National Parks System, Now 100 Years Old, Is Research Lab for UNC Asheville Faculty and Students

Featured image: 
Students crouch to study plants on the ground

UPDATE, Aug. 31, 2016 - Paul Super, research coordinator/biologist for Great Smoky Mountains National Park will serve as moderator for this event, and discuss the importance of research partnerships between universities and the National Park Service.

The U.S. National Park Service, now celebrating its centennial, has inspired and provided a home for many research projects conducted by UNC Asheville faculty and students. Researchers have studied the natural environment, how people and animals use it, and how to preserve it. Faculty in a range of disciplines will describe their work and its relationship to parks in a panel discussion, free and open to the public at 9-11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 9 in UNC Asheville’s Karpen Hall, Laurel Forum.

The high elevations near the Blue Ridge Parkway provided the setting for student Savannah Clark's work with Andrew Laughlin surveying bird communities. Environmental Studies

Graveyard Fields along the Blue Ridge Parkway is prized as a berry-picking spot. But 50 miles away along the Parkway, the National Park Service has tried to prevent blackberry encroachment to protect the grassy bald habitat at Craggy Gardens. As part of a joint project with the National Park Service, UNC Asheville Chair and Professor of Environmental Studies Irene Rossell led her students in collecting data over 13 years on the blackberry management effort.

In a separate project, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Andrew J. Laughlin and student Savannah Clark spent many hours this summer at several sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway surveying bird communities in the high-elevation spruce and spruce-fir forests of the Plott Mountain range. These surveys are the start of a larger project studying how avian community composition differs based on forest size and disturbance (past logging and adelgid infestation) history.

Atmospheric Sciences

Anna Wilson and Greg Cutrell inspected a rain gauge in 2008 as part of Doug Miller's ongoing research in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.For Douglas K. Miller, professor of atmospheric sciences, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has provided the setting for hands-on projects in installing and taking measurements from a high-elevation rain-gauge network used in a NASA-funded study on rainfall patterns. Miller and his students are collaborating with Ana Barros and her students at Duke University as part of a large study of precipitation patterns and prediction.

Christopher Godfrey, associate professor of atmospheric sciences, and student Dawn Pomeroy conducted an aerial survey of damage done by tornadoes to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Chattahoochee National Forest. Pomeroy and another student, Michael Goldsbury, used the aerial photographs to electronically label nearly half a million trees, standing and fallen, with the direction of their fall. Godfrey, who also traveled to remote areas of these parks to assess damage on the ground, used his observations and the student-generated data to develop a new way of estimating the strength of tornadoes in forests.  

Other Disciplines

Among others presenting will be:

  • Jim Fox, director of UNC Asheville’s NEMAC (National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center), describing the Southern Appalachian Vitality Index, with many data sets relevant to the parks.
  • Rebecca Reeve, director of research programs at UNC Asheville’s N.C. Center for Health & Wellness, describing her work over six years, undertaken with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, National Park Service and other partners, to study and promote use of parks trails by children and their families, laying the groundwork for national expansion of the Kids in Parks program.
  • Leah Greden Mathews, Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professor of the Mountain South, describing her Blue Ridge Parkway Scenic Experience Project, to evaluate the economic value of the scenic quality of the southwest Virginia and northern North Carolina sections of the Parkway.

For more information, contact Doug Miller, or 828.232.5158.

COVERAGE: Listen to the story on WNCW 88.7