If you’re staying in one of our cabins in Gatlinburg this week, we have a very special event to recommend that you consider, especially since spring has finally sprung in the Smokies (this week’s brief cold snap notwithstanding). The 64th Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage takes place in Gatlinburg April 15 through 19 and helps celebrate the transition of winter into spring as the Smokies begin to blossom forth in new color.
Throughout the week, everyone from serious botanists to weekend gardeners can gain unprecedented access to some of the nation’s leading botanical experts as well as authorities on Appalachian wildlife.
“It’s a rare opportunity for those with a personal love of flowers to have the same access to leaders in the field as researchers,” said Ken McFarland, botanist and professor at the University of Tennessee. “Through seminars and intimate guided tours, each participant will expand his or her skills and knowledge of the unmatched flora and fauna of the Smokies.”
The Wildflower Pilgrimage, which dates back to 1951, offers more than 150 programs, including an array of instructional walks and guided hiking tours tailored to meet individuals’ walking skills and abilities. In addition, demonstrations and guest lecturers help showcase the abundant varieties of wildflowers, plants, ferns, mosses, trees and shrubs as well as birds, reptiles and amphibians—all of which are native to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Most classes and outings are scheduled to take place in the great outdoors, but a number of educational classroom sessions and evening entertainment productions are taking place at W.L. Mills Conference Center in downtown Gatlinburg, which is the main headquarters for the event.
In addition to all the nature-related presentations and outings, the Pilgrimage includes a photography contest. Although it’s too late to enter the competition, the entries will be on display at the Mills Center, and winners will be announced this Saturday the 19th.
This year’s individual programs and outdoor explorations include: Birding for the Experienced, Native Peoples’ Use of Nature’s Garden, Edible Mushroom Walk, Nature Sketchbook, The Mystery and Magic of Monarchs, Black Bear and Wild Hog Walk, Tree and Shrub Identification Walk, Beginner’s Photography Workshop, Friend or Foe Among the Flora, Urban Gardening, Cultural History of Elkmont and many more.
Other walk and hike destinations include: Courthouse Rock, Baskins Creek Trail, Ash Hopper Branch, Grotto Falls, Porters Creek Trail, Noah “Bud” Ogle Trail, Bullhead Trail, Road Prong Trail, Grapeyard Ridge Trail, Ramsey Cascades Trail, White Oak Sinks and more.
With few exceptions, most of these activities are free to the public. Just note that you do have to sign up for many of the programs and outings in advance. Visit www.springwildflowerpilgrimage.org to learn more about how to participate this year.
Sponsors include Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Great Smoky Mountains Association, the City of Gatlinburg, University of Tennessee department of ecology and evolutionary biology, Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Southern Appalachian Botanical Society and Gatlinburg Garden Club.