Turkey Tail Mushroom near river cane
Horn of Plenty Mushrooms. Smell like Apricots
Graham County is one of the most wonderful spots on the East Coast of the United States to see mushrooms, lichens, mosses and ferns. All year long the mountains and valleys are filled with beauty, but you have to train yourself to look. For years, I hiked the trails and explored the stream banks and reveled in the birds, the trees and especially the wildflowers. Then I was introduced to my first wild-foraged mushroom by a friend of mine from Asheville, Mr. Alan Muskat. Alan came up to my property and led a mushroom hike to seek as many different mushrooms as we could find. I was astounded and fascinated. They were everywhere I looked!
Fungi can be large and tiny, range from bright blue to scarlet, and every color, shape and size between. I realized that all these years I had just not noticed them. I discovered that fungi are as much fun to seek out as wildflowers or birds and that Graham County was the perfect place to see and photograph them. To add to the fun, I learned the top ten, edible mushrooms that can be found here. It is thrilling to stroll out the back door and discover a gourmet mushroom that is sold for a high price at the grocery store. It can make you feel like royalty to dine on freshly picked mushrooms that you harvested yourself.
Many people have great concern about accidentally eating mushrooms that are poisonous. That is a valid concern. Just because something looks like it should be edible does not make it so. There are classes to be taken, guidebooks from which to learn and mushroom clubs available to join. If you plan to eat wild mushrooms you need to learn how to positively identify them.
Fungi can be found just about anywhere in the woods, but the best place to start is a trail that meanders along a mountain stream. Two of my favorites are Slickrock Trail, that is located quite close to the Tapoco Lodge along the Cheoah River, and the Stairway to Heaven Trail near the Fontana Resort. There is one important thing to remember. Mushrooms are not like wildflowers. They pop up and disappear in a day. When you discover a stunning group of tiny blue mushrooms nestled in green moss, stop and really focus on its beauty. Take a picture of it, or bring a sketch book and a pencil. Fungi photography is a growing passion in this country and there are Facebook pages studded with pictures of mushrooms and other fungi. The more you look, the more you will see. Palaces for fairies and ballrooms for elves can be spotted. A circle of white mushrooms in the middle of a pasture is called “A Fairy Ring”.
Several of our local restaurants can provide delicious mushroom appetizers, entrees and even desserts! Plan a few days, any time of the year, to enter a whole new world of beauty that few know exist. With hundreds of miles of hiking trails, Graham County is the perfect place to visit and soak in the peace and tranquility. The Appalachian Trail, The Bartram trail and The Benton MacKaye Trail can be explored here and you will find that you will feel refreshed and relaxed after spending a couple days walking slowly along forest paths and seeing, perhaps for the first time, the beauties of the mushroom kingdom.
Every Fall we receive numerous phone calls from people who have questions about hiking during the hunting season. Throughout the fall, hunters are seeking deer, wild turkey, wild boar and bear in the forests of Western North Carolina. Visitors may notice trucks along the sides of the backcountry roads, surrounded by people dressed in camouflage and often, orange caps. Dogs wearing leather collars can be spotted trotting through the woods, seemingly lost and hungry. Some of the more common questions we are asked are answered below:
Q. How do I know when it is hunting season?
A. Do an internet search before you plan your hike. For example, search for hunting seasons in Western North Carolina.
Q. If I know it is hunting season, is it safe to hike?
A. Certainly. Many hunters actually appreciate hikers in the woods because they keep the animals moving from place to place. It is wise to wear something colorful that stands out when you are hiking at this time. That way you are not mistaken for a prey animal. Bright orange is best, but any bright color that is not usually seen in the woods is fine. Avoid wearing browns and greens or camouflage.
Q. other than bright clothing, what else can I do to avoid hunters during hunting season?
A. Stay on the established trails and make noise. Talk with your fellow hikers as you travel along the paths and make yourself noticeable. Head for the tops of mountains where you can be easily seen from a distance.
Q How do I know if hunting is allowed in the area I wish to hike?
A. Once again, the internet is your friend. Many hikers choose to hike in National and State Parks, Conservation areas or City Parks where hunting is often prohibited. There are a number of states where hunting is prohibited on Sundays. Also, avoid hiking at a time when hunters and the hunted are most active, usually dawn or dusk. Instead, plan your hike in the middle of the day.
Q. What if I see a hunter on the trail?
A. Hunters and hikers have a mutual love of the forest that has made us conservation allies. Hunters are often passionate protectors of the environment, and without them, our beloved hiking trails and national forests may not even exist. If you see a hunter ahead of you on the trail, quietly approach and greet the hunter, tell him you are hiking and where you plan to go. Be courteous and if the hunter requests that you wait or choose a different path because he is tracking an animal, consider doing so.
Q. I’ve run across dogs with radio collars as I have been hiking in the wilderness. They look so hungry. Are they lost? Should I take them into town?
