Today we had the largest group ever at a Friends of the Smokies hike. It may have been the hike or the distance to the trailhead or the promise of a ranger talk at the end.
We started out at Purchase Knob, also known as the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center. It’s a 535 acre site with a building which houses scientists and welcomes school children. For a contrast to this comfortable, modern structure, we walked to the Ferguson Cabin, one of the first dwellings at the top of the Knob. See the picture above which features some of the hikers on the trip today.
Then we made our way to Cataloochee Divide Trail. Rosebay Rhododendrons were still in bloom, as were bee balm and fly poison plant, which looks like bottle brush.
We passed by the Swag and had lunch at Thunderbold Knob on the Cataloochee Ranch property. I had never been to this spot, always aiming for the top of Hemphill Bald.
Back down, we took the nature trail at the Swag. It featured Dan’s Hideway with a platform, a few chairs and a hammock. Dan Matthews is one of the owners of the Swag.
Hannah E., the Americorps intern, was celebrating her last hike with Friends of the Smokies by resting on the job and enjoying the hammock.
Back at Purchase Knob, Ranger Paul Super gave us a brief talk on what goes on at the learning center. Scientists study the climate and climate change at Purchase Knob and how it may affect certain plants like the common cone flower. They can then create rain models. Ranger educators hosts middle-school children and engage them in research and data collection based on the work of scientists.
The Science Center is open May 1 to October 31. You may visit if you call ahead. Otherwise, you can always stop by the building by walking from Cataloochee Divide Trail.
The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be to Mt. Cammerer on August 9. Hope to see you on the hike. To register, call Holly at 828.452.0720