way and take pictures, let me know! I would love to see the differences.

Appalachian Trail: Sinking Creek Mountain Fire

Length: ~4 Miles Round Trip

Elevation Gain:~1000 feet

Directions from Blacksburg, Virginia

1) Take 460 West

2) Turn right on Craig’s Creek Road (VA-621). The Pandapas Pond Turnoff will be on the left hand side of the road.

3) Craig’s Creek Road will turn to gravel, pass Caldwell Fields (worth a stop!) and then eventually turn back to pavement. Once it does, the AT crossing will be within a couple of miles. There will be a camping and parking area on the left side of the road.

Fire was about 0.5 – 0.75 miles south of Niday Shelter on a rocky ascent.

March 31, 2009 at 7:16 am 2 comments

Legacy and Inheritance on National Land

The March-April 2009 issue of AT Journeys includes a great article by Wendy K. Probst entitled “A Remarkable Inheritance“. It’s about Dayton Duncan and his work with Ken Burns on the upcoming PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

In 1959, nine year old Dayton Duncan visited his first national park with his parents. When he was grown with a family of his own, he revisited the parks. His children were able to take in identical views and share the same experiences their father had as a boy. Meanwhile, Dayton Duncan found himself awed by the consistency of the parks.

But sometimes, we don’t want national lands to stay the same. Take the case of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philpott Lake in Bassett,Virginia. By the time Congress approved the construction of Philpott Dam in 1944, Virginia’s American Chestnuts had already been ravished by the blight. Patrick County had lost its main cash crop. Gone were the days when wagons were loaded full of nuts and shipped from Bassett. Philpott Dam was completed in 1952 and a new recreation area was born. But it was a recreation area that couldn’t reflect what the forest once was.

On March 18th, Ryan Somma and I joined forest rangers, biologists, Friends of Philpott members, teachers, high school students, and two professional RVers at the Philpott Lake Overlook. We were there to witness the planting of one of the American Chestnut Foundation‘s backcrossed trees, a sapling bred to be blight resistant.

Philpott Lake -  Robert Strasser, Tree, New Marker
Restoration Biologist Robert Strasser tends to the tree

Philpott Lake -  Susan Martin Digs
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Susan Martin digs

Philpott Lake -  Mayes and Strasser Plant Tree 2
VA TACF President Cathy Mayes and Robert Strasser plant the tree

Philpott Lake -  Scrivani Fills Hole
VA TACF Board Member Dr. John Scrivani fills in the hole

In the AT Journeys article, Dayton Duncan spoke about the value of national parks:

I was able to show my children the exact same scenes — unchanged — 50 years later because we, as a people, had decided to preserved them unimpaired for future generations. That’s a remarkable inheritance[.]

American Chestnut Foundation President Bryan Burhans also thinks about future park visitors, but a little differently.

Your grandchildren someday may sit here at this spot, and the forest may look much different. That is a huge legacy to leave.

The American Chestnut Foundation strives to return the species to the forests in its native range, including Philpott Lake. This little sapling was the first of its kind to be planted in Bassett, Virginia, but it is the hope of all involved that one day it will be far from alone. When we gathered at Philpott Lake that Wednesday morning, we weren’t there just to watch the planting of a tree. We were there to celebrate a coming change to the landscape.

Dayton Duncan described national parks as “one of the last refuges where precious memories can be safely stored from one generation to the next.” Indeed, the American Chestnut Foundation and the staff of Philpott Lake aspire to safeguard memories. It’s just not the memories of adjacent generations.

They don’t want to show my children the small, stunted, black-barked chestnut trees I can find in the forest today. Nor what my father could see when he was he was boy. Not even my grandfather was born into a blight-free world.

It’s my great grandfather. Those are the memories they want to share.

More pictures of the Philpott Lake American Chestnut Planting can be found on my Flickr site.

More information about the American Chestnut and its restoration efforts can be found at the American Chestnut Foundation site.