A. Hunting dogs are normally very friendly and they are drawn to humans because their owners have been feeding them throughout the year. The owners are tracking their dogs and have trained them to wander through the woods looking for prey. Do not take them home with you! Do not feed them, no matter how tempting. Many of these dogs are very valuable and you could be arrested for theft. In most cases, the animals will walk with you for a little while and then veer off the trail into the woods.
Q. What if the dog is injured or seems lost?
A. The best thing you can do is to take down the phone number of the owner that is on the collar of the dog. Call and tell them (or leave a message) that you spotted their dog at a specific location so that they can go retrieve them.
Q. I like to hike with my dog, but is that safe to do during hunting season? My dog is very obedient and always comes when I call him.
A. Keep your beloved fur baby on a leash while you are hiking in areas where hunting is allowed. You dog may smell hunting dogs or the animals they are seeking and take off on a focused hunt themselves. Additionally, hunting dogs are trained to hunt, and they might decide that your dog is just the prey they are looking for. It is just too risky. All told, it would be wiser to keep your dog at home during hunting season.
Hunters and hikers, anglers and campers, photographers and wild foragers are all users of our public lands and none of them want to lose access to the public land that supports animal conservation. Environmentalists don’t want to lose our nation’s clean water, clean air, and unspoiled spaces. Hikers, campers, and the businesses that support them don’t want to lose trails, rivers, and campsites. Treat each other with courtesy and understanding as you interact and have fun!
Author: Kim Hainge
Over the centuries humans have dealt with death in many different ways. Much can be learned from a visit to a graveyard. Death of a loved one, especially when it was unexpected, is always devastating and the engraving on the gravestones can teach us about the history and culture of an area. There are numerous cemeteries along the Lakeshore Trail, many just off the trail corridor by a few feet. Have you ever wondered why?
In 1910 the W.M. Ritter Lumber Company began logging big trees in the Hazel Creek drainage area. They built the mill town of Proctor. The company moved out of the area in 1928. The Great Smoky Mountain Park purchased the land in 1934. Then in 1944 nearly 600 families were removed from this area due to the construction of a huge dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The Fontana dam was built to supply electricity to the Alcoa, Tennessee plant near Knoxville in support of the Nation’s wartime demand for metal for building airplanes. When the dam was constructed, Fontana lake was created and the water flooded the valley towns. More than half of the 600 families that were forced to leave their homes came from the area between Hazel Creek and Bryson City. That meant that they would have to leave behind their loved ones’ graves. In these earlier times when there were no large group cemeteries, people used to have burial plots near their family homes. These graves were usually marked with rough stones, rocks, or wood. Some of these graves were covered over with water, some relocated, but the majority were left where family members can still return and visit.
In early days, graves were mostly marked with the deceased’s name, age, and year of death. Gradually, churchyard burials evolved. Large, square-shaped tombstones were prepared from slate (1650-1900) or sandstone (1650-1890). The inscriptions carved on slate used to be shallow yet readable.
Public cemeteries evolved in the 19th century. Eventually, people started giving importance to the gravestones, headstones, footstones, etc. as a means to memorialize the dead. Headstones were sometimes engraved with a small epitaph or a few words about the deceased whether written by the individual himself or by someone else. Plus, they bore details like the date of birth and date of death of the departed loved one.
During the Victorian era (1837-1901), Queen Victoria’s loss of her beloved husband Albert in England changed the customs and practices associated with death here in North America. This period of time was marked with elaborate tombstones and headstones. The cemeteries appeared more like parks as they had lavish and decorated gravestones.
The North Shore Cemetery Association was and is a non-profit group organized for the purpose of preserving the graveyards and general history of the Fontana Basin. “Organized in 1977, with an immediate aim to gain general access to the cemeteries of the North Shore in conformity of the contractual agreements that formulated in 1943 between Federal, State and County Agencies. Another aim of the Association was the planning of decorations for the cemeteries along the North Shore of Fontana Lake as were held in the area before 1943 and the removal of families. It was and is made up of former residents and their descendants who lived in this area and whose land was taken for the building of the Fontana Dam and Basin area.” The Fontana Marina in Graham County has schedules telling when it is possible to take a pontoon boat out to the various cemeteries and recollect the past as you wander, respectfully, between the graves. If you go on a “Decoration Day”, you may be lucky enough to hear some of the old family stories from the descendants of the families that were forced to leave their homes.
A visitor will note the numerous gravestones marking the loss of children in the mountain graveyards. Before the time when vaccinations became available, disease took the lives of many newborns and youngsters. Many of the gravestones for the babies had no names and are simply marked with the words “Infant”.
While hiking the Lakeshore Trail, or when exploring on your own in the Park, remember that most of the cemeteries are not marked. Generally, if you see a trail going off to the side of the main trail with a “No Horses” sign, that trail usually leads to a cemetery. Wander respectfully and read the epitaphs on the stones. Each one tells a story, and gives us a tiny look at what it was like to live in these mountain communities. Kim Hainge, author