Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a perfect place to study nature. Since weather can impact the biology of the environment, the park studies any changes. Rangers are recruiting volunteers right now to record the patterns of plants and trees.
Sherry McCreary and Jerry Neal love visiting the park, seeing it in changing seasons, knowing weather patterns can vary, as well.
“We've had more rain than we've ever had, less snow that we've ever had,” McCreary said.
The park is recruiting volunteers to adopt a monitoring plot to track seasonal biological data.
“Phenology, it's really the study of looking at nature's calendar,” Ranger Rhonda Wise said.
Volunteers will monitor their plots at least twice a month from first bud to the final leaf drop in the fall.
Wise said the park relies heavily on volunteers to make those observations.
“Last year, we had about 65 volunteers that showed up for the training,” Wise said.
Two training dates are set up for those interested -- one at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center near Cherokee on Feb. 29 and another at the Sugarlands Visitors Center near Gatlinburg on March 7. Both sessions will run 10 a.m.- 1 p.m.
“We'll let you know what you need to know and do all the training right here on our end,” Wise said.
The program helps the park collect data to better understand how changing weather patterns impact a diverse ecosystem.
“We might have an early spring. We might have a long winter. When we look at these things over a long period of time, we can see those patterns and mark those patterns and see how they might be affecting things from when the bugs are arriving, when the birds are arriving,” Wise said. “Those are the types of things that we want to make sure they are marked on our calendar so that we know if there's any changes over time. We can have a record of that."
“I think that's very important with what's going on with the climate," Neal said. “I think that's a good program they're wanting to do.”
“And that's giving people a buy-in, too, to make them feel important with the whole process,” McCreary said.