Author: Frances Figart

  1. Science at Sugarlands: Grassy Balds

    Grassy Balds

    Mysterious and haunting, Southern Appalachian grassy balds have long fascinated scientists and hikers alike. How many balds are there in the Smokies? How did they evolve? How do they support rare plants? Can balds be found in other parts of the world?

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  2. Behind the scenes with PLA award winner Susan Sachs

    Susan Sachs

    By Frances Figart

    If you have followed GSMA news this year, the name Susan Sachs will be familiar. We nominated her for an Agency Leadership award through the Public Lands Alliance—and she won!

    Promoted last year to education branch chief, Sachs is currently acting chief of resource education. Her award recognizes a public land management agency employee for outstanding accomplishments by championing, cultivating and leading partnerships. We asked her to tell us some of the background that led up to this outstanding recognition.

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  3. DLiA’s Science at Sugarlands Focuses on Fish Restoration

    Pat Rakes

    By Frances Figart

    Part of the mission of any national park is protecting and restoring species that were once native. Restoring native fish is an exciting area of Smokies science that goes unseen by those who are not swimming or snorkelling in park waters.

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  4. Science at Sugarlands Features Wildflowers

    Science at Sugarlands Features Wildflowers

    By Frances Figart

    You couldn’t pick a more perfect month than May to head out on the trails to spot wildflowers. to help you learn more about them, Discover Life in America will host Wildflowers: Gems of the Smokies at the Sugarlands Visitor Center Friday, May 17, from 1–3 p.m.

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  5. Back of Beyond, new Kephart biography from Great Smoky Mountains Association, invites readers to truly 'know the man'

    Back of Beyond book cover

    An icon of the Southern Appalachian region known for the seminal books Camping and Woodcraft (1906) and Our Southern Highlanders (1913), Horace Kephart was instrumental in efforts to establish the Appalachian Trail along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

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  6. A conversation with the authors of the new Kephart biography

    Book cover of Back of Beyond by George Ellison and Janet McCue

    Working with literary authorities George Ellison and Janet McCue to edit their new book, Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography, was like being a roadie for a dynamic singer-songwriter duo (imagine going on tour with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell). George and Janet are so creative, so steeped in the literature of the Smokies region, and so attuned to all things Kephart that it was mesmerizing and magical to interact with them on a daily basis.

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  7. We won! GSMA Brings Home Three Awards from Public Lands Alliance

    Photo of Susan Sachs at PLA conference

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park education branch chief Susan Sachs accepts her award for Agency Leadership and speaks to her years of partnership building during the Public Lands Alliance’s 2019 conference in Denver, CO.

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  8. Fighting Creek Nature Trail

    Fighting Creek Nature Trail

    Note: Originally posted on January 2014. Reposted here with permission from the author.

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park was my hiking destination yesterday. Leaving Asheville at 9 a.m., I traveled to Gatlinburg for a meeting with Todd Witcher, executive director for Discover Life in America, a nonprofit organization that manages a thorough scientific inventory of all the park’s species that has been going on for the past 15 years.

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  9. DLIA Brings Beetle Mania to the Smokies: An interview with Claire Winfrey

    Beetle Study

    Did you know… about one in every four animals on the planet is a beetle! Of the  roughly 400,000 species of beetles known, some are pollinators, others recyclers –some even help to offset the effects of climate change.

    “Insects are an instant connection to the wild and an extreme example of Earth’s biodiversity,” says Claire Winfrey, a beetle expert and second-year Ph.D. student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Especially in warmer months, take some time to look in almost any type of habitat and you can find them.”

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  10. Smokies Life Redux: Rhododendron Revisited

    Rhododendron

    Did you know that there are more than 1,000 species of rhododendron in the world? Can you name the four species we have in the Smokies?

    I learned these things and more when I edited an article by Courtney Lix for publication in the current issue of Smokies Life. Courtney's story provides insight into this ubiquitous and resilient plant—one that might easily be taken for granted by locals and repeat visitors to the park.

    “The most common is the rosebay (R. maximum), which grows most abundantly at lower elevations but can be found nearly everywhere throughout the national park,” Courtney wrote. “Small-leaved rhododendron (R. minus) occurs frequently as well, although in smaller numbers than rosebay. The other two rhododendron species grow in mid- and high elevations, mostly above 3,500 feet: the Carolina rhododendron (R. caroliniana), and Catawba rhododendron (R. catawbiense).”

    A native of eastern Kentucky, I am most familiar with the Catawba variety, which was discovered in North Carolina by French botanist and explorer Andre Michaux in the late 1700s. Thanks to Courtney, I’m beginning to recognize the other types while hiking.

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