Annual rally will feature programs by educators from Cornell, ETSU



A Common Wood-Nymph photographed in late August in Roan Mountain State Park.

For many naturalists in Northeast Tennessee, heading to Roan Mountain has become an annual trek every September.

Gary Barrigar, long-time director of the Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally, knows that after more than half a century the annual event has become a tradition for many people. For 53 years the Fall Naturalists’ Rally has drawn nature enthusiasts from far and wide to Roan Mountain on the weekend after Labor Day.Top naturalists volunteer their time and energy to make the event both enjoyable and educational for people of all ages.


Charles Smith

Barrigar said this year’s fall rally will continue to celebrate the natural world by providing two top speakers, retired Cornell naturalist and educator Charles R. Smith and T.J. Jones, an ETSU Behavioral Ecology, Neuroethology and Science educator.


Because of the continued support of the Friends of Roan Mountain, all the Naturalists’ Rallies have the resources they need to prosper and grow and the FORM provides support for research and restoration projects on the Roan. Consider joining the Friends of Roan Mountain, if you are not a member. Members get free admission to all Naturalists’ Rally events and our newsletter, “Friends of Roan Mountain.”


An Eastern Comma suns near a picnic shelter in Roan Mountain State Park.

Barrigar added that many thanks are due to Roan Mountain State Park for its long standing support of the Naturalists’ Rallies, as well as the speakers and the trip leaders who donate their time and expertise.

Evening and lunch programs will take place in Roan Mountain State Park’s Conference Center and field trips will leave from the field on the left before the cabins in the park.

Charles R. Smith will present “This View of Life,” the program for Friday evening. Charles R. “Charlie” Smith was born and raised in Carter County, near Milligan College. He is a naturalist, educator, and conservationist who lives with his wife, Claudia Melin, and their Border Terrier, Brodie, near Ithaca, N.Y. His serious study of natural history did not begin until he was 15 years old, when he joined the Tennessee Ornithological Society, after studying birds on his own for several years.



Fall rallies offer hikes on a variety of topics from salamanders and mushrooms to butterflies and birds.

About that time, he decided he wanted to attend Cornell University. He earned his undergraduate degree at East Tennessee State University, with a double major in botany and zoology and minor studies in geology, meteorology, physical geography, and photography. Graduate studies at Cornell University concluded with his Ph.D. in wildlife ecology. He retired in 2012 from Cornell University, where he served in various administrative, research, and teaching capacities, including Executive Director of the Laboratory of Ornithology, for nearly 40 years. As an advisor and collaborator on science-based conservation, Smith has worked with a number of state and federal agencies. Though an ornithologist for most of his career, his current interests as a naturalist include studying dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, and vascular plants; and nature photography. Some of his photographs of butterflies were published in Smokies Life magazine in 2012. Currently he is working with a former student on a field guide to the butterflies of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the southern Appalachians.

Smith offered his own description for the yearly brochure put out by organizers of the rally to promote his Friday evening program. “A naturalist can be described as a person whose curiosity about nature is boundless,” he said. “This presentation will examine the history, philosophy, and practice of natural history studies from a number of perspectives.”

Now is a great time to be a naturalist, according to Smith.

“Today, we have more good field guides to help us identify plants and animals than ever before,” he added. “With time, persistence, and self-discipline, detailed knowledge of a group of plants or animals is possible for most of us.”

In addition to the personal satisfaction they provide, Smith noted that natural history studies can guide conservation.


Cape May atop a spruce tree in Hampton, Tennessee, during fall migration.

“Unless we know what a plant or animal is, where it is found, and how much of it we have, preserving and protecting it can be difficult, if not impossible,” he explained. “We can go beyond just knowing what it is, however, to understanding how plants and animals live, what are their needs, and how we might contribute to their long-term conservation for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.”

He is disappointed by one recent trend in the field of science.

“Ironically, at a time when knowledge and understanding of the needs of plants and animals is more important than ever, it is disappointing that colleges and universities are abandoning the teaching of natural history in the field, and few real field biologists are being schooled,” he said.

Smith said his talk will offer suggestions to help attendees become better naturalists or even be inspired to become a new naturalist. Some of Smith’s photographs will be used to illustrate the talk, and the origin of the title, “This View of Life,” will be revealed at the end of the presentation.



Thomas “T.J.” Jones

Thomas “T.J.” Jones will present “Elegance and Efficiency: Spiders of Southern Appalachia” as the Saturday evening program. Jones also elaborated on his program for the annual brochure on the rally.

“When I was very young I remember my mother carefully catching a spider that had gotten into the house and tossing it onto the back patio, only to have a bird immediately fly down and carry it off.”

The incident was traumatic for a young boy. “My mother comforted me by explaining that the bird was probably going to use it to feed its babies,” he remembered. “Perhaps that was foreshadowing of my future career studying how spiders negotiate the challenges of world in which they are both predators and prey. I have always been fascinated by animal behavior, and through high school and college worked at zoos, aquariums, and even Sea World.”

Jones has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cleveland State University, where he did research on the morphology of ciliated protists and physiological ecology of garter snakes.

“From there I went on to get a PhD from Ohio State University studying the evolution of social behavior in spiders. I continued that work as a post-doc at The University of Tennessee which is where I fell in love with the southern Appalachians, and I am now on the faculty at East Tennessee State University.”

Jones said his research group takes an integrated approach to studying aggression-related behaviors in spiders.
“We are studying how brain chemistry and circulating hormones regulate behaviors, and how these behaviors affect the spider’s success in nature,” he explained. “We currently have projects exploring social behavior, circadian rhythm, and the effect of environmental contaminates on behavior.


Spiders will provide the focus for the Saturday evening program by T.J. Jones.

He offered a brief description of his program, which is admittedly about a creature that gives some people the shivers.
“Some say they are beautiful, some say they are terrifying, but most would agree that spiders are fascinating,” Jones said. “Spiders are among the oldest and most diverse group of predators; this is because they are extremely good at what they do.”

His evening program will provide general information on the biology and ecology of spiders including how they use their key adaptations of silk and venom. He will discuss species commonly found in southern Appalachia, including some interesting species which are only found here. Along with photos, there will be live specimens on hand and a guided night hike to follow.

“My hope is that the program will foster appreciation, and perhaps love, for this amazing group of animals,” Jones said.


An American Redstart photographed in Hampton, Tennessee, during fall migration.

Buffet meals will be served on Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m., followed by the evening programs. Reservations are necessary for the meals, which cost $9.50 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Deadline for reservations is Tuesday, Sept. 8. For more information, call Barrigar at 423-543-7576 or email him at

Mail prepaid meal reservations to: Nancy Barrigar, Treasurer, 708 Allen Avenue, Elizabethton, TN 37643.

For a detailed schedule of hikes, programs and other rally activities, visit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s