Renee being one with the elk. There is a herd in the meadow.

I just spent two days with teachers in the Great Smoky Mountains on an Elk Trek. It was stunning! I can’t wait to take a group of Rainbow students to some of the same spots! We saw the head bull with his “harem.” We saw males sparring, heard bulls bugling, and watched their herd behavior in the frosty, below freezing high elevation weather. We were outside from 6 am in the morning until 7 pm at night, which is a great way to feel connected to Mother Earth.

Other great sightings: Barred owl, black bear, grouse, wild turkeys, downy woodpecker.

We also learned about some of the effects of air pollution.  Snails are believed to be negatively affected by air pollution, because acid rain causes calcium to be leached out of the soil, weakening their shells.  Therefore, the snail population is a possible indicator of air quality. Ranger, Susan Sachs, trained us to identify various species of snails.  We hunted for snails and collected the data.  I found the smallest one — about the size of a pinhead.

Also affected by air pollution are lichens.  In teams, we measured the growth and/or decline of lichen on specific trees.  Did you know there are over 100 varieties of lichen in the Smoky Mountains?

Two bull elk. The elk were re-introduced to the Smokey Mountains in 2001 and 2002. 57 elk were brought in. The herd is now about 150 and growing.

an average-sized bull elk











An adult bull as seen through a scope

We found 45 snails. This is data that middle school kids and teachers collect for the park service to monitor the effect of air quality on snails.













Liking lichen: Standing next to the black birch with the lichen data our my team collected.

Ranger, Susan Sachs showing us fruticose lichen. Fruticose lichen is sensitive to air pollution.

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