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  • Matt Reilly


The Blue Ridge Discovery Center (BRDC), a non-profit based in Konnarock, Virginia at the foot of Mount Rogers, has a vital, driving mission—to foster ecological awareness and promote experiential, outdoor learning that encourages healthy outdoor activity and the growth of a sustainable economy based on the bountiful natural resources of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In its 12-year history, BRDC has earned a reputation for unique and expansive programming focused at achieving this end. And this year, the Center’s crowning event is being offered online, for anyone anywhere to enjoy and benefit from.

To adapt to the socially distant terms of our current existence, this May 1 – 10, BRDC is taking the 46th annual Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally online as the “Backyard Edition” for the first time in the event’s history. The Backyard Edition is a 10-day exploration and study of the flora and fauna of any natural landscape easily accessible to you. Participants will become proficient in iNaturalist, a citizen science, social networking app that allows users to share and map biological observations. They will also have exclusive access to webinars from expert guides on topics like wild edibles, native salamanders, recording natural observations with art, and pollinators and native plants. On May 8, Virginia-based, award-winning author, Barbara Kingsolver, will hold a livestream reading from her soon-to-be-released poetry book, How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons). Daily raffles grant participants the opportunity to win prizes that range from BRDC t-shirts to locally-made products and a guided fishing trip.

Registration is $5 for non-members, and free for members of BRDC and youth.

The Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally is a storied event that began in 1974, sponsored by the Mount Rogers Citizen Development Corporation and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area office of the Jefferson National Forest and U. S. Forest Service. Traditionally, it has been a weekend jam-packed with field trips throughout the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, offering hands-on education in bird identification, mountain climate and weather, herpetology, fisheries, and a ton more.

The very first Rally was based out of a historic, chestnut-sided schoolhouse kept company by the headwaters of Whitetop Laurel Creek at the foot of Whitetop Mountain (Virginia’s second highest peak). That building now serves as the headquarters for BRDC, which took over organizing the Rally shortly after its establishment.

It is in the midst of these mountains that attendees of the Rally focused their observation in years past, and assuredly will focus their observations on for many years to come, in the flesh. These Southern Blue Ridge Mountain natural communities are the most ecologically rich in the temperate world. With elevations ranging from 580 to 6,684 feet above sea level, the Blue Ridge Ecoregion features spray cliff, fen, bog, seep, glade, swamp-forest bog complex, upland pool, and granite bald habitat types. It gives rise to the New River, one of the oldest rivers in the world, older even than the mountains it navigates. It houses over 400 endemic species, and serves as a resource of unbroken, resilient habitat for species that face life history pressures from climate change and other threats. The Mount Rogers region in particular is home to over 20 salamander species, a diversity that is unmatched anywhere else on Earth.

It is this diversity that BRDC has dedicated itself to raising awareness and appreciation for, fueled by the belief that our world will be a better place for it—its people, flora, fauna, and landscapes more enriched for their connection. That journey begins at home, and this year, more people than ever have the opportunity to fully realize that truth.

*Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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