Underground and Underwater

The second month of my internship with the North Carolina Forest Service, has been a month of learning and exciting field visits.

On August 1st, I was invited to join the Pisgah River Rangers on a field day. I took photos and videos as they gave me the grand tour. Eastern Hemlocks prefer shady, moist areas next to rivers. Because of this, the River Rangers have created an interpretative nature walk, trailing through the canopy of Eastern Hemlock off the banks of a creek. They spoke about woolly adelgid’s effect on hemlocks, while pointing out some unique looking mushrooms and insects along the way. We grabbed lunch and set out towards the river. A big rock sits high above the water. It’s not uncommon to find locals leaping off and splashing into a deep pool underneath. To make the water deeper, people have begun stacking large boulders against a shallow section to trap in the water. What may seem harmless is actually an issue for wildlife as it disturbs their habitat. The rangers worked to dismantle the dam for some time before gearing up in wetsuits and heading further down the river. I took photos while they introduced the kids to a world underwater. They spoke about all the different living organisms- from small invertebrates to large fish and salamanders. We put on snorkels and took a peek. I was so mesmerized that I didn’t even notice that I had mistaken the top of someone’s shoe for a rock, and I jumped when I grabbed it and it moved!

Not too long after, Rachel, the program developer, shouted. She had spotted a Hellbender. These giant salamanders can grow to 6 feet long. I made it just in time to see it’s sweet little hands stick out from under a rock. 

Weeks went by, and I joined the cave and carste team on a site visit to a small cave system in Nantahala National Forest. We were joined by a local caver to assess the site for potential recreational usage. Up a steep hill through the woods, we trecked. The thick canopy sputtered out as we were met with a thick slab of rock and slot canyons. Shifting rocks and hard earned time, formed the several breaks in the earth, allowing cave crickets, salamanders, and myself to slip in and explore.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to visit with these different programs. It’s given me a better understanding of what they do and how I can help as a PA RA. When I’m not taking photos and visiting sites, I’m usually at my desk at the SO office, making FaceBook posts, editing the website, running the analytics, among an array of other activities. I’m looking forward to what I will learn continuing the program, and my future with the Forest Service.

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