65th Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage April 21-25

Celebrate spring in the mountains with a fascinating 5-day event focusing on all things Smoky Mountain nature! Revel in the beauty and complexity of the area’s natural phenomena by immersing yourself in the many offerings of the 65th Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage April 21-25, scheduled in the heart of the flowering season in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Beautiful Bluets in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo credit: Jack Thyen

The 65th Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage offers a spate of exciting opportunities ranging from wildflower walks and birding excursions (bring your binoculars and a sense of adventure) to a tree identification tour and a guided hunt for edible mushrooms among many, many other interesting outdoor experiences. These walks on breathtakingly beautiful trails will be led by experts who will be sure to fill your mind to capacity with the wonders here in “God’s Country.”

The Pilgrimage will also feature an array of indoor seminars designed to ignite your imagination and stoke your curiosity about the secretive natural world of the legendary mountains whose presence overshadows us all. Retired Park Ranger, Arthur “Butch” McDade will lead participants into the world of prominent Smoky Mountain writers in a program entitled “Old Smoky Mountain Days.” Jon Elder, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee will take attendees back in time to explore the “Legacy of the Cherokee.”


At a welcoming luncheon in the Mills Conference Center in Gatlinburg, the crowd will warm to stories by former Chief Park Ranger Kim Delozier. Author of Bear in the Backseat: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (two volumes), Kim will regale the crowd with unforgettable tales of encounters with wildlife and visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park garnered over his long career. Kim says, “You know your chances of being hurt or killed is much greater driving your vehicle to a trail head, being struck by lightning, or having a tree fall on you than being hurt by a bear.” This truth does not mean that humans should not respect bears. “Some people still feel like it’s okay to get close to black bears. Others feel like it’s okay to feed them,” adds Kim. Luncheon tickets are available online only at www.springwildflowerpilgrimage.org. Reserve yours today!

Authors Jack Carman (Wildflowers of Tennessee) and Robert Hutson (Great Smoky Mountain Wildflowers: When and Where to Find Them) will lend their talents to participants joining them for workshops, talks and a motorcade aimed at finding and taking the perfect wildflower shot.


Enjoy a birding hike at the Wildflower Pilgrimage. Scarlet Tanager pictured here.

Acclaimed wildlife artist Chris Myers will teach a class on sketching birds. He will exhort participants to “take a mental polaroid of what you see and trust that you do remember more than you think,” when sketching these flighty animals. He says that he hopes to impart “an understanding of how to see birds in a way that you can translate onto paper, what to look for; posture, movement, form and markings.” Myers enjoys the variety of birds in the Smokies. “In the wintertime you see a lot of migratory waterfowl. In the spring and summer there is a nice variation with the elevation differences in the Smokies,” he says. Myers says some of his work, including stained glass, water colors, graphite and possibly acrylic or oil paintings, all with wildlife themes, will be on display at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

Be sure to book a hotel and stay all week as you will not want to miss other special events such as the “Live Birds of Prey” show courtesy of Wings to Soar, and wonderful shopping and browsing opportunities presented by a variety of vendors, native plant growers and other interesting exhibitors inside the Mills Conference Center.

While a vast array of flora and fauna will be explored, birds will take center stage at this year’s pilgrimage.  There will be more than 24 Outdoor Birding Programs and several indoor opportunities for bird enthusiasts, up from only a handful of ornithological opportunities at last year’s Pilgrimage. This practice is in keeping with the tradition of changing the event’s focus a bit each year.

Ken McFarland, Ph.d, of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, heads the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage Committee. He says the week of fun, information and outdoor experiences is for anyone who is interested in learning more about “what they normally drive by when they are in the park and don’t really see.” It’s this focus on peeling back the top layer to view the all of the hidden, interactive biological elements of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that has Pilgrimage attendees coming back year after year. For example, Dr. McFarland says, the unassuming plant by the name of Bishop’s Cap appears, to the naked eye, to be nothing more than an ordinary, diminutive green plant with small stalks and nondescript white flowers on it. “But if you look at it with a hand lens, you will find that it is a delicate, lacy flower,” he says, adding that visitors are delighted with such discoveries. McFarland adds that events like the Pilgrimage help promote preservation by demonstrating why the environment is worth preserving. He says the programs have the effect of “awakening the public to the biodiversity here.”


Bishops Cap

A little competition never fails to bring a buzz of excitement to any event, and this year’s Pilgrimage will offer the perfect showdown for nature-lovers. Photographers, grab your gear and start shooting anything and everything natural! Submit your entries to the 2015 Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage Photography Competition soon. Go to www.springwildflowerpilgrimage.org or call Jim Downs at (865) 436-1127 for more information.

Online registration begins February 14, 2015 at www.springwildflowerpilgrimage.org. If you’d rather register in person, you can do so at the Mills Conference Center in Gatlinburg April 21-25 from 5 PM-9 PM on Tuesday, from 7 AM-1 PM and 5 PM-7:30 PM on Wednesday through Friday and on Saturday from 7 AM-12 PM.

Registration fees are: adults: $50.00 for one day or $75.00 for two or more days; students: $15.00 for one or more days (student status to be verified at on-site registration with valid ID); and children under 12: free with a registered adult. NOTE: children must be registered in advance for each program they attend.

You will find detailed descriptions of each program offered at www.springwildflowerpilgrimage.org.

Don’t delay! Register as soon as possible for the programs you wish to attend during the Pilgrimage as space for each is limited. Get ready for a great time soaking up some knowledge and sunshine!

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