An annual checkup for salamanders

A Blue Ridge two-lined salamander scurries beneath leaf litter near Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders typically forage for small invertebrates at night near the forest floor. Provided by NPS.

Pay a visit to Chimneys Picnic Area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the first days of spring, and chances are you’ll hear the cheerful sounds of families enjoying meals together, downy woodpeckers drumming on the bark of deciduous trees, and a few small groups of students talking intently amongst themselves as they carefully […]

What are mycorrhizal fungi?


Often overlooked and underappreciated, fungi fulfill diverse ecological roles in nature. They act as decomposers, breaking down dead plant and animal material and returning vital nutrients to ecosystems. They form mutualistic partnerships, benefiting a wide range of organisms from plants to animals. Some fungi even exhibit parasitic behavior, attacking living organisms to steal nutrients and […]

Finding and embracing the magicalness within

Just say, “Yes.” As the 2022 Steve Kemp Writer in Residence, that’s been my philosophy whenever opportunities have been presented for a new experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park…

Parks as classrooms offers kids unforgettable experiences

Courtney Lix grew up entwined in the natural and cultural history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park like a vine climbing up an ancient tree. Her grandfather, Henry Lix, was a park service employee who came to the Smokies…

Serendipity leads to learning about iNaturalist and the Smokies Most Wanted

Three birds orchid

Close friends tell me my middle name should be “Serendipity” given my often-impeccable timing for wondrous happenstance. While I tend to chuckle when they say it, I can’t disagree. As if on cue, of course, such happenstance struck yet again just before a recent late summer foray into the Smokies as part of my role […]

Of big views and big bears

I’m a sucker for ‘big’ views. So when Steve Kemp, GSMA’s former creative services director and the namesake for my writing residency, suggested a hike to Andrews Bald, I was psyched—especially because it was yet another trail that would be new to me…

Wildflowers 101: Three blue flowers

Story and images by Tom Harrington If you have an interest in wildflowers, perhaps you have noticed how many flowers are blue in color. The flowers we’ll examine today have small blue blooms. To start, did you know that blue-eyed grass is not a grass? It is related to the iris species. The plant is […]

Discovering the intersection of history and nature

Story and photos by Sue Wasserman Being the Steve Kemp Writer-in-Residence, at least for me, is like being a kid in the proverbial candy store. My eyes pop, thinking of all the delicious possibilities. The only challenge, given the brief time frame, is choosing what to focus on. That thought was behind my request to […]

Wildflowers 101: Vasey’s trillium and purple wake robin

Story and images by Tom Harrington Some of the favorite wildflowers found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the trilliums, of which there are nine species that grow in the park. In this issue, let’s examine two trilliums whose blooms are often described as being maroon, red, or purple in color: Vasey’s trillium and purple […]