March 29, 2009 at 11:23 pm 6 comments

Weekly Winners – March 22, 2009 – March 28, 2009

This week’s set includes a remaining shot from my brother’s birthday party in Occoquan, Virginia as well as some shots of spring in Elizabeth City, North Carolina and Hertford, North Carolina.

Jay's Birthday -  Ryan has Friends
Have Food? Then You Have Friends – Occoquan, Virginia

Fun Junktion Frisbee Golf Course - Magnolia Leaves
Magnolia Leaves in the Sun – Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Fun Junktion Frisbee Golf Course - Bud
Spring Bud – Elizabeth City, North Carolina

While I was taking these shots a goose startled me when it fled into the water. It turned out she was nesting and quite upset at me. This may not be my most stunning shot– but the goose does look agitated.

Fun Junktion Catch and Release Pond - Pissed Off Goose
Mama Goose – Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Hertford Tree Memorial - Bumble Bee on Red Bud Blossom (Cropped and Sharpened)
Red Bud Pollination – Hertford, North Carolina
P.S. Those flowers are edible!

Even with all the beautiful spring blossoms in Hertford, some abandoned railroad tracks managed to catch my eye.

Hertford - Jimmie with Girls (Sharpened)
Sharing the Tracks – Hertford, North Carolina

Hertford - Jimmie and Henry on Old Railroad
Nature (and Dogs) Take Over Tracks – Hertford, North Carolina

More pictures of my brother’s birthday party, Elizabeth City and Hertford are available on my Flickr site.

Also, be sure to check out more of this week’s Weekly Winners at Sarcastic Mom!

March 29, 2009 at 12:19 pm 14 comments

Happy Birthday, William Kent!

William Kent, you have been dead for 81 years, but I still want to wish you a happy birthday.

Thank you for co-writing the act that created the National Park Service in 1916. And thank you for donating the land that would become Muir Woods National Monument.

But what impresses me most about you, William Kent, is how humble you were when it came to naming the new national monument. From CNN’s “Muir Woods celebrates a century of conservation“:

It was Kent who wanted the woods named for naturalist [John] Muir. In an exchange of letters, Roosevelt advocated for putting Kent’s name on the new monument, but Kent replied that he had “five good husky boys,” and if they couldn’t keep the name of Kent alive, “I am willing it should be forgotten.”

You may have put your faith in your husky boys, but I wanted to make extra sure that I didn’t forget you or your birthday. I wrote this post on April 9, 2008– more than 11 months in advance. 🙂

March 29, 2009 at 8:00 am 2 comments

Silo Tree Additions – March 29, 2009

Two more Silo Trees has been added to the Silo Trees of the U.S. listing. Illinois is now up to two different trees and North Carolina just snagged its fourth.


This Greenville silo tree is located in Bond County, Illinois. Photograph courtesy of mkloefflerphoto. Stubborn tree


This tree is off of NC-150 on McAlister Road near Lincolnton, NC . Photograph courtesy of kackiejane. Tree in SILO- Just East of Lincolnton

More photos can be found in the Trees in Silos Flickr group. If you spot a silo tree you’d like to share, let me know!

March 29, 2009 at 1:03 am Leave a comment

Vote For America’s Ranger of the Year

Have you had a great experience with a park ranger this year? Vote for them for America’s Ranger of the Year (Deadline: March 31, 2009).

I voted for Danny Martin of Philpott Lake for his work with the American Chestnut planting.

Philpott Lake -  Danny Martin Talking (Close)
Vicky’s Nomination – Danny Martin

Of course, the voting is write-ins. That opens the door for another winner– Stephen Colbert.

Colbert’s had quite some success with write-in votes. He’s fresh off his win of NASA’s online contest to name a new room in the International Space Station. “Stephen Colbert” received 230,539 write-in votes. He beat out a NASA provided choice, “Serenity”, by 40,000.

So watch out, Park Rangers! : )

Actual Winner- Stephen Colbert?
(Photo from thelastminute)

March 27, 2009 at 8:26 am 3 comments

links for 2009-03-26

  • "In Defense of Food" author Michael Pollan is going to get his wish! Michelle Obama indicates there will be a White House garden:

    "We want to use it as a point of education, to talk about health and how delicious it is to eat fresh food, and how you can take that food and make it part of a healthy diet. You know, the tomato that's from your garden tastes very different from one that isn't. And peas—what is it like to eat peas in season? So we want the White House to be a place of education and awareness. And hopefully kids will be interested because there are kids living here."

    (Hat Tip, Ryan Somma)

March 26, 2009 at 2:30 pm 5 comments

Ada Lovelace Day: Mary Lou Jepsen

Happy Ada Lovelace Day! All over the world, bloggers are highlighting women they admire in the computer and information technology fields. The day shares its namesake with the Ada programming language. Both pay homage to the world’s very first computer programmer- a woman!

For Ada Lovelace Day 2009, I choose to highlight Mary Lou Jepsen.

Mary Lou Jepsen (Photo by eschipul)

Mary Lou Jepsen was the founding Chief Technology Officer for One Laptop Per Child. Under her tenure, the laptop went from a concept that was scoffed at to a mass produced product. It was the lowest cost laptop ever made. It was the most environmentally-friendly laptop ever made. It was rugged and yet used 15 times less power than the Energy Star requirements.

This laptop was specifically developed to provide educational opportunities to the world’s poorest children. Today, the laptops are in action in a variety of locations and sports a diverse user base:

India Mongolia
Sierra Leone Nerds

(Photos by One Laptop Per Child)

And you can add Elizabeth City, North Carolina to that large list of locales! During the Give 1 Get 1 program in 2007, Ryan Somma (see last demographic above) procured one. It’s now one of the laptops in use by the neighborhood children in the evenings. I would classify our house as a “harsh environment”. We have rambunctious kids coming and going not to mention an ample inventory of hair and dander courtesy of two dogs and two cats. The rugged OLPC was designed for rural areas and adapts quite well to our home.

Girls and Tykee on OLPC
Hunter Street Usage of the OLPC

Mary Lou Jepsen’s background comes in displays. Before One Laptop Per Child, she was the co-creator of the first holographic video system and she was the CTO of Intel’s display division. So with the OLPC, it should be no surprise that one of the key innovations is with the laptop’s screen.

50% of the world’s children learn outside. In order for an educational laptop to succeed in reaching the world’s children, it needs to be easy to read… outside… in the direct sunlight. So Jepsen designed just that. When it was released, the OLPC was the only laptop on the market that was sunlight readable.

With participation in nature-based activities (hiking, fishing, camping, etc) in the U.S. declining at over 1% a year since 1981, Jepsen’s innovation is particularly appealing to me. Not only does it help children in outdoor classrooms, but it gives children everywhere, including Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the opportunity to be connected AND be outside at the same time. A child can breathe fresh air, enjoy the outdoors and if something catches his/her eye, Wikipedia or perhaps can be pulled up to learn more.

Jacal with OLPC (Resized for Blog)
My neighbor, Jacal, on OLPC outside…with mallards!

One last note about Mary Lou Jepsen. Like Charles Darwin, she found herself plagued with health issues. When she was in her late twenties, she suffered from horrible heartaches and slept 20 hours a day. Unlike Darwin, the cause of her woes was thankfully located. She had a brain tumor, on her pituitary gland to be exact. The tumor was removed, but the procedure left her without the ability to make hormones. Since then, she takes 12 pills a day to maintain the hormone levels her body can’t.

Jepsen’s career has been filled with innovation and her work has touched the lives of so many across the globe. I think it is safe to say– health did not hold her back.

March 24, 2009 at 10:46 pm 9 comments

Hearts in Nature: Teamwork

Courtesy of Creative Commons, here are two pictures where two animals team up together to form a heart.

Swan Heart (Photo by

Dragonfly Heart (Photo by Our Enchanted Garden)

March 24, 2009 at 7:03 am 5 comments

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