We've sung the praises of native plants—at our annual festival and here in our blog. Now, it's time to focus on the leaves of our native trees.
It's easy enough to enjoy leaf buds in the spring, the shade leaves provide in the summer and their color in the fall. Then, once they've fallen to the ground at our homes, most of us were taught to see them as a chore. Something to be raked (or blown), bagged and hauled away to the landfill. But here's the eco-truth: Leaves are not litter.
They're habitat. Butterflies and bumble bees, moths and millipedes and so many more insects count on the protection of fallen leaves to make it through the winter. And then there's the birds, chipmunks, squirrels, turtles and amphibians who rely on those insects for food.
Leave all the leaves that fall on your native plant garden—and your plants and the critters that live around and on and under them will thank you. Leaving a thin layer of leaves on your lawn won't kill it (if you must have a lawn at all—but that's another story), and you can compost the rest.
The Xerces Society "Leave the Leaves" campaign has more info and suggestions.
Here's some great news from our partners at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy about new protected, A.T.-adjacent land:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy Helps Create First-Ever Community Forest in West Virginia to Protect 370 Acres of Land
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) in partnership with the West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) announces the permanent protection of the Little Bluestone Community Forest in Summers County, West Virginia.
This newly-protected area will add to the constellation of public lands between the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.), the Bluestone National Scenic River, and the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, providing numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and sustained economic development throughout the region.
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is proud to partner with the West Virginia Land Trust in facilitating not only community-led conservation in southeastern West Virginia, but in helping to further elevate the constellation of public lands along the New River, including the Appalachian Trail landscape,” said Sandra Marra, President and CEO of the ATC. “Beyond the undeniable recreational and economic value this will provide for the region, these lands will protect irreplaceable cultural sites and tie in directly with the ATC’s goals of protecting climate-resilient lands throughout the Appalachian region.”
“West Virginia is ripe with opportunities to conserve lands that provide public benefits, such as recreation, clean water, unique habitats, historic and educational sites, and more,” said Brent Bailey, Executive Director of the West Virginia Land Trust. “But philanthropy that can fund land acquisitions is very limited in our state. We could not have protected this beautiful site on the Little Bluestone River without the financial support from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The ATC’s funds provided the necessary matching dollars that the U.S. Forest Service grant program requires. Now this community forest will become part of the mosaic of trails and recreational opportunities that are at the heart of revitalizing local communities.”
The ATC committed $220,000 to the completion of this project as part of its Community Impact Grant program, assisting in the acquisition of several parcels of land along the Little Bluestone River. One hundred and forty acres of land — the family farm of sixth-generation landowners Jack Willis and Sharon Brescoach — have already been added to this important landscape, with the goal of securing 370 acres to ensure the forest is conserved for future generations.
The Little Bluestone Community Forest is also the recipient of competitive funds from the USDA Forest Service’s Community Forest Program — the first such forest in West Virginia. The Community Forest Program recognizes areas that provide a variety of positive impacts to the surrounding communities, including economic benefits through active forest management, clean water, wildlife habitat, educational opportunities and public access for recreation. The land protected through this partnership will pave the way for community-led development of recreational trails as well as increased fishing and hunting access. The transformation of these privately held lands into a Community Forest will also protect the setting and further enhance access to a protected historic site, Cooper’s Mill, providing additional tourism opportunities for the region.
Funding for this project was provided by the ATC Community Impact Grant program, made possible by the voluntary stewardship agreement between the ATC, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC and The Conservation Fund. This agreement provides up to $19.5 million in funds to advance the ATC’s work to manage and protect the A.T., help The Conservation Fund secure additional conservation lands for public use, and enhance Trail-related community economic development. The ATC will utilize these funds to protect land around the A.T. and ensure it is conserved for generations to come.
For additional details about this project, visit www.wvlandtrust.org/news-items/little-bluestone-community-forest-project/.
Join our friends at Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and Walk for Wildlife this October.
During this month-long event, see how many wildlife places you can visit and how many wildlife species you can count. It's a fun way to get outside, and you can help support LWC's programs that benefit wildlife and healthy habitats.
How to get involved:
Your team can be just you, or you and your friends, your family, co-workers or a youth group. Everyone is welcome—from budding naturalists to seasoned experts. All that’s required is an interest in wildlife!
When? October 1 – 31. You can pick any or all days during the month of October with your team.
Where? Everywhere! Your friends and family from around the world can join in the fun of this event.
How? Record your locations visited, miles traversed, species observed. For recording locations visited and miles traversed, use LWC's Google Form. (The form will open on October 1 and close on October 31.) Once Walk for Wildlife begins on October 1, you can check out the leaderboard for locations visited and miles traversed.
For species observations, use the free iNaturalist app:
What? Everything! You can count any plants, trees, mushrooms and fungi, insects, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles. If it’s alive and it’s not a human or domestic animal, count it.
Your $50 registration fee includes:
Everyone wins in this event because we’re getting out in nature, seeing and learning about new things, and helping to provide critical citizen science data for the study of our wildlife systems.
Prizes. Special recognition will be made for the top three teams and individuals reporting:
Register and Support Teams Now
Visit the Registration Page to form or join a team, or visit the Supporters Page to make a donation. To form or support a Youth Team visit the Youth Team Page. Anyone donating $100 or more will be acknowledged on our Thank You page.
More than 1000 people joined us to celebrate the A.T. and the Great Outdoors this year. Three amazing bands graced our music stage, fourteen hiking/environmental nonprofits got to share their projects, like-minded vendors sold everything from organic soap and beeswax wraps to hiking gear and pottery. Our thanks to them all.
And then there were our speakers, who shared their passions from nature printing to backpacking to day hiking, native plants and trail cooking. Plus, A.T. legend Warren Doyle shared why he's been inspired to hike some 38,000 miles on the Trail. Thanks to you all.
Something else that felt gratifying: The thru-hikers who took us up on our offer to pick them up from the Trail and feed and entertain them. And all the "trail magic" collected and shared with the Bears Den and Blackburn trail centers for other thru-hikers to enjoy.
We're a tiny nonprofit that runs this festival. (Want to join us?!) We appreciate all the sponsors, donors and volunteers that made the festival possible this third go-round. And, once we recover, we might just start making plans do it all again....
Thru-hikers pass through peaks and valleys literally. And they can have their share of highs and lows physically and psychically, as well. That's where "trail magic" can make a difference.
Some hikers feel the "magic" when a vista pops into view after miles of forest, or maybe it's a fawn nestled near the edge of the Trail. Maybe it's a stream crossing just repaired by volunteers or a fallen tree moved out of the way. Maybe it's supplies left with a trail center caretaker for hikers in need.
The Round Hill A.T. Festival is collecting bits of "trail magic" to share with this year's thru-hikers at Bears Den and Blackburn trail centers. If you want to contribute something, we'll be collecting items at the Round Hill Hometown Festival (May 28) and our A.T. fest on June 11.
Here's a list of some things hikers have told us they'd appreciate:
If you're an aspiring "Trail Angel" (provider of trail magic), there are other ways to help, of course:
Acts of "trail magic," while always well-intentioned, can sometimes go askew. Here's a great ATC article about preserving the magic of the trail.
Getting ready to hit the trail? Set up camp? Maybe there's a little something you're looking for first.
Our "Trail Angel" sponsor REI Co-op is setting up our silent auction with loads of gear. Here's what you can bid on to support our festival:
This year, Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) will be joining us at the festival for the first time. We asked the organization to tell us a little more about their work, and we got this reply from PRKN intern Madison Upperman, a rising junior at Shenandoah University. Thanks, Madison!
Did you hear about the Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) at your school?
I was introduced to PRKN by a professor at Shenandoah University who told me about an internship opportunity. Before that, I had never heard of the group. I did a little research and learned that PRKN is run by people working to protect the public's right to clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and their tributaries. This is a goal I share, so I applied for the internship. Within 36 hours of applying, I heard from the president of PRKN. I've only been in the program for a short time, and I hope to learn more about how to advocate for clean water—for drinking, for wildlife and for recreation.
What is the history of the group?
Celebrating its 50th year anniversary, the Clean Water Act is a federal law enacted to restore the nation’s waters back to their prime biological, chemical, and physical states. PRKN was founded in 2000 by local members of the community who saw a need for more enforcement on all levels of government for clean water protection. PRKN relies on the “citizen suit provision” of the Clean Water Act, which allows an organization to file a lawsuit against a polluter who has allegedly violated the clean water act.
PRKN members are thought of as the “eyes, ears, voice and experts of the rivers” as they protect the public's right to access clean water. The organization relies on the knowledge and talent of many individuals from volunteers to scientists to fishermen to law officers. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, PRKN is hosting events throughout 2022—from paddling to snorkeling and tubing.
What area does PRKN oversee?
We have three full-time rivekeepers; one of them oversees the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry to Point Lookout, MD, where the river empties into the Chesapeake Bay. This means protecting aquatic life (including bottlenose dolphins that visit the river every summer), as well as monitoring the quality of the river as drinking water for millions of local residents and as a recreational place where people come to boat, fish and hike.
Another of our riverkeepers, oversees the Upper Potomac River's north and south branches that converge in Greenspring, WV. This section of the river is a popular spot for trout fishing, hiking, whitewater kayaking and other outdoor adventures.
Our third river keeper, monitors the Shenandoah River, with its two north and south branches running 100 miles before they meet in Front Royal. Then, the river continues to join the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry. This watershed not only provides rich soils for farming, but also supports a wide variety of species, including white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, eastern brook trout, red-tailed hawks, and the endangered Shenandoah salamander. It's also known as one of the best destinations for small-mouth bass fishing.
Why are you attending the Round Hill A.T. Festival?
Walking on the Appalachian Trail in this area, hikers can see the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in different spots. We want these people to be able to look out on the water and see waterfowl and other wildlife enjoying clean water, not suffering from pollution. At this A.T. Festival, I want to help spread the word about PRKN and its work.
How can others get involved in supporting PRKN’s work?
We have many opportunities for volunteering, including helping to monitor water quality or participating in a stream cleanup. You can also help just by joining as a member. You can find information about becoming a member and volunteering on our website, www.potomacriverkeepernetwork.org.
With nine Appalachian Trail thru hikes and nine section hikes under his belt, Warren Doyle has hiked the A.T. again and again—and again. One obvious question comes to mind: Why?
Why does anyone set out to hike 2,190 miles, even one time? Perhaps would-be thru hikers want to see if they can go the distance. Probably, they’ve heard about the wonders of the trail. OK. Do it once. But why travel the same 2000+ miles 18 times? You know you can do it; you’ve seen all the sights.
Ask Warren Doyle why he has walked the A.T. again and again over decades, and he’ll tell you it’s as much about all the time he’s not hiking as it is about the hours he has spent hiking. Doyle believes the Trail can "show the way." He believes hikers learn to better navigate the "real world" from their trail days in the woods. The Trail makes people “questioners, diggers, seekers of truth,” according to Doyle.
“I trust the Trail,” Doyle says. “I trust what the mountains have taught me.”
Doyle, who is believed to have walked the A.T. more than any other person, will participate in a Q&A “Why Hike?” session at the Round Hill Appalachian Trail Festival. Doyle’s 3 p.m. talk will run for an hour, with time for questions.
Added bonus: Our friends at Good Wolf Gear will be giving away more than $100 of hiking gear in a free raffle at Doyle's talk.
Want to try out camping without investing a fortune? Want to see if you like hiking with poles? Good Wolf Gear has you covered.
This Herndon store sells some new gear, but it specializes in selling used outdoor gear that's still in great condition. That can mean big savings for one person at the same time it gets perfectly good gear out of the back of someone else's closet. Buying second-hand gear and clothing has massive environmental benefits, because less items need to be produced and less products end up in landfills taking decades to hundreds of years to break down.
Good Wolf Gear will be vending at this year's festival. They'll also be raffling off hiking and camping gear at the end of Warren Doyle's talk. Doyle will likely inspire you to get on the trail, and Great Wolf might just get you outfitted for adventure.
Author/adventurer, hiker/historian Jeff Ryan returns to the festival to share tasty tips for campsite cooking. We asked him a few questions about his evolution as a trail gourmet.
Did you figure out how to cook better food after some less-than-stellar eating on the trail?
Thankfully, my mother was an exceptional cook (so much so, that she tested receipts for cookbooks). It didn’t take long in my hiking career to realize that most of the popular choices of the day could use some serious upgrades and that I’d need to get creative with my trail menus to eat the way I wanted to.
Regarding low points, one really stands out. When I was on the PCT my hiking buddy, Mick, made what has become the enduring “low point meal.” Decades later, we still talk about his mac & cheese with dehydrated carrot and turnip. It was so inedible that we buried it and hiked three miles off trail to get to a cheeseburger.
A memorable trail meal you remember?
Breakfast burritos for sure.
I had bought some dried chili mix at a health food store to make as one of our dinners. I had also packed some freeze-dried scrambled eggs to eat one morning to break up the “oatmeal every morning” routine. We had also packed some whole wheat wraps to eat during the first few days (they pack really well).
As I was making the chili for dinner, I realized that if we saved a bit of the mix, we could have breakfast burritos for breakfast (wraps, scrambled eggs, chili and cheese). It’s become a trail favorite.
Anyone on the trail teach you a few tricks of the trade?
Not yet. I think most of the breakthroughs I’ve had have been adapting kitchen cooking to the trail. When I make something delicious at home, my first thought is, “How would I go about making this on a one-burner backpacking stove?”
It’s not just the recipes, but also the condiments and spices. Years ago, I found a tiny, super lightweight plastic pepper grinder in a gourmet shop on Cape Cod. I’ve been packing it for 30 years. If it ever broke, I’d be really bummed. I’ve never seen anything like it since. It’s such a neat final touch.
Any idea how many meals you've cooked on the trail? (You do have your 28-year A.T. adventure, plus all the others!)
Oh my gosh. Literally thousands.
The great thing about cooking (on the trail or at home) is there’s always something new to try. Whenever I grocery shop, I’m always on the lookout for packable meals, snacks and seasonings. Most often, I try them out at home first, but I don’t always have that luxury.
What I’ve found works best is combining old favorites, one or two new discoveries and taking along some versatile vegetables that I dry myself beforehand (kale, mushrooms, spinach, leeks) that can be saved with lunchtime soup or one pot dinners.
Do you have a trail cooking philosophy?
"Eat well, be creative.”
I believe that trail meals should be part of the fun of being out in the wild. I strive to pack lightweight meals that are flavorful and healthy, but also minimize prep time. I also make sure that I have some meals that don’t require much water to make, so I have the flexibility. A little extra planning really does go a long way.
Round Hill AT: Join us in bringing together local friends and family to get outside. Let’s discover our amazing backyards — from national treasures like the Appalachian Trail to new local and regional parks.