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Volume 1 Number 3          July 2014

Mountain bogs get biologists' attention

Taking cautious approach to improve extremely rare habitat

Mountain bogs are among the most rare and most fragile ecosystems anywhere in the U.S. Though they are home to some very rare species, such as Gray's lily and the mountain bog turtle, not very much is known about exactly how these small, high elevation wetlands work.

So, naturalists with the state parks system are taking a very methodical approach to managing the bogs – and getting impressive early results.
The parks system has three bogs in western North Carolina that are designated state natural areas – Pineola Bog, Beech Creek Bog and Sugar Mountain Bog – and so joined the Bog Learning Network, a collaboration of scientists from state and federal agencies and private conservation groups that manage bogs. The group adopted a “no regrets” philosophy to take some cautious action to improve the habitats.
“Basically, it’s an ecological version of ‘do no harm,’” said western region biologist Marshall Ellis. “You take some judicious management actions and then wait to see if they work. If so, you move ahead. If not, then you reconsider. Mostly, you just make sure that whatever you’re doing is something that the ecosystem is resilient enough to withstand.”
At Pineola Bog, that meant removing much of the alder, a woody plant that seemed to be shading out some of the more fragile plants. It was simple but pretty laborious work by biologists and the staff from Elk Knob State Park in Watauga County, the unit responsible for routine management of the area. They chose a portion of the 91-acre bog that had already been altered somewhat by a long-gone gravel mining operation. As spring crept into the mountains, the difference was startling. More varied plant life sprang from the spongy soil, including an abundance of fringed phacelia blossoms that had not been seen before. Ellis said the next step is to expand the alder thinning effort into other management zones.
The paddle festival at Hammocks Beach is co-sponsored by the friends group.

Friends of State Parks grants program

Modest, one-time grants spark creative ideas from the parks

In coming months, state parks will be dreaming up some creative ways to use grants being made available by the statewide Friends of State Parks (FSP). A combination of additional funding for the grant program and tighter budgets for the state parks system have made the FSP grants more valuable than ever.

State parks and recreation areas are eligible for modest, one-time grants from the FSP program that improves the North Carolina state parks experience in some surprising ways. An FSP grant augmented by funds from the Eno River Association allowed Eno River State Park to add a lifelike display of a coyote, an animal increasingly common in that area. FSP funds will match those raised by Friends of Crowders Mountain State Park to support the annual festival at that “Park of the Year.” Hammocks Beach State Park’s paddle festival, partially funded by an FSP grant, will offer visitors the opportunity to get out on the water in what is becoming an international event supported by the American Canoe Association and involving the British Canoe Union.
 Morrow Mountain State Park will rebuild a dry-stacked stone wall that once served proudly at the entrance. Native argillite, once quarried in the park, was used by the Civilian Conservation Corps to fashion the wall in 1940. The result will be more than just wall construction; it will be building an organization of volunteers as Friends of Morrow Mountain contribute both funding and physical effort in the restoration.
With three quarters of 2014 remaining, the Friends of State Parks Grants Disbursement Committee is inviting ideas from park staffs, and said it expects to have opportunity support more projects.

AmeriCorps member aims at river protection

Partnering with landowners for New River water quality

(Submitted by Abby Van de Bogert, AmeriCorps program director in the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs.)

Darius Pollard, is one of several AmeriCorps members serving at North Carolina state parks this summer and clearly embodies the organization’s pledge to “get things done.”

As Pollard began his term of service at New River State Park, he saw an opportunity to educate the public in a way that would benefit the park and the river. The park regularly monitors riparian conservation easements along the waterway’s south fork, designated a national Wild and Scenic River. These easements often serve as riparian buffers – riverbank property protected from development, which helps maintain water quality.

As the park monitored these areas, they found some properties had been clear-cut and mowed, reducing the buffers’ ability to protect the river. Unfortunately, the park had no resources to reach out and educate the landowners or to assist in restoring the riparian buffers.

Pollard developed a campaign to reach out to these landowners, writing letters to those whose easements were in need of restoration, describing the benefits of natural riparian buffer zones and the environmental consequences of clearing those areas. “The biggest surprise was the feedback I received from sending the letters,” he said.  “I got seven calls within the first week and a half, and everyone wanted to learn more.”

Through a partnership with the nonprofit National Committee for the New River, Pollard arranged for funding to share the cost of restoration with the landowners. Pollard now meets regularly with the organization’s restoration director, Lynn Caldwell, to review property conditions and to help create land management plans and cost estimates for landowners interested in restoring their riparian buffers.

Since sending the letters in early May, Pollard has already had four landowners begin the voluntary restoration. More property restorations are in the design and approval process. “I halfway expected landowners to be upset that I was trying to tell them what do with their own property,” Pollard said, “And in a way, I wouldn’t blame them.  In this case, however, everyone is downstream. “

New River Junior Rangers

New River State Park held its first-ever Junior Ranger camp in June. Four days of exploring nature and the park's history resulted in 12 freshly minted Junior Rangers. The park will be holding two more camps this summer.

Fort Fisher Basin Trail

The Wilmington Star News discovers there's more to the beach than surf and sand by exploring the Basin Trail at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. Read more.

Box turtle hunt for science

Boykin spaniels track turtles at Eno River State Park

At the command, "Findturtlefindturtlefindturtle," Jenny Ren and Mink thrashed through the underbrush at Eno River State Park with singular determination and an unbounded joy in the chase.

In just a bit over 30 minutes, Mink returned, carefully carrying a box turtle in his jaws and obviously pleased with himself. He dropped it at the feet of John Rucker, rewarded only with impressed comments from about a dozen park visitors who witnessed the demonstration on a hot day in June.
The two Boykin spaniels are from a pack of 10 that Rucker has trained to find box turtles. Rucker brought the good-natured dogs from his Greensboro home to a reptile and amphibian program at the park and they were the stars of the event.
Bird hunting with one of the spaniels years ago, Rucker discovered that they have a natural talent for finding the reclusive turtles and could be easily trained using scented, fiberglass turtle shells. Some have theorized that the “scent trail” left by a traveling turtle somewhat resembles the scent of game birds. At any rate, the dogs consider a turtle hunt just great sport.
For biologists, it’s more than sport. Populations of the eastern box turtle are declining everywhere and no one is sure why, although loss of habitat likely figures into it. In many eastern and midwestern states, including North Carolina, box turtle studies have begun in earnest. Outdoor lovers have been invited to get involved in “citizen science” projects by reporting box turtle encounters. At Eno River, a box turtle study was launched by the Eno River Association. On Saturday, naturalist Kat Walston was on hand to measure, weigh and mark the turtles found by the spaniels as part of that effort.
Rucker has carried his dogs as far afield as Wisconsin, where a similar decline in ornate box turtles has researchers worried. In Illinois, the dogs have tracked turtles that are battling a mysterious virus, and in Tennessee, they’ve helped study how well box turtles can survive heavy logging operations. A keen observer can learn much from the success – or failure – of a turtle hunt, Rucker told the park visitors. “You have to learn how turtles behave in order to learn how to protect them.”
Information about North Carolina’s citizen science effort to track box turtle populations can be found here.
Copyright © 2014  N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation,
N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, All rights reserved.

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