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UT to Lead 61st Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Smokies

By Jeaneane Payne

spring wildflower pilgrimage gatlinburgFor the sixty-first year, the tradition of observing nature's wonders is being led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage began in 1950 with a few botanists from UT Knoxville and now involves as many as one thousand participants. This year's pilgrimage features a five-day exploration of plant and animal life.

A welcoming luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27, at the Mills Conference Center features the program, "Why Bartram Matters." Actor J. D. Sutton will impersonate William Bartram, a naturalist who explored the United States from 1773 to 1777.

The first pilgrimage was a quaint event with approximately one hundred participants. Within thirty years, it has grown to include more than one thousand registrants from more than thirty states. The pilgrimage's roots grew because of joint efforts of UT professors Fred Norris and Royal Shanks, Gatlinburg City Manager Bart Leiper, Art Stupka of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and Lucinda Ogle from the Gatlinburg Garden Club.

The event is now a well-organized conference with 141 guided walks and indoor presentations over five days led by 115 professionals who guide participants through the region's rich wildflowers, fauna, ecology, and cultural and natural history.

"The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage provides an opportunity for people with different hiking abilities and interests to explore the diverse biological areas in the Smokies guided by field biologists who accompany them on trails to identify and explain the environment they're experiencing," said Ken McFarland, chairman of the Wildflower Pilgrimage organizing committee and lecturer in the biology department.

This year features twenty-nine new events. There is also a photography contest open to the public. Details can be found at

Many of the pilgrimage hike leaders are UT Knoxville faculty and their graduate students. This year UT faculty will continue to lead discussions about mosses, ferns, wildflowers, fungi, birds, bears, bats, wild hogs, salamanders, and much more.

The Wildflower Pilgrimage is a joint effort among the UT Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, the City of Gatlinburg Department of Tourism, the Friends of the Smoky Mountains National Park, the Gatlinburg Garden Club, the Great Smoky Mountains Association, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society.

The event not only hosts outdoor programs and tours, it features indoor speakers, art exhibitions, merchants, native plant vendors and related activities at the registration site, Gatlinburg's M. L. Mills Conference Center. Tickets are $75 per person for two or more days. Single-day tickets are available for $55. Student tickets are $20 and must be verified with a student ID.

The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage will be April 26 through May 1. Online registration is now open at Onsite registration begins April 25 at Gatlinburg's M. L. Mills Conference Center.

For more information on the event visit For lodging visit

Published April 17, 2011

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