Wilderness Wildlife Week: January 7-14, 2012 in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPhoto contributed by the Pigeon Forge Deptartment of Tourism
Wilderness Wildlife Week celebrates all things wild and wonderful in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In its 22nd year, this award-winning winter event offers visitors the unique opportunity to learn from hundreds of experts and participate in hikes, workshops, lectures and performances that highlight and celebrate the biologically and culturally rich landscape of the Smokies.
This year’s Wilderness Wildlife Week program guide is packed full of workshops and seminars led by park naturalists, historians, wildlife biologists, birding professionals, nature photographers and other experts who travel to the event from around the country. Program topics include natural history, wildlife, outdoor recreation, nature photography, conservation efforts and cultural history. Vendors are also exhibiting throughout the week. Coordinated by the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, the event is free to the public and takes place at Music Road Hotel in Pigeon Forge.
“People who visit the Smokies love this resource and want to know more about the flora and fauna that can be found here—Wilderness Wildlife Week offers that opportunity,” says Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism and a self-appointed Wilderness Wildlife Week junkie. “Participants hail from 17 states, and many return year after year and bring their friends.”
- Natural history buffs can learn about the geology of the Smokies, important fossil sites, wildflowers found within the national park, and the history of the American chestnut tree.
- Wildlife enthusiasts can hear from experts about black bear management, searching for panthers within the national park, and wildlife rehabilitation efforts.
- Park rangers will address conservation topics in the park, including air quality and acid rain.
- An interesting mix of cultural topics highlight the history of people in East Tennessee, including programs about Civil War history in the mountains, coal mining, and the early settlement of Pigeon Forge.
- More than 20 hands-on workshops are geared especially for kids, with topics including black bears, owls, mountain storytelling and history, Appalachian music, the art of quilting, and ideas for old-fashioned outdoor fun.
This year’s keynote speaker is Peggy Callahan, founder and executive director of the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minn. Callahan will speak on Saturday, Jan. 7, and Sunday, Jan. 8, to provide an update on the status of wolves in modern America.
Musical performances throughout the week highlight the rich musical heritage of the region, including Shape Note singing; bagpipe, banjo and Appalachian musical performances; Civil War period music; folk songs of America; and morning sing-alongs.
Guided hikes are a popular piece of Wilderness Wildlife Week, with more than 50 hikes scheduled to traverse the many trails that thread through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Participants should be aware that hikes are typically limited to 25 people or less and require participation in a lottery system on the day prior to each hike. While this lottery system can sometimes be frustrating, says Downey, it has remained the simplest way to ensure fairness to all those wishing to participate in hikes and field trips. An overview of the hike sign-up procedures can be found on the Wilderness Wildlife Week web page. Hike signups take place at the Holiday Inn Express located across the street from Music Road Hotel & Convention Center and free shuttle bus service is provided to the national park for all excursions.
Wilderness Wildlife Week was founded by natural history photographer Ken Jenkins, who owns two galleries in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The event has evolved and thrived since its beginnings 22 years ago, and Downey says organizers are always on the lookout for volunteers with pertinent experience to lead hikes and teach sessions. To learn more, contact Butch Helton at (865) 429-7397.Make plans today to attend this year’s Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